Jumble Sale

This is a transcript of an audio-recording made by my grandfather some time before I was born and uncovered by a cousin of mine decades later in a loft. Finding these recordings was the first time I heard his voice.

If you right click and save-as you can download ‘Jumble Sale’ for posterity. Pretty sure my Grandad would be buzzing if you did that.

It was five minutes to zero hour, our positions were strategically sound. Like the wagon trains of the American west our stocks were contained within a circular stockade. Inside the perimeter, the barricades were manned by veterans of many previous campaigns, yet even they were now showing signs of strain as the seconds ticked away.

I looked around, and, with feelings of bewilderment and scorn scanned their tense white faces and eyes which glanced furtively at their watches. It was at that precise moment that I felt a hand on my shoulder, it was that of an old campaigner, who had seen action in this very spot on many previous occasions. It was a hand of confidence and determintation and obviously intended as a morale booster.

“Alreet lad” he asked, “lemme see, this’ll be fust taame for thee weren’t it”. “Aye, seemed nowt to me” I replied, and nodding in the direction of my apprehensive mates I enquired “what’s up wi’that lot? They look as if owd Nick were after ‘em”. He followed my glance and said “Well tha cannot blame ‘em lad, they’ve been through it all before. It takes a brave mon t’admit he’s feared. When it’s all over perhaps thee’ll change the’ mind, the’ come at thee like a hoard of bull elephants!”

“Daren’t forget, they’ve been out there a long time.. every single one of ‘em strained till the last minute and raring to go. But I have confidence in thee lad just remember to stand thee ground and show the’ metal, keep thee head and darent panic. Above all!

“Now, watch out for raiding parties, singular and in groups, they’ll come at thee from all directions tryin to break through lines and help themselves, if they get through, all’s lost. Now good luck lad, remember make ‘em pay, make ‘em pay price in full but whatever tha’ does, keep thee eye on them.” With that, he continued his inspection, turning to nod in agreement when I exclaimed “I shall be alreet mister, daren’t worry about me, I’ll ‘andle ‘em”.

The minute hand was now vertical, seven o’clock - zero hour - a shout came from the door “Are y’all ready lads?”…. “Aye!” came the reply in wavering tones. “Reet then! Ey’ up, ‘ere they come!” said the doorkeeper as he withdrew the bolt, and in so doing became the first casualty of the campaign when he was flattened against the wall by the force of the door, as it crashed open to admit the bargain hunting housewives of the thirties. The commandos of the jumble sales!

Spearheading the attack were two alarmingly fat women, so alike they might have been twins. Hair-netted, blue-coated and sweating they carried shopping bags the size of pillow cases. For a mere fraction of a second they jammed in the doorway and then, with a blurp like ketchup from a newly opened bottle, they surged into the room and in their wake, a seething, shoving and pulling crowd of women spilled over and flooded the entire floor in one swift enveloping movement.

It was a frightening yet fascinating sight as the mass of bag-waving housewives invaded the stalls. They neither walked nor ran, they floated on the tide.

As soon as I had stopped gaping, I snatched enough breath to yell “Woah woah! ‘owd on a bit, ‘owd on! Tek yer time!” “Steady on there steady on one at a time!” “You’ll all get served!” “There’s plenty for all lot of yer” “Hey missus, tek yer knee off t’counter or you’ll ‘ave flamin stall over!”

I had as much success as Knut with the waves.

My raised arms with open palms had, I believed, been misconstrued as a token of surrender rather than a gesture of “no far and no farther”. They were now upon me. What did the old campaigner say? “Keep thee ‘ead”? “Daren’t panic”? “Keep thee eye on ‘em”? I could have done better with a shotgun.

I was surrounded by a crowd of screaming yelling dervishes and yet it wasn’t they who suddenly startled me, it was the grey haired head of a little old woman which popped up from nowhere right in front of me. Her nose, on which was perched a pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, just reached the top of the counter. A bony hand reached out, handed me thre’pence and then like a genie in a pantomime disappeared from view clutching what was, so I was told later, a pair of combinations.

I dropped the coppers in a basin. We were in business!

In some way or another, and please don’t ask me how, I coped with a forest of hands which brandished this part of the jumble sale like a band of Red Indians with scalps.

Before the minute hand had moved on to 8 o’clock the tide had receeded and the maurauders gone. All except one belegerant women who was demanding - very forcibly and indignantly - that I wrap some newspaper around a chamber pot she had aquired for thre’pence.

“Nay nay, owd on a bit missus, yer gettin red-rosy round it what ya want for threpney bit ?! A flamin’ hat box tied wi’ blue ribbon?!!” I asked sarcastically. “I’ll crack thee on top of y’head wi’ it if tha’ doesn’t have less lip young Fletcher! So be thee sharp about it then we can all go home!” she threateningly retorted.

I opened my mouth to reply but stopped when I surveyed my insistent and formidable client. Her stood there, all 16 stone of her, arms akimbo and grinding teeth she hadn’t got…

No chamber pot ever left a jumble sale more carefully wrapped and securely tied than the one she carried out that evening.

With her departure, the school room became so quiet it was like a battlefield of death. The counters so bare, a plague of locusts might have descended upon them. On the floor, there lay rather forlornley the jumble sale bargains noone wanted. Not even at a penny a piece. A Stores Almanac for the previous year, a button hook, a bookmark heavily impregnated with scent, copies of comics; Chips, Butterfly, Comic Cuts and a card containing three bachelor buttons.

We emptied all our basins and counted the money, eleven pounds three shillings and five pence, the size of the sum we had realised for the cricket club did much to asuage our tired minds and aching limbs.

After we had helped the caretaker to re-arrange the desks and forms in readyness for the following day we drifted to the door. The lights were being turned out and we were all ready to lock up for the night when the voice of Steve Barnes, a member of the committee, shouted from within the darkened hall. “Just a minute, ‘owd on just a minute just a minute! I just can’t find me overcoat. Put that other leet on somebody”.

We all waited rather impatiently “Oh come on Steve” “Hurry up Steve” “We don’t want be here all neet!” “Hurry up son” “hurry up!”.

Steve went round the room looking on windowsills, under desks and anywhere it might be found.

“It’s not ‘ere. I can’t understand it I just can’t understand it” he said “I put ont’back a’this ‘ere chair” and he pointed to the one that was stood near my stall.

With a certain amount of misgiving I said “Er, Steve, were it grey?”

“Aye.”

“It wouldn’t be herringbone and double breasted would it?”

“Aye..”

“An a velvet collar? An it it were o’er that chair?”

“Aye…..”

“Steve, just er just sit down a minute would tha owd petal just sit down, tha’ll never believe me.. bloomin ‘eck mate I’m sorry..”

“I sold it for two bob.”