Thirty Thousand Streets

Monday, June 19, 2006

Post 100: Charity Shops

When I finally get around to assembling my 'Fantasy Football' band – 'The London Ipods,'* (consisting of me, Brian Eno, KRS1 and I dunno, one of the Cheeky Girls) my first single is going to be called 'Charity Shops Are Crap These Days', which is basically going to be a wailing lament/torch song about the current charity shop circuit, which as any dedicated charity shop scenester will tell you, has gone well downhill.

When my friend Sam got back from LA recently he was all like "The second hand shops out there are amazing man" he was all like "Dior t-shirt" and "Camper-style-shoes", and "vintage dresses" (Kay's, not his I might add), while I could but sit there agape.

Time was charity shopping here used to be one of my more preferred methods of wasting a Saturday, trawling through bins of mouldering old vinyl, and rails of motheaten old clothes in the hope of uncovering that elusive holy grail (which I'm reliably informed actually happens in a Neil Gaiman story).

Generally I'd operate alone – as dedicated charity shoppers do; you don't want to be sharing the goods with another enthusiast should you actually strike a seam of metaphorical charity gold, nor boring the shit out of those of your friends lacking the shopping chromasome.

Still the times were good, and there were bargains to be had. The shops you were after were those run by two little old ladies who loved cats, (and thats's about it) and who had an absolute absence of what might be termed 'street smarts'. By this I mean they had a howling void in place of anything which could vaguely be termed A: an aesthetic sensibility, B: an appreciation of design merit or C: any kind of nose for value. Sounds harsh? Well that's word to ya moms B; the last record any of these girls bought was probably a waltz on Shellac or a music hall number from the mid-late 40s. Other good signs were if it smelled of some enigmatic cocktail of mothballs and sick (the exact breakdown was never clear), and was for a singularly odd charity such as 'Pigeons for Jesus' or somesuch.

I remember triumphantly purchasing a Phillip Starck lemon squeezer (admittedly a bit of designer tat if ever there was one) boxed, for a couple of quid in the Royal Society for the Protection of Blind Sparrows shop by the Heaton Mersey Somerfield.

"Eh love, you really want to buy this?"

Queried the old dear behind the counter, eyeing the chrome object suspiciously. I did indeed.

And records.. not often but ocasionally you'd arrive just in time to snap up someone's collection of disco 12s or Soul lps – an entire crate of sometimes pristine wax for an absolute song (so to speak).

And clothes of course.. retro, ironic, it was all there.

But that was before 'the dark times'. I suspect that there was a golden era of charity shopping towards the arse end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, when people rushed blindly to ditch their old clothes and records in favour of exciting new fabrics and those shiny drinks coasters we call CDs, little realising the kudos that these scorned artefacts would be garnering scant years later.

With the advent of ebay, and perhaps more so the arrival of the well worn rut of cheap BBC daytime programming – 'Tat Hunt', "Crap in Your Attic" etc, a phonemenon ocurred wherin the same crud people would pay other people to take off their hands a few years back suddenly became as potentially valuable as reconstruction contracts in recently deposed dictatorships; through some mysterious sleight of hand and under cover of relentless jocularity David 'The Real Lovejoy' Dickenson became apotheosised as some kind of sloganeering antiques neo-christ. Things were never to be the same again.

When charity shops got smart, the laminate flooring moved in and the bargains moved out, to be replaced by tat of such calibre I'm genuinely aghast any of it sold in the first place – the kind of synthetic jive St. Audrey would have been ashamed to have in her living room when she was rocking a lace necklace. While these once holy bastions of the bargain buy masquerade as shops, all the good stuff is creamed off in some warehouse to be auctioned for a premium on ebay, leaving me to panhandle through shelves of crap I'd deign unfit to throw rocks at. Now where's the fun in that I ask you?

It has to be said, it may just be symptomatic of the wider malaise that is the rampaging webber-beast devouring the high street, as it's not like anyone's going to root through racks of crackly Kanye West MP3s in ten years time is it? (or is it?). Only the other day I noticed Dixons had got eaten.


Anyway. Here's a top ten of things I'd like to find in a charity shop. Pretty unrealistic I guess but you get the picture.

10. A stack of well thumbed 60s design magazines such as Avant Garde.

9. A load of brightly coloured seventies glass sculptures shaped like fish. They'd look really ironic in your bathroom at a party.

8. A cardboard box full of seventies science fiction paperbacks on the Panther imprint. Art direction on the cover is generally a stylishly shot photo of a lava lamp, or one of the glass fish from number 9 above. Stanilsav Lem might be well represented here.

7. Some cool t-shirts – badly screenprinted shirts from holiday destinations, obscure local businesses, and old computer games such as "Shadow of the Beast" earn extra karma points in the afterlife.

6. A clutch of original Blue Note lps from the 60s, slightly worn maybe, play fine though.

5. A pair of nicely worn in 'Big E' Levis.

4. Some retro electronic 'Grandstand' game, such as 'Munchman'. (Wimpey to Pacman's McDonalds, basically)

3. A couple of prints from the seventies – frame is cracked on one. Maybe from the Moebius 'Starwatcher' series? Yeah that'd be nice.

2. Shit.. I dunno, some Star Wars figures? Actually fuck that.. FUZZY FELT.

1. A Louis Leathers 'Super Sportsman' jacket, brown, size 40" please santa. (ironically, my ex housemate Paul did actually find one of these, it immediately rocketed to my number one and proved there is hope yet)


And Now, a top ten of the kind of raw shite you're going to have to wade through in your vain quest to find anything worth posessing.

10. Some James Last LPs. Never heard anything by him to my knowledge, never intend to. The art direction alone elicits the kind of panicked fearful response in me as some dogs have when they walk across the sites of ancient battlefields.

9. Some crappy home decoration book such as "Stencil Your Way To Success!", which isn't even on some ironic Readers Digest type flave. Avoid.

8. A 'Windows 98' handbook, though as Ade noticed the other day, our flat inexplicably owns one of these already (though I suppose I could take it to a charity shop).

7. Nylon shirts. Lots of them.

6. Mid 90s Topman t-shirts bought for the unreconstructed lad by his girlfriend. There'll probably be a faux-distressed picture of a mini on it, or a six-pack of some beer with the legend 'Six Machine" written on it; or (most heinously) the name of a developing country or suitably ethnic quarter of New York: 'Harlem', 'Bronx' etc. n.b. – this 'isn't the same' as the 'tourist' t-shirts described under 'good' in point 7. That cannot be emphasised enough.

5. Same weak assed chic-lit with titles such as 'Chardonnay Wedding', 'Man shopping' or 'Shopaholic Crimes'.

4. Some slightly sweaty looking Nike Trainers in size 6. And no they're not Dunks.

3. A simpsons tie. Though actually, it could be any Simpsons merchandise ie: boxer shorts, waistcoat, bubble bath.

2. Some god awful toy that has been spawned by some corporate sponsored tv franchise, A 'Tweenie' maybe, or that horrible purple dinosaur.

Fuck this is getting boring.. but you get the idea. Any ideas for the number one gratefully accepted.

ps: Hey-yah. One hundred posts deep. I'm popping the Chandon as I write.

*Apple's lawyers allowing.


gridrunner said...

“...friends lacking the shopping chromasome.”
– that'll include me then.

I’d like to suggest glazed white ceramic kittens (and such) as #1 of the bad stuff. My Auntie Frieda (who wasn’t really an auntie at all, merely the old lady who lived next door when I was about four years old) used to have lots of said ‘pets’ arranged around her fireplace.

gridrunner said...

p.s. congrats on post #100

doppelganger said...

Nah come on, it's gotta be that NEW stuff that some charity shops flog now... all in a good cause and all that... helping craftsmen in the developing world .. la... la... la... but it is just WRONG.
Charity shopping has gone to the dogs, you're quite right... grippy sods are all going to TK Maxx now....or Peacocks - great fer yer basics....

The Eyechild said...

Gridrunner: Yeah my gran used to have tat like that. Rubbish, though oddly enough in the copy of Interior Decoration I was reading in The Silver Lake last friday while we waited for our food mag there was a piece about a resurgence of interest in such ornaments – albeit super-expensive variations thereof, and hence not the sort you'd find in a charity shop.

Doppelganger: I'd forgotten that sinister new development in the charity shop's stealthy quest to become 'respectable', insiduous indeed.. TK Maxx is a favourite of mine.. I used to while away many happy lunchbreaks there at the one in Manchester..

mountainear said...

Perhaps 'car boots' are the new Charity shop - ie where charity begins at home. In the garage.

There's still some good stuff up in these hills.

Zeno Cosini said...

There's a good short story by Neil Gaiman about an old woman who finds the holy grail in a charity shop underneath a coat. Priced at 30p.

Interestingly, our clients Chris Dawes and Rat Scabies, who are searching for the holy grail, tried to auction 10% equity in it in advance of finding it. Ebay forced them to take it off the site eventually - the spokewoman said that they had a policy preventing them for offering for sale things that don't actually exist, which seemed a moot point to me. Anyway, it attracted bids of around £120, valuing the grail itself at £1,200.

Sorry, I'm just rambling now.

doppelganger said...

"albeit super-expensive variations thereof"

heh - twelve quid for a plate with a reproduction of some painting with kittens on it - chipped mind....