Selling off the family silver... ok, I admit it, it’s EPNS.

It was the annual neighbourhood sale.

All along the street, people emerged from their front doors to set up stalls in their front gardens. It is a strange sight, to see

For the fourth consecutive year, we turned out the books we’d read over the previous 12 months and sold them for a pittance.

We hauled out the box of junk... sorry, that should read ‘treasure’ that we had been unable to sell last year, including the Snowman clutching a snowglobe which repeats your pre-recorded message.

Daughter Ruth, a soprano, deepened her tones and recorded a “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”, guaranteed to frighten small children.


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She was selling a few novelty items and books and boyf (teen mag speak for boyfriend) Kev was also selling books plus some X Box games.

Neighbour Karen sped over and handed me a plate of home-made scones with jam and cream to share. I really like Karen.

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As usual, the dealers were out early, snapping up bargains but we were careful not to put any our precious things out until the start time.

Kev, Ruth and my husband settled themselves into garden chairs behind the sturdy paste table and the old plastic garden table covered in an old curtain and waited for the money to roll in.

A man walked by with a Dyson; a large white van pulled up outside a house a few doors away and appeared to the clearing it out. As dining room furniture was piled into the van my husband observed that it was the perfect day for a house burglary.

Over at the Mortimer residence, the two deckchairs went for �12 which was an exciting amount of money; by far our biggest sale of the day.

We also dealt in ice poles, selling them for 5p each which made us 60p profit per 40 sold. Sadly some of them melted as the children tried to decide which flavour to choose.

“Cola, pineapple, orange, raspberry, citrus (that’s what it said on the packet), tropical or blackcurrant.”

It was all too much for one small person who, unable to make a decision, completely gave up on the idea of an ice pole.

For the first time, I had assembled some items of clothing, daring for the first time to advertise my dress size to neighbours. “What size is it?” said a woman, calling across the garden.

“Mmmfff.”

“Sorry?”

Oh, to hell with it. “16,” I called back.

She approached the clothes rail. “I have quite a large bosom.”

There really is no answer to that.

Meanwhile, the Ricky Gervais dvd sold for �1 to an over 18. “No, I didn’t ask for proof of age,” said my husband, affronted. “He was clearly older than 18.”

Selling stuff is fraught with retail danger. We had been careful to purchase ice poles with no artificial flavours, sweeteners or colour. The last thing you want after a day’s pressured selling is a despairing parent turning up on your doorstep with a hyperactive four year old.

“You gave her the e numbers; you can look after her.”

For an unskilled salesperson, the worst question you can get from a prospective buyer is: “Does it work?”

Although it may have worked when you tried it out yesterday, there is no guarantee it will still be in good working order today. What can you do but give some sort of warranty?

“If it doesn’t work, bring it back and we’ll refund your 20p,” I promised.

The day got hotter and, not a fan of sunlight, I retreated indoors to make a cup of tea. I had just put the kettle on when Ruth joined me.

“Just to let you know, there’s a small girl in the downstairs toilet,” she informed me.

This was fine. When a small girl has got to go, she’s got to go. Then her dad went.

“You could charge for use of the toilet,” said Ruth, the � signs popping up in her eyes.

“No,” I said.

We discovered we were selling very cheap with paperbacks at 10p or 20p, while other stalls were offering three for �1. We knew we were probably too cheap when one customer insisted on paying more than we asked. It was reverse barter.

A couple of hours into the sale, our stall was looking a bit depleted. “Can you find some more books... it’s looking a bit empty out here,” said my husband.

I went indoors and collected a few books, a couple more dvds and a vase. Then I realised I was about to flog off things I wanted to keep. My husband was unsympathetic. “We need more stuff,” he insisted.

I gave him two books and an ornament.

My husband picked up the ornament, shocked. “We can’t sell that, it was a present from xxxxxxxxxxxxxx.”

(Lynne Mortimer has obtained a superinjunction to prevent the publication of the name on the grounds it would cause stress and be detrimental to family relationships).

“There’s no reason why they should find out,” I smiled

“Fair enough.” He placed it centrally with a 50p price tag.

It didn’t sell.

While our pitch was looking depleted, there was a growing stack of books in the hallway.

My husband had rescued them from the sale because, he said, he hadn’t yet had a chance to read in the 20 years since we bought them. “I’m not selling these, I haven’t read them yet.”

My mum and dad arrived and I rapidly checked our stock, just in case something they bought us had, mistakenly, found its way on to the table.

It hadn’t.

After failing to sell anything at all to my parents (my pleas of “But I’m your daughter!” failed to move them), trade tailed off towards the end of the day and we packed away the unsold items into boxes, ready for next year.

From somewhere, deep inside a box came a sinister: “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”

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