Greta with a chainsaw, Cassandra at the flea market

Spread the love

The flea market is in full swing. A little girl with Greta pigtails and a Frozen backpack, all of five years old, has got hold of a toy chainsaw. Who makes toy chainsaws? She is chasing her little brother and the family dog, a wire-haired terrier, around the basketball court, swerving among the legs of all the people milling about. She has an expression of fierce delight on her face. The brother and dog seem happy enough too, dodging her attacks with squeals and yips of joy.

Books in English

"Every so often, very reluctantly, I decide I have to weed the bookshelves ... to make room for new titles." Text superimposed over a picture of my books in a big blue bag.

The books I cleared from my shelves – books I read in 2020 and 2021 and knew I (probably) wouldn’t want to re-read – were languishing in the big blue bag on the floor by my desk. They were waiting for me to carry them down to one of our local charity shops. The shops would not be glad. Physical books aren’t popular nowadays, and books in foreign languages, even English, are doubly unwelcome.

In the weeks since I cleared my shelves, I’d been into the bag a couple of times to rescue one or two titles.

Mrs SC saw this and eyed the bag occasionally. She’d been pleased when I first cleared the shelves, but as the books remained in the bag and the bag remained by my desk, she’d grown more … thoughtful. Now she said, “Before you take them to the charity shop, remember the flea market. You might sell some there.”

Members of our housing co-op organise a local flea market on the basketball court once a year. It’s largely an opportunity for parents to sell clothes their kids have grown out of, prams, children’s car seats, distressed toys. They sell to the parents of younger children and to their kids. The bike committee come along to offer advice and quick repairs. A couple of enterprising families sell juice, thermos coffee and home-made biscuits.

There’s no requirement to book a pitch, just turn up in good time, find a space and display your wares.

At the flea market

Little girl with pigtails, Frozen backpack anda toy chainsaw

So that was how I came to be standing to the side of the basketball court one grey Saturday morning, watching Greta re-enact the Texas chainsaw massacre. My books were spread out at my feet next to a sign saying “Books in English”.

Inevitably, the first book I sold was one of a few Swedish language titles I also had. After half an hour, though, custom picked up and in two hours I’d sold ten books and made 60 Swedish crowns. Enough for a cup of coffee, a biscuit and change from the little girl on the refreshment stall opposite. She was doing brisk business and at about ten years old was considerably more sales savvy than I am at sixty-five. But I wasn’t there to make money.

It was more interesting to people-watch and chat with the folk, mostly students or recently done with school, who stopped by to look at the books. Sometimes, often shyly, they liked to practice their English.

One young man, whose girlfriend actually bought a couple of books, talked to me about mythology. He wasn’t shy. Norse gods, Greek gods, Hindu gods, he rambled on. I wasn’t sure where this was going, but kept up my side of the conversation with nods of agreement and the occasional interjection. He wore a Thor’s hammer round his neck and I may have precipitated the avalanche by commenting on it.


Afterwards, the guy behind the baby-clothes-and-played-out-toys stall next door said he got the impression I really knew what I was talking about. You can fool all of the people some of the time.

Truthfully, I was puzzled by the young man’s harping on about “the Cassandra myth”. He was in disagreement with Ovid’s version of the story, he said. It was the one most people knew.

Image of Cassandra before the gates of a burning Troy, with Greta in pigtails and a chainsaw.

I thought, Ovid? Cassandra? Surely there’s no metamorphosis involved – and there’s no love lost between Cassandra and Apollo. Not enough for Ovid to make a love poem out of anyway. Apollo tried to get Cassandra to have sex by giving her the gift of prophecy. Then when she wouldn’t open her legs for him, he spat in her mouth so no one would believe her when she prophesied. Charming fellow.

Of course I didn’t remember the details out on the basketball court. I had to check later. At the time I nodded along.


It crossed my mind later (as I sat at the kitchen table and warmed up again), that I had been mansplained to. Mansplained, or whatever the equivalent is when the young misexplain to the old. After a working life teaching teenagers I suppose it’s only fair for me to let the rising generation get their own back.

As he talked, his girlfriend went through my books and picked out the two she wanted. I forget which they were now. She paid me, he talked. And then she stood and looked on as he talked some more. I got the feeling she was relaxed about not being the target for his monologue. I’m trying to remember the expression on her face. Was it admiring? Loving? Patient? Neutral? Was it hiding boredom?

As he talked, as she stood by, five year old Greta reappeared from the throng. She was trailing her mother, with her brother and the dog, on their way home. She still grasped her toy chainsaw. I saw the girlfriend’s eyes catch on the chainsaw and follow the family as they walked away. Her boyfriend talked on.

I imagine the girlfriend in a month or a year, finally having had enough. She’ll probably leave him, but maybe she’ll get a chainsaw and stalk him down the street as he backs away, all the time explaining how she simply doesn’t understand the Cassandra myth.


The image of Cassandra before the walls of Troy is adapted from the original by Pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn de Morgan downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. The little girl with a chainsaw is a composite collage put together from various sources and processed through Photoshop. The blue bag of books is my blue bag of books!

Read more …

Spread the love

Leave a comment