SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: Doreen, Queen of the Car Boot Sale by Simon Hart

Picture: Oscar Johns / Shutterstock
Picture: Oscar Johns / Shutterstock

SHORT STORY: The eternal battle between sisters

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub.

‘Look, someone is in our pitch. I knew I should have worn my lucky pink knickers which I had the big bingo win in,’ Doreen said as she indicated to make the turning into the car boot sale field.

‘We’ll just have to go next to that car. It won’t be too bad but we will miss the shade,’ Simon, Doreen’s helper, responded cheerfully.

The man who owns the field waves as another pitch fee arrives and his dog barks. Doreen stops the car and walks around to the passenger seat door.

‘You are loaded up there. I hope that tray of aloe vera was not too heavy on your lap, Simon. They are my bread and butter,’ Doreen said apologetically. ‘Trailer first for the tables and don’t forget the blocks to stop them collapsing when you assemble them.’

The customers start to circulate and rummage through boxes before all the treasures are laid out.

‘I wish they would give us a chance, Dor. I am working as quickly as possible,’ Simon said as a bottom of a box fell through and several bags blow away.

‘Got any jars for my onions, it’s time to pickle,’ an older lady says to Doreen.

‘I missed you last week. I bought a box full of them but you didn’t show up. I haven’t bothered this week. Got to rotate my stock, you know,’ Doreen said to Janet Jars, which was a nickname for this customer. Doreen and Simon had several other customers with nicknames including Margaret Magazines, Tim Tools, Barbara Books and Paul Plants based on what they were regularly looking for.

‘How is the treatment going?’ Doreen said as she hung jewellery on a mug tree.

‘They do their best for me, but I still enjoy my ciggies,’ Janet Jars said as she walked towards the next stall.

‘Those boots are good for a pound, and with new heels, shame you don’t have my husband’s size, he likes the country and western,’ said a lady in Creole earrings.

Doreen tried to suggest something to make the boots smaller like heel grips or cardboard but the lady was having none of it.

‘See that man in the blue T-shirt that’s just passed us, he not only wanted the car boot but offered to buy the whole car,’ Doreen explained as she took a boxed drink from the picnic bag.

‘I hope to sell auntie’s bolster which was on her bed for 60 years. She said it was made with her mum’s feathers which made my great grandmother sound like a bird. It’s the last thing to survive from her bottom drawer,’ Simon said, hoping for a good sale and recounting the family history he had an interest in.

‘Don’t forget to put the soaps in that basket. My son gets them when he goes in hotels for business,’ Doreen reminded Simon as she dropped a 20p coin in the margarine pot after the sale of a shirt.

‘No problem, but that customer with the OBE is bounding over here. She likes to chat but we are not quite organised,’ he said as he moved from the clothes rail.

‘Hello, my mother had one of those. What do you think it is, children?’ the lady with the honour said to her grandchildren.

‘A wooden toy for a magic garden,’ they responded.

‘Good guess, but it is a darning mushroom for sock mending.’ The lady’s face became contented as she was instantly taken back to her childhood in London. There was a silence before the small group moved on.

‘Look at that lady over there with the big bag she can hardly carry,’ said Simon. ‘She’s an old hand and will probably do a vintage stall somewhere with prices double or more than here.’

He added: ‘She seems to go for things when you say mum had it for years.’

‘Yes, look at that man with those slits up his shorts, it must be summer,’ said Doreen as she wrapped up a Wade animal figure which completed a new customer’s collection.

‘Those long-distance glasses must be the right prescription,’ Simon reassured after there had been doubt over the professionalism of Doreen’s optician.

‘Ah, that chap has gone off happy with your sister’s blonde hair dye. He’ll be dyed and down the disco before the week is out,’ Doreen said wishing he was going to enjoy himself.

‘It is all walks of life here, Dor, and that’s why I like it. All our unwanted things seem to bring such pleasure in unrealised ways. That Welsh lady over there was so pleased with gran’s old loo brush, she said it was perfect for the caravan,’ Simon responded as he moved a coronation mug which was not selling but probably would if it was in another spot on the table.

‘I love that sound of coins hitting each other in the money pot, especially now we’ve cleared our pitch fee. I won’t knock it over as I did last week; the problems we had with the long and wet grass.’

‘At least you have the money bags you were ironing last Wednesday when you were speaking on your phone. Now the peak seems to be over, and only the stragglers left, I’ll put a few things away, like the bell without a dong, and the evening class oil painting just to make a start,’ Simon said, ready to load quickly to avoid being stuck in the queue of sellers leaving the field.

‘I’m glad you came along,’ Doreen said to Simon. ‘I do enjoy your company and help. One day you’ll have to write a story about all that goes on here. We recycle things, make a little money and have fun with the customers. You couldn’t ask for more,’ Doreen said.

‘I’ll do that for you, Doreen, Queen of the Car Boot Sale.’

Simon has been a member of the hub since attending one of PWH’s writers workshops in Fareham in the late 1990s, which consolidated a long-term interest in creative writing. Simon enjoys the humour and richness of the conversations of everyday life.

Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.