One of the hats a good friend of mine wears that that of an antique seller. He and his good wife also sell wonderful jewellery. Their hospitality is generous to a fault as the lady of the home is a gourmet cook.
They took me to an auction one day where they were buying a set of swords on commission. It was not their money – but they had a valued customer and were buying on his behalf. There was nothing as exciting as a telephone held to the ear – because both parties had already agreed a ceiling.
My friend took the whole event in his stride. After all he made his living, in part, from auction rooms. He knew where he wanted to stand – and explained why he always stood in a similar spot. He wanted to watch the room without having to turn his head too much.
Just before the swords came up there was a collection of garden tools to be sold. The auctioneer started at two pounds and the bidding went up rather uneventfully. Various tools were held up at regular intervals include a weather beaten spade, a rusty fork and a giant pitchfork. The auctioneer did not tarry too much as the price was creeping up towards seven pounds as it was obvious that he wanted to move on.
The next item was a bundle of books and papers. One was a Cassel’s French Dictionary and another was a John Grisham. It was not clear what the papers were to be used for – until, rather unfortunately, the porter dropped the bundle. He bent quickly to gather the collection and handed each one to the auctioneer. The room fell silent. It was obvious that in the auctioneer’s hands were eleven plus papers. An excited babble broke out. The whispers commented on the fact that there were eleven plus papers – and they were in this auction.
The auctioneer asked for a starting bid. He then said fifty the lot. I thought he meant fifty pence – but my friends explained that the first bid was for fifty pounds. The bidding grew and grew. There were only a few papers in the bundle but this did not deter the determined the mothers and fathers. Each family had to have the papers. The auctioneer made a comment when the bids reached over one hundred and fifty pounds. Hands kept being raised until the magic sum of one hundred and eighty five pounds was reached.
I ran over to the family who had bought the papers and asked why they had spent so much money.
“The auctioneer said the next eleven plus papers. We thought he meant the papers our child would be sitting this September. Some one near us said that they were the real papers. We just had to have them.”
I pushed my way over to the auctioneer and shouted over the hum in the room; “What did you say about the eleven plus papers?”
He bent down and said; “I said the next lot is eleven plus papers.”
Poor family – imagine their feelings when they arrived home and realised that they may have bought a mirage.
You may ask about the swords. The bidding went over the top commission price. We all went to dinner empty handed.