Jeremy Clarke

Standing profits

A social leper tells you of his miserable existence

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If my boy asks me for advice about his future employment, I've always recommended that he might think about a career in sport, war or capitalism. Forget Art, I say. Art is best left to neurotics. And though it can be a tempting career move in early adulthood, forget manual labour, too, I tell him. In manual work the harder you work the less you get paid. Fortunately he hasn't mentioned university yet, thank goodness. We don't want any talk in our house about going to university, thank you very much. We'd rather he took heroin than go to university.

Anyway, he's 13 now and it looks like he's shaping up nicely to take the capitalist route to happiness and fulfilment. Money mad my boy is. A saver, too, with a lively bank account and a heavy cash box under his bed.

On the morning of his 13th birthday my boy got himself a Saturday job filling the shelves of a small independent cheap-jack grocery shop. He's already completely enamoured of the idea that his boss, Reg, can buy a vanload of poisonous crap from cash and carry, stack it on his dusty wooden shelves and make 50 or a 100 per cent profit out of it from the elderly poor of the town who flock to his shop like gulls to buy it. It is the beauty of the legality and simplicity of the exploitation, I think, that has fired his imagination. That and the fact that everyone's happy with the outcome. Reg's customers can't believe their luck and Reg himself is on a permanent high. 'That's England for you,' I told my boy when he ran it past me, looking for a comment. 'Peasants run by spivs.'

Five months on and my boy is champing at the bit to try a bit of light commercial exploitation himself. To encourage him in what I hope might be his chosen career, I offered my services as a chauffeur and minor investor and last week we filled the boot of the car with sweets at the cash and carry.

On Sunday we took said sweets, plus a box of unwanted paperbacks, his half-brother's Pokemon card collection, some bone-china plates and a box of old toys to a car boot sale held in the carpark of the local sports centre. It was my first experience on the other side of a sales counter (in this case a wallpaper-pasting table). It was my boy's and his half-brother's also.

Excited far beyond our own expectations, we edged the car through the bank holiday crowd, found a spot and parked. And immediately, to our great surprise, we became the focus of a determined crowd of looters. I tried to get the pasting table up but was jostled aside and everyone started helping themselves to the boxes of sweets and assorted junk in the boot and on the back seat of the car. They pulled them out and rummaged through them, tossing aside anything they didn't want on to the tarmac. I'd made my boy and his half-brother pack the boxes in an organised, neat fashion and they looked on with amazement from a safe distance at these bestial adults. I finally managed to get the pasting table open, and, wielding it as one wields a sheet of corrugated iron to herd fractious pigs, cleared a defendable position immediately behind our car then set the table on its legs as a barricade.

We might have lost stock in the confusion or we might not. (The lads rather thought we had.) Some of the looters, however, pressed coins on me. And seeing money change hands, greed overcame my boy's fear and he joined me behind the barricade and took money also. In that first wave we sold three plates, two paperback novels, my car jack, which I'd rather have kept, a comfortable folding chair I'd brought along for sitting on when sales were slow, which grieved me even more, and an aerosol tube of joke fart spray.

(The fart spray I was glad to see the back of. It smelled nothing like any farts I've ever smelled but in its own way it was truly vile and I'd fallen victim to it a number of times.)

Once we gained the upper hand over our customers, we managed to keep order, just about, for the rest of the morning. I even managed to leave the stall for a few minutes and buy several paperbacks, very cheaply, from a neighbour. Unfortunately my boy sold one, Alan Bullock's biography of Hitler, which I'd been longing to read for some time, to an old lady for 50 pence.

We made about £15 profit in the end, split three ways. I was a long time standing up for my five quid, I felt, but my boy says he can definitely see himself doing it again next week.