Argenton l'Eglise 2016. The D162 is hardly a superhighway.but it does go straight through the middle of the town: quite a system of detours is required when the road is closed for a vide-grenier.

It is all but impossible to explain what a good vide-grenier is like. You have to visit at least one, and preferably several, to understand. The name comes from vider (to empty) and grenier (an attic), but to compare a vide-grenier with an American yard sale, a British car boot sale or even an American swap meet does not do it justice.

Perhaps the purest form is an annual village-wide event where much of the village is closed off and stalls line the streets. Many of these will indeed be manned by locals selling off unwanted goods, though some will be run by professionals and often there will be people selling food, plants, sausages, cheese, wine, bread, cheap clothes, T-shirts, junk jewellery and lots, lots more.

Quite often, there is enough room for emergency vehicles to get through. If there isn't, it's normally only a short stretcher ride. Come to think of it, though, I've never seen a medical emergency at a v-g.

Then there are the refreshment stands: at least one buvette (drinks stand) and usually somewhere selling frites (genuinely French fries for once), sausages inna bun and all the other dubious food that smells so wonderful and is usually so disappointing when you try it: the sort of thing you normally find only at street fairs. The only things we normally eat are fouaces or hearth-cakes, preferably stuffed with rillettes or boudin noir. They are a couple of euros each. There are bouncy castles, rides and games for children, stands selling sweets (candy) including liquorice bootlaces (reglisse américaine) and candy-floss (barbe-à-papa or “father's beard”) or roast peanuts or nougat... The list goes on.

Entertainment is provided for both adults and children. The wine is rarely very good, but look at the price. For comparison, a quarter bottle is just under 19 cl

There are collectors and bargain-hunters and professional dealers looking to stock their shops and poor people who have to count their pennies but still want something beyond a bare, bleak existence; and who, thanks to the magic of vide-greniers, can afford it. About the only thing that's missing is find-the-lady men: minor confidence tricksters of the kind who hide a dried pea under one of three walnut shells. As far as I am aware pickpockets are rare too, but anyone who tries to pick the pocket of the average French villager would be well advised to count his fingers before and after each attempt.

Signposting is variable. If the whole village is closed off, it's easy, but if it's at a sports ground or in a car park you can sometimes drive around for quite a long time as you hunt for the locale.

Arguably the greatest thing about a vide-grenier, though, is the sense of community. People are there because other people are there. It's an affirmation of common humanity: a bit like a football crowd or a religious festival or a street fair or a parade or a university rag week, or, well, anywhere people gather as much for the sense of gathering as for a particular purpose.

Parking is always free, if not always convenient: it may be in a muddy field, or when the centre of the village is closed off, you may have to walk for five minutes or longer.

From early spring to late autumn, you can go to at least one every Sunday, and others are held on various high days and holidays. There is no admission charge; or at least, we have never encountered one.

Typically, not counting the fuel to get there, we spend about 25 euros on a Sunday out, whether we go to one vide-grenier or several. That's under £20, or under $30. That usually includes a glass of wine or a beer each, and sometimes includes groceries such as fresh vegetables or sausage. It sometimes edges over 30 euros, and on one occasion it went well over 100 because Frances bought an antique gold lorgnette and I had a wallet made to measure. On a dull day it can be 15 euros or less. On a really dull day we may not spend anything. Yes, it's consumerism, if you define consumerism as buying stuff we rarely actually need; but it's a peculiarly joyful and economical form of consumerism. And, in its very nature, it is one of the most enjoyable ways both of recycling and of preserving our heritage.

Fouées (hearth cakes) April 13th 2016

Recycled Religion

Argenton, March 2016

Marnes, April 2016

Sex and Vide Greniers

A Princess in a Warm Coat (April 24th 2016)

Scabby Cherub (April 27th 2016)

A Toy Leica (April 27th 2016)

Mayday 2016: Dealers and the price-demand curve (May 2nd 2016)

One-a-side football (May 11th 2016)

Useful boxes for putting things in (June 2nd 2016)

Capitalist Pig (honestly, even with a picture: June 3rd 2016)

It's a wind-up (78 rpm records, June 20th 2016)

Spudmatic spud gun (June 21st 2016)

What are Vide-Greniers For? (August 30th 2016)

Levi 501s (October 28th 2016)

Knife Culture (November 22nd 2016)

Sausage Inna Bun (November 22nd 2016)

Rip Oeuf (non-functioning egg timer, May 25th 2017)

When I grow up (Picture for the Day, November 4th 2027)

Headless Teddies (Picture for the Day, November 5th 2027)

Snail cups (Picture for the Day, November 6th 2017)

With her knickers nailed on (June 20th 2018)

Air Force Wine (June 20th 2018)

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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016