Tales of the unexpected swap . . .

Karen Cannard
Karen Cannard
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One Friday morning, a few weeks ago, I saw a tweet from the local library service announcing “Today: swap your unwanted items at @BuryLibSuffolk for Top Time.”

Now, I love a good swap. There’s that great feeling of getting rid of something that you no longer want, knowing that someone else could put it to good use – and at the same time, picking up a surprise gift for free. I was pretty impressed that Suffolk Libraries were as enthusiastic as me in their choice of description.

No sooner than read, I headed into town faster than a rat up a drainpipe. And with my pre-loved gardening book in hand, I scooted around the library with that air of anticipation.

An air of anticipation, which was instantly… deflated.

Both upstairs and downstairs, it looked like just another day in the library, with the library service going about its usual business. No signs of any swapping activity, except for the borrowing and returning of library books - and certainly no tables full of random belongings waiting to find a new home.

Yet via my phone – in digital glory beaming down from the Interweb - were those words of enthusiasm. “Top Time: Swap Shop. Bring along any unwanted gifts or things you no longer use and see what you pick up.”

The date was right and so was the time.

Could there still be hope?

Clutching at straws, I approached the enquiry desk.

“Oh yes, they said. It’s upstairs. In a room, to the side of the adult fiction section.”

“It’s where the Top Time group meets.”

“Top Time group?”

“Ah – I see.”

So those tweets weren’t proclaiming a Top Time after all.

Well, I suppose they were – in the sense that Top Time is the name of a group that meets weekly, aimed at older people, providing a programme of events and opportunities to meet new friends.

I certainly had no intention of gate-crashing a group of strangers’ swapping party – honest!

Many people would, by now, have exited stage left, especially on seeing that a friend had arrived ready to tempt them away for a Latte.

And… if it hadn’t been for the very helpful nudge from the library staff, encouraging me to go upstairs and ask for someone to direct me to the Top Time meeting space, I’d have shuffled out of the library taking my embarrassment with me.

Instead, in a surreal moment, I climbed the stairs in accordance with instructions – with my bemused friend in tow – accompanied by a renewed expectation of giving my old book a new home.

And behold - in the side-room as promised, I was led to the table of random things that had all the hallmarks of a jolly good swap shop.

In a desperate hurry to leave my book and go, and apologising for interrupting the meeting, I almost forgot that the notion of swapping was to actually pick something in exchange.

But at the friendly invitation of my surprised hosts, I quickly chose a book and left promptly, clutching a copy of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, Cranford.

So if any Top Time members are reading – I’d like to extend a warm thank you for accommodating this unexpected Swap Shop guest. You were most kind and I hope someone has made good use of that Encyclopedia of Gardening.

It’s always refreshing to hear about groups and communities hosting activities like this, as they are great for swapping resources for free. They are relatively easy to organise too. You make up the rules as you like, and anything that’s left over can be donated to a charity shop.

And if you want to find out more about Top Time, the group meets every Friday from 10am-12pm and arranges a wide range of events and activities (not just Swap Shops). Contact Bury St Edmunds library for more details or visit https://www.suffolklibraries.co.uk/libraries/bury-st-edmunds-library/.