I hadn’t set out to go second-hand buying while in Normandy. It’s February and moreover I’d heard from fellow traders that prices in France are high. But I couldn’t resist buying the Calendrier 2015 des Brocantes et Vide-Greniers at Carrefour, a bargain at €3.80.
Apparently, there’s a braderie (second hand sale) at nearby Caen and a socio-puces (puces being flea market) at Ouistreham, both on Wednesdays.
We head first to Caen, Chemin Vert, résidence des Pinsons. I spot a sign to Chemin Vert at a sortie off the motorway but the satnav lady (who pronounces the French roads in a hilarious English accent) calmly insists we carry on. We end up in the middle of nowhere – well, rue chemin vert. No braderie here.
Off then to 69 rue Gambetta, Ouistreham. Is this it? An almost empty courtyard, the downstairs shutters of the surrounding buildings closed. But wait, in the corner is a tiny junkshop, its contents spilling outside. We park up.
Inside La Caverne d’Ali Baba, we gingerly step around each other. The building is crammed floor to ceiling and mostly with breakables. I am taken with a miniature display of a French linen cupboard, only €1.50. I pay the lady. The newspaper article on the wall informs me that her name is Reba, that she is Tunisian and somewhat of a local celebrity.
Reba tells us that the money raised goes to helping about ninety unemployed people in the area (ah, so that’s what socio-puces means), that unemployment here is a serious problem, that some can’t get a job and others don’t want to work but they do not discriminate. There will be other “shops” open soon, but she is always here early. She asks where our party has come from: Angmering, which is twinned with Ouistreham.
Other people come in. The junkshop gets more and more crowded. Reba introduces us. Items are pressed into our hands – china cups and saucers, a picture, costume jewellery – and money given to Reba. “Cadeau, cadeau!” It’s as if we’ve stumbled into some lovely, crazy party.
We manage to take our leave. Outside, some furniture has appeared outside one of the other buildings. Number Two Son buys a side table for €3. At another “shop” which specialises in pictures, son’s girlfriend buys a selection of small frames, including a Bakelite one. At yet another, a harlequin expresso set (€5) and a Jules Verne special edition (rather more) are purchased and many, many more items admired and considered, including some white embroidered linen chemises, just €3 each.
Eventually we run out of energy, money and space in the car. It’s been an odd experience, we reflect, a sort of hub of charity shops open just one afternoon a week, but it’s good to know that our purchases will help our twin town.