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March 12, 2011

A Secondhand Life

by Val Reynolds

Until recently secondhand was not fashionable, shopping until you drop was. Now, with worsening times on the horizon recycling may well become more the norm. Some of us have always been into second hand to some extent and we were interested in Val Fieth’s account of her Second Hand Life and her favourite websites.

I am child number 5 of five children born in the war and we grew up with second hand things.

I dreamed and prayed for a shiny new Pink Witch bike but neither God nor my parents heard my prayers, and I got a second hand blue non distinctive bike. I was so very disappointed then, being about nine but now I love the whole concept of recycling. We made everything from things we found. Including bikes. I bought my two year old daughter a much used and loved two wheeler bike with no stabilisers on which she rode confidently before she was three.

My house is second or eighth hand and I drive a second hand car. Both of these very important things have been so welcoming to so many people. I have driven my car to many places and I have even slept in it, cosy and warm and even in a second hand sleeping bag.

When my daughters were young, I wanted them to have music so I advertised for a piano in the local paper and three people phoned me. I rang a local brother and my sister to see if they wanted one and they said “Yes please” so I bought all three pianos. Another brother happened to be staying who lived in Australia so we rented a van, collected them all delivered the other two. I bought one daughter a lovely flute and the other one a clarinet.

I have been a guest at some wonderful places such as both Houses of Parliament, The Mansion House, 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace and to all of these I have worn secondhand designer clothes. These were very exciting and I wondered who had bought them first and where these clothes had gone. I had two lovely outfits for my daughter’s wedding and rehearsal dinner.

My dining room and kitchen tables are second hand and very many people have sat around these tables, eating, drinking, talking, laughing or playing games. I have some big tablecloths from Oxfam.

I worked very hard in LETS, Local Exchange Trading Schemes, where we didn’t use money as such but green currency so we had spending and/or bartering power to sell and acquire things. I have lots of single bed linen in exchange for my photo cards.
Quilting is such a beautifully creative hobby. We took lots of quilts made from second hand fabric, to a poor village in Mexico where we were building a clinic.

I made lots of damson, plum and raspberry gin to give as gifts and I was very appreciative that a local pub saved me screw top bottles.

I buy recycled paper. During the time when I took many photographs, I bought a second hand Press camera from a friend on the local paper. I had exciting learning experiences during those film years, challenging myself.

From my greenhouse have come hundreds of plants because people gave me their old pots and I could put my seedlings in them. I spent many happy hours there listening to my second hand radio. My crumbly dark rich home made compost is a veritable triumph.

Children’s clothes and games from jumble sales, charity shops and car boot sales have been very welcome to many people. I bought lots for my American granddaughter and sent and took them over. Sent some to my friends in Bucharest. Bought more for my new English granddaughter. It makes spending and giving so much more fun. Many lovely little girl’s outfits have been bought.

I have many books on many subjects and many of these have been enjoyed by generations of people as they are over 100 years old. I bought many second hand books from Amazon and gave many people the book I Hope You DanceI Hope You Dance

I love web sites like and am frequently amazed when I look around at all of the things I have acquired. I once could be moved around London from all of my flats by a friend with a car, and that included my 100 year old Singer treadle sewing machine.

I think that is a wonderful idea. I saw the film “The Age of Stupid” and I would like to be even better at recycling. Sadly my bike was stolen from my garage recently so I must find a second hand one.

My pond gives joy to many people. All of the original fish were gifts, and some more have been born here. The sleepers surrounding it once lay under the railway lines.

Who wore these clothes? Where did they go? Who did they meet? Who used this press camera? To take what exciting photos? Who lived in my house over the years? Who drank the wine in the pub and I have the small bottles to fill with pink gin as gifts? What a story my sleepers could tell. Who else played music on our instruments?

Val Fieth, Contributing Author

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