THE CAR BOOT SALE
As I struggle into a tweed suit in preparation for “Sale-day” in the Park –
and the playing of my allotted role thereat – I indulge in a rare moment of
introspection. It is a brief detour, and a dangerous one. It takes the form of a
modest Q & A soliloquy conducted as I double-knot the old brogues.
Q: “When did you last clean a pair of shoes, eh, Biffo?”
A: “When I was thirteen, at Eton, sixty years ago…..”
Q: “And why the devil should you of all people be permitted to live the life of
Riley while the world implodes around you?”
Mercifully Corrie breezes in from the bathroom and the question is shelved -
but I really do need some sort of answer to it.
Me: “Why us, Corrie?”
Corrie: “Why us what, old boy?”
Me: “Well, why should we have all this – and most of the world has damn all?”
The old girl ponders for a moment or two before replying - thus……
Corrie: “Are you happy, Biffers?”
Corrie: “Me, too…. Parsons? Richardson? Mrs Fenner? Our Jules?”
Me: “Same, I think. Amblewick’s a magical place – you just have to be happy
Corrie: “I wonder how that can be…….?”
Me: “Not the faintest idea….. Sort of how it is, I suppose……”
Corrie: “Do you think it would all be just as happy if the government owned
Amblewick, or some corporation, or a Russian oligarch?”
Me: “Well, I wouldn’t, that’s for sure….”
Corrie: “Nor me, nor Parsons , nor any of us – the heart would have gone out
of the place – and ours with it. Stretch your old brain just a little further and I
think you’ll find you have the answer to your question.”
I am slowly emerging from my ‘mea culpa’ mini-spasm.
“Do I have to wear this bloody suit, today?”
“Wear what you jolly well please – wear what makes you happy and
comfortable. If you’ve got the grumps, how can the rest of us be happy?”
“I think, perhaps, that ‘happiness’ is the answer – I’m going to wear me old
cords – be meself, and bugger it!”
“Good-oh! If you get a move on we can snatch a G&T before the off.”
By the time Parsons sails into the conservatory to get us on parade I am in
ebullient mood – positively Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury. Corrie’s right – the
secret to life is happiness and contentment, and they come - like rain - from
above - and land where they will….
The Park is aflame with colour and awash with good cheer – the cars and vans
and trailers are myriad.
I approach the mighty throng of revelers and dickie-dealers with joy in my
heart. Here I can mingle with the world without being mingled – just another
old bloke in a sea of other people like himself.
Parsons has been absolutely brilliant – everything laid on. The Neptune has
taken on the catering – their beer tent overflows with cheerful folk. Mrs Fenner
is rushed off her feet and radiant – her pies and sandwiches a hit. I run our
Jules to earth, haggling over the price of bric-a-brac with a dodgy dealer from
Tellingham – chap makes a bomb selling rubbish to the trendy middle classes.
I catch a dash of Jules’s ‘spiel’, en passant, so to speak – note that old Blarney
Grail is snoozling contentedly behind him – to my intense relief!
“Tell yer what, mate, I’ll take a Pony – last word, take it or leave it. Worth a ton
of anybody’s money.”
The items in question are a collection of rusty shop and advertising signs.
The dealer parries deftly.
“Tell you what - sling you an Ayrton for the lot – chance bein’ robbed.”
“Sorry chap, can’t do it – tell yer what I’ll do - if they ain’t sold by the end of the
day I’ll knock’em out to you for fifteen – can’t be fairer than that, now can I?
Don’t reckon they’ll be here, mind you – lot of interest…….”
The dealer clearly reckons the same
“OK, you win - a score in your hand – not another word, orlright?”
“Cor, you drives an ‘ard bargain, mate…” scratching of the head. “Go on then,
twist me arm. You takin’ ‘em, or want us to deliver? Delivery’s next week, and a
taxi on top.”
The dealer hands over the ‘sausage and mash’ without a murmur - the full
twenty-five of it. As his victim wanders off into the crowd smiling the smile of
the satisfied Jules offers me a triumphant ‘thumbs-up’ and a huge grin.
“Happy ‘Stately car-boot’, Guv!” he yells…….
I wander off towards the beer tent in a cloud of peace and warm content. I
observe the car boots as I meander along – some less ‘stately’ than others…
Pick up a jolly nice amber cigarette holder for a fiver. Don’t use the gaspers
meself, but Corrie does – nice little prezzie for her, I muse.
Most of the people are total strangers to me. I am anonymous - free to wander
and browse as though I too am just a visitor. When I do bump into any of our
folk, we smile and gesture and pass on – each of us off-duty and at ease.
Once happily propped against the bar in the tent, I see Corrie chatting to old
Charles Peyneer and his dogs. I teeter over in their direction.
“What ho, Biffo!” the old boy bellows, “jolly good thrash you’ve laid on,
“Greetings, Charles – all down to Parsons, don’t you know? Ruddy miracle,
“Ah, yes, our greatest loss – young footman he was when he was with us at
Llantony. Shame, all that, what?”
I feel begative nostalgia creeping up on us and rapidly change gear.
“What brings you here from the dreaded Milton Keynes, old thing?”
“Bug-hutch days are over, me dear - Pervis be praised – closed the door on
that hell-hole – putting up with the old cousin in Cadogan Gardens for a spell -
pending the trickling of ‘royalties’, don’t you know? Snoot-full?”
“Why not indeed? Any news of Freeda?
"Cheers, old chap!”
“Freeda’s taken up with old Anne Thrax, recently - sounds pretty dodgy to me.
Know the Thraxes, do you?”
I extract the beak and nod.
“Uumh, used to bump into them now and again – place in Hove, wasn’t it?
Dodgy’s the word - very.”
Corrie emerges from a heaving pile of dogs.
“Witch in every generation, the Thraxes. They say Anne’s the one in hers - give
you a boil on your bum as soon as look at you – Cheers!”
I observe the County Planning Officer from the corner of my eye and beat a
hasty retreat – don’t even hesitate. The man’s a plague - never off-duty and
shockingly keen. Head back to Jules’s ‘Tranny’ and its awning. Mercifully
Parsons is ‘in situ’ checking a list of figures with Peak, from the bank.
“Sheer-Trash loping about, Parsons, old dear, what?”
“Planning pest, you know – what’s he want?”
“Ah yes, Major Reerash – the gentleman of sub-continental background,
Milord. He appears to be taking notes……”
“You bet he is, old thing – plotting outrage in the planning permission
department, no doubt….”
“Conceivably, Milord. He has a reputation for great thoroughness in the
exercise of his duties…..”
Parsons seems totally unmoved by the threat - changes the subject, in fact.
“The auguries are very favourable for us today, Milord. At close of play we
should show a healthy balance after all expenses have been disbursed.”
Haven’t seen much sign of it – apart from Julian’s sharp little move in the rusty
signs department. I must be looking a dash doubtful. Parsons clears the haze
“Julian has ‘cleaned up’, as he puts it, very nicely, Milord. Receipts from his
stall should exceed fifteen hundred ‘smackers’ on the day - a figure which will
cover erection of our refreshment marquee, the six portable lavatories, Milord,
and advertising. Most satisfying, if I may say so.”
Doesn’t seem much of a ‘clean-up’ to me, dash it. What’s the use of covering
expenses when we’ve got huge bills pending for the flood-damage repairs?
“Not quite with you, old thing – need a damn site more than that, don’t we?
What about the repairs, for Heaven’s sake?”
“Matters, Milord, are so very rarely as they seem, are they? I was sorting
through the items remaining on Julian’s stall, and generally observing his
progress, just at the moment when he was negotiating the sale of a plate,
“Indeed, Milord, a plate. I was able to rescue that plate before it could
be ‘knocked out for a fiver."
Completely lost and can’t understand where the old chap’s coming from, at all.
Goggle at him a bit – after all every ‘fiver’ helps, so to speak…….
Parsons gets my drift, and clarifies.
“The plate in question, Milord, is a decorated plate – easily mistaken, because
of its rarity, for a 1930’s transfer item – worth, at best, a ‘fiver’.”
“In the event, Milord, a little bird, as they say, twittered urgently in my ear – as
occasionally she does with racehorses…….”
What the Devil is the old boy talking about?
“The ears prick, Milord, when they hear that twittering. It is invariably a
harbinger of ‘Lady Luck.”
Parsons appears to me to be losing it, but I hold myself firmly in check.
“All beyond me, old thing – don’t see what Lady Luck has to do with a
wretched plate, what?
“The painting on the plate is where the luck becomes manifest, Milord – far
from being, as we originally supposed, a transfer souvenir piece, it is the
original work of a certain George Stubbs. He was, Milord, quite the foremost
English sporting painter of the mid-to-late 18th Century.”
On occasion Parsons has been known to teach his grandmother to suck eggs
– but I let it pass….
“Worth a bob or two, what?”
“Rather more than a mere crust, Milord. Amongst what Julian refers to as ‘the
punters’, I was fortunate enough to recognize a certain Mr Bumleigh, Milord.
The gentleman is a representative of Messrs Sotheby’s – the larger auction
houses make a habit of despatching ‘scouts’ to assess the merchandise at
country sales, Milord – especially when such sales are located at places such
as Amblewick, where there is possibility of pecuniary profit from ‘leakage’ of
valuables from the main house…..”
“Nicked stuff, Guv’.” Julian translates smoothly.
“Whatever his motives and instructions, Milord, on this occasion Mr Bumleigh
has proven himself to be the answer to our ‘maiden’s prayer’, if you will. One
glance at our plate, Milord, and he positively paled. He was honest enough
immediately to make the Stubbs attribution, and to submit a cash offer of three
thousand pounds, on his own account, Milord.”
”You accepted, of course, old thing?”
“Dead right he did, Guv’- bit ‘is flippin ‘and orf, didn’t yer, Mr P?” Jules is
clearly much impressed.
“I took the liberty of so doing, on your behalf, Milord.”
And that’s not the end of it, the old devil has been busy as a bee.
“Along the rear wall of the main coach-house, Milord, I had observed that there
were a number of unframed oil-canvases. Clearly these were in no state to be
sold without preparation, and in any event required expert opinion to ascertain
“Little bird again?”
I am hopeful. Unlike me, Parsons is extremely cautious - but very decisive
when once he becomes convinced that serious opportunity is knocking.
“I took advantage of Mr Bumleigh’s presence, Milord, to slicit his opinion with
regard to those canvases – most enlightening, Milord.”
I am goggling again – but Parsons cruises on.
“There are various copies of well-known works, Milord, but also a few notable
originals. Amongst them, two Reinagle dog portraits, a Munnings Newmarket
scene and a substantial Landseer of greyhounds coursing in the Highlands.
Mr Bumleigh expects them to fetch in the region of twenty thousand pounds
when they come under the hammer at Sotheby’s next month.”
I am agape – lost for other words.
“What? Flogged them, have you?” I gasp.
“No, Milord, I have instructed Mr Bumleigh to arrange for their entry into the
sale to which I alluded a moment ago. Their ownership will be ‘anonymous’ in
the catalogue – thereby avoiding any interference either from Your Lordship’s
trustees – or from the eagle-eye of the perilous Mrs Huntington-Smythe.”
“Should cover the repairs, what?”
”Amply, Milord, and with a healthy balance sufficient for the re-establishment
of our reputation at Messrs Fortnum – as you are aware, my most pressing
concern, Milord. Young George has given me a most favourable quotation
for the restoration work and insists that the Transit van is at Your Lordship’s
disposal – with his compliments – whenever it may be needed. All-in-all,
Milord, it has been a most salutary afternoon.”
A shadow still looms on my horizon, however.
“What about the blighted Sheer-Trash, Parsons, old solver of the insoluble?
Could be an almighty fuss about the planning, what? Humungous fine on the
cards, don’t you think?”
“I believe not, Milord. I have already spoken with the gentleman and conveyed
to him Your Lordship’s deep regret for the failure of the Post Office to deliver
your planning application in time for it to be processed before the event -
citing last Monday’s Bank Holiday for the regrettable delay.”
“Swallowed it, did he? No fool, old Sheer-Trash, you know?”
“Took to it like a lamb to the teat, Milord – especially when I presented him
with a small token of Your Lordship’s good faith and of the high esteem in
which we, at Amblewick, hold the sterling work his department undertakes on
“Bribed the bugger, did you?”
“Certainly not, Milord. Amongst the various pictures in the coach-house,
I chanced upon a lithograph, of no great pecuniary value, which I took the
liberty of presenting to the Planning Office on Your Lordship’s behalf – by way
of apology for our inadvertent delay and as a gesture of appreciation for their
departmental patience and understanding.”
“What was the picture, old thing?”
“The lithograph was a somewhat lurid depiction of a Bengal tiger savaging
a group of peasants, Miiord. I am given to understand that Major Reerash
originates from Bengal and is a great admirer of that rare and magnificent
creature and its life-style.”
Footnote: As Corrie and I headed back to the house on that memorable
evening, I was as happy as I have ever been – as happy as is Everyman when
he has a bob or two extra in his pocket. I even whistled as we went – ‘Teddy
Bears’ Picnic’ – if my memory serves me correctly.……. Oh yes, and I gather
Blarney Grail has promised the ‘galloping Major’ a brace of my pheasant when
once the closed season is over. Anyway, such it all is…….. Ancient snoozling
hounds, and poachers, are not necessarily asleep!