I’ve gasped with awe at the Himalayas and the Rockies, I’ve sat on palm fringed beaches in the Caribbean and on deserted islands in China. But, for just a couple of weeks, while the blossom is out, and the trees and the hedgerows are freshly green, and the ducks down on the canal have nine thimble-sized ducklings trailing haphazardly after them, there is no lovelier place in the world than the British countryside.
And what do you do in the midst of such loveliness? You go to a bank holiday car boot sale, of course.
I blame the Americans. (Careful, Ed) They invented the idea of boot sales, although I don’t think they call them that, but they have now become a truly British institution. Once, at this time of year, we used to be happy to go to a fete, watch our kids dance round a maypole, and chuck a wet sponge at the vicar. Now, it seems, all we want to do is take our tat to a field, sell it and come home with other people’s tat. Napoleon was right. We are truly a nation of shopkeepers.
So we went, myself, husband, son and daughter, each with our secret little hopes for a bargain, to the biggest boot sale around, in the parkland of Overstone Manor, deep in Northamptonshire. You could look one way and there was a sea of cars and people selling everything from toasting forks to deck chairs. But, look the other and there was an empty grass track curling down to an ancient stone bridge and then continuing up to the house, drowsing in the sunshine. Eat your heart out, Downton Abbey.
The house is Victorian, built in 1864, and is now a girl’s school, but there has been a manor there since, well, since forever, probably. The first mention of it seems to be in the 11th century when, according to British History Online, Maud the daughter and heir of Niel Mundeville married Ruallon d’Avranches. The history of the manor is long, and peppered with bizarre sentences such as, ‘in 1365 one Edmund de Morteyn claimed that his greatgrandmother Constance was seised of the manor in the reign of Edward I, but his pretensions were without foundation’ or ‘Walter le Mazun complained that she had unjustly ejected him from 1 virgate of land’. Suffice to say (here, I’m doing it, now) Henry VII’s grandad owned it at one point, and God knows what he would have done if he’d seen 2,000 serfs milling about in his parkland eating chips and buying second hand George Foreman fat-busting grills.
So there we were, wandering in the park among the knick knacks, listening in, willy nilly, on other people’s conversations.
Last time I saw you, I was on a horse. Or was it you that was on a horse?
I said to him, I said, ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ and he said a painting. So he came home and I bought him two.
I’m having the baby in August and my boyfriend’s going to come and see me every Wednesday.
And when we had finished we sat on plastic chairs by the tea wagon and shared a plate of chips. (With mayonnaise, natch, because even in the country we know all about café society.)
‘Oh, God, mum, not more kitsch,’ moaned my daughter, when I presented my haul of five Devonware egg cups, two embroideries, a teaspoon from Aberystwyth and two pots of parsley.
Why is parsley kitsch?
Son had bought two box sets of DVDS, containing the entire series of Lost, and a broken BB gun. ‘There was this enormous hunting knife, too,’ he said rather despondently. ‘But dad wouldn’t let me have it.’
‘That’s because we don’t want to spend this afternoon in A&E,’ I explained, heaping mental brownie points on husband’s head.
‘Also, it was a rubbish knife,’ said husband, immediately being seised of said brownie points.
Daughter laid out heaps of clothes. ‘Look,’ she sighed. ‘A real Moschino belt. And it only cost 50p.’