Magazine article The Spectator

Blind Ambition

Magazine article The Spectator

Blind Ambition

Article excerpt

Half-term again, so naturally all my TV viewing plans have gone out of the window. In some households - my bearded Victorian brother Dick's, for example - parents still cleave to the old-fashioned values whereby a sofa-blocking child in front of the TV is instantly ejected should its father or mother wish to watch something else.

But I'd never dream of doing it to ours.

When they're teenagers and when they're away so much of the time at boarding school, you're pathetically grateful for whatever crumbs of companionship they are prepared to offer you. So if you happen to find them slumped in the sitting room watching some utter crap like Storage Hunters, the last thing you do is insist they turn over to some improving documentary on macroeconomic theory. Instead, you quietly settle down next to them - hoping they won't be so appalled (Dave) isn't that crap, actually. It's a worryingly compulsive American reality TV series, set mainly in California, about the white trash folk who earn their livings by bidding for the contents of self-storage containers whose tenants have failed to pay their bills.

What makes it so exciting is that these auctions are conducted blind. You're allowed to peer through the door of the storage space - usually a shipping container whose padlock is ceremoniously boltcut open by the auctioneer's assistant - but not actually to enter or touch anything. Since the most valuable contents (cars, for example) tend to be covered by a tarpaulin, this makes every bid something of a punt. Sometimes you win big, like the couple who bid just over $1,000 for what turned out to be a $12,000 hot-air balloon; quite often you lose, like the disappointed fellow who paid $105 for nothing but boxes of waste paper.

So really it's a bit like an American version of Antiques Roadshow: brasher, coarser and much quicker to get to the only bit any of us really cares about - the 'reveal', where we find out whether the thing in question is worth gazillions or absolutely zilch.

I do have my doubts, though, about the accuracy of the contents' valuations flashed up on the screen. Is this what the bargainhunters actually fetched when they sold all that dusty bric-a-brac or is it closer to what they'd like to get, in their dreams?

This is the problem with reality programmes these days. …

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