The “posh” car boot sale was to be held in the grounds of Orwell Hall, at a cost of £50 a pitch, with all proceeds going to the Donkey Sanctuary – the favourite charity of the hostess, the Honourable Letitia Ward Orwell. Only the “best people” had been asked to man a stall and, as Anna Perry pointed out, not only was it in aid of a good cause, but the most successful vendor would also be invited to a select bash up at the hall afterwards. Anna’s financier husband, Luke, was a lot more phlegmatic. It was, he said, a unique chance to palm off some of his tat: “One man’s trash, and all that.”
Luke and Anna’s best friends, City lawyer Oliver Wadley and his wife, Roseanna, had also been invited to flog their wares at the venerable bazaar, and the two men spent several evenings hooting with laughter over their potential contributions. Luke, for example, had unearthed an untouched 15-year-old Apple MessagePad with questionable handwriting recognition, while Oliver bet his cohort a bottle of decent claret that his pristine Sony MiniDisc player would make a quicker sale. Then there was the CD of the Bee Gees’ greatest hits that Luke was convinced would make a fortune, now that Robin and Maurice Gibb had not strictly adhered to the sentiment of their signature tune. Oliver, meanwhile, argued that his mounted Big Mouth Billy Bass fish, which sang “Take Me To The River”, was a potentially valuable antique of the future.
Anna and Roseanna, however, had no intention of peddling such tacky gear. The sale was, for them, reverse retail therapy, and tat was taboo. The virgin gadgets, naff CDs and plastic perch were all subsequently banned. So too was Luke’s moth-eaten Arctic-fox sporran and a limited-edition loving cup celebrating Charles and Camilla’s wedding, which had been bequeathed to Anna by a Midwestern American house guest. Roseanna similarly gave the thumbs down to her retro, size-10 designer dresses because she didn’t want anyone to think she had put on weight, and additionally rejected a boxed set of the original television series of Beverly Hills, 90210, on the grounds it might betray her age. On the other hand, Anna was pleased to off-load her Michael Jackson “Thriller” jacket, together with an immaculate vinyl copy of The Beatles’ White Album, now that she and Luke no longer owned a record player. And both women were equally happy to let go of the twisty bead necklaces they’d amassed the last time they’d been in vogue.
Anna was up before dawn on the day of the sale, the family’s Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake weighted down with enough well-to-do bric-a-brac to furnish Asprey. In the half-light, she set up her trestle table next to Roseanna’s and waited cheerfully for the onrush. Unfortunately, when the throng did descend, Anna – who had never stood behind a till in her life – learnt that she was no souk trader. Her grandfather’s shooting stick, which she had marked at £20, was haggled down to £2 by a tattooed ruffian who complained that the leather seat was mouldy. Then an old woman said she would report Anna for breaking the Trade Descriptions Act by selling a Victorian silver paper knife that the harridan claimed was silver plate. (Anna let it go for £1 just to be rid of her.) And that was before a gangly adolescent spilt a can of Coke over the lavender bags that Anna’s cleaning lady had made to help out.
The final straw came when a Jack Russell lifted its leg against The Beatles album, which she had propped against a table leg. The dog’s surly owner did not apologise, but instead offered Anna 20p for the Fab Four’s fêted double platter. It was at that moment that Luke arrived to see how his wife was faring as a merchant of bourgeois bargains, and saw the disc disappearing into the crowd under the arm of the man with the yapping terrier.
“Christ, you didn’t sell the White Album, did you?” exclaimed Luke.
“It was ruined anyway,” said Anna. “And don’t worry, I’ve still got all the tracks on my iTunes.”
“But it contained my family’s collection of LS Lowry sketches!” Luke wailed. “I hid them in the sleeve to avoid death duties when Dad died!”