Here in the middle of nowhere and its environs, the ‘Vide Grenier’ season is starting to wind down. Whereas on any given Sunday during the summer months there is at least one such event to be found within twenty minutes’ drive of Tranquility Base, now they are few and far between.
This is as sure a sign of winter’s onset as the clocks going back, or that rather bracing aroma of the surrounding fields being fertilized with 100%-natural farmyard products.
For the uninitiated, I should explain that a ‘vide grenier’ is the French equivalent of a car boot (or ‘yard sale’ for my American reader). The literal translation is ’empty (the) attic’ or, confusingly, ‘granary’. Their main function, as elsewhere, appears to be to provide an opportunity for the local populace to sell their crap to each other.
We went to our first ‘Vide’ not long after we moved here. It was in the local village where, in a field behind the sheep market, just round the corner from the Mairie, we found around a hundred vehicles. These had been marshaled into six or seven straggly lines by a small, self-important looking man whose badge of office was a clipboard held inside a resealable plastic bag. This was necessary to protect it from the elements, which were definitely conspiring.
Given the dreadful weather, which was deteriorating by the minute, a surprisingly large number of punters were milling around. This could, of course, have simply been an indictment of the limited range of entertainment options available on a wet Sunday in the Limousin.
There again, it might have had something to do with the presence of the obligatory booze tent, which looked to be doing a steady trade in draught beer and inky red wine dispensed from gallon plastic containers.
There were some Brits about, although the great majority of those present were locals, easily spotted by their upholding of the proud French tradition of the shell tracksuit as a fashion item. In some cases, I couldn’t help but think that the gene pool might have been better served if their ancestors had got out a bit more.
The wares on display were as varied as the vehicles from which they had been disgorged. Perhaps the only unifying factor was that it was nearly all stuff to which, by and large, you would not willingly give house room.
At one extreme, a few bedraggled potted plants sat on the ground outside a tiny car, from inside which a tiny old lady, also bedraggled, gazed morosely through the rain that was by now cascading down the windscreen.
On the other hand, to judge from the size of their vans, their use of trestle tables for display purposes and the artful disposition of their stock – some of which actually had aspirations of tastefulness – it was clear that some stallholders at least tried to make a living from this sort of thing.
Some of the stuff on offer was frankly bizarre. Did the vendor seriously expect any takers for that old Renault radiator grille? Or the cracked porcelain bidet c.1920? Unsurprisingly, the wheelbarrow sans wheel didn’t seem to be causing much of a buyers’ stampede either.
More typically, however, the displays featured ancient crockery (non-matching), rusting agricultural implements – aimed squarely at the hopelessly romantic expat community – and racks of greasy-looking second or third-hand clothing, the very sight of which was enough to provoke an all-over itching sensation at twenty paces.
To be fair, it’s not all rubbish and most of it certainly isn’t expensive. At various vides over the past year we have picked up some useful and/or decorative items for really very little money: a decent enough French bread holder, a wrought-iron umbrella stand and an old-fashioned marmite have all fitted in nicely back at Brokedown Palace without breaking the bank.
But now that winter’s on the way, I suppose it’ll have to be eBay instead.