Car Boots and Sunday Soots (2)
While we still can’t open I’m going back through some memories collected over the years at the Baldock Saturday Car Boot Sale. Hope to see you all before the end of the season!
Roberto rang one Wednesday afternoon in June, some years ago.
I had been plagued by cold-callers from the Indian sub-continent so when the ‘out of area’ label showed on my mobile, I was less than receptive.
“Hello, my name is Roberto,” said the foreign accent.
“Mine is Santa Claus,” I replied, “and no, I don’t want to buy whatever it is you’re selling.”
Unusually with cold-callers there was a slight pause.
“Pardoning me,” replied Roberto, “Do you have car boot sale?”
Feeling a fool I explained that I did indeed run a car boot sale and yes I would be very pleased to see him the following weekend.
He went on to enquire just where the sale was located and I asked my usual question so I could give him correct directions: “Where exactly are you coming from?”
“Portugal!” said Roberto, as if this were the most obvious answer, “or to be precise, a small village outside Lisbon.”
By this time I had convinced myself that it was not a cold-call but a hoax call, one of many that friends seem to think hilarious.
Some years ago they had rung up wanting to know if they could sell second-hand safes at the sale, confessing that they had some for sale that were only slightly shop soiled, having recently had the doors blown off but would make good garden ornaments.
However as anyone in business will tell you, it’s better to be ‘had’ by a hoax than miss a prospective customer.
This time I was simply pleasant, adding that I was looking forward to meeting him soon and that should any problems arise on his arrival at the sale he should ask for Farmer Stan or look for the man in the high-vis coat.
About a fortnight later I had just parked a large white van into a selling space when I realised the following car was a small white ‘left hooker’ Seat hatchback with a foreign number plate.
Behind the wheel sat a smallish dark skinned man, a large grin spread across his face.
“Mr Farmer Stun,” he yelled in greeting, “I, Roberto, from Portugal,” and holding a hand to the side of his face with thumb extended towards his ear and pinky towards his mouth, “we speak on phone!”
I parked him up and promised I’d return to see him later.
My curiosity had been aroused, what on earth could be so valuable that someone would travel across three countries, a mountain range and over 1300 miles?
It had to be either imported cigarettes, alcohol or worst of all, drugs.
While I went around collecting the money and chatting to various stall-holders I would gaze across at the constant large crowd gathered around Roberto’s stall. Other traders had noticed as well, some even suggested that I would not be able to resist becoming a customer when I reached him, however not wishing to seem to be favouring one seller above others I feigned disinterest and made sure I found something on their stall to compliment them about.
When I reached the stall it was still completely shielded from view by a crowd, however Roberto had seen me!
“Farmer Stun,” his grinning face bobbed above the heads of the crowd as if he was on a trampoline, “I have your money, Euros or Pounds?”
He then added, “I have kept some special back for you, a gift from my garden in Portugal.”
My heart sank as I imagined him passing heaven-knows-what above the crowd along with the pitch fee.
“Make way for the Farmer Stun,” he shouted all of a sudden as he waved his arms like a beserk windmill, “Farmer Stun, let him through.”
Roberto thrust money into my hand along with a full brown paper bag. Tentatively I opened what seemed to be a bag of ball-like objects. I carefully opened the bag to be confronted by… lemons!
I still couldn’t work out how it could have been worth his while to drive such a distance with a small hatchback with lemons, my suspicions had not been quelled by the gift, I thanked him and said I’d be back for a chat when I had finished my rounds, “I’m look forward Farmer Stun!” chirped Roberto, putting four lemons into a bag for another eager customer.
When I had finished collecting the pitch fees I spied Roberto walking towards the tea wagon.
“Tea or coffee?”
“Oh! Farmer Stun, coffee please.”
We sat down at the plastic table.
“I sold out!” said Roberto.
“What of?” I said trying not to sound suspicious.
“You’re trying to tell me that it is worth your while driving all that way with a boot full of lemons and driving all the way back again?”
“Yes, but I’m not going home yet, I go to Birmingham!”
“But you’ve no more lemons!”
“Ah! You are not correct, I have one small bag.”
“So let me get this right,” I said, “you are going to drive to Birmingham to sell one bag of lemons?”
“No, they are a gift for my mother.”
“Ah that explains it, your mother lives in Birmingham.”
It was obvious that the shared language was not going to help if we were to dive into ever deeper water, so I decided to let the subject drop.
“So have you enjoyed your first car boot sale?” I asked.
In a flash I imagined the myriad of events that could have become the sullying of our reputation abroad.
“I’m sorry you haven’t enjoyed the sale, may I ask why!”
“It has been very good, I have enjoyed the car boot sale, what I mean is it’s not my first one, I have done it before. I pick lemons in my garden at home, drive to a car boot sale or market in England, sell lemons, drive to see my brother in Birmingham. This time I pick up my mother who flew for the first time. She rang up and say “Roberto, come and fetch me, flying not right at my age, bring lemons, they no good here” and so to help with the cost of the trip, I bring lemons to sell and a bag for her.”
“Ah!” I said with relief, “all is now clear, the lemons came from your garden.”
“No,” said Roberto with a look on his face that suggested that I hadn’t been listening.
I stood, shook his hand, wished him well and went to help a stall-holder whose clothes rail had collapsed.
Ten minutes later I was standing by my car at the exit, munching on my breakfast, when the small white hatchback pulled up and the window on the passenger side slid down releasing a faint smell of what could be described as ‘washing-up liquid chic’.
“Farmer Stun, Farmer Stun,” laughed Roberto, scarcely able to control his laughter, “the lemons I sell came from my mothers garden!” Grinning inanely at what was obviously a popular Portugese joke I wished him bon voyage and returned to my bacon roll.
Roberto came a couple of times for the next two seasons and then, like so many, vanished into the ether.
However whenever I smell lemons…