Auction House

Channel 4, loving as it does shows about people buying stuff and eccentrics, has a rich vein of both in its new documentary following the running of an auction house in Chelsea (Tuesday, 9pm). The cast of super rich cats buying and selling expensive tat made me muse that perhaps the rich are  a slightly different sub-species to the rest of us. They look similar but the unnaturally taut, shiny faces and unappealingly bulbous lips show the rest of us plebs that they have enough money to pour into making their faces look weird and are therefore better than us. They also speak in a way that is so posh it starts to sound like an accent from another country. Which, I suppose, it is, as the country they inhabit isn’t the same one I inhabit. My Britain is one of austerity cuts and blood stains on the streets, theirs is one of whale scrotum stools.

This second episode focused on housewife Sam (whose surgery had rendered her age and mood indeterminate) who appeared to have somewhat of an auction addiction. Her home was filled with mismatching odds and ends bought in haste. She wished to sell a painting of an 18th century nobleman that she had only just bought but no longer liked. The only problem was, while selling the paining (at a loss) she became whipped into another auction frenzy by competing with a phone bidder and bought a giant beige rug for £5,500. This rug was delivered to her home for appraisal by her and friend Trilby where it wilted on the floor like a huge wrinkled dust sheet and looked not a single penny of its price. “It’s too flat for this room” Trilby opined, prompting the question when is a rug not flat? Surely that would make it hard to walk on, but Sam seemed to know what she meant so I presume she was talking from a metaphorical or design jargon point of view. So back to the auction house Sam and the rug went with another friend in tow (Flat Cap maybe), for it to be sold for £2,500. This meant that owning it for a month had cost her a couple of grand. And this is where I started to warm to the show, for the undeniable appeal of schadenfraude (sic). Sam complained that she always bought for more than the asking price and sold for less, which no doubt had the auction house rubbing their hands with glee. A mischievous part of me would not be surprised if the phone bidders were auction house employees hiding round a corner with a mobile, but that’s the cynicism of a poor person talking. The rich just laugh their folly off fruitily and continue the filling of their enormous houses.

Sam and Fedora – sorry, Trilby described a buzz from going to auctions, like a sort of gambling. I suppose it gives them a semblance of peril in their cossetted bored housewife lives – that they might lose out on a coveted object to another bored, cossetted housewife. Sam – living on the edge – even bought a £500 sofa (“A bargain!”) that infested her house with mice. I suppose that’s a kind of peril.

Along with highly-fillered lady-mug, there were other enjoyable characters such as cheeky old rogue Mick, a regular who demanded more money for an item he’d sold, producing paperwork he’d written over himself as evidence of the debt. When the auction house manager asked if he’d tampered with it, Mick replied “No, I don’t have a blue pen” and looked shiftily to camera. A defence that was both kind of genius and kind of insane. Once the writing was identified by another member of staff as being Mick’s (he is a regular after all) the wily old fox conceded defeat.

Eccentric characters, the fact that owner Roger used the phrase “higgledy pickledy” and rich people being systematically fleeced of large sums of their money, albeit in a very charming way, means I will tune in again.

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