Op Shop Hop
As part of the National Young Writer’s Festival in Newcastle this year, I slipped on my tour guide identity and took people around some of Newcastle’s op shops.
The tour was listed in the program thus: “Let Op Shop evangelist Vanessa Berry guide you through the best the city has to offer.” No pressure there! Luckily I am up to the task, even the evangelism, as I heard myself lecturing my tour participants as we waited for the bus in Islington “you have to go out into the suburbs to get the good stuff”.
I was worried about catching the bus, even to the point of waking up periodically the night before worrying about bus numbers and times. I’d decided to go to Islington and Mayfield, a decision which seemed to perplex the lady running the B&B where I was staying. She lived in a 19th century haven of heavy wooden furniture and original paintings on the walls, however.
Simon and I had been on a reconnaissance mission a few weeks earlier. We explored all around and amassed a great deal of things, which we documented in our zine “Still Looking For Junk”. The zine is named from a book that I bought a few years ago, along with the original book “Looking in Junk Shops”. When I bought it from a cluttered shop on Charing Cross Rd, the man behind the desk said “they are handsome volumes”, which pleased me immensely.
I waited around outside the PAN building, on a chair that I’d dragged out from inside. I wasn’t sure how a tour guide should present herself, so I just sat there with my clipboard. Soon enough, people appeared, and I gave them all Op Shop Hop rosettes, before escorting them to the bus stop.
We held up the bus for a long time buying tickets, to the displeasure of the other passengers. I have been in this position many a time, so finally this was my revenge! I remember being on a bus with my friend Nicholas once, and as we sat at the stop for ages, while people fumbled with coins, he grumbled “just buy traveltens people!”. I hear him saying this every time such a situation occurs.
I’d spent a long time on my op shop hop map and itinerary, which might have sapped some of my energy for my tour guide performance. People seemed content to be allowed to roam without constant directions, however. It was fun to call out, as we approached the bus stop, “Okay op shoppers, this is it!” Everyone in the bus stared at me, and I felt full of power and purpose.
The bus stopped right outside the first op shop, which has a stark sign saying OP SHOP out the front, and then, painted on the shop itself Oppé Islington. Oppé! This was a new one for me – I like the accent. Is it trying to bestow some European-style class?
I gave a brief introduction, ending with “Go crazy!” and gesturing inside. People did as they were told, dispersing through the shop, trying on coats, one girl stacking her arms full of picture frames. I claimed my pencilcase hat, which I’d failed to pick up on my previous mission. The staff, including an old lady intent on describing the food bank, a juvenile delinquent boy, and the woman who runs the shop, seemed quite taken with our Op Shop Hop. I hadn’t realised that the rosettes would be so noticeable, but I guess they were red and quite snazzy.
We reconvened at the bus stop at the appointed time – I’d made very clear that the times were crucial, as the buses only ran every 30 minutes. I caught people observing my itinerary and its specificity with amusement. I’m not one for vagueness! And who wants to wait for a bus for 30 minutes when you could be ransacking another op shop up the street.
We ended up waiting for quite a while at the bus stop, while buses going to all sorts of other mysterious places came past. We waited, sitting on the railing. The festival volunteer who had come along to help me, Emily, nibbled on peas as we sat there. I said nothing, not wanting to make her feel self conscious, but it is the cutest snack I can think of.
Eventually the bus came and we piled into it. As I sat there, I could hear the woman behind me explaining to her children what an Op Shop Hop was.
“Do you know what a pub crawl is?” she asked, to which they replied “no”. She explained that we were going to lots of different op shops, looking for bargains.
I rounded everyone off the bus when we got to Mayfield, and we ducked into the Lifeline just as a grizzly old man came towards us, spouting some kind of weird diatribe. I’d hoped that we wouldn’t run into anyone too dangerous as we were out on the street – I wanted to take people to an interesting suburb, rather than a safe, gentrified one. And if it’s the Vanessa Berry tour, that’s the whole idea – exploring places through their op shops.
In Lifeline I watched as people attacked the retro section, pulling out sailor’s shirts and fluoro sarongs. I encouraged a boy to buy a red and white checked shirt, and when I saw him wearing it during the zine fair two days later, I felt proud like an aunt (is there an aunt version of avuncular? avauntular?). “Nice shirt,” I said as I walked past him. Whether he recognised me or not, he looked happy at the compliment.
Near the Lifeline in Mayfield is a shop that’s part costume hire, part op shop. In there is a bric a brac section that sucks in my attention so strongly I felt I needed to be dragged away from it. I kept coming back and looking at the whale shaped salt and pepper shakers (Pat showed me salt and pepper shakers in the shape of bananas!), foldable coathangers, and beaded purses. “I have a whole suitcase of purses at home,” I admitted to Georgia, putting these purses back on the shelf.
In this store I saw what was the strangest item I had come across for a while, I pair of purse pants:
Was each pocket for a different denomination? Imagine the jangle as you walked along.
My next job was to make sure everyone got back on the bus to town in time. Along the way I managed to buy a small Eiffel Tower from the Vinnies. The people behind the counter seemed to find this amusing and joked about it being $15 rather than 50c. I like buying other people’s souvenirs of places I have been.
The new location of the Eiffel Tower, among the blue marbled gardens of my diary cover.
On the bus back to town, which everyone had safely boarded, to my relief, three old ladies were intent on finding out what we were doing and why. I was sitting towards the back of the bus and watched as one of them poked Georgia’s bag to get her attention and ask her these questions. Why were we doing it? For fun of course! The boy with the check shirt said it was to explore. The women processed this information cluckingly. “They were like 3 chickens!” Emily said as we walked back to the festival’s centre.