Swellboy on… televised auctions

An afternoon of white tea, anchovy toast and a bidding frenzy in front of the computer

Image: Brijesh Patel

The recent art auction season in London has left me feeling quite galvanised. Through the miracle of the internet, all the action can be beamed to my computer. I have tried internet gambling and trust me, this is much, much better. It is better even than watching the racing. I just pull up a chair, light a cigar (something such as a vintage Cuban Davidoff – nothing too strong, just enough to calm my nerves), pour myself a cup of the finest silver needle white tea, lay in a few slices of anchovy toast and then settle down for an afternoon’s entertainment.

I cannot tell you how much fun it is watching the stuff get sold. Christie’s Telly, as I am reliably informed it is not known, is like QVC for rich people, with all the drama and indirect glamour that comes from watching people spend more money than I will see over the course of many dozen lifetimes.


I suppose it is my addictive personality, but I find myself getting quite caught up in the excitement and light comedy of it all: the slightly Franglais accent as the auctioneer does his best to get his vocal chords around a lengthy, unfamiliar title, the witty badinage, the theatricality and above all the consummate skill with which the auctioneer, like a virtuoso conductor, pulls together the various strands to create a work of supreme entertainment. “I will take £115,000 but not £112,000,” said in an admonitory manner to a rascally cheapskate. “I can see you, sir, at the back of the room,” as one imagines the wildly gesticulating collector fearful of getting left out of the bidding frenzy. “And a new bidder from Germany,” demonstrating the effortless internationality of it all. “All against you in the room; I have a million online.” How modern.

It is only a matter of time before I log in to bid myself, and leaving the computer to refresh my pot of tea return to find that one of my children has sneaked in and spent 20-odd million on a Modigliani.