Sunday, 16 January 2011

Multiculturalism In Action: Coming To A Car Park Near You.

God, what a day. Who'd have thought a car boot sale could turn out to be so hazardous? I could kill Max for suggesting it, though he blames me. No change there, then.

"If you hadn't got so drunk on Friday, and given yourself a two-day hangover, we wouldn't have to do a car boot to get the money to buy you Paracetamol," he says.

"Well, if Josh hadn't refused to go back to Ellen's to borrow some more, it wouldn't be an issue," I say. "I don't know why she only gave him two tablets when he asked her yesterday. She should understand a hangover better than anyone, after all."

Max rolls his eyes, as if I have no reason to dislike Ellen. Honestly - talk about a short memory!

"I'll go and ask her, then," he says, but I'm not encouraging that. The less Max sees of Ellen the better, as far as I'm concerned. Even when she is wearing clothes.

"Josh, I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you went back for more," I say. "Go and ask her. Please. I can't face a car boot at this time in the morning."

"No, I won't," says Josh. "I am not your drugs mule, and Ellen scares the pants off me. She's got a thing for toy-boys, remember? And I meet the criteria, unlike some people."

Josh looks pointedly at Max, who scowls in response and then sulks until we've finished loading the car with all the rubbish we could find during a hasty search of the loft last night.

His mood doesn't improve when we arrive at Northwick Park'n'Ride, and realise that we haven't got enough money to pay for the pitch. I have to negotiate with the man at the gate to let us in, and to come and collect our fee in an hour's time.

"Christ knows if we'll have managed to raise £7:00 by then," says Max. "Or ever, given the crap we've brought - and all the stalls that are already here. Too much competition for limited customers, by the look of it."

"Well, we'd better unpack as fast as we can, then, hadn't we?" I say. "As soon as we get set up, you can go into super salesman mode, make some money and I can finally get rid of this bloody headache."

Things never go according to plan, though - do they? The minute we open the boot of the car, four or five Eastern European guys appear from nowhere, and start rummaging through the boxes. It's like a swarm of black leather jackets and jeans worn with proper shoes.

"What are you looking for?" Max asks the apparent leader of the pack, in a weak attempt to regain control of the situation.

"Mobile phones?" says the man. "You got mobiles in here?"

As soon as I say that we don't, the men disappear - as quickly as they arrived. In fact, it's almost as if they were never there at all and, for one very disconcerting moment, I wonder if I imagined them. Maybe I've got alcohol-induced hallucinations, or something?

"For God's sake, Mol. Stop standing there and help me with this," says Max. "You look like a Guppy with your mouth open like that."

I rise above the insult and do as I'm told, but only because I can't think of a cutting rejoinder. And because I don't have a choice - though I bet a certain International Director of a Global Oil Company isn't spending his Sunday morning wrestling with a folding table and a mound of boxes in a car park.

As soon as we've got the table set up and we begin to unpack, we start arguing again. Why don't men appreciate the importance of arranging things to their best possible advantage? That's probably why they can't see the point in make-up, now I come to think of it.

"Do you have to just chuck everything on the table willy-nilly?" I say. "I'm trying to make our stock look attractive."

"It's a car boot, Molly," says Max. "At 6:00am on a Sunday morning in a car park. So I don't think window dressing is really necessary."

I decide to prove him wrong by virtue of a controlled experiment - which involves an artistic arrangement of the things on the left-hand side of the table while leaving those on the right-hand side in a total mess, to see which of us is right; but my scientific approach is ruined by the inconvenient arrival of some more customers. Honestly, why can't people ever put things back where they found them?

Now I know how the staff in Benetton used to feel when I kept unfolding jumpers and then making a crappy job of folding them back up again - back in the days when all my clothes didn't come from Primark. Not that folding's much of an issue there, is it? Maybe customers chucking everything on the floor is just a reflection of their bargain hunting mentality.

I really must get this telekinesis thing under control. No sooner have I begun thinking about bargain hunters, than our stall is suddenly surrounded by a large group of dark-haired men, again all wearing jeans but this time with trainers on their feet. They're pulling suitcases with wheels on, and their burka-clad wives follow behind, watching closely as the men pick up various items and ask us, "How much for this?"

"A pound," says Max, as one of them inspects a brand new wireless router we bought by mistake on eBay last year.

"No, no, no," says the man. "Too much. I give you ten pence."

He throws a coin onto the table and makes as if to move away, though he's still holding the router.

Max starts to say something, when he's interrupted by a booming voice from very close by. It's the guy manning the stall next door to ours.

"Tell 'em to fuck right off," he says. "Bloody load of f*cking vultures."

"Too right, George," says another man, in a horribly-familar voice. "Don't know who these people think they are. Coming over here and trying to rip off hard-working Brits like us."

Oh, dear God, what the hell is going on? And how on earth have we been caught up in a potential race riot? Max and I look at each other and squirm, but luckily everyone's forgotten about us anyway.

Our customer abandons the router as he and his friends leave our stall and head next door, where they square up to the stall-holder and his partner-in-crime. Who, incredibly, turns out to be Reg Bloody Beales. Is nowhere safe?

There follows a lot of pushing and shouting, while I take the opportunity to open the car door and to throw myself face down onto the back seat.

"What on earth d'you think you're doing?" says Max. "You can't go to sleep now. I'm not dealing with this mob by myself, even if you have still got a bloody hangover."

"Ssh," I say. "Mad constituent. Got to hide."

I'll say this for Max, he doesn't ask for details during an emergency. Instead, he walks back to the stall and carries on without me, while I lie very still and try to become invisible. I may have dozed off for a while, actually, as I nearly jump out of my skin when Max knocks on the window.

"You can come out now," he says. "They've all gone, and even the stall-holder's packed up and is about to leave."

"Oh, thank God for that," I say. "I thought there was going to be a fight. It certainly sounded like it."

"There was," says Max. "But after the guy with the blue suitcase landed the first punch, his mates pulled him away and the bloke that you know did a runner. Well, not a runner, exactly: am I imagining it, or did he ride off on a horse?"

Oh God, so Reg has replaced his lorry with a horse and cart, though I'm not sure the roads will be any safer for that. Or any public spaces, actually. And why can't I ever escape the usual suspects - even on a Sunday - no matter where I go?

Mind you, things could be worse, I suppose. I could be a diplomat. It's been like the United Nations here in Northwick Park'n'Ride today, and no-one seems to understand each other at all. Not even me and Max.

"How much money have you taken?" I say. "Can we go home yet?"

"Enough to pay for the pitch and some painkillers," he says. "As well as food for the next couple of days. So we won't starve just yet, no thanks to you."

I feel suitably guilty until Max drops me off at Sainsburys to buy some Paracetamol, but then I'm still so puzzled by how we ran out of money so quickly, that I get a mini-statement from the cash machine. Now I wish I hadn't.

It shows that the last person to make a withdrawal from the account was not me - the unjustly accusedbut Max. At a petrol station somewhere miles away; and on Friday night, while I was at the Party social and I thought he was at home.

It's going to take all my diplomatic skills to avoid mentioning it until I've had some time to assess the situation. At which point I bet Max will wish that he was the one who travelled by horse. At least they don't leave a paper trail.


  1. Molly, hate to say this but you'd be better off bringing it up - just in case it wasn't Max but was a card fraud situation..

    Hope the hangover is gone :-)

  2. Oh, hadn't thought of that. Suppose I'd better brace myself, then...once hangover completely gone. Why do they last SO long?!

  3. Let's hope Max doesn't read this - for all sorts of reasons - but not least because it will give him the idea of an excuse for Friday!

    How's Johnny? Heard from him recently?

  4. That's red wine for you!! I love it but can't drink it anymore as it makes me so ill. I was also told on New Years Eve that if I take anadin extra before going to bed then I won't have a hangover, yet to try it though.
    It might be worth biting the bullet and asking Max about the withdrawal, I know of 2 people who have been victims of card fraud recently.

  5. Johnny's okay, thanks, Anon. Not having to car boot his belongings in order to buy Paracetamol, the lucky devil ;-) Though, actually, I haven't told him about that!

    Ruthy, let me know if it works - not that I am EVER drinking red wine again ;-) Am going to tackle Max tonight....once I've thought of what to say.