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Bonzer Words!: Big Spenders

Pat Johnson enjoys the thrill and entertainment of a local auction, resisiting the opportunity to buy titty bottles.

Pat writes for Bonzer! magazine. Do visit www.bonzer.org.au

With theatre and petrol prices so high, a local auction can provide cheap entertainment.

It can also be a happy hunting ground for a bargain, and even a live musical performance.

At one sale I attended a piano accordion was being auctioned. There was little response until a man stood up, slung the instrument around his shoulders and played the opening bars of a popular song.

A few people began to hum and soon everyone was singing. The song ended. The man, grinning self-consciously, ignored the coins and returned to his seat, when bidding began in earnest.

“All right!” the auctioneer rapped for attention. “You've all heard this beautiful instrument in action. We'll start at $50.”

He looked at the crowd expectantly. Silence.

“Well . . . $5, $6, $7, $8? Chap over there offers me $8. Now come on. Only $8 for this beautiful instrument—in perfect nick? Lady over there . . . $10?”

Other hands went up . . . $11, $13, $20, $25. There was no advance on $25 and the accordion was sold.

Rubbishy vases, old chairs, an incomplete set of good dinnerware, a rusty tin box, all sold in rapid succession.

“You get the crowd wound up and they start spending,” one of the staff told me.

“We'll have that lot of titty bottles next,” the auctioneer called down to his assistant. The man opened a carton and held one of the bottles high for all to see.

“Titty bottles?” A woman gave an incredulous laugh. She moved forward and read the words on the box. “Why—” she threw back her head and laughed heartily. “They are titty bottles—for feeding calves.”

A chuckle ran through the crowd. The bottles were about a foot high, and they all sold.

Lamps, lampshades, new and old, pictures and ancient family albums, pens, plastic bags, clocks, watches, artificial jewellery—all sold quickly to the auctioneer's cheerful, clever patter.

The man on the floor held up a woman's shoulder- bag. “Lovely lady's bag,” he said, slipping the strap over his shoulder and posing, with one hand on hip, rolling his eyes and mincing around until he had the crowd enjoying his antics. The bag fetched one dollar.

Rolls of dusty carpet, much of it quite good, television sets, bundles of magazines, old furniture, china, plants, bric-a-brac. Out they went.

The auctioneer was selling a set of golf clubs. “$60,” he called. No bids.

“$21,” snapped the man sitting beside me.

Then came a rush of bids.

The golf clubs were sold for $40. The transaction took no more than a couple of minutes.

Cartons of washing detergent were next on the list. No-one seemed interested in buying them by the carton.

“All right,” the auctioneer shouted. “We'll do them in ones and twos. A dollar a time. Lady over there, Joe, and a man at the back. And the pretty lady in blue. Any more? Any more?”

The detergent was quickly sold.

Some model boats appeared next.

“Radio-controlled—in perfect order—they've been tested,” the auctioneer assured.

“In the bath?” Some wag called.

“No sir,” was the reply. “In the kitchen sink!”

There was more good-humoured laughter, and all the boxes sold in a few minutes.

The next item, a colour TV set in working order, caused some confusion. During the bidding, a woman kept putting up her hand, but she claimed she wasn't bidding.

“Lady,” the auctioneer said with a grin. “If you want to wave to the sailors you'd better find another port.”

The TV sold to a genuine and apparently satisfied bidder.

Then came a box of toys, boats, broken trains. Nobody rushed to buy. The assistant opened the box to show a few of the toys.

A small boy's voice rang through the crowd. “Would you sell them singly, please?”

The auctioneer looked down at the small, upturned face and stroked his chin thoughtfully.

“Could you run to 20¢?” he asked the lad, with all the dignity of Sotheby's.

The boy nodded and stepped forward.

“Cash or bankcard, sir?” the assistant asked.

“Cash,” the boy said importantly, as he handed over his 20¢ in small coins.

He was given a number of toys and marched off, smiling with satisfaction.

The auctioneer grinned. He hunched his shoulders, spread his hands and sighed.

“There he goes,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “The last of the big spenders.”

© Pat Johnson


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