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 inLondon has left me feeling quite galvanised. Through the miracle of the internet, all the action can be beamed to mycomputer. I have tried internet gamblingand trust me, this is much, much better. It is better even than watching theracing. I just pull up a chair, light acigar (something such as a vintage Cuban Davidoff – nothing too strong, justenough 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 anafternoon’s entertainment.

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


I suppose it is my addictivepersonality, but I find myself getting quite caught up in the excitement and lightcomedy of it all: the slightly Franglais accent as the auctioneer does his bestto 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 workof supreme entertainment. “I willtake £115,000 but not £112,000,” said in an admonitory manner to a rascallycheapskate. “I can see you, sir, atthe back of the room,” as one imagines the wildly gesticulating collectorfearful of getting left out of the bidding frenzy. “And anew bidder from Germany,” demonstrating the effortless internationalityof it all. “All against you in theroom; I have a million online.” How modern.

It is only a matter of time beforeI 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 ona Modigliani.