Róisín Ingle on ... bargains

W hen I was in London recently visiting relations I came across the holy grail of second hand shops. These places aren’t what they used to be, as you might be aware. Near the end of the boom (di boom) I experienced something of a shopping nadir when rummaging in a place on Camden Street, an area generally revered as a second hand mecca for Dubliners.

I came across bone handled knives in a box for a fiver. That’s a fiver each mind you. If that wasn’t a sign of a nation in crisis then I don’t know what was.

The whole point of these shops is bargains. A fiver for a knife? I don't care if the handle is made from the bones of ancient Bogmen, that's not a bargain, it's a lynching. My idea of a good charity shop has stuff for 20 cent and 50 cent and at least one rail where everything is €1. But when I want these kinds of bargain basement kicks these days, I have to go up north where Queenie (mother-in-law-in-waiting, gilet wearer, lover of cream cakes, force of nature) drives me around the Christian charity outlets in Portadown, where they know how to price things at my level.

Queenie is a secret weapon when second-hand shopping. She’s unstoppable and shameless. It doesn’t matter what the price tag says, she’ll keep on at the shop assistant until they just can’t stand it anymore and give it to her half price just so she’ll stop repeating “och, can you not do anything for me?”.

I generally go around scooping up what I want and then she takes it off me and drives the hardest bargains this side of Marrakesh. I’ve bought children’s car seats and crystal snack servers and Halloween costumes and yes, a load of tat I didn’t need but it scratched that retail itch and I didn’t have to hide the receipts when I got home.

But when I was in London with my mother I found this charity shop that beat even the Born Agains. You could go in there with a few quid and come out with enough to elegantly furnish the kitchen of your eldest child’s student flat, which is how it should be in secondhandshopland. No, of course I’m not going to tell you where it is. What do you mean, pleeeassse? Oh, alright then, it’s called The Scout Shop and it’s in the Hackney area. (I’d be rubbish under any kind of interrogation, clearly. )

We found the shop when we were sent out to the mean streets of east London to forage for tea light holders for my sister-in-law’s 40th which was happening that night.

My brother lives near quite a posh village, where the butcher has won more awards than Lady GaGa, and people set up offices with their laptops in pubs, and the park is the kind you bring your children to and for the rest of their natural lives they compare every park to that one. It’s the kind of village that when you search for it on the internet people call it a “leafy little secret”.

The cafe in the park serves spinach and kiwi juice. Four-year-old hipsters sit drinking them voluntarily, not spitting any out, while their dad performs tricks on a skateboard, in jeans so skinny they look like they might cause an injury.

My mother and I were supposed to get tea light holders in the posh village. But one of the ten million things my mother and I have in common is that we don't like to walk very far so instead of walking the few hundred metres to the posh part, we turned a corner and found ourselves in Eastenders. Well, nearly. There wasn't nearly as much adultery or casual murder going on, but it had a market down the middle and a grocery shop with pomegranates the size of our heads. And the Scout Shop.

Tea light holders? I found an unopened packet of them there, six for a quid. I also got a bunch of bone- (possibly faux bone) handled knives of Sheffield steel for three quid and a load of sterling silver forks "made in the Republic of Ireland" for another song. I got a postcard of Princess Diana in high waisted white jeans for 10p – every home needs one – and a DVD of The Sound of Music for two quid.

Ok, so, yes, technically when I got the tealight holders back to the house it turned out they were not tea in fact tealight holders but casters from an Ikea desk. We used them to hold tea lights anyway and they drew admiring glances from the cool east London crowd who probably thought they were modern art items we picked up in the Tate gift shop. Success.