Saturday, 28 July 2012
I had planned to spend my Saturday catching up on some American political history by finishing off my anthology of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism. I've only got a few hundred pages left to go, out of well over a thousand, and it's pretty gripping stuff. It has led me to believe that if everything was chronicled half as well that we would be living in a more literature and drug-fuelled world (both most certainly improvements, if Thompson's accounts are anything by which to judge).
But I did not do that, because Katie phoned me in the early afternoon and asked if I wanted to go swimming in the outdoor pool in Hitchin. I said that I very much did want to do that. After some frantic Googling of bus timetables between Luton and Hitchin, we went. It was much fun, and something of an adventure, and my ears are still full of chlorine.
On our brief walk between the bus stop and the swimming pool took us through a very rural area on the outskirts of Hitchin. We wandered down a path with a field on one side and some homes on the other side. They were nice houses, large and well-tended with ornate gates leading onto nice front gardens that were fenced off from the outside world. It was pleasant. It made me wonder why my family chose to live in Luton when Hitchin was right around the corner.
Outside one of the houses, stacked alongside the fence, was a row of boxes and shelves full of books and clothes and miscellaneous household items. Sellotaped to the fence were pieces of paper with prices on - not expensive; very little cost more than £1 - and the request that any moneys paid in exchange for goods be placed in the letter box next to the gate. There was no one there to make sure the people did not simply help themselves to the things.
Admittedly, these were things that their last owners did not want any more and apparently didn't think would earn much on eBay, but it struck me nonetheless that there was a measure of trust offered to passersby that they would not steal the things. I mean, not everyone carries change on them and might not want to bother paying more than the requested 20p. Or maybe just seeing the opportunity to get something for nothing would be too tempting to pass up.
Maybe it's just because I was raised in Luton - a unashamedly unscrupulous place with a few too many shoplifters and petty criminals - but I would not expect people to pay for things that I had left in the street. Even if they were things I didn't want; if I left a box of things to be sold on the pavement outside my house, I'd probably just expect some drunken idiot to either piss or vomit on them and then I would most likely getting trouble for causing such a huge mess.
The fact is that it was nice to see someone - the previous owners of these goods - who actually trusted other people to exchange their change fairly for their unwanted property. It was nice. It was rare. I enjoyed seeing it. It was not a huge thing to be doing and they were most likely just trying to get rid of some things, but it was enough to make me think and make me smile. I spent quite a lot of time rummaging through the things and wondering if I could justify buying any of it.
I did buy some.
I left with eight or nine books and I put a few quid in the letter box. They were even kind enough to provide a few carrier bags so I could carry them home.