Magazine article The Spectator

Car Spotting

Magazine article The Spectator

Car Spotting

Article excerpt

Me and the boy are regulars at the weekly car auction near us. We never bid for anything. We just like to go and sit and watch the cars coming and going and seeing what they fetch. We don't even comment on an excessively high or low price. We talk only about the soup. We always sit in the same two seats at the back of the steep little indoor grandstand, and we always buy a cup of soup each from the mobile caterer in the carpark beforehand. We've tried all the soups on sale, but I've now settled on the chicken and vegetable, and my boy generally has the minestrone with croutons. In addition to our interest in the prices fetched by the cars, and the soup, I also like to observe the second-hand car dealers' faces animated by greed.

Last week we were in our usual seats, sipping our soups, and watching the succession of Vectras, Puntos, Mondeos and Méganes passing from left to right just below us. It was uncomfortably cold as usual in the steel and concrete shed, and as usual I'd burned my tongue on the soup. But for me and my boy last week's car auction was an entirely different experience because for once we had cash on us - £150 to be exact. If we saw something we liked, we were going to make a determined bid for it. We were players, at last, in something higher than the soup stakes.

Because we'd been to the car auction so many times before, we were familiar with the situation and remained calm. Having stake money made us no more talkative than having no stake money. We sat and watched and sipped our soup. Many of those at the car auction, even the regular car dealers, find it difficult to suppress the excitement they feel when downwind of a bargain. They pace up and down drawing furiously on their cigarettes and bidding like demented Nazis. It is rare at that particular auction to see someone calmly bidding from a seat. The people stuck in their seats are invariably people like us who go to the car auction to be entertained. Players stand up or pace up and down.

Well, me and the boy knew we couldn't afford to get carried away with the excitement. We had to weigh up every car that came in before us as dispassionately as we had when we had no intention of bidding. …

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