I buy a lot of things second hand.
One of the best things about buying second hand objects is that, sometimes, you find something unexpected on the inside.
I’m not talking about rat kings, dead crows, or strange glowing homunculi. I’m talking about things that have been slipped inside other things and forgotten.
For example, I’ve just finished reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography.
It’s a masterpiece, of course. Like only the best books can, it taught me a lot about myself. As part of my ongoing mission to not come across as a pretentious tadpole, the lessons learned shall not be disclosed here.
I cannot be the only one to wonder what Susan would have to say about Instagram, the selfie, and drones? Has anyone written that book?
Of particular interest, though, was this thing I found on the inside:
It’s like a Monopoly card, but good for use in real life. It contains detailed instructions on what to expect should you be arrested for drug possession, including information regarding your rights, and the sort of things the police simply aren’t allowed to do.
As you can see, it’s produced by Release, a charitable organisation that specialises in providing “free non-judgmental, specialist advice and information to the public and professionals on issues related to drug use and to drug laws.”
I bought my copy of On Photography from a sweet old lady at a car boot sale. The mind doesn’t quite boggle, but it does wander a little. Was this pamphlet included by accident, or on purpose? Did she feel that I needed some guidance, or that everyone needed guidance?
But even better was the prize lurking inside this record:
A Change of Heart by Golden Avatar. It’s a lush, symphonic 70s folk rock album with a strong Krishna influence. It’s not bad.
On the inside, though, was something truly special:
On May 25th, 1978, Jacqueline Robinson won the Butlinland Miss Elegance Competition. She was awarded a certificate, which she put into her treasured copy of Golden Avatar’s A Change of Heart for safe keeping.
36 years later, I found that certificate.
There is so much to love about this. If you’re not aware, Butlin’s is a chain of British holiday camps. For some, their name is synonymous with grotty tackiness. Some like to compare Butlin’s camps to concentration camps.
These people are horrible people. I never had a Butlin’s holiday myself, but we did once visit one of them whilst on holiday elsewhere. We used their swimming pool and had a go on their roller coaster, which played the theme from Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks on a constant loop.
It was a great day, which is why I have a soft spot for Butlin’s, despite having never enjoyed a full Butlin’s experience. There’s just something so cheerful and innocent about the place. I’m not one for national pride, but I can’t help but feel a sort of affection for the innate naff Britishness of Butlin’s.
And besides, having hosted no small amount of ATP Weekends, Butlin’s has now been immortalised as a hub of niche indie cool. If it’s good enough for Julian Cope, Kevin Shields, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, and Matt Groening, then it’s good enough for me.
Anyway. Butlin’s had an annual Miss Elegance competition. I couldn’t find any pictures of the 1978 contest, but here’s one from 1981.
It looks as though Miss Elegance was a less terrifying, less intense and more wholesome version of those horrible American child pageants. Jacqueline Robinson came first, and she must have been delighted.
I wonder what she’s doing now?
Every time I buy a book or an album, there’s always the chance that the words or the music might change my life for the better.
When I buy them second hand, there’s the additional chance that I might receive a bonus artifact of personal history; a golden gobbet that might once have meant the world to someone.
It’s not bad.