Grandpa Webb's blog

Monday, 21 October 2013

Every little helps...

It’s Thursday and we are in Wareham, Dorset. To borrow the words of a local estate agent: “The Saxon walled market town of Wareham, with its picturesque quay, has a wide range of  amenities including shops, restaurants, public houses, a yacht club, gas-lit cinema and sports centre,” (actually the sports centre isn’t gas-lit, just the cinema.

Grandpa WebbWe like Wareham. We have history here. Years ago we used to bring the children here on holiday. A few miles away is Studland beach -- a long stretch of sand owned by the National Trust with a slipway from where we could launch our small sailing boat.

Actually, thinking back, it was probably only me who liked the boat. I think the rest of the family thought it a bit of a bore – especially as it wouldn’t go where it was pointed unless the wind was in the right direction.

Thursday in Wareham is the day they have a fruit and flower auction. It’s held in an old shed in Cottee’s auction yard in East Street. The locals and a few visitors all gather to see what’s on show. Today there are hundreds of fresh eggs, most kinds of fruit and vegetables in various quantities -- from a handful of beetroot to five pounds of green walnuts -- and lots of plants and flowers.

Speaking as a senior citizen, for me one of the appealing things about this auction is a total absence of new technology.  It’s all done with pencil and paper. Graham the auctioneer makes a note of the buyer and winning bid for each lot on a sheet of paper and when he reaches the bottom of the page, the list is taken to the back of the shed where each entry is written on a card index.

Every little helps...Grandma has spied some small pullet eggs, lot number 560. In order to bid you need a number to wave at Graham to catch his attention. A man sitting at a card table (Steve, I think) writes number 290 on a yellow post-it note for us and we are in.

As it happened, all the pullet eggs had already been sold, but there were a few ordinary eggs left which hadn’t been bid for.  A short negotiation with Steve secured a dozen large ones for £2.20. “Do you want anything else?” I asked grandma rather foolishly.

Unlike a supermarket shop, the auction is full of action. Lots of us wander round, looking at the lots which include such things as three leeks, carrots in small bunches, tomatoes, onions, cabbages – the sort of stuff you would find on an allotment. Selling is brisk: “Let’s start at 50p,” says Graham to a silent shed. “All right, 45p.” No response. “40p?” Down goes his hammer. “How many do you want Mary?” he asks the shrewd local buyer of a bunch of carrots.

There are some unexpected lots. “Five pounds of green walnuts, ideal for pickling. £1.50?” says Graham hopefully. Silence. “£1? 80p? 60p? 50p?” Down goes the hammer at last. “Mrs Lewis. Best of luck with them…”

Before they leave all the buyers collect their card index recording their successful bids from the back of the hall and take it to Steve to pay. I suppose he’s the equivalent of a check-out. “There’s a buyer’s premium of 10%,” he says as he uses mental arithmetic to work out my bill. It turns out I owe him £27.06p. 

At the end of the auction we walk away with 14 lots. Staggering to the car we have, among other things, 5lb of Accent potatoes (£1) four pots of  home made jam for £2.20 each and a punnet each of mushrooms (75p) cherries (75p) and gooseberries (60p) five peaches (70p) tomatoes on the vine (£1) and assorted geraniums, anemones and other plants in a giant plastic tray.  

Bearing in mind we only came along to watch, it was a good result.

I wish all shopping was as much fun.

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