The Amazing Pop Up Archives’ Storyteller Maria Whatton reflects on when we ‘popped up’ at the car boot sale on the Swadlincote/Measham border.
How beautiful the world is at 5 a.m. on a Sunday summer morning.
The pit of my stomach churns at the early rise.
Porridge at 5.15 a.m. a gluey paste.
The Sat Nav keeps getting lost.
Unnamed Road it shouts.
Unnamed Road as it sends the car twisting down empty lanes
curling through green fields.
At 6.30 a.m. turning into the Car Boot
the world of the field is already as full as a city.
Stalls are crowded with colourful tat.
Buyers are purposeful, hungry, eager to buy bargains.
Sellers have spread yesterday’s usefulness on wallpaper tables
in the hope of turning it into today’s little wealth.
It’s 6.35 a.m. and the cars are bumper to bumper
snaking in, feeding their pitch cash to the man with the tin.
A colony of Car booters are on the march
mauling mugs, lego men and anti macassars.
Our purple and yellow stalls are up
thanks to the bravery of Paula, Wendy and Debi,
who slept in the field all night, sharing poo stories and attempting sleep.
We turn to each other with tired eyes and yawn:
“Are we not mad? Whose crazy idea was this anyway?”
Oh yes, we remember, it was ours.
Debi’s van is ready for me to sit and tell stories.
Dressed with tea cups and tea pots, silky cloths and simple stool.
I could kiss her. How thoughtful. It’s the perfect place to tell my tales: a sitting stage, with plastic chairs, a makeshift auditorium – open air.
It’s these details that turn the Pop Up Archive into a circus, a magic carpet, a cinema of creativity that brings the past to people out for the morning on a mission to spend a fiver or three.
We haul out the glass vitrines from the van, rolled scrolls of documents and mysterious death mask.
Karen has packed her snugly and with gentle care.
Unpacks her with a light touch, removing bubble wrap and tissue.
(Who was this young woman? Rich or poor? How did she die? Why was her face counterfeited in this way?).
A coffee run is immediate as we meet and check plans for the day.
7.30 a.m. and the temporary toilets are already daubed with car booters’ scat and frilled with emergency tissue. There’s nowhere to wash your hands.
I chat with Kristian and the lovely young girl with the long blonde hair
whose name I don’t catch because I’m also talking with her Dad and hearing about his map making days.
She helps me with the ghost story I have invented about Gresley Hall that houses details of historical facts.
We discuss the nature of the monastery. “Were they Cistercians?”
“Did they wear white?” I need to check.
It’s important for the story.
I sing a Latin hymn like a monk.
Soon there is a different music gently playing.
Julian squeezes notes into hamburger air and Debi joins him to dance through the lanes of tables stuffed with clutter. The Pied Pipers of Measham.
She’s wearing a dress clanking with bric a brac: an Aladdin’s lamp, pottery jugs, and leather slung drum.
They cause a delightful stir and are followed back to our pitch by two enchanted children.
Someone says she’s a nutter. They don’t like nutters and they wave her away.
But most people are tuned in to joy and are gladdened as she spins and twirls.
All morning Archivists and Artists collect folk’s stories and pin them to an ancient looking map.
The red thread laces together old needle factories, elasticated web emporiums, a Mothers’ anecdotes and hard won fields where grandchildren now play.
The death mask opens her eyes, while we are all so busy.
She steals a look at us and listens intently, smiling broadly to herself when no one is looking.
“The Pop Up Archive” she whispers “thank you for giving me some fresh air away from my stuffy box. I remember going to market myself when I was alive, and you know what? People haven’t changed. Not a bit.”
Matt stands in front of our newly purchased gazebos wafting families our way
to hear a tale or write a tag or two.
He’s a calm and casual director of traffic in bright blue trousers and Fedora in case it’s sunny,
he’s never put off by a shake of the head.
Wendy and Paula disarm each new visitor and charm
stories from their tongues onto paper tags.
And all of a sudden 5 hours have past.
There’s a shift change.
Folk are beginning to drift away.
Patches of empty grass appear.
A Romanian family tell us their story.
A brother and sister say they like England and that people are nicer here than back home.
Their English is fluent. The little girl says she’d learnt most of it in 3 months.
They stay and listen to my traditional tales and say they’d like to tell them again in school on Monday.
They are the last. It’s time to pack up.
The hoards of bargain hunters are dispersing, replaced by thousands of small black flies that have turned our yellow gazebo into an inferno of dots.
“Gosh look at them!” I say to Matt.
“Yes, they are thunder flies and them landing like that, means there’ll be a storm in five hours time.”
“Is that true?” I ask.
“No” he replies “I just made it up.”
Heaving and hauling.
Rolling up of documents and maps and rugs.
The gazebos snap shut like
stiff umbrellas. It’s a team effort.
We just have time to listen to Matt’s poem
and join in the chorus.
I buy the chair he’s been sitting on for a tenner
even though I’ve got nowhere to put it at home.
It is a Car Boot after all.
You’ve got to buy something haven’t you?
I’ll sand it and polish it and make a cushion to hide the defects.
It will be my Pop Up throne.
The Next Pop Up event will be at the Gamesley Community Day on 2nd August – more details to follow.