A few weeks ago, I did a car boot sale with my good friend, Mark. The location was Ford Airfield, near Arundel in West Sussex.

Arranging our stall at Ford Airfield: roll up, roll up!

If the term ‘car boot sale’ doesn’t mean anything to you, my guess is that you’re either not from the UK, or you are too rich to notice that these highly organised markets of discarded personal possessions are all over the place. The idea is that you load your car up with your junk (the stuff you’d either want to ritually destroy, throw away, or take to the charity shop), drive to some field or other place (usually an expanse of unloved concrete), and haggle with strangers over pennies whilst trying to sell as much of your detritus as possible.

It depends on private car transport, roads, disposable items (numerous within a consumer society fuelled by cheap oil and labour). It also depends on communication, haggling, swapping, and a certain anarchic/independent spirit.

Typical car boot sale in the UK, circa 2011.

Well, apparently some people do this all the time. Some people make a lot of money. Some people love it.

I don’t think I’m one of those people.

Gateway to the skies! Ford Airfield’s iconic entrance: a defunct Hunter jet guards a defunct airfield. What does this mean?

Maybe it was just the doing of the car boot sale, but it felt like a little post-apocalyptic standing there behind an old wallpaper pasting table with the breeze blowing dust and litter across the wide expanses of concrete. My used possessions set out like a museum display of my life over the past few years (an old GPO telephone, used baby clothes, a fish tank, a broken dehumidifier), and passers-by examining items with semi-vacant expressions as they weighed up whether they had need of a free bag of disposable nappies (yes, I was giving them away free – well, they’d been given to us, but I know this is possibly considered some form of heresy at a car boot sale).

Getting in the ‘zone’

I couldn’t help thinking to myself several things:

  1. That this was not a great way to spend four hours of my Saturday
  2. That even if you said that you only wanted £1 for a push lawnmower, people would rub their chins deep in thought and say something along the lines of ‘hmmm . . . . I’ll think about it’ before moving on to ponder items on the next stall
  3. That this might be the future

A post-oil world might look a bit like this. Regular organised markets with the salvage of the industrial age being bought and sold, despite much of it broken and worn. As we struggle to maintain even the most basic infrastructure without sufficient resources to keep it working, how might our concrete and tarmac landscapes be re-used?

I read an interesting piece last week by Chris Martenson which touched on a similar issue: The Demise of the Car. The article looks at the escalating costs of the infrastructure needed for road transport and how the industrial system has massive overcapacity for car manufacture. The amount that governments have invested in developing this network for oil-based transport makes it difficult to let it go, despite increasing evidence that car sales have been in decline for several years in Europe and North America.

Well, the same could be said about airports. In the UK, the debate continues to ebb and flow over the capacity of airports around London to compete with European neighbours for an estimated increase in air traffic over the coming decades. Whether or not to build a third runway at Heathrow continues to gather newspaper column inches, culminating in George Monbiot suggesting in the Guardian that 28th August was ‘The day the world went mad’ as the record ice melt in the Arctic hardly registered in the UK press, compared with the airport expansion debacle. Fair point, George.

Anyway, back to Ford Airfield car boot sale. Ford was a functioning airfield between 1939 and 1958. Now it is predominently used as a site for selling old possessions out of the back of cars. Times change and I’m guessing that no-one in 1939 would have considered that 73 years later, the airfield would be used for a motorised flea market. Using the legacy of our oil-fuelled and built landscape will evolve as we move further into the 21st century, perhaps with some weirdly bizarre scenes and arrangements. I’m sure Heathrow runways would make substantial spaces for car boot sales in 2030, although maybe the cars will be slightly less than mobile by that time. Who knows?

Technology and the future at Ford Airfield, 2012

One thing I do know is that it’s going to be a while before I’m ready to embrace the magic of the car boot sale again. Mind you, haggling is probably one skill that might be handy in an energy descent future . . .