Going to the Universettee, is your couch ready?

I did an interview with Trevor Anderson, the head of Retail for Oxfam yesterday. It was fascinating, I asked about some of the unusual donations they have had. He told me about an incident a long time ago when someone tethered a donkey outside the first Oxfam shop, in Oxford, and they managed to sell it.  I’ll write more about our conversation again.

Right now I am working on a talk for Universettee. Great title… It’s a brilliant event I have wanted to go to for ages, it takes place in London and the visual artist Janice Macaulay runs it. People give lectures (like in University) in people’s homes (the settees part) on unusual and diverse topics,  and you bring along some food to share before the talk bit. Some of the topics so far have included: Who the heck is Zizek?, Hunchbacks, lunatics and bio-politics in the work of W.G.Sebald, Volunteering in post-war Liberia, and Signs and wonders: the art of Sister Corita. Oh, and the one I liked the sound of most – a talk about The Cardboard Box!

My talk is called “If I go suddenly – charity shop stories” because the obsession continues! Thanks to Ann Marie for the title, and also for the odd/creepy cat picture she bought in a charity shop which will be a prop.  I’ll talk about why I love charity shops and my fears around the old style shops closing. More importantly, there will be a charity shop raffle!

Thanks to Maeve Higgins and her Enlightenment Night I got to do a version of this talk there last November. That is another fantastic event in Dublin, where people give short talks on things they are passionate about. I’ve been to two nights so far and heard about a range of stuff including barefoot running, the art of drumming, starfish, and Michael Fassbender.

I hope to give my Universettee talk here sometime so will let you know. I’m also hoping to launch myself as a quasi- personal shopper for people who like charity shops but never seem to find things in them, or just for people who want to go shopping with me and my beady eye.

The first attempt did not quite work out as envisaged, I took my friend C. to 9 charity shops in Dublin, she bought nothing but I got some bargains, including a Whistles skirt for 1 euro which was great for wearing at Christmas. I found some new shops I want to write about, and went to a flea in Barcelona… (photos of both in this post) but I better get back to writing the lecture now.

posted by Priscilla in Charity Shops,Flea Markets and have No Comments

From Karl Marx to Corstorphine

It’s September again and the Dublin Fringe Festival – now called Absolut Fringe – is nearly here. I’m not doing a show this year, and it feels strange to be without an unending list of tasks and concerns. To distract myself I went on holidays to London and Edinburgh, both cities have fantastic charity shops, as well as a few other attractions…

In London I went to Highgate to visit the East Cemetry and see the graves of Karl Marx (huge) and George Eliot (very subtle). It’s worth a visit and then you can also check out the Karl Marx Tearooms ! and the 3 or 4 charity shops in that village. There was a pretty muddled one which I liked a lot and where I overheard a model chat to the staff. She was a genuine catwalk model, very skinny, very tall and a regular in the shop. They got a pair of shoes out of the window display for her and she told them all about her week.

She said something about going to do a shoot for Versace in Milan. I think it was Versace, anyhow it was someone who needed her to have smaller hips, if that was possible. So she was dieting. “But you look lovely” the charity shop lady said. “You always look lovely”. “No, no I am fat, and my hair is a mess.” Her hair did look a bit of a mess, but only because the rest of her looked so perfect. “No, no your hair is lovely, it’s always lovely” came back the charity shop woman.

I wanted to say, “Her hair is a bird’s nest today and you are too patient!” but I pretended I heard nothing while the model continued to name drop…Vivienne Westwood, blah blah blah.

She told the staff that her tip for losing weight was to eat sweets. The charity shop lady did not seem convinced. “No but the trick is you only eat sweets!” the model explained. “Ah! I see, Reggie should try that, shouldn’t you Reggie?” Reggie shrugged and the model went back to looking for long wispy clothing that would work on her frame.

In Edinburgh I went with my cousin to a village called Corstorphine, where there are at least six charity shops including a brilliant “Shelter” one. In Oxfam I picked out a few things for her to try on as her wardrobe is pretty empty. There was a black and azure blue dress which was cool but a bit “bally”(bally = where tiny balls of material clump all over a garment and distract from the overall item) so she did not buy it.

A few minutes later I was walking down the road and noticed the dress was hanging over on my arm!  I ran back in to explain how I had not been shop lifting, that we did not want the dress, because even though the shape suited my cousin and she badly needed some new clothes it was bally. The guy on the till barely reacted, which was a little disappointing because it felt a bit exciting to be almost up for a crime I did not commit. 

A few days later I was back in Dublin, in the Fringe Box office booking some tickets and I met Jess – blog whizzkid. She used to live in Edinburgh and when I was telling her about my trip she said “Did you find the map of charity shops?” Apparently one of the shops in Edinburgh produced it and it shows you where all the charity shops in that city are. I was gutted to miss what sounds like an addict’s guide to hours of pleasure. It’s probably good I didn’t. In London, I was texting someone about the brilliant find I had just purchased in the Archway Methodist Church’s “Second Chance” charity shop, and the delicious americano coffee I got for 80 pence in a workman’s café,  when I almost dropped my mobile phone down a sewerage grate. Some things are too exciting.

posted by Priscilla in Charity Shops and have No Comments

If I go suddenly…

A friend of mine once found a note stuck to a set of Tara china cups in a charity shop. It said “If I go suddenly, give to Evelyn”. I was thinking, maybe that is a good way to make a will? Just buy a load of post-its and a permanent marker – and maybe some cello tape in case you outlive the post-it glue – and get to work on your possessions.

It’s stories like this which make charity shops appeal to me. I like that you never know what you might find, and how you need to keep your eyes open for the treasure.

A friend of my mother’s had an amazing find last year. This may sound like an urban myth, and if my own mother hadn’t told me on the day she heard it I too would be sceptical. The person was shopping with a friend in a charity shop which they often visited, and she bought 2 pictures, with plain gold frames. I think they each cost around €6. Afterwards they went for coffee to a nearby hotel and examined their purchases. One of the pictures was lumpy at the back so the friend suggested they take apart the frame. So they did and – it is hard to give this the trumpet fanfare it deserves – behind it there was a neat bundle of notes, adding up to €4000!                 

When I heard this story my first reaction was should I go on a week’s trek around charity shops and check every picture frame for bulges? It seems you never know where you might find a stash of drugs money or a pensioner’s life savings…  

I wonder what people think she should have done with the €4000? (After trying to find out if the shop knew who had donated the picture – they didn’t – she split it with her friend.)

I was reminded of this because earlier today I was trying on a pair of too tight skinny black jeans in a department shop and when I slipped my hand into the pocket I found a neatly folded ten euro note! It’s not urban myth material but it could pay for some will-making post-its if I feel the urge…

posted by Priscilla in Charity Shops,Found things and have No Comments

Processing the process

I emailed my mailing list telling them about the shop. I included this sample of the help I got:

Q. How can I decide which projects to say Yes to and which to say No to?

A. Claudia thought this was easy: it’s about the feeling you have when you hear of them. If it makes you feel happy it is good! If it makes you think too much – in a bad way – it is not good.

Several people replied to my mail asking me to tell them more about the help. Like the comedian and songstress Anne Lillis who said:

“Would be interesting to hear more of the advice you got – maybe that’s another show or something! Does that idea make you feel happy or think too much! ha ha!!!”

I said I would put the advice up on the blog. But maybe I should try and sell it! Or swop it and get some of my things back…. Hmm, I can feel the circular arguments growing up around me. Along with prevarication and procrastination? I once bought a book on procrastination and one of its exercises was to write down a list of 100 things you are putting off. I told a friend about this and she thought writing the list instead of doing things was even more procrastination!

Anyhow, once I have finished procrastinating, and I find a good way to communicate the help (in a post? on a page? grouped by theme or randomly? drip feed gradually or in a complete group? with images of the cards people wrote on? with words alone? ideas anyone?) I will.

posted by Priscilla in Advice,Help Me! and have Comment (1)

Nik Nak Northern Ireland

I took a trip to Northern Ireland and stayed with R. and E. who are avid charity shop shoppers. They took me to a place called Nik Naks which is described as “The largest Pre-owned Goods Store in N. Ireland” and is a second-hand shop not a charity shop as the money goes to the owner. It’s one of the maddest places I have ever been.

It’s a huge warehouse sized space, and feels like 20 charity shops stuck together, with rows and rows of things. It’s dirty and dusty and some of the shelves aren’t lit at all so you wander through the aisles peering, or picking things up just to work out what they are, if you can.

Some of the areas have been sorted by category, but others are a mix of things with no order except the order you can put on it yourself. A pile of 1960s discarded plastic things here, over there some 1970s appliances, and next to them some bric-a-brac from several decades, entangled.

We browsed for ages, without seeing a member of staff. When we knew which knick-knacks we wanted to buy we had to hunt for someone to pay. We decided it was the man asleep on one of the couches in the furniture aisle and R. woke him up. He didn’t seem surprised, maybe he sleeps there regularly. It threw me a bit and put me off my haggling. I showed him my box of goods and said “4 pounds please”. He said nothing and I jumped in again with “No, 3 pounds!” He told me that I was going about bartering the wrong way, not letting him get a word in and I had to pay him my first offer of 4.

Nik Naks was a bit overwhelming, I don’t usually find second hand shops distressing but this made me think about all the possessions I’m going to leave behind me. There were so many things and no hint of the people who owned them.

It reminded me of the woman I met in St James’ hospital recently. She told me how she had almost died suddenly from an heart condition and all she could think about as she lay in her ward bed, were her kitchen appliances sitting at home, and how they’d go on working after she died.

It’s a must for prop hunters and anyone who loves to browse, especially in the dark! Have a look here Nik Nak Shop or in the blog Journey section.

posted by Priscilla in Charity Shops,Unusual shops and have Comments (5)

More items in shed

To recover from all the bagging, tagging, and saying goodbye to my things I took a trip to St. Keverne in Cornwall. I stayed in a cottage on Well Lane.

On the other side of the road there was a ‘shop’ where a man was selling off all kinds of junk (pottery beer tankards, ornamental garden frogs, a train station weighing scales) in his back garden.

It wasn’t your typical shop, things for sale seemed to be mixed up with his work tools and personal belongings. There were quirky hand-written labels, with descriptions of the objects : “Nice heavy claret jug”, and “Interesting station platform scales with nice brass face. Unusual.”

I followed a sign which said “More items in shed”. Inside he had a notice on the wall: “This shed warmth laughter light happiness sunshine open”. It felt like he was giving people a narrative for what they should be experiencing.

But then there were the things he didn’t tell.

Were the two ancient tubs of flea powder for sale or still in use? Who was the girl in the photograph? Which beer tankard should I buy?

I never got answers that day because I couldn’t find anyone to ask or give my money to. The owner didn’t favour the hard sell and it seemed like he wanted to keep some mystery. If you are ever in St. Keverne see if you can find him and ask him some questions for me… Click here to see the shop.

posted by Priscilla in Unusual shops and have Comments (2)

Finders, Weepers

I was recently trying to co-ordinate with my mother about visiting her. We were both on the road and I didn’t have a key, so I wanted her to reach her house before me. I texted to say I was nearly home. My mother sent a reply saying “I am also nearly hmmm”. Hmmm: a full fridge, a garden, an attic, a dog.

On the way to her house I took a detour and cycled through a local park, near the Dodder River. I found a blue hoody on a bench. I have a weakness for blue hoodies and for discarded things in general. (In the Help Me! Help Me! shop I had a whole table – actually a discarded sink – full of things I had found and collected, for people to rummage through.)

Anyhow, I stuffed the top into my rucksack and left quickly. In my mother’s hmmm I tried it on but we both declared it a QFM* and I decided to take it back as soon as I could. When I say that I decided to take it back, I mean that I decided to let my mother take it back. My mother has a helping disorder which I gladly benefit from, and anyhow she walks her dog a lot so it seemed convenient.

I gave her a detailed description of what bench I had found the hoody on, and she, liking to get things done, headed off that evening with the dog and the hoody and the mission.

An hour or so later she rang me and here I will use the word ‘aghast’ to describe her – it’s not often you get the chance to…. When she walked into the park she saw there was a football match on and the players were dressed identically. “Guess what they were all wearing?” she said? “Hmmm” I said, “not the blue hoodies?” She dropped it on the first bench – not the right bench – and ran. She did not look back to see if a bare-chested man clutching his returned hoody was running after her, shouting about finders not being keepers at all. And she swore once again to run no more errands for me, or anyone else she knows.

*Quelle Fashion Mistake, as named in the book Generation X, by Douglas Coupland.

posted by Priscilla in For Sale,Found things,Help Me!,shop stock,The Shop and have Comments (3)

Browse, Trawl, Rummage, Find

It’s hard to believe it is over and the Help Me! Help Me! shop is now closed!

I’m missing it: the bell ringing and everyone shouting “Help Me! Help Me!”, the conversations with strangers and friends, and all the tea and cake I could eat daily…

Thank you to everyone who visited and browsed, trawled, rummaged and found. Thanks to all who offered me their help, I am mulling over the things people suggested, and I will post up some of the ideas and advice.

I’ll also add photos of the treasure being taken, and the happy customers, like Irene O’Mara who claimed this tortoise, which I made in primary school but neglected to finish. She has promised to try and complete it…

posted by Priscilla in Help Me!,shop stock,The Shop and have No Comments

1 down, 3 to go

Day one went great! I got help with over 25 things and said goodbye to lots of treasure.

A neighbour from the apartments next door was our first customer at around 12.05pm, she gave me advice on driving lessons and took a green coat.

Jo Mangan was the first person to take something from “The Tat or Treasure Trolley”, Shane Carr won the 3 o’clock quiz easily, and my mother entered the shop just as someone was helping me with the question: “How can I know if I have really cut the umbilical cord from my mother?”

Help yesterday included: “What should I buy in Ikea?” answered by a six year old, “Which of the classics should I read?” “How can I get on better with my family?” and “How can I spend less time worrying about things that probably won’t happen?”  (I will post up more and some answers when the shop is finished.)

Marketa from The Performance Corporation answered one of my favourite quesions so far… “Show me the contents of your handbag and give me something from it that will help me!”  But I am not saying what she gave…

Thanks to the Fringe volunteers Rachel and Gail for all the dish washing and help with telling people what is happening, and of course to production manager Irene O’Mara for doing everything that needs doing.

Lots more stuff in the shop and lots more needs – including “Bring your favourite cake to the 3 o’clock tea, cake and chat”… 

See you if you can visit and please, don’t forget to ring the bell when you enter!

posted by Priscilla in Advice,shop stock,The Shop and have Comments (6)

600 things and counting

Well it is nearly here. Only one day to go and the shop must open! After some panic and denial things are taking shape. It wouldn’t have happened without a lot of help! A full list of people I want and have remembered to THANK can be found on the Thank You! Thank You! page of this website – fantastically designed by Victor Terenetiev.

It is fun being in the shop venue now, as people pass by and want to know what is happening. Today I got asked for a job, and someone wanted to sell me her homemade sushi, and lots of people asked if I will take donations of their stuff. Irene O’Mara, the Performance Corporation Production Manager kept things on track brilliantly and designer Catherine Murphy has finished her lovely window display – letters supplied by my mother and photos by me.

We started to count the things in the shop and there are over 600.

It is slightly scary realising how many things I have, and these are just the ones I can do without! I hope it all goes, or almost all. It is hard not to take some things back and the treasure I am finding hardest to part with is labelled High Risk.

posted by Priscilla in For Sale,Help Me!,shop stock,The Shop and have Comments (2)