Perhaps because it is one of the biggest vide-greniers in the area, with over 200 exposants, Moncontour is not one of the best. It attracts too many professionals, with their high prices and (in some cases) their over-specialization. You still don't know what you are going to find, and there is often rarer stuff than at a proper vide-grenier where people are just getting rid of stuff they don't want; but on the other hand, a lot of this stuff probably came from vide-greniers anyway, because the dealers get there early and comb the stands for bargains, only to sell them on later and usually elsewhere. 

Our Lord of the Very Pistol  (see also Recycled Religion). I'd never seen a Very pistol, a.k.a. flare gun, for sale at a vide-grenier before, but this year there were two. After I'd discovered that the crucifix on this stand was 30€, about six times my normal limit, I didn't bother to ask the price of the gun, but the other one was 300€.

Admittedly it can be difficult to distinguish between a professional dealer and someone getting rid of a lifetime's collection, or perhaps more likely a deceased relative's lifetime collection, but at this point, the prices start to be a clue, as with the collection of cigarette lighters below. Dealers tend to charge the maximum they think they can get away with, which may not be all that much, but is likely to be several times what you'd pay if people just wanted to be rid of stuff.

Cigarette lighters. The pig is the one that intrigued me. He's a gas lighter. You stick the gas canister in his bum to re-load him and press the button on his forehead to light the flame, which spurts out of his nostrils. Because I've idly collected pigs for decades, I might have bought him at 2-3€, but even at 5€ I could see that he's one of those things that just constitutes more stuff. If he were not being sold by a specialist in lighters, I'd have expected 1-2€.


Alarm clocks. Go on: tell me this is a "collection", rather than a dealer's stock.The prices confirm it. Frances quite liked one of the red ones (we visited the stand separately) but on learning that it was Chinese-made and for sale at 12€, which was probably what it cost new, she rapidly lost interest.

There are few better examples of either free markets or price-demand curves than vide-greniers, and few things that can make us ask ourselves what we want, and why. They can also push us deep into speculations on the nature of abundance and superabundance. "Enough" is a very flexible concept. Even those of very modest means can afford to eat well and to spend their surplus income on pig cigarette lighters, alarm clocks and indeed crucifixes: we bought three, two at 1€ each and another at 30 centimes. At last count I had around 56 crucifixes on one wall of my entry-hall: Recycled Religion again. But what if you habitually buy your clothes at vide-greniers, not out of virtuous recycling but because it's all you can afford? What if you can't afford clothes at all, and have to rely on charity? What if you can't afford food, and have to rely on food banks?If you live in a rich country and go to food banks, you're still likely to be better off than a subsistence farmer who is barely subsisting, but then again, he has "enough" compared with someone who is starving to death, and watching their children starve. The book How Much is Enough, by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, is well worth reading, though you may want to read the Grauniad review rather than the "puff" in the first (Amazon) link. 

Dismembered doll(s). Despite the weighty considerations above, you have to ask yourself who is going to want to buy dismembered dolls. It calls to mind another Stanley Holloway monologue, "With her head tucked underneath her arm", about the beheaded Anne Boleyn: not in the best of taste, but hard to forget. 

There is a theory that more people find clowns frightening than find them funny. I am not convinced, but certainly, the more I see of dolls at vide-greniers, the stranger I find them. It requires such an enormous leap of imagination to treat a doll as a person, whether it's a little girl arranging a dolls' tea-party or a small boy playing with Action Man and the like, that it calls into question how much "realism" children (and indeed adults) actually need or want. It also invites another question. Once there is an excess of realism, with opening and closing eyes being merely one of the most common examples in dolls, when does dismemberment like this become nightmarish? For me, quite quickly. For others, I don't know.

Of course it's possible, and indeed easy, to over-think anything. But as Socrates is reported to have said, The unexamined life is not worth living. It is not merely the pleasure of thinking: it is also the only way that we as individuals and therefore society as a whole can hope for any kind of progress. This is as true of technology as of morality: not just why we do things, but how we feel about them when we do them, and how we do them. An "examined life" embraces such things as buying (or not buying) things at vide-greniers as well as looking at the things that are for sale and speculating on why they were ever bought in the first place; why they are being sold; and who (if not us) is going to buy them.

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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016