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The Steamer at Second Chance

The Steamer at Second Chance

This piece is for the staff, and is displayed downstairs, next to its subject - the steamer.  


If, like me, you've ever wondered why clothes at most charity shops smell fresh and appear washed, and you wonder how they do it - this is how: the steamer is a machine which looks something like a large vacuum cleaner, but has a base full of boiling water with some fabric conditioner mixed in, and from its nozzle comes a constant spray of sweet-smelling steam.  With this apparatus, clothes can be 'steamed' upright on their rail, and it only takes a minute or two to do each garment.  It's very effective, and interestingly, many people enjoy this job and find it quite satisfying and relaxing to spend a few hours just working through racks of clothes.


If you try to read this piece out loud, you'll find that it's an extended tongue-twister - it's meant to be fun and to elicit a knowing laugh from the users of the steamer!

Book Titles Browsed in Second Chance

This piece is a list of titles of books found amongst the shop's stock.  I've been collecting book titles for a few weeks, with the help of the two specialist book volunteers, but then quickly had to assemble my list into the above piece when I heard that the window needed to be filled with a book display this week.  


Some of the above are genuinely quaint and charming old books; some are modern books with deliberately curious titles, and some are modern books with innocently curious titles, e.g. Birding in Lesbos, which is about birdwatching on the Greek Island of Lesbos.   I also found a lot of books about books themselves, and books with titles starting with 'The Book of........'


This piece is now on display in the window, and directly below it are many of the books mentioned in the piece, so I am hoping people will read it and then look below and see the connection.    It was also my job this week to assemble the whole window display.   However, this is an endless job - as soon as something gets sold, you need to replace it with something else suitable, and if it's an important part of the display, you need to re-organise and re-think the whole display structure.   Inevitably, some of the books included in my piece will probably soon get sold, so the visual connections will be lost.   I am therefore preparing another, differently focused piece for the book window...


Below are photos of some of my favourite book finds: The Giant of the North, or Pokings Round the Pole, and Musical Drill for Infants.

Pokings Round the Pole - cover
Musical Drill for Infants - cover
Book Display in window
Window-dressing with macabre mannequin

Above: setting up the new window display, which necessitated moving this ex-automaton (which is sadly, but understandably, now sold).

Above: the centre of the book display, featuring many of the titles mentioned in the piece displayed above them.  

The Seasons Seen in Second Chance

The Seasons Seen in Second Chance

You can work out the season, the month, and probably also the prevailing weather, simply from what the shop is stocking, displaying in its windows, and collecting in its storerooms downstairs. I’ve been fascinated to see how the shop responds to the changes in season, weather, and customers’  interests and needs at different times of year, and how the shop is always thinking ahead to everything that will happening over the next six months or longer.  


This piece was initially inspired by one particular week at the end of September, when suddenly the stock was changed from summer to autumn.  All the long winter boots were brought up and displayed in the window; the long coats that had been in store since spring and summer were brought out, and all the hat and scarf displays were changed over from the summer to the winter stock.  But I’ve been especially interested in the subtleties - for example, at that time the manager was pointing out that it was too early to bring up the ‘furry stuff’, and that there was little point in leaving the white linen trousers on display any longer.  Now that it’s November, the ‘fluffy stuff’ is coming up, and the football scarves, Tottenham Hotspur curtains (true!) and ice skates are also being put out for sale.


I was interested to observe that summer and winter scarves differ not just in materials, but in the type of patterns (which are partly dictated by the materials) - while summer scarves are often very pictorial, winter scarves tend to be in solid colours and geometric patterns.


Second Chance is very lucky in that it has a large basement so that it can store a certain amount of stock until the right event or season.  It even has a special storeroom in which they collect stock for themed window displays; by looking at what’s hanging on the rail and gathering on the shelves, you call tell the time of year and what the next seasonal event is. For example, in October, the rail was hung with orange garments, waiting for the Halloween/harvest display.  


In that same room are boxes for the next Valentine’s Day, St Patrick's Day, and Easter displays - full of items which are not only thematic, but in the colours of those themes, e.g. all pink/red for Valentine's, green for St Patrick's, and yellow for Easter.  Christmas has a whole room to itself, as well as spreading through the other storage areas over the autumn. But it was in the book storeroom that I was delighted to come across the first real sign of spring - a box of gardening books, with a label instructing to keep them for spring 2013.  

Easter box
St Patrick's box
Santa in plastic
Valentine shelf
Gardening book box

Second Chance's Second Chances in Second Chance

Second Chance's Second Chances in Second Chance

This piece is not in my usual style, and isn’t even a verse or list.  It’s a convoluted observation of three interlinked instances of second chances, presented in text and photos.  


This piece started with the innocent appearance of a novel called Second Chance amongst the shop’s donations, which aroused interest and amusement as the title is the same as the shop’s name.  The book was sitting around for a little while, waiting for the right display, until it got caught up with other books and ended up in the 50p tray before I spotted it again and rescued it, linking it to some observations I’d made in the meantime:  


Firstly, a friend who visited the shop told me of how he chanced upon a book in another charity shop, which he would never otherwise have come across, and wouldn’t have bought new, but which turned out to be a fortuitous and relevant find for him.  He put into words the value of charity shops and libraries in that they offer the free or cheap opportunity to chance upon things or be able to try things we wouldn’t otherwise, and how this can lead to unexpected discoveries and new directions.  


Secondly, I had been learning about how Second Chance manages its books, and was impressed by the generosity of this system, in that books are given a lot of time and different opportunities to be found by customers.  There is a very specific journey made by fiction books – from the bottom shelf to the top shelf, then to the 50p tray, then to the outside book boxes, before going to a book recycling company if unsold. In this piece I have described and illustrated this journey, using the example of the book Second Chance to show all the second chances that books are given.  


I've  had some fortuitous finds myself in the 50p box outside, showing that just because a book has ended up in there, it doesn't mean it's junk - simply that the right person hasn't chanced upon it yet.  In that box I have found two fantastic books of real-life epic sea journeys: the dramatic story of one of the very last journeys of a working grain clipper around the world, and then Francis Chichester's heroic and record-breaking circumnavigation in 1966-67 at the age of 65 – in which he followed the same trade wind sailing route taken by the grain clipper in the first book.  These two books were probably unsold because they're from the 1960's and 70's and a little old and unknown now, but still clean and tidy enough to take home and read.  Both of these books have been my 'booktracks' (book equivalent of a soundtrack) during my project so far, and it's interesting to think that these expansive world-circling true adventures were just sitting quietly in a plastic box in the middle of Archway roundabout.  There are more parallels to be pointed out here, but that'll have to be for another piece...

Tested and Ticketed: Appliances, Devices and Diversions at Second Chance

Tested and Ticketed

This piece is about the appliance and electrical testing side of the work that goes on behind the scenes at Second Chance - which is a lot more fun and interesting than it may sound.


Second Chance is very lucky in having a full-time resident electrician, who goes beyond the call of duty.  Not only does he do safety tests on electrical goods, but he’s an all-round handyman with an interest in rescuing and fixing all sorts of things.  That’s why in this piece there is mention of more than just appliances:  for example, he rescued a wooden dragon puppet which had been rejected because of its mess of tangled strings, and in his spare time he’s happy to even do jigsaws to check all the pieces are present, or check that sets of cards are complete.  This week I found him gluing the head back on a decapitated nativity figurine – possibly that of Joseph.  


The title ‘Tested and Ticketed’ refers to the system whereby he has to carry out specific electrical tests, and then apply a ‘ticket’ (label) stating that it has been safety-tested.  He also keeps a log of every appliance or device he has checked, so that he can refer to this in case anyone brings something back; these lists were very useful to me in compiling this piece.


There is a real interest in being able to make things usable again, and he keeps dozens of spare plugs, cables and leads, so that items can be made sellable by being united with a missing lead or being fitted with a modern safety plug.  Often items which arrive with a part missing are held onto for a few weeks in the hope that the part they need will come in – and often it does.   He’ll also salvage parts from otherwise unfixable items, which will come in useful later.  


The testing of electrical toys and games is taken seriously in a fun way – I’ve observed tests on a plasma ball (a science novelty with lightning-like discharges inside a clear globe), seen a toy car racing track being assembled for testing, and a candy floss maker producing real candy floss!


All this is done in improvised but allocated spaces downstairs – there is a specific table for setting up toy train and car tracks, and there is a specific top shelf for testing water-carrying appliances such as kettles (and baby bottle warmers!), called the ‘wet bench’.  


However, I must point out that it’s not recommended to donate broken or incomplete things to charity shops – this often just creates an extra expense for the shop in having to dispose of the goods.  Second Chance is lucky in that it can save and fix many things which other shops can’t, and again, well deserves its name in this respect.

Plasma Ball
Dragon Puppet
Hamburger telephone
Candy Floss Maker testing
Pressure Gauge

Above left to right:

- The plasma ball, after successful re-soldering of its capacitator leg

- The dragon puppet, untangled

- A hamburger phone, tested

- The candyfloss maker being tested

- Detail of the pressure gauge, a Victorian mechanical appliance, which the electrician mounted onto a new base.

Germander Speedwell 

Second Chance: November

Book Titles Browsed in Second Chance

Germander's November verses from her hosting at Second Chance, and some of the stories behind them, are displayed below:

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