Remembering Jumble Sales

Before bags of old clothes were sold by weight or collected from doorsteps by men in white vans they were fetched by boy scouts for jumble sales.

Four sides of the Scout hut were lined with trestle tables, which were spattered in gloss and emulsion and oxtail soup. A crowd had already begun to gather outside, snaking alongside the church, and cowering from black rainclouds under a line of saplings that never seemed to grow. Several of these trees were snapped by ‘nearly’ free-kicks from wet, thudding caseys.

Every minute or so the door handle would be tried, or a boot would thud into the frame checking if we’d opened. ‘Doors open at two o’ clock’ one of the leaders would shout. We took our posts behind the trestle tables, nervous but ready. We had an empty ice-cream tub to collect the greasy coins and taped-up fivers.

Notes in red felt tip were taped to the front of each table. ‘Everything ten p,’ and ‘Lucky dip.’ One of the scout leaders, fancying themselves a marketing whizz had written ‘LOOK’ and drawn eyeballs and eyelashes on each ‘O’ in a bid to excite trade.

Most tables, including ours, were a scrum down for old, unloved, or outdated clothes. It was still possible to find bell-bottom denims and Chelsea boots, the odd Hendrix hat. Most of it was rubbish though and elbows flew, and palms shoved, and hips and bellies jostled as the doors opened. Much like the scenes when all was sold in Steptoe’s yard to pay a debt to Frankie Barrow, the Godfather of Shepherd’s Bush.

The seasoned hunters, usually grannies with silver buns, towing tartan shopping carts, went for the unworn. In a pile of tatty, scabby sweaters, and baggy T-shirts there was an immaculate Marks and Sparks blouse or a Clock House sweater someone had bought in a sale, promised to lose ten pounds to fit into it and never been able to give up the eclairs. Fights broke out over these items. Sometimes people haggled over two pence. Sometimes they pulled at each sleeve of a sweater like the Lady and the Tramp.

Local ‘characters’ bought cap guns and cowboy hats, or long forgotten and inexplicable holiday gifts such as Alpine horns, painted conch shells and ornamental balalaikas.

An hour or so later the cry would go up, ‘Anything for two pence’ and hands would grab and tug and snatch. At least I didn’t have to suffer the shoe stall – the punishment post of the naughtiest, most disruptive Scout. Shoes with broken heels, scuffed soles and uppers, patches and glue dabs and stains and cracks; all paired with doubled elastic bands and thrown in a huge cardboard box for a fetid free-for-all. I’d glance at the shoes at five-to-two and again as the stragglers trickled out, their string bags and Presto carriers stuffed to bulging and tearing. I don’t think we sold a single pair beyond the box-fresh Hush Puppies snapped up by a man in a leather Trilby and donkey jacket.

When all was done the hut seemed to have been hit by a tsunami. It had been stripped of all but the most desperate clothes and ornaments. Coins were counted. Scratched LPs, scuffed brogues, cardigans missing buttons and an enormous green tuxedo were shoved into boxes beneath the stage. These poor tragic bits and bobs would be taken out again next year and the year after that. They never sold. Even nods and winks and whispered ‘just take thems’ couldn’t find these donations a home.