Sign from Rubha Phoil campsite, Skye

Sign from Rubha Phoil campsite, Skye

Welcome to my second-hand tales blog where I attempt to chronicle my adventures in second-hand shopping, and other greenish ventures.

Like many personal blogs my ideas have changed and expanded over the years. While my love of thrift store rummaging has not changed I have also dabbled in zero waste (here), plastic free (here) and simple, slow living (reading list here). It is here on my blog that I write about the things I have discovered and ideas I have tried to minimise my impact on the environment.

I hope you enjoy reading my random(ish) posts: please leave a comment on any post that interests you – or you could even follow me on facebook or twitter – or both!


Is it okay to make money by selling things that were free (or cheap)?



I have been pondering this topic for a little while.

I began to think about it after I volunteered at our school jumble sale this year. For the first time I experienced the semi-professional haggling skills of customers who were going on to sell their bargains at car boot sales etc for a far higher price.

Then the lovely blogger, Ruby, from Quiet Radicals posed the question on twitter: is it ok for people to buy cheap items in charity shops – and then sell them on for higher prices to make a personal profit?

This really got me thinking. If the item at a school jumble sale, or charity shop, is on sale to make money for a good cause is it wrong for the purchaser to later sell it for more? Especially if this ‘profit’ is then kept for personal gain?

I guess you could say ‘good luck’ to anyone who has the ambition and drive to make money from selling other people’s cast-offs. Whether these cast-offs were donated to help a charity, accidentally left behind, or given for free should be irrelevant. When we donate we should no longer have any say in what happens to that item. It is now down to the charity shopper, freecycler, skip-diver etc to use their initiative to turn a profit.

And yet, I feel slightly uncomfortable about this. I recently wrote a magazine article on upcycling and the skill and materials that are involved in improving old, discarded items is something I approve of. These people have taken time, and spent their money and labour on making something better.

I guess it’s when something is bought for a cheap price/for free and then sold on at a higher price without anything being done to it, is where I struggle. I also think that items bought from charity shops should only be sold to make money for that charity.

A few months ago I bought a t-shirt online that was too small. Instead of having to return the t-shirt, Redbubble said I could keep it (as well as being sent a larger size). They said: “there’s no need to send it back. Feel free to give it to a friend, donate it to your favorite charity, whatever you want..”

Redbubble label

For a brief moment I thought I could sell it on and make some money. However it didn’t feel right. I’ve essentially got that t-shirt for free and it would be so much nicer to pass it onto a friend, as friends have done to me. Maybe I’m just wired a little differently, or the pursuit of profit just isn’t my thing.

But what do you think? Am I being too puritan about this? Should people be able to sell these items for more than they bought them for in the first place?

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What I learnt from our Staycation via secondhandtales.wordpress.com

What I learnt from our Staycation…

What I learnt from our Staycation via secondhandtales.wordpress.com

While we have failed to have a ‘proper’ holiday this year, we have really been enjoying our Staycation,which goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining.

I have learnt that the main advantages to holidaying at home are:

  1. You can really make the most of the weather. Rather than going away and hoping for good weather (especially in the UK) you can wait for the right forecast and enjoy a scorching day out. Last Monday we hit the beach at Weymouth, Dorset. The weather was good, we picnicked on the beach and the kids enjoyed some seaside fairground rides. We also took a saunter around the (secondhand) shops, pausing to watch the boats sail into the marina. All it cost us was car parking, ice creams and a fast food restaurant on the way home.

Weymouth beach

2.You don’t have to go far. Wherever you live I bet there’s an interesting town, well-known (or lesser known) attraction, piece of coast or countryside near to you. I admit we are very lucky to live in the South West. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Bath is only 15 minutes away and, within two hours we can be on some stunning Dorset beaches. Closer to home we have some picturesque Wiltshire and Cotswold towns to explore.  When the weather turned hot a couple of weeks ago we spent the day by the river in Bradford on Avon, just ten miles away.

playing by the river in Bradford on Avon

3. You don’t have to go anywhere. This is something I have been learning for the first time this summer. The children have had as much fun playing with friends in the garden.They have staged plays and shows on the deck; we have eaten in the village cafe; had sleepovers with friends and visited the local parks (including the school playground which is always open)

Playing in the school sandpit

4. If you do go somewhere you can stay with friends. We spent last weekend visiting an old school friend who lives on the outskirts of London. We had such a great time, catching up with her family and also making the most of their convenient location at the end of the Northern Line on the Tube. Using Oyster cards (and a £6  travel card for our 14 year old) meant we were able to visit the capital very cheaply. As well as doing free museums and packing picnics we also visited other (free to us) sights such as Platform 9 & 3/4 at Kings Cross and the giant M&Ms store in Leicester Square (the girls bought one gift here each with money from grandparents). Having taken the kids to see The BFG film we learnt about the BFG/Save the Children Dream Jars that are dotted around London this summer.We downloaded the app and were able to locate a few of these jars which were, surprisingly, crowd free. (plus a bonus for us adults: we got to ride the Tube with a Game of Thrones actor!). We had a great mini break and it didn’t make too much of a dent in our piggy bank!

5. You don’t have to spend much. This is one of the big advantages of staying at home. However having a Staycation doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. I price compared local cinemas and saved a lot of money by taking the kids to see a new release at the local two screen theatre, rather than the newly opened multiplex. We have also taken advantage of council run schemes such as the Big Read and free swimming for children in the holidays.

While we didn’t intend to spend all the summer at home we have really enjoyed ourselves over the past month. By taking it easy, but also booking in days out/a weekend away we really have had the best of both worlds, without breaking the bank. What have you been doing this summer?

Did you go away or have you been ‘staycationing’ too?

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Second-hand vinyl: Abba goes dark and moody..

Today is Vinyl Record Day (in the US), marking the anniversary of Edison’s invention of the phonogram.  So it’s quite apt that I have spent the past week listening to my latest second-hand purchase: Abba’s The Visitors.

Abba: The Visitors via secondhandtales.wordpress.com


I have written here about my personal wish list when browsing through second-hand records. But as well as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’, later Beatles albums (yes I know I’d be v lucky!) and early 80s electronic, I have also been looking out for Abba’s final album,’The Visitors’.

As a child of the seventies I know every Abba song off by heart. As well as inheriting their Greatest Hits album from my parents, I’ve also picked up ‘Arrival’ and, more recently,’Super Trouper’ (£2, charity shop).

This year I started to listen to their final album, ‘The Visitors’, on Spotify (I’m sure there’s a post here: Digital v Vinyl) and really began to appreciate it. With a nod to the  breakups and emotional turmoil that lay behind the making of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’, this album was written after Benny and Frida, the other couple, had split up. You only have to listen to ‘When All is Said and Done’ and ‘One of Us’ to understand the inspiration between these more mature ‘break up’ songs.

But my favourite is the Cold War thriller that is ‘The Visitors’. The narrator hears the doorbell and knows that ‘they’ have come to take her away: “come to take me, come to break me, and yet it isn’t unexpected.” It’s all quite John Le Carre and Smileys People.  1981 was in the middle of Cold War tensions (Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, 1980 Moscow Olympics boycott, Thatcher and Reagan in power and the very realistic threat of nuclear war). This dark, un-Abba song with its early 80s electronic beat is a far cry from the pop-friendly ‘Dancing Queen’ or ‘Voulez Vous’, but probably a more realistic vision of the time. Even the dark, shadowy (and downright moody) front cover depicts a significant point in Abba’s final chapter.

Nonetheless, I was over the moon to find a good copy in a local charity shop at the weekend. For just £3 it came still partly wrapped in plastic. Although the title track is slightly scratched it’s still in good condition and I have really enjoyed listening to it and getting all dark and moody…



Dickens and Domestic Drudgery between the wars: review of ‘One Pair of Hands’

Monica Dickens: One Pair of Hands

Despite our short stay in Swanage we did manage a trip to the secondhand bookshop where I picked up this Penguin edition for £2.

As I have mentioned many times I am a great fan of Persephone Books. One of their re-printed authors is Monica Dickens and I really enjoyed her wartime novel, ‘Mariana’. So I was very excited to come across this edition of her debut autobiographical book, ‘One Pair of Hands’, originally published in 1939.

Monica Dickens, a great grandaughter of Charles Dickens,  grows bored of her debutante life of parties and trips to New York. So, in the mid 1930s she enrolls in cookery classes and starts to work as a cook to a selection of upper and middle class families in London.

Her self deprecating style (she believes she is a bad, clumsy and disorganised cook) and hilarious observations of both below and above stairs life is a far cry from Downton Abbey. While she adopts the persona of an ordinary cook, and never gives away her privileged background, she does hold an irreverent attitude towards her employers, which comes with being upper class herself.

Monica listens at closed doors and pretends she doesn’t understand the French that is spoken by her employers when she is in the room (apparently the language used by the upper classes to talk about private affairs and servants when they are present). Her housework is haphazard, and she often lies about- or exaggerates – her culinary skills.

Yet, despite this, she seems to make a successful, if short-lived, career as a cook-general. Apparently, a cook-general, was a term used in the 1920s and 1930s to describe a domestic servant who undertook both cooking and housekeeping.

Out of the many positions that Monica undertakes, only two are live-in. Most of the time she is employed as a daily cook. She occasionally has the help of a  ‘char woman’ who comes in to clean. Apart from this her only regular company is the daily call of grocers, bakers, milkmen and greengrocers who come to the back door to deliver, and take orders for, provisions.

Reading the book you get the impression that servants were hard to come by in the mid thirties.  By this period, there were more job opportunities for working class women (secretarial, department store sales). By the time the book was published the world was about to change in unimaginable ways which would further break down master and servant boundaries.

With the arrival of technology such as gas powered ranges, frigidairs (or ‘frig’) and even vacuum cleaners, domestic work was supposed to be easier. However the author still seems to struggle with these appliances (don’t we all?).There is an underlying theme throughout the book that employers really have no idea of how hard or time consuming the work is. Having recently re-read Sarah Waters’ ‘The Paying Guests‘ (set in 1922) it is evident how much of a drudge daily life was for any domestic servant, or for those genteel women who could no longer afford them.

It is this daily drudgery and perpetual exhaustion that eventually forces Monica Dickens to give it all up. However, for an upper class deb , this is easily done. My nan (born ten years before Ms Dickens) was employed in domestic work for most of her life because she had few opportunities.

While there are many outdated themes in the book, the one I struggle with most is the idea that people don’t know how to cook. Even the more modest couples who live in London flats seem incapable of boiling an egg. How these people would have survived  without paying other people to cook, clean and wash for them, completely baffles me. Surely one of the most fundamental needs of any human being is to feed themselves, and not one that should be left to rely solely on a particular class or gender?

While the book is perceptive and funny, I can’t quite understand the author’s motive for undertaking this work in the first place. Is it to genuinely find an occupation or is it a source of entertainment? If, however, the experience below stairs was to chronicle a form of domestic servitude, and accompanying class attitudes, that has since  disappeared, then Monica Dickens’ book is an amusing insight.

Best Laid Plans….

So this time last week we loaded the car with all our camping paraphernalia and headed to the Dorset coast for a week of camping.

By Tuesday evening we had had enough of the wind, wet weather and leaky tent and drove back home!

This wasn’t in the plan at all. Having spent an amazing three weeks last year touring Europe by train and camping in the Italian heat, we knew we weren’t going to be able to afford the same holiday again. However at the beginning of this year we purchased a new tent and planned a modest and affordable week’s camping in our favourite UK destination: Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck.

This is our ‘happy place’ and the location for many short breaks and days out (we can drive to the Dorset coast in two hours from home). We had a big list of things to do, whether wet or dry, which included:

  • hiring a National Trust beach hut at Studland Beach for our youngest’s eighth birthday The day was so windy, and we were still trying to mop up our tent. Instead we met friends in Poole and went for a meal and game of ten pin bowling which cost £70 in all
  • journey on the Swanage Steam Railway. This we did achieve and even went first class so that our middle daughter (who is into Harry Potter) was convinced we were onboard the Hogwarts Express!
  • trip to National Trust’s Corfe Castle Driving back from our trip to Poole the weather was so wet and misty you couldn’t even see the top of the castle! Alas we went home before we visited these amazing ruins.
  • playing mini golf and a trip to the amusement arcade. Because of the wet weather we actually visited three amusement arcades! It’s a great way to use up all the 2p coins we had collected over the past few months.
  • ice creams, fish and chips and milkshakes. Managed the latter two, although found a trip to the Wimpy (yes Swanage still has one!) was far cheaper than the American themed diner on the front
  • watched Swanage Carnival Procession and Fireworks The first two days of our holidays were actually really hot so we enjoyed watching the carnival procession on the Sunday.However by the time of the carnival fireworks on the Wednesday we had gone home.
  • walking. We took a walk to Dancing Ledge on the coast, which features a man-made swimming pool. And we managed this before the rain set in!
  • Purbeck Stone Carving Festival. Alas, we didn’t manage this at all, although we have been previously and enjoyed the ‘Fair on the Square’ run by the local pub in Worth Matravers
  • Browse the charity shops. This is a ‘must’ when I go on holiday. I had a good browse of Swanage’s charity shops and its excellent Secondhand Bookshop and Oxfam Bookshop. In the former I managed to pick up a couple of gems which I will blog about later

Looking back, I’m surprised at how much we did achieve in just four days. A very windy and wet night on the Sunday had led to little sleep and a leaky tent. Despite mopping up the leaks, the tent still didn’t dry out and by Monday evening, with the forecast not looking much better, we decided to cut out losses and come home.

So the last few days have been spent unpacking, finishing off our camping food (and contacting the tent supplier). We are also determined to spend the next few weeks enjoying a ‘staycation’ at home and I will report back on what we have done (in our warm and dry house!).

Hope your summer holidays aren’t as wet and windswept as ours!

garden shed, made from two old sheds and fence panel

Upcycled garden sheds


garden shed, made from two old sheds and fence panel

My very clever husband has spent the last few days building four sheds for our garden. Like our house, our garden is very small (we only have one garden as the back of our house is joined onto another). With three growing children we really need to maximise the space we have and so this summer we have lots of plans.

First of all we/he removed the three old sheds that were taking up too much space in the garden. We had a good sort out and recycled, freecycled and threw away stuff that we no longer needed (a liberating experience). He then made use of the old sheds, as well as an old fence panel from a friend, and made these four storage areas:

upcycled garden sheds

(l-r: garden shed for tools etc, wood store, closed bin shed, lift up storage chest for outdoor games and chairs)

The doors on the left hand and two far right sheds were taken from our old sheds. Some of the panelling was reconstructed from the old fence panel. We did buy some new material from B&Q, but found that we didn’t need as much of it after all.

I’m really pleased with the shed for the bin.

bin shed

Having only one garden we struggle with where to store our bins. In fact, this venture has forced me to contact the council and get rid of our large plastic & cardboard recycling bin. We only put it out for collection once a month/every six weeks so we have asked for a replacement canvas bag that will be a lot easier to store.

I have also discovered that I quite like organising sheds (?!) and have enjoyed decluttering and then re-ordering the tool shed.


The location of the sheds against the house wall has freed up some much needed space. We now have a pleasant area in which to sit and the sheds have been relocated to a far more practical location.


upcycled sheds









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Teacher’s gifts: this time I’ve failed….


Looking back to my 2015 posts I realise it was this time last year that I wrote about my own struggle with teacher’s thank you gifts (see here). In the past we have hand made gifts, carefully sourced plastic free ones and also bought a bulk hamper for all teachers and staff to share.

But this year due to a lack of time and money I have put the brakes on and we will not be giving out thank you gifts. Although my eldest is now at secondary school and doesn’t hand out thank yous, my younger two still have nine teachers and teaching assistants between them.

While I have bought some simple cards for each member of staff, and the girls have personally written in them,I just can’t manage the time (or commit the money) to either making or buying gifts.

Which is something I feel really bad about. Quite a few of the teachers and assistants are personal friends and I know how hard they work to create a very special, caring school environment.

But if I can’t afford to buy the gifts, or even the time to make them, then I’m afraid this is one thing on my ‘Summer to do’ list that will have to slip by. I’ll try and be better organised for Christmas….


What do you think? Do you make, or buy thank you gifts to hand out at the end of the year? Are you a teacher or TA and do you really appreciate these gifts?

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