Before we moved house years ago, we decided to have a bit of a clear out, to get rid of some of the “clutter” that we’d accumulated. A household purge – it sounded innocent enough. Except when I say “we decided” what I actually mean is my girlfriend (now wife) told me that was happening whether I liked it or not and when I say “clutter” what that ended up meaning was “my stuff”.
With ill-disguised glee she methodically swept the house from top to bottom removing any evidence of my existence: Books (you’ve read all these), DVDs (you’ve seen all these), clothes (these don’t fit you anymore) all destined for oblivion. It’s interesting that if a man suggested to a woman that clothing should be discarded because it didn’t fit them anymore (and hadn’t for some time) they would be met with the “stink eye”. The filthy look that says “How dare you suggest that I am incapable of losing the number of dress sizes required to wear this again – I very much plan to get back into this one day”. Men don’t do this – we lack the absurd optimism required for this kind of deluded hoarding. In fact the opposite tends to be true: witness the man whose epic weight loss has made the papers, look how he holds aloft his unbelievably fat trousers – these are the ones he will keep. I digress. In fairness it wasn’t all my stuff: there was a food blender that we mistakenly thought we didn’t need (before kids, before weaning), some awful photo frames and an ancient portable TV that made it onto the pile, but time and again I would suggest something of hers only to be knocked back.
“What about this old hockey stick?” I’d ask hopefully
“That has to stay, I have very fond memories of that stick – you don’t want to keep your old school photos do you?”
“Well i suppose not……….”
“and what about these pills?”
“That’s my medication?”
“It’s taking up valuable room…….”
We’d decided to divide our treasure trove of tat amongst the many charity shops in Cranbrook until someone recommended a “boot fair” where the proceeds went to charity. And so at 6am on a grey Sunday morning we arrived at Ashford cattle market with a borrowed trestle table and low expectations. As soon as we’d opened up the boot we were mobbed by eastern block tracksuits, men and women who looked like seagulls, groping our goods and fingering through paperbacks; they’d made the most absurd offers before we’d even unpacked.
“10p for the Television!!”
“DVDs I take them all for £5 no question”
“Nothing, I will give you nothing for these clothes!!”
Rather indignantly I told them all to piss off which I later came to regret when I gave away the TV to someone who only wanted it for the plug. An African man set up his table next to ours and removed from a huge rucksack his wares; bible after bible carefully arranged on his table and then next to them audio cassettes of the new Testament followed by an assortment of crucifixes and beads. He’d also had the foresight to bring a fishing chair. He introduced himself with a blinding smile as “the bible man”. I introduced myself as “the blender man” – we got along just fine. The first of the civilised punters arrived and the days trading began. It was a strange morning: at boot fairs you find yourself in the peculiar position of defending the value of items you had been prepared to just give away the day before.
“I’ll give ya two quid for the blender”
“It’s brand new? It’s worth at least a fiver, come on this is for charity”
“Tell ya what I’ll give ya two twenny – final answer”
“Now listen to me “Chris fucking Tarrant” I would rather throw this blender away than let you have it for two pounds twenty – so keep walking”
“Ooh no need for language”
“Fuck you old woman!”
It was tense.
Occasionally the bible man would ask me to watch his stall while he “did a lap” and this usually coincided with the organiser coming round to collect his “pitch money” (the fee we all paid to set up a table – presumably to guarantee it being worth the charity’s while); it seemed to be a game they had played before.
(Conmy – this is going on a bit, why are you telling us all this? We have got things to do you know, the average status is only a few lines, no wonder you’re not on twitter you garrulous numpty!)
Okay! I’ll get to the point.
It was approaching midday, (remember I’d been standing up for 6 hours) and the Bible man asked me for the last time to mind his stall, at this point the fishing chair was looking very very attractive, so as soon as he went I slumped into it, grateful to take the weight off my feet for a few minutes. I spun around one of the many bibles in front of me and opening it at random began to read a page. It was at precisely this moment that my ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend came into my peripheral vision. I was frozen. I hadn’t seen her for a few years and I could see how this could look to her: with me sitting at the bible stand at Ashford Cattle market on a sunday morning caught redhanded reading the bible in front of me.
Jesus Christ! It looked to her like I WAS THE BIBLE MAN!!!!
Our eyes met, locked for a brief eternity (in which, no doubt, she congratulated herself for getting away from me in time) before she gently steered her new non-religious-nutbag boyfriend away from my bible stand and sauntered away, glamorously, in slow motion. The injustice of this scenario sat heavily on me. I was trying to raise money for charity, happy to give up my time, happy to give away the sort of crap she was obviously there to buy and yet I was the one who looked like the loser, the sad disheveled bible selling ex in his sad little fishing chair.
I haven’t seen her since.
So no matter how bad you are feeling this morning – remember it could be so much worse.