Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport

Article excerpt

The first thing me and my boy do when we go to the car auction is to head for the burger van and order a cheeseburger each.

The burger bar is called CJ's. We jokingly call it CJD's because we say the burgers consist of cartilage, udder and compacted sewage. Sometimes we pretend to identify bone or dental enamel. Smothered in brown sauce, however, they're not bad.

The purveyor of this unpretentious fare is a cheerful middle-aged woman called Peggy. 'With or without, my lovers?' she says. (We're always her lovers, her bucks or her handsomes. ) She means fried onions, rather than spinal cord. 'One with and one without, please, Peg, ' I say. 'Right-o, gorgeous, ' she says. The risk of a slow death in five or ten years' time from spongiform encephalopathy seems a small price to pay for such prompt and affectionate service.

Last week we queued up and found ourselves behind a middle-class person:

Barbour jacket, tan corduroy trousers, tan brogues, tanned face. In general this market-town car auction attracts people who exist below society's Plimsoll line. He stood out. 'With or without, my lover?' said Peggy.

'Sorry?' he said.

The deal at the car auction is this. A couple of hundred cars are lined up on the tarmac outside. From six o'clock onwards they are driven one by one into a big shed, where they go under the hammer. Buyers and dealers congregate in the shed, where there is tiered seating. Officially you aren't allowed to look under the bonnet of a car before you buy. Unofficially, if you ask the driver nicely he'll flick the bonnet catch for you while he's waiting to take the car in, which gives you a chance to raise the bonnet and run your finger around the inside of the waterfiller cap to check for gunge resulting from a blown head gasket.

But we don't go to buy any more. It's a risky business and we've been done over too many times. In any case, second-hand cars are cheaper on eBay. These days we go to the car auction simply to watch. Also, the auctioneer, a hyperactive man with a baleful, red-rimmed stare, can be mildly entertaining. He tries to quicken the pulse as yet another pile of rubbish comes kangarooing into the arena, by growling as much theatrical excitement as he can into normally mundane phrases, such as 'taxed and tested till June' and 'ninety-seven thousand on a P plate'. …

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