Image by my favorite yarn via FlickrI wanted some woolly jerseys for working outside in winter. As they were inevitably going to be snagged on wire and twigs, be left outside because I forgot to put them on again and probably receive all sorts of contact with manure, chickens, ducks, paint and varnish, secondhand and cheap was the answer.
Now, in the U.K., years before I would have gone down to the Oxfam or Sue Ryder shop, have had a rummage and come back with the required items and a carrier bag full of other odds and bods that had seemed to be a good idea at the time. Friends tell me that U.K. charity shops have gone distinctly upmarket since my time, with advisors to weed out the best items. The whole delight of the old fashioned charity shop was, after chatting with the volunteers, the prospect that you might find something really good for not very much, so this weeding out process is extremely unfair. And don't tell me that it makes more money for the charity concerned as I bet any extra is swallowed up by paying the advisor's salary. I have distinct doubts about the way in which the big charities work, but I suppose now is not the time to start on yet another diatribe.
However, this is France. Charity shops are not thick on the ground....there is a Red Cross shop in the nearest town, but it has been firmly closed ever since it opened, if you see what I mean, which left me with Emmaus.
Founded after the War by Abbe Pierre, the Emmaus organisation is implanted across France and extends abroad. The idea is that communities of people down on their luck live together and make their own living, repairing and renovating items donated by the public, supported by volunteers. Inevitably, down the years, all this gets over organised and there is the usual profiteering by the people running the charity, but Emmaus is about all France can offer by way of charity shops, so my search for woolly jerseys took me to their weekly open day. In my time I have been lucky with Emmaus...I have found fully lined curtains long enough for my windows, and a horde of the linen sheets with fine embroidery that no one wants any more as they take too much space in the dryer, but I hadn't browsed the clothing section before.
There was a vast table piled high as if a Scouts' jumble sale had just opened, offering garments in a wild variety of disorder to be bought by the kilo, and then the more sedate area where clothing was sorted by sex and by function. Woolly jerseys did not feature. I should be clear here, that to me, woolly means made from wool, not from whatever synthetic fibre which has been produced to make washing things easier. I know wool gives problems..my uncle provided proof in my young day by proudly doing the weekly wash and hanging it out in the back garden. My aunt was down from her sickbed in a matter of seconds to remove the evidence from the line before the neigbours could see it....underwear a nice shade of khaki, and men's pullovers reduced to something which would have been appropriate for the children's teddy bears in size had they not been reduced to unyielding felt by the prolonged boiling to which they had been subjected in the copper. On the evidence of my afternoon at Emmaus, my area of France is strong on synthetic fibre and bright colour, but distinctly lacking on the pure wool and subdued shades front.
Then I bethought me of eBay. French eBay, as I reckoned that posting woolly jerseys would be expensive from across the Channel. Sure enough, I found the garment section and pushed all the buttons for size, fabric, style, etc. and came up with a number of possibilities. I bid, and obtained five, from different sellers.
One, a lurid affair in blue with large sunflowers, arrived without problem...it would, wouldn't it? You'd do anything to rid yourself of it and it is a measure of my desperation that I bid for it.
Another then arrived, and proved to be made of synthetic fibre. I checked the sales entry and it did, definitely, claim to be made from wool. I entered into contact with the seller who flatly refused to do anything about it. He had my money and I had his jersey. End of story.
A third arrived, which had clearly been washed by my uncle, proving that it was indeed made from wool. I checked the details, and there was no way to see that the item had shrunk. I entered into contact with the seller, with the same result as above.
A fourth arrived with a large hole at the back of the neckband. This time the seller claimed that it had been damaged in the post as well as the usual line about who had the money and who had the goods. I am a great fan of La Poste and will be participating in the citizen's vote about its' proposed privatisation, but I had until that moment been unaware that they had trained technicians who could insert sharp objects into parcels wrapped in paper without leaving any external sign of their activities.
The fifth did not arrive at all. Instead I had a breezy note from the seller to the effect that she had noticed a small hole below the neckband and had decided that she should not sell damaged goods. I suggested that she might consider returning my cheque, but this idea did not appeal. I saw the same jersey on sale again a week later when it received a more generous winning bid. She still did not return my cheque.
Result of eBay experiment? One jersey covered in sunflowers and four dispute procedures, resulting in mutual blacklisting, absolutely no assistance from eBay, and a small financial loss.
I was moaning about my eBay experiences when friends came round and one told me he had had a similar experience when buying a gold coin. The item advertised was a Napoleon III ten franc piece - I think - and what turned up was a tiny gold coloured token! Unrepentant seller who blacklisted him, apparently for being such a fool as to believe the description!
I've always liked playing around on eBay and have only ever had one problem with an item on another national site, which was when a Polish seller could not deliver because he needed an export permit which he didn't have and didn't know he needed. He contacted me and returned my money with no problem. A good few friends play on eBay as well and their experiences reflect mine...all goes well until you hit eBay.fr!
Items described as in working order which are completely seized up, damaged or with parts missing, refusal to make recompense, abusive messages, you name it, French eBay will provide it.
Is the entire nation dishonest? Is it just that element of it who use eBay as an extortion racket? Why are they so proud of having done the dirty on the unsuspecting buyer?
All these thoughts go through my head as, visible to marksmen at a great distance, I take off my only eBay jersey and manage to drop it in the pond.