I don’t normally do deep, but here it is.
Essentially what I experienced at a market town estate sale is potentially my future, which is getting closer by the day.
I took some undercover snaps and soaked up the atmosphere, as well as actually getting soaked by rain.
The pictures were taken on proper print film, so were developed at a chemists, just like the old days. So no filters, but it did not make the terrible pictures any better.
Here is the end game reality of owning classic cars, or collecting just about anything really.
God knows, and I am sure he or she does, what I’m going to leave behind. Books certainly. Most embarrassingly books with my name on the cover that didn’t quite sell in the quantities predicted. There is also a vinyl junkyard of often-unlistenable vintage soul, pub, prog and punk rock. Then there is my own transport black museum comprising cars, a motorbike and a push bike in various states of disrepair. Never mind my fashion crime filled wardrobe. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Now I don’t normally come over all morbid and philosophical, but there was a very good reason for pondering my mortality. Responding to a small display advertisement in a local paper gave me a glimpse into the ideally distant future when all the stuff my family doesn’t actually want to remember me by, gets flogged to the highest bidder: and I didn’t enjoy it one bit.
The property of the late Mr. Gerald Ferguson was up for auction in a Norfolk market town and he was one of us, he loved cars. In fact he loved them so much could not bear to part with them once they had become failure fodder for the MOT tester. That explained the rotten Morris Minor Traveller, disintegrating Daimler Century and atrophied Austin Allegro estate, which were clogging up the courtyard. This was not some clinical upmarket classic car auction with catalogues and canapés, but an up close and personal disposal of Mr. Ferguson’s most precious effects. All the other potential bidders and me were on his property peering into outhouses, workshops, rifling his bookshelves and picking through cardboard boxes mounted on groaning pasting tables. Bits of furniture, toys and pictures all had sticky label lot numbers firmly attached.
Under cover were more four-wheeled lots, which at least had the appearance of being runners. Finished in a ration era, bowler hat black paint, the majority of these monochrome motors were Lanchesters. A 1949 LD10 and 1954 Leda 14 were quintessential post war Colonel Blimpmobiles. These sit up and beg light saloons deserve to be rarities and word had certainly got out that a cache’ of long hidden Lanchesters were being released back into the community. Those who really cared were going to be part of the Daimler and Lanchester owners club, whose magazine is or was called, with no acknowledgement of a double or even single entendre, ‘The Driving Member’. It was my mistake for looking too intently at the 14, which interestingly the auctioneer had no keys for, but the bloke in the anorak who struck up a conversation with me would probably be perfectly happy to push it home, provided I gave him a hand.
‘Do you like Lanchesters?’ Not an obvious chat-up line, but appropriate enough in the strange circumstances. However, when accompanied by a fixed grin and the piercing eyes of the maniacal classic car buff, it seemed quite loaded. He already owned a Lanchester, was looking for rare parts had excitedly taken the day off work and recently had his hernia repaired. This was definitely more information than anyone actually needed to know. I slowly realised he was trying to pick me up, or rather get me to stump up the joining fee and annual subscription. Now I’ve never been one to join any club; even one full of driven members, so I made my excuses and went to look at the only other intact, black saloon that wasn’t a Lanchester.
Pointy rear finned Austin Cambridge anyone? Thought not. Ideally the bizarre circumstances surrounding my ultimate demise, (probably in bed as I try to disassemble an A-Series gearbox) the undistinguished old Cambridge really ought to go out with a bang as well. Perhaps a lurid orange emulsion paint job, roll cage, extinguisher and an appointment at one of those classic car carnage banger meetings would be appropriate. After all, these badge engineered BMC Farina saloons seem to do rather well at that sort of thing.
I wasn’t tempted by any of the orphaned motors. Some of the books were OK, though. Obviously the shelves groaned under the weight of Daimler and Lanchester workshop and parts manuals. However, there was some nice 1960s Batsford published guides to Vintage and Veterans that would be good for reference. Much more interesting though was a remote control toy car from the ‘60s. I say remote, because attached to the back of the plastic Rolls Royce Silver Cloud was some deep sea standard electrical cable. This joined up to a red hand held control box large enough to accommodate a couple of 12 volt batteries, with a steering wheel on top. A company called Lincoln made them and I’m sure I had an E-Type model once. This example though was mint and boxed, so I jot down the lot number.
The sale was due to start at 2 o’clock which it did, along with the rain. It was sudden and totally unexpected. Not a desultory and disapproving drizzle, but a full on wrath-like power shower of biblical intensity. Mr. Ferguson was clearly not happy. Neither was the auctioneer. Perched on top of his ladder he put out an appeal for some wet weather gear and was passed a yellow anorak, then he requisitioned an umbrella, Lot 178 to be precise. Finally he was able to gather his thoughts, his gavel and reveal the motivating force behind this sale, Mrs Ferguson.
So all proceeds to the widow and there is no argument about that. I’m sure she loved Gerald very much and misses him madly, but she obviously won’t be missing all this stuff he has carefully accumulated. Especially the plates. Did I mention the plates?
‘Painted plates’ said the auctioneer, actually they were printed using the most garish colours known to science and fancy goods manufacturers in the ’50s and ‘60s. Hundreds of these plates were sold individually or by type, relentlessly lot by lot for well over an hour. Just when you thought there couldn’t be another category involving British countryside fauna, up came ‘Migrating Songbirds’, followed by ‘Robins in Snow’ and then out of nowhere ‘Tropical ‘Birds of Paradise – in Flight’. One of those untidy, make-up intensive middle aged women who probably runs a knick-knack shop full of overpriced tat was bidding and buying enthusiastically. These ‘unused’ plates as the auctioneer helpfully emphasised, might have looked like gaudy rubbish to a snob like me, but they were selling for far from tatty prices. A set with Lancaster bombers on them went for £30.
As more plates went under the hammer, if only they had, I looked more closely at the Allegro and Traveller. Both appear to have served as faithful family transportation and when oxidation got a grip, Mr. Ferguson either couldn’t bear to part with them, or earmarked them as future projects. We all know how that happens. The Traveller urgently needed a lintel to prop it up, then a mob of carpenters to rebuild the rear end. As for the Allegro it deserved to be left under the tree where it must have resided for the last decade.
Covered in green slime it looked like a neglected greenhouse, but as always, the estate version is also uncomfortably close in demeanour, style and performance to a mini hearse. However, it was nice to see that the Ferguson family were enthusiastic travellers and indulged in the now almost extinct practice of sticking an appropriate pennant to the rear windows informing fellow free spirits where you had been. They had seen the Lions at Longleat you know.
Soaked through I desperately hitched up my heavily absorbent jacket over my head for no good reason other than to resemble an increasingly mad and moist monk. Then the motor trade arrived. I know because I clocked a chromey 4 x 4 Far Eastern import being parked where it shouldn’t, on the pavement. Compared with the badly dressed, dampened down, poorly accessorised, ruddy faced locals like me, this was a being from another planet. Probably Essex. Stocky build, a faded late summer Marbella top up tan, Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, chunky bracelet and a complicated gold watch, there was no mistaking a real pro. I doubt whether he knew, or cared what a Lanchester actually was, but the merest whiff of a cherished plate he could sniff from a couple of counties away.
I was not so much witnessing one man’s possessions being auctioned as one man’s passion being randomly redistributed. We really were picking over and on occasions trampling his remains. As the sale moved indoors it mutated into a tightly packed slightly steaming scrum. Smash! Someone has clumsily knocked a Robertson’s jam jar full of screws and washers onto the concrete workshop floor. Out front boxes of soggy books stacked in the front yard were out of their depth. Only a lifeguard trained bookbinder could really help. I’d seen enough and splashed my way back to the car park.
What profound lessons did the afternoon teach me? Simple, you can’t take it with you. When you do leave stuff behind make sure it is worth something so your nearest and dearest can pocket the proceeds and agree that you weren’t that barmy after all. But I think the meaning of life, in a purely western, capitalist, materialistic, motorcentric context is: if you must have lots of
of stuff, make sure it is stuff that you really love, like Lanchesters. But then if it is not cars then it might as well be printed plates. If you want to potter around all that stuff until the very end, then that’s your business. And when you do go to the great salvage yard in the sky, if mortals want to fight over your old stuff, let them. But if giving them a good old soaking makes you feel better, then why not?
So after all that soul searching, agonising and missing out on the opportunity to acquire a remote control Roller, I went out and bought a sod off sized Scalextric to cheer myself up.
God only knows where I’m going to put it.