Archive for the 'Charity Shops' Category

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

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)

Things not happening

The great American photographer Stephen Shore said he liked to take pictures of “things not happening”. I was thinking that charity shops are often places you can see “things not selling”.

The objects sit crowded on shelves waiting. It feels like you could go back a week, a month or maybe a year later and they would still there. I felt this about many of the charity shops in Holyhead, Wales. 

I was there waiting for a boat a few years ago, and I wandered up the main shopping street after being tipped off it was a haven for charity shops. I found an amazing shop which I later remembered was something to do with feral animals. The old ladies working there were exceptionally friendly and happy to discuss the animals, the quality of the linens on sale in their shop, and Ireland or whatever topic we tumbled into.

This year, I returned to Holyhead in May, but the much loved Cat Action Trust shop was now closed. The signage was still there: “Help with the problem of feral cats – without killing”.

A local told me that the town is full of banks and charity shops, and I found plenty of the latter, including one which didn’t seem to have an actual name, just a sign in its window saying “We are raising funds for the local Holyhead Community mixed bilingual choir”. It felt like a shrine to anti-marketing techniques, with no attempt to display things aesthetically, nothing priced or labelled, and things laid out in such a way that it was hard to tell whether they were for sale or permanent fixtures. 

Two very similar televisions sat on a table, a crumpled Dr. Who poster and a curtain were displayed on the back of a door, a lone squash (?) racket was placed next to a mirror, two plastic folders and a whisk in a curious still-life arrangement, and there was a bag of unopened Readers Digests, still in their plastic wrapping, with the name and address of the intended owner.

The shop staff put no pressure on me to buy or even to look at things. There was a curious air of calm. You can see more pictures here

posted by Priscilla in Charity Shops and have Comments (7)

Solomon’s Glory

I am just back from Greenbelt Arts Festival in Cheltenham. I counted up and this was my 17th time going. There’s a charity stall there called Solomon’s Glory*, and I’ve being buying something from it nearly every year. There’ll be a blue bag in the Help Me! Help Me! shop which I got there at my first one.

I asked Frances – who runs the stall – if I could take some photos and then she asked me if I would let her put them on her website. We had ourselves a transaction, and I started to take a few tranquil shots of the empty stall. But she thought this was a bit silly and told me to ask a group of young people who were nearby to pose for me. It turned out they were on their way there anyhow. Marketing meets real life…

Everything is half price on the last day of the festival so if you find something good you can wait til then, and try to get a bargain. I found a black jacket with suede epaulettes one year, and showed it to my friends, but they told me I had enough coats and not to be buying anymore. I regretted it and when I went back the following year the coat was there again so I bought it and my friends admired it and asked where I got it.

At the festival Oliver James, the author of Affluenza gave a talk called “It’s a mad world” and discussed the link between a rise in mental illness and our placing higher value on possessions, fame, appearance and money. He suggested, that to challenge consumerism we could use the question, “do I really need this or want this?” I wonder how this would work in my shop? Maybe we can discuss it at one of the daily 3 o’clock tea, cake and chat sessions. I am still working out what that will involve, I will probably get a grip on it at around 2 o’clock on the opening day. Maybe you could send me your ideas!

* I know it says Tatenda Charity Stall on the green sign at the top, but there is a sign at the back of the shop which says Solomon’s Glory, and that is what we always called it…

posted by Priscilla in Charity Shops and have Comments (3)

Help Me! Help Me!

 I’ve always wanted to work in a charity shop. I decided to take this wish a bit further, and open my own one. It’s going to be called Help Me! Help Me!

In the Help Me! Help Me! shop I will be getting rid of lots of my things, some of which I have tried to give away before but changed my mind. I don’t like asking for help and I hate letting stuff go. You can get sick of the facts about yourself, so I’m taking action by making these problems the heart of this project.

In Treasure you can see some photos I have been taking of the things: apparently one of the reasons why we hoard stuff is that we are afraid we won’t remember what it looks like when it is gone.

posted by Priscilla in Charity Shops,For Sale,Help Me!,The Shop and have No Comments