Lotus Pocus, magical car in the river.

In the late autumn of 1970, as the brown colours replaced the green of summer, the yellow streak of a sports car with the sides of a low slung bread van caught my attention in a South London showroom and instantly I fell for the contemporary, to some outrageous, design and the brightly painted body. My indifference to the impracticality of a two door, two seat, sports car was obvious. As a certified fanatic for exemplary design, particularly constructed around four wheels and an internal combustion engine, the vision in front of me, glistening in that showroom, deserved further investigation.

On asking to go for a drive, the salesman, ignoring my youthful appearance, or possibly relishing in the potential for my naivety, snatched the keys from his desk, opened the showroom’s large glass sliding doors and beckoned me towards the Lotus.

The driving position was extraordinary, I was virtually lying down just a few inches from the ground!

The black interior, the shiny wooden facia, with each dial displaying the Lotus emblem, the electric windows, rare in those days; all this and we had not even started the car, let alone driven anywhere! I digested the salesman’s instructions and explanations about the functions of the switches and dials, before sinking deeply into my seat, rolling the tiny gear stick from side to side to check and check once more that I was in neutral. This routine was born of the embarrassment and discomfort of lurching forward, leaping as a frog does, should I have turned the engine in first gear.

The roar of the engine echoed between the buildings as I edged cautiously along the street. The salesman sat in the passenger seat, he was talking but I wasn’t listening. The engine was literally behind our heads, serenading me with a well tuned, endless hum. As the Europa went faster the hum changed key, smoothly up an octave, building to a crescendo of delightful sound.This pulse of the engine was reassuring, the slick bodywork sliced through the wind, the gears shifted with ease as if through melted butter.

A mile or two of glorious motoring ensued, prior to pulling to the side of the road, climbing out and wandering, in a private admiration, around the car. The salesman extricated his portly frame from the passenger side and lit a cigarette.

 

“Only six months old. Twin cam, racing pedigree, well it’s a Lotus init?” His sales spiel was not the most eloquent, but he rumbled on. “Dunno, we had a fella come in who wanted to buy this, fink he’s coming back tomora, going to bring the wife to have a run out.”

 

I had to hide my youthful exuberance, not willing to seem over keen, although my heart was beating with desire and avarice.

 

“All right, call me if they don’t buy and I’ll make you an offer,” I retorted as we squeezed ourselves into the Lotus and headed back to the showroom.

 

The salesman played his well practiced waiting game for a day or two, to see if I blinked first. Eventually, after a long and excruciating silence over the weekend, he called and we agreed a price.

 

Looking back now, it seems almost inconceivable that the man who designed the folding workbench, the ‘Workmate’ also created the extraordinarily smooth lines of two Lotus sports cars, the Elan and this car of my young dreams, the Lotus Europa.

The folding workbench came about when South African inventor, Ron Hickman, sawed through an expensive chair when attempting to cut a piece of wood at his home. This error encouraged him to create a design which went on to sell over thirty million workbenches throughout the world.

The Lotus Elan, the first of Mr. Hickman’s designs for Colin Chapman, the Lotus Cars business owner, was an icon of the ‘sixties’, available as hardtop or convertible, with a fibreglass body. The Europa followed later in the decade. Ron Hickman’s sagacious talents had originally designed this model for the race circuits. The version I had purchased was the second incarnation, a marginally more ‘street’ than ‘track’ car. Not a conveyance for ‘look at me’ drivers either, the cabin was so small and dark, it was difficult to see inside and anyway, the ‘laying down’ driving position obscured sight of the person behind the wheel.

Much driving fun was to be enjoyed, especially the cornering; I felt as if the Lotus was on rails when tackling the curviest of bends, flying out the other end as if launched by a catapult.

A friend suggested we drive to Paris on a road trip, as she had acquaintances who would share their apartment with us during a short stay. I had another friend who lived there, working at UNESCO. We had not met for a long time and the lure of lunch at their canteen with fare from over one hundred countries seemed a wonderful idea.

 

The ferry crossing felt slow as I was eager to drive on the open Route Nationale to Paris, even though driving on the other side of the road would be a new experience.

On arrival in the City, as we drove to our destination in Rue Saint Charles, youngsters would shout ‘Lotusse’ as we passed by. One teenager yelled from the open back of a bus,”Qu’est-ce que c’est la plus vitesse ?” My school boy French could deal with the first part and I guessed ‘vitesse’ was speed as Triumph had made a convertible called the ‘vitesse’ which, although not fast at all, gave the impression, by the name alone, of being a speedy roadrunner. The second problem, was the translation of miles per hour to Kilometers per hour. This for me descended into random guesswork, thus I think the young sports car enthusiasts of Paris concluded, after a staccato, yelled conversation, raising our voices above the decibels of the Parisian traffic, that the yellow Lotus Europa, before their eyes, was capable of 200 mph!

On the second day, my travelling companion went to visit her friends and I met Vanessa for lunch at the UN staff cafe. That evening, a suggestion was put forward that we go to a cafe for a light supper, in a small town on the river Seine, a few miles from the bright lights of the City.

I chose to drive on my own and follow the friends’ car. As darkness came we pulled off the main highway. The roads became smaller in width and eventually, in total darkness, we turned onto a track with pot holes and enormous puddles. The Lotus did not like it, bumping and scraping its undercarriage on the stones below.

Our convoy was travelling at about 30 mph. due to the adverse conditions. Without notice, the lead car ploughed into a puddle the size of a small lake, the spray completely obscuring my view, giving me not a moment’s chance to slow and survey as to whether the Europa would make its way through the water safely.

There was no time, my car aquaplaned on the ‘lake’ and spun to the right. I heard a scratching noise beneath me as the Lotus grazed over the bushes at the side of the lane then plunged into the river.

My door would not open, although the back of the Lotus was wedged on the river bank, most of the car was submerged. There was no sense of desperation, more an instant feeling of unedifying regret that the fateful journey had ended in a catastrophic manner. If the rear of the Lotus had not been wedged, I surely would have been floating down the fast flowing river, entombed in a fibreglass cocoon.

I pushed the door against the mud to secure my escape. There was little movement, not enough to allow me to squeeze out anyway.

To my surprise, the headlights were still on, illuminating the underwater world of the river Seine. Water was seeping in from somewhere, my passport and driver’s license were in the passenger seat footwell, they were the least of my immediate concerns.  

 

I slid my fingers over the button controlling the electric windows. They were still functioning. The window space was too small to climb through, although with the window now down, I was able to grip the door more robustly, with both hands, to have some leverage; back and forth, this rhythm gouged the river bed until the mud had retreated enough.

I gave the door one last heave and effected my escape into the water. The headlights had gone out by now. In the darkness, I clambered up the bank and stood still, observing the partially submerged Europa below. At times like this, the shock of the event is emotionally crushing and the disbelief shrouded in questions. Could this have been avoided? If only I could turn the clock back just five minutes? Will the car still work when hauled from it’s resting place in the river?

The car in front had turned around, the occupants desperate to see if I was alright. Eventually, a police car and an ambulance arrived. The only damage to me was my pride and the overwhelming despair of seeing my dream car shattered and broken.

 

Some six weeks later, the Lotus was delivered to me at home, by the Automobile Club. The fibreglass body, although bruised and cracked from the ordeal, was repairable. However, all the instruments and badges, anything with the word ‘Lotus’, had gone, stripped out as souvenirs, somewhere along the journey from the river to my home.

The man from the Automobile Club observed that there must be a few Citroens and Peugeots driving around Paris sporting a ‘Lotus’ badge!

Although based on a true story, some details have been changed but not the car!

 

 

 

 

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Revolving cars and a flashing blue light.

The electrically powered automobile turntable was a feature of Billy Atkins’ second-hand car lot in the early 1970’s. The ‘Car of the Week’ would slowly revolve with the ‘special’ price emblazoned on the windscreen as the vehicle rotated through 360 degrees, to tempt passing motorists.
Although the origin of turntables goes back to steam trains, the use of these devices, with the invention of electricity, tended to be for the wealthy. Henry Ford had one built at his house in Michigan, the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright designed them into the houses of oil barons in the 1920s but the commercial use came to prevalence at motor shows after World War Two.

Billy’s revolving display, acquired second hand and although occasionally blowing a fuse and grinding slowly to a standstill, was a feature of the car sales emporium, an addition to the only other structure on the land, the portable office at the rear of the lot. This was a wooden building and the interior was basic: pictures of exotic sports cars on the walls, two desks at right angles and a row of hooks, hung with an array of sheepskin and camel hair coats, the ‘uniform’ of car dealers in those days. On one desk, a cup with the lettering ‘WA’ inscribed in a traditional font, a refugee from the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, now proudly in Billy’s possession, displaying his initials.

The site was festooned with bunting stretched from one pole to another. The cars for sale tended to be expensive models, at least when they were new, which had seen better days and now rested on Billy’s car lot in faded glory and diminished luxury. However, since these were prestige marks such as Jaguars, Mercedes Benz, Austin Healey and the occasional Rolls Royce, even though their finest years were past, the chance for aspiring show offs to elevate their status was the fodder for Billy’s pecuniary success. 

In terms of outward appearance, Billy Atkins’ dress sense emulated the style of his customers. Although short in stature, his hair added to his height remarkably. The style was long and coloured blonde, an air blown and sprayed bouffant creation, he would not have been out of place on stage with the Bee Gees. 

Billy’s face and chest were brown, implying an exotic holiday in the Caribbean or Florida, the reality though was the regular application of a spray tan. This was only noticed by the keenest observer, when the vast gold medallion, swinging like a pendulum and visible through his open shirt, would rub away the tan, leaving an arc of white skin.

Billy dressed smartly, cream suits with the then fashionable ‘bell bottom’ trousers, shimmering sequinned coloured jackets. He was a dedicated follower of fashion, looking as he did, the spitting image of Barry Manilow, several years before Barry Manilow achieved fame!

On an otherwise ordinary day, the lives of passers-by were brightened by some amusing activity at Billy’s motor emporium. 

The cafe opposite was an amenable place to stop by for a mug of tea and some hot food. Due to its popularity, parking nearby was the only obstacle for drivers in need of refreshment. The two policemen, on that day, had a similar parking issue, eventually squeezing into a space right next to Billy’s lot. They left the blue police car unlocked and ambled over the road for a drink and snack.

Billy, in deep conversation with another trader when the policemen arrived, sharply observed that their car was unlocked. Billy darted into the office building and switched off the power to the revolving turntable. The other car trader backed down the gleaming Jaguar, the ‘Car of the Week’ from the ramp leading from the turntable.

 Laughter could be heard from the patrons of the cafe as they looked across the road at the unfolding drama. The two policemen went to the counter to pay their bill, completely oblivious to the destiny of their blue police car.

For there it was, slowly revolving on the turntable, the blue light on the roof flashing and a sticker across the windscreen proclaiming, ‘Car of the Week’.

 I came across the life of Billy Atkins some months later. Out of the blue, a man named John Sapsford asked me to go and look at a house he was selling. Apparently, the property used to belong to Billy, but Mr. Sapsford’s boss, a car dealer named Jim Gregory had taken ownership as Billy owed them some money.

The moment Mr. Sapsford opened the front door, a strong aroma of deodorant, fused with aftershave lotion assaulted our nostrils. Mr. Sapsford lit his pipe, to neutralise the powerful odour, as I wandered upstairs. There, the sole remaining piece of furniture was visible in the master bedroom, a large four poster bed, possibly too big to shift. The carpets had gone and the only remaining hint of the previously grand interior, was a heavy ‘flock’ patterned wallpaper normally seen in upscale Indian restaurants in those times. 

I peered through a front upstairs window, upon hearing a car coming up the driveway; Billy had arrived, driving a dark green Rolls Royce. He did not notice me, but when Mr. Sapsford opened the front door, a heated discussion began. A minute passed before the slamming of the front door rocked the house. Silence except for the click of Mr. Sapsford’s lighter as he recharged his pipe.

From my elevated position, I observed Billy climbing back into his green Rolls Royce. However, instead of using the driveway for his departure, Billy had other ideas to vent his anger at losing his home to a bigger fish in the world of motor cars. The Rolls Royce lurched in an ungainly manner, onto the front lawn, ploughing the grass in two deep lines as the tyres span relentlessly for traction. There was, until that day, a large Rose bush between Billy, his Rolls Royce and the public highway. Billy aimed directly at the bush, the large car bounced onto the road and swooshed away. 

The evidence on the car, of this wild foray as it raced up the road, was the remains of a rose bush clinging to the back bumper.Verification  of Billy’s release of anger was a line of destruction matching the axle width of the beautiful car he was driving.

As I came downstairs, John Sapsford was lighting his pipe again, in a contemplative mood, peering from the open front door, he surveyed the scene of horticultural mayhem. 

 Although based on a true story, names and places may have been changed.

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Vinyl and the Rock and Roll boys.

As teenagers, my old school friends and I were desperate to form a rock band, to join that wave of music which had blossomed in the sixties. By 1970, still in our late teens, our dreams had evolved from actually performing to being inside the record business, as purveyors of good music in our own vinyl shop.
In earlier years, as fifteen year old dedicated amateur rockers, Keith and I had practiced sporadically, in a spare room on the top floor of his parents large house. Keith on guitar and me blowing badly on harmonica and attempting to sing.

My years as an angelic eight year old choir boy long behind me, my voice had broken, the dulcet tones replaced by a cigarette induced, gravelly base voice, darting in and out of tune. On occasions and with increasing regularity, Keith’s mom would holler from the ground floor, “Sing in tune!”

Keith owned a small amplifier and a microphone so our renditions of the Beach Boys ‘Barbara Ann’ or The Rolling Stones, ‘(I can’t get no) Satisfaction’ could be heard, in all their stumbling, tuneless glory, all over the house and beyond into the leafy avenue below our attic studio. Keith could sing ‘My Generation’ by the Who on his own as alas, I couldn’t perfect Roger Daltry’s stutter. The pop charts were a mix of the old and new, dominated by the Beatles, although our first hint of Psychedelia was the visit to England of Sonny and Cher who gloriously mimed ‘I got you babe’ on our black and white television. Another American, Barry McGuire, gave us a grim insight to wars, Vietnam particularly, with ‘Eve of destruction’. We liked the words, especially ‘You`re old enough to kill, but not for voting’, although as the song was banned by radio stations we could not listen enough times to scribble the lyrics down or to learn the chords. We laughed at ourselves as we grappled with the sounds of nineteen sixty five, our rock dream torpedoed by the end of the summer holidays.

Some years passed before the time arrived for us to make a decision to leap into the retail end of the music business, an idea born from nothing more than idle chat and wishful thinking. To fulfill our adolescent dream, finding the funds was our first requirement. Our new empire would rise or fall dependent on a friendly bank somewhere. With little experience, we concocted an appallingly written business plan, on one sheet of lined paper and headed for the lenders, – the bankers locally, who may have seen our potential as entrepreneurs, which we were not and were too young and green to ever have been.

Laughter and disbelief was a common response as we trawled our idea from one bank manager to another. Even ‘go and take a job’ was a regular refrain. Our frustration grew, since we had no money of our own and the £3,000 of borrowings, a figure we had guessed more than calculated, seemed less and less available.

Fortuitously, one of Keith’s uncles had a friend who managed a bank and unbeknown to us, had arranged to guarantee our loan.

Mr. Steggles was a tall lean man who had worked his way up from bank teller to Manager over several decades. In his grey office wearing a grey suit he epitomised the ‘old school’ traditions of the way society functioned: the ‘ job, marriage, mortgage, children, manager, retirement with gold watch for forty years service’ route’ which we could never adhere to. We had not the inclination, brains, nor patience to sign up to this social formula.

 

“So you’re the Rock and Roll Boys,” he said, as he greeted us with a firm handshake, beckoning us into his office. We had dressed up for the meeting, more so than our other interviews, on the recommendation of the Uncle. Wearing a shirt and tie was foreign to the ‘ bell bottom jeans and tee shirt’ dress code for us teenagers at the time.

Mr. Steggles listened to our proposals, looking rather bemused. He asked vague questions about ‘turnover’ ‘cash flow’ and ‘bottom line’ which to us was a foreign language.

 

“Ok boys, we will fix an overdraft of £3,000. You will need to open an account, probably form a Limited Company.”

 

The limited company part completely passed us by as we had no knowledge of what this meant. As we left his office, he said a letter would follow with the bank’s terms of business, interest rates and more.

After leaving the bank, we shook hands with each other, proud of our negotiations and still with no idea that our loan had been fixed by Keith’s uncle.

 

“You realise he has us by the gonads until we pay him back,” said Keith with a cheeky grin as we headed for the car. Our journey into commerce had begun despite our freewheeling outlook, despite being rookies in the lexicon of the vinyl retail world, the shark infested waters of the music business.

We already had a shop in mind being a link through my late father. The serious graft was to come, fitting out the place with record racks and cassette displays, since cassettes were the new technology for listening to music at that time. A cash till had to be acquired, a slider for the newly introduced credit cards, a telephone, insurance and so many other items and requirements, none of which we had given thought to, let alone included on our threadbare and simplistic business plan.

Our desire for a ‘ hi fi’ sound in our store was to eat greedily into the loan. On a trip to a prominent equipment store in Soho, we befriended John, a technical wizard, who offered to come and fit the expensive sound system we chose. John looked the part too with his heavy black glasses, greasy long hair and a beard so thick we continually thought it would catch fire, every time he lit a cigarette. John drank gallons of coffee during his evenings of technical toil, bars of chocolate kept him going too, disappearing into his bearded face as soon as we handed them to him. When he came across a problem, John would raise a finger, pointing to the ceiling and stand as still as a statue. All work would stop and a silence reigned until his brilliant mind had figured out a solution. A slurp of coffee and we all carried on with our tasks.

Keith was an accomplished carpenter, he had the tools and the skills, imbued in his DNA as his family were in the Boat business. The speakers we bought were huge, over three feet in height, four of them for John to secure in each corner of the shop, then to connect with unending loops of wiring to the record decks behind the counter. For weeks there were cables everywhere, since John’s day job meant he would just work for three hours at night.

As the shop took shape, it occurred to us that the acquisition of stock would be the next move. During all the time of the construction, we only brought one album each to the property, worried what havoc the dust and grime would do to the recordings. Once the equipment was usable, Gordon Lightfoot’s album, ‘If you could read my mind’ was alternated constantly with ‘Songs for swinging lovers’, a Frank Sinatra album from the fifties which had belonged to my father. Eventually, Keith and I learnt all the words, due to the continuous playing and would heartily ‘belt out’ the songs as they spun on the turntable.

We called record companies; hungry reps appeared at our door. The man from Decca was sixty-nine years of age and boasted to us how he had been in the business for forty years. He did not have the image we expected; balding with a small military moustache, always the same blue suit, white shirt and tie. He would hover his pen over the order sheet, almost intimidating us into buying some obscure albums of brass bands or choirs we had never heard of. We soon realised that our store needed to offer all types of music, not just our favourite rock and pop sounds. We did succumb to purchasing some of the Decca man’s catalogue of brass bands and orchestral music, although these stayed on the shelves for an eternity, eventually loitering in our ‘sale’ rack.

No lesser person than the area manager visited us from EMI. Mr. Parminter displayed visible anger at our meeting. His reasoning, although futile, was that we were opening a record shop, not far from his friends store which sold greetings cards and some vinyl as well.

 

“There’s no room in this street for two record shops,” he exclaimed to deaf ears.

 

Polydor’s representative was helpful but hopeless on directions. At first, he refused to open an account, as with EMI claiming they already had a client nearby. Fortunately, an executive of Polydor had been dealing with some matters regarding a new boat with Keith’s family. One ‘phone call and the Polydor rep came to heel. Garry was a disorganised character. Among his failings, other than his absurdly tasteless choice of multi coloured sports jackets, was his sense of direction and observation. On the day of our proposed first meeting, he called from a public ‘phone box to say he was lost. He was calling from about twenty feet away, outside our store. On his leaving later, we stood outside to direct him, but within minutes he waved as he drove back going the wrong way!

More fun was had dealing with the Island Records rep. Don was a long haired hippy type and never pushy. There was no need to be, their catalogue was very good as were RCA and WEA and some of the smaller labels.

The time arrived to prepare for our ‘grand opening’. We had rolled up the carpet, left by the previous occupiers. When we tried to relay it, the creases were extremely pronounced and unattractive. As there was nothing in the budget for floor covering, it would have to do. We vacuumed madly, trying to flatten the creases, we took a hammer and nails to the edges, then some strong glue, anything to pin the carpet down. Eventually we decided, reluctantly, this would have to do and anyway as the rest of the store looked good, perhaps no one would notice or trip over the creases!

On the day the sign company arrived, I was in the window space, hanging a huge pair of lips I had made from cardboard and painted a shocking red. None of the record companies volunteered any promotional material so my enormous lips creation, with the word ‘Open’ protruding from the mouth would have to do. Each side, and to fill the remaining widow space, we hung album sleeves of our favourite bands. Steadying the decor was interrupted regularly by sounds of gunshot as the man outside used a nail gun to fix the new sign. Passers by jumped with shock every time the gun went off. We were on the map and noticed, even potentially for the wrong reasons!

The reluctance of the record companies to assist us was mitigated by the sales rep from Pye. The company was better known for making record players but did have a catalog of albums and singles. Gary put us in touch with a wholesaler who could supply us with any album we wanted. Additionally, the warehouse was only a half hour drive away.

 

Someone knew someone who would arrange for one of the lead actors in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to come to the opening. The Polydor publicity machine went into full swing, as the singer was signed to their label. They said they had arranged for forty girls from the local college to stand outside our store to cheer and welcome the singer, for maximum publicity. The police were asked to supply metal barriers to hold back the throng.

In the last week before our first day, we cleaned and tested everything, stacked our stock in sections, Rock, Jazz, Classical and filled the cassette holders which Keith had carefully crafted in wood.

 

 

A week before opening, I experienced an eye infection, probably brought on by the sawdust and exacerbated by tiredness from the months of endless toil. By the Saturday evening everything was a blur so I headed for the hospital. An extraordinarily eccentric doctor had a look.

 

“I’m just filling in for the weekend,” he announced. “So let me show you what I can do.” This was a touch unnerving as my preference would have been to go and see my regular physician. I was not sure if he was a doctor at all. He dripped some ointment into the infected eye and proceeded to fix a gauze patch with elastic running around my head.

 

“Wear some sunglasses and no one will see the patch.” This was an absurd notion, but I followed his advice.

My doubts about the ‘doctor’ were confirmed. On the Monday morning, I learned that he had spent that Saturday night touring the hospital wards in a blond wig and stiletto shoes, posing as a nurse. Apparently, he was an inpatient at the mental unit, next to the clinic and had somehow wandered into the surgery, grabbed a white coat, hung a stethoscope around his neck and proceeded to ‘treat’ incoming patients.

The patch over my eye did make me feel self conscious so I wore the sunglasses on our opening day. I either looked cool or stupid to our new customers. Probably a split decision if anyone was asked for an opinion.

The ‘big day’ had arrived. We had ordered some faux champagne and sandwiches from a deli a few doors down. We avoided eating there normally as the owner’s fingers were coated in nicotine and we could see his back yard from our rear door, a forlorn, walled area of rotting piles of food and rubbish spilling from plastic bins. He had offered free sandwiches for our opening if we bought the drinks. As our bank loan had dwindled to near zero the deal was done with ‘Nicotine man’ as we had named him between ourselves.

 

We had invited an assortment of friends and Keith’s family. Soon after they arrived, gradually a mix of the curious and genuine record buyers filled our new shop. Within the gentle flow, the occasional ‘ clever dick’ who demanded to know if we had, in stock, some obscure album.

“Where would I find ‘ Shelley Mann, live at the….’ We did not have the slightest clue. Our blushes were saved by a young man, who introduced himself as David.

 

“Oh, that album was deleted by the record company years ago,” he replied directly to clever dick, who promptly left the store.

 

David went on to tell us he had worked in a record shop and the appearance of people like clever dick was a regular occurrence. Apparently, there was some sport to be had in asking for the unavailable or unobtainable especially at newly opened record shops. Other than this spurious attempt to befuddle us, most of the entrants to our new shiny music emporium were friendly and wished us good fortune. Sales were steady; The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis were sold in reasonable volumes and the top forty singles did well too, as we cut the prices to less than Woolworths, in the vein hope that this would be appealing as a bid to draw customers from the vast, international competitor along the road.

The local press had been tipped off by Polydor so a couple of photographers and reporters turned up, diving headlong at the free drinks and sandwiches before taking snaps or interviewing anyone.

A quick look outside confirmed the ‘screaming’ girls from the local college were not in evidence, indeed they never materialised. Similarly, we kept a look out for a large limousine, ferrying the lead heartthrob from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to our door. We wondered if the forty girls were being corralled somewhere, ready to burst onto the scene when the star arrived. Our hopes were crushed when the understudy arrived instead. Of course, we had no idea who the young man was, alighting from one of the taxis usually available for hire at the railway station nearby. Yes, he did have long hair and a beard but no limousine, no fanfare and no disciples. Just a polite young actor who had little idea of where he was or what exactly he was doing there.

The two policewomen, there to control the crowds of fans, prepared to leave, after scoffing a few sandwiches and generously enquiring about my eye patch.

 

“I like the shades!” Said one, munching a sandwich from the nicotine man.

 

“Good luck,” said the other, “I’ll be back for some records, if you give me a discount!”

 

‘Jesus’ hung around, long enough for a photo opportunity with the chap from the local paper, before disappearing back to The West End.

We stayed open until nearly everyone had gone. A fulfilling day, having met some old rockers and hippies amongst the footfall into the shop. Our biggest purchaser came in the form of a truck driver, dressed in a cowboy hat, tasseled jacket and snakeskin boots. ‘Jim’ loved his American country music and more by accident than clever picking from the record companies, we had stocked several albums that Jim needed to add to his collection. There was four hundred pounds, in the till, at the end of our first day. A fortune to us back in those distant days. We were marginally financially solvent again!

 

Our dream had materialised, the vinyl record store was open.

To be continued…

 

Although this article is based on a true story, some names and places have been changed because my memory is not what it used to be!

 

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THREE WHEELS ON MY WAGON AND NO HORSES.

On a warm and sunny Monday morning, in the early summer of 1967, I began my first real employment at the offices of a large construction business. One of the directors was a family friend and the decision was made for me, that I would work in the firm’s general office for three months, to gain experience. Experience of what, I was not immediately sure, although the five pounds and fifteen shillings weekly pay was going to be useful, to buy vinyl albums, cigarettes and chocolate.
When walking into the reception area, I met Georgina for the first time, sitting on a stool behind a high, polished wood counter. Only when she offered to show me to the general office, on the first floor, did I notice this diminutive figure was barely five feet tall.

“You’ll be working with Robert,” she declared, in a pronounced cockney accent, as we walked the maze of corridors. Georgina’s mini skirt was very short indeed, compensated by a large, oversized cardigan which could have been a dress in itself.

“Yeah, he used to be my boyfriend, we were engaged,” Georgina divulged in a matter of fact way. This news came as a shock as Georgina could not have been much more than sixteen or seventeen years of age.

 

” You a friend of one of the bosses, right?”

 

“No, Mr. Racquet is a friend of my father,” I retorted, not wishing to be labelled, on my first day, as being connected to the owners.

 

“Oh, one of us then!” Georgina giggled, her mood swinging from resignation to jollity in an instant, as she opened the door to my new workplace.

The general office was small, just two desks facing each other, with a telephone on each, a filing cabinet and a collection of sample building materials displayed on two shelves.

Robert stood up to introduce himself. My eyes were drawn to his long sideburns and the beginnings of a pancho mustache. As I studied the room and my new work colleague – those first moments of attempting to absorb new surroundings – Georgina spoke to Robert.

 

“You trying to look like the Beatles Robert? What’s that fluff under your nose?”

 

“It’s all the fashion, my new mustache. Do you like it?”

 

“Yeah, sort of.” There was a palpable friction between the two, that edginess after romantic separation, made more awkward as they still worked in the same building.

 

After Georgina left us alone, Robert also told me how the two had been engaged to marry. But as he was still seventeen, his parents had advised against the union and anyway, he was waiting for compensation from a past motorcycle accident, thus he had no money.

 

“She kept the ring and wears it some days,” Robert assured me. “So maybe we’ll….” He didn’t complete the sentence, instead began to tell me how the little general office functioned.

 

Over the following weeks, we built a sound friendship. At lunchtimes we would go to a cafe not far from the office. One shilling and six pence for beans on toast and for another six pence, a cup of coffee in a glass cup and saucer. This was a new world for me. Best of all, the ‘caff’ had a Jukebox. The Kinks, Mamas and Papas, Procul Harum, the Beach Boys, an endless list of songs belting out on each of our lunchtime visits. One regular customer, a decorator in stained, paint splattered overalls, plied the Jukebox with pennies, always for the same song, “Hi Ho Silver lining” by Jeff Beck. Marginally out of tune but with great gusto, he would sing along to the chorus intermittently, whilst devouring a plate of fried food.

 

On Fridays, most of the staff from our firm would go to the ‘Wagon and Horses’, a pub even closer to our office than the musical cafe. At sixteen tender years of age, I was too young to order an alcoholic drink, so a half pint of shandy was my regular Friday tipple.

 

“Oh, ’twas your eighteen birthday, last week, so it was?” Paddy, the Irish manager, would often say to me loudly, in case a plain clothes policeman was in the bar. In those days a considerable bribe would be asked for, if the police were to refrain from reporting under age drinking to the Licensing Office. Paddy was a lovely, warm hearted and friendly man and on occasion would give me a drink, waving me away when I held out my money – the carefully counted out coins from my meagre resources.

The employees, from the construction firm, gathered there on Fridays. They were a friendly, amenable group of accountants, surveyors and secretaries. Mr. Racquet’s secretary was notable for her sense of humour. In her late twenties and divorced, Christine was interested in our teenage antics. As a youngster, I thought her attractive and particularly coveted her white Triumph Spitfire sports car; with the roof down on a sunny day, she and the car turned heads.

Indeed, the firm’s car park was akin to a private motor show. The chairman’s transport was a black Rolls Royce, owned by the business, with a salaried chauffeur. One of the directors had a red Jaguar with a fitted device to warn him of speed traps. David Askew, from the surveyors department, drove an MGB with a growling exhaust system, so we always heard his arrivals and departures.

One day, Robert announced that he too was to buy a car. The promised compensation for his accident was still awaited, so funds were in short supply.

 

” Would you go halves with me?” He enquired, during one of our lunchtime gambits to the greasy cafe. The cafe was quiet as he launched his proposal, save for a ballad by Englebert Humperdinck oozing from the Jukebox. My response was on the lines that I had no money other than my weekly wage, delivered to me in a little folding package, from the accounts department, every Friday.

Robert pressed on with his proposition, ” I’ve seen this convertible…”

 

My mind conjured up a picture of Christine’s Spitfire.

 

“I can drive it on my motorbike license!”

 

By now, my confusion was complete. With little knowledge of these matters, even I would be surprised if a motorcycle permit would include driving a Triumph Spitfire.

 

“It’s a Bond convertible…… a three wheeler…. Comes under a motorbike license..see.”

 

With no idea of what a Bond looked like, but intrigued about the ‘convertible’ aspect, I enquired further.

 

“How much is it? How old?” These two questions came to me in quick succession.

 

“About nine or ten years old and the man wants ten pounds. If we go halves, that’s a fiver each.”

 

My curiosity intensified. No, not a Spitfire, not an MGB, although it was a convertible. I stared out of the window for a moment, imagining us cruising the roads in the summer sun with the roof down and all for one week’s pay.

 

“We will need insurance and road tax,” Robert continued, popping the bubble of my short daydream.

 

“How much will that be?” I naively enquired.

 

“Don’t know yet, but we can make an offer for the car if we need more money.”

 

Within days, we had secured the Bond three wheeler convertible for six pounds and ten shillings. There was a few weeks of road tax on the car and the insurance was five pounds. This insurance policy probably covered virtually nothing, although the policy made us ‘ road legal’. Ominously, the previous owner included delivery in the price. Was this because the little car did not actually drive, or start, or have any brakes!

We would have to wait to find out.

Such was the closeness of Robert to Georgina’s family, despite the cancelled nuptials, the Bond was brought to their driveway.

The following Saturday morning was to be our maiden voyage in the Bond, so I wished hard for fine weather.

When arriving at Georgina’s parents house, I had a quick look at the car. The colour was a mid blue, although faded in some areas. The vehicle was small, square fronted and low to the ground. Georgina opened the front door, beckoned me to come in, then introduced the family.

 

“These are my sisters. That’s Willamina and that’s Edwina, oh and mum and dad.”

 

All I could think of was that ‘dad’ had wanted three boys, since all his daughters had boys names, feminised and with an ‘a’ on the end! The three girls were close in age, sharing similar facial and physical features and all wearing mini skirts.

Robert appeared outside and began wrestling with the folding roof of the Bond. The canvas top was paper thin, brittle and threadbare. The frame which held the canvas in place collapsed as we tried to shift it to the folded down position.

 

“Take it off the car, son,” the girls’ father suggested. On his advice, we removed the hood, now in several pieces and laid out the remnants on the grass.

 

“I’ll start the engine,” Robert said as he climbed into the driver’s seat. After several turns of the ignition key the engine awoke, sounding more akin to a lawnmower than a car.

 

” Yeah, yeah!” The girls screamed. “Let’s go for a ride, please,” Georgina pleaded.

 

“We’ll have to push it back out of the drive. No reverse gear.”

 

“Why no reverse?” Someone asked.

“It’s a motor bike by law and motorbikes don’t have reverse,” Robert explained as we started to push the tiny car back onto the road. By some quirk of motoring rules, a three wheel ‘car’ was not a car but a motorbike.

The Bond had just two seats so the three girls sat on the boot with their feet wedged in the gap behind where Robert and I were seated.

The engine screamed as we lurched forward. We all laughed loudly, filled with excitement as we reached no more than ten miles per hour. A cloud of white smoke billowed from the exhaust, the little engine straining to haul all five of us along the road, weaving around the parked cars.

Suddenly, a black saloon with a blue light affixed to the roof appeared from a side turning. The blue light began to flash as the car stopped. A uniformed policeman climbed out, put on his peak cap and strode purposely towards us.

Robert turned off the noisy engine. Two loud pops and a puff of smoke emanated from the exhaust pipe.

 

“What’s going on ‘ere?” The policeman enquired of Robert, who was now cowering in the driver’s seat. Before he could answer, more questions were put to him by the policeman.

 

“Five of you in a car with two seats? Three of you sitting on the back? What the ‘ell is this?”

 

During this tirade, Georgina, Wilhemina and Edwina noticed three other policeman sitting in their car. Edwina waved, Georgina stuck her tongue out.

 

The officer grilling Robert saw this and tried not to laugh.

 

“You know I could throw the book at you for this?” His tone was lighter.

 

“But you’re not going to are ya?” Georgina exclaimed. By this time, two of the policeman in the car had come over to talk to the girls.

 

“Yes, you could officer, but I won’t do this again.”

 

“No, we won’t do it again,” Georgina echoed Robert’s words. The girls looked at each other and began to giggle.

A minute or more passed and the police went back to their car, the crisis was over. The girls waved as the policemen drove away.

The inaugural journey in the Bond convertible had been a baptism of fire into the world of motoring. We chugged back to the driveway, the girls walking now. Since the roof was in pieces, we covered the little car with a tarpaulin.

Two weeks after, our Bond would need to go for its annual inspection, a confirmation of its safety and roadworthy condition. Robert found a workshop, not quite three miles from where our car was parked, who would do the test on a Saturday morning.

On the day, we decided not to try and fix the roof, so set off in our convertible in the direction of the workshop. We learned, that fateful morning, that the Bond’s maximum speed seemed to be not much more than the ten miles an hour, reached on our first outing. Worse still, there was a gradual hill climb, past the shopping parade, to be navigated. The little car could barely manage and a queue of vehicles built up behind us.

 

“I’ll just pull in to let them pass,” shouted Robert above the cry of our exhausted engine. Now at the side of the road, the engine had spluttered out. Despite Robert’s heroic efforts the Bond failed to spark into life.

 

“We’ll have to push from here,” a downcast Robert mumbled.

 

“It can’t be far now,” I suggested. “Let me walk on a little and see.”

 

I walked a hundred yards or more and returned with some reasonably good news.

 

“If we push her to the top of the hill there is a long run down and the workshop is there, on the right.”

 

We heaved the car to the top of the rise, Robert pushing from the side with one hand on the steering wheel, me at the back almost horizontal, hands placed on the car’s bottom, head down, pushing with all my might.

After a while and causing considerable disruption to the traffic, we arrived at the top.

To recover from this arduous ordeal, we sat in the open top car and reviewed our situation.

 

“Once we’re rolling, we should make it. You stay sat at the steering wheel, I’ll push to start us off then jump in.”

 

With our plan agreed, once again I took up my position at the rear. I felt like the last man in a bobsleigh team as I pushed and as soon as we were rolling, ran alongside to vault into my seat. We were off!

Without the accompaniment of the engine, just the wind noise was audible as the little car gathered speed. More speed than we had ever experienced during our short ownership. Faster and faster as we rolled down the hill. At the bottom, Robert swerved dramatically into the workshop car park.

 

“We made it!” He exclaimed as we silently came to a halt.

 

The mechanic walked over to us as we sat there basking in our good fortune, navigating the terrain and the traffic to our elected destination.

 

“What do you want me to do with it if it doesn’t pass the test?” He quizzed us with a knowing, rye smile.

 

“Oh, we’ll be back, next Saturday,” promised Robert.

 

The blue Bond convertible did not pass the test. The mechanic sent our first car to the scrap yard, never to be seen again.

 

Although a true story, some names and places have been changed, probably to save embarrassment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SPILT BEER AND THE MERCEDES GOLD RUSH.

Time had run out for Bertie Smalls. Born in the east end of London, Bertie had worked his way up the precarious ladder of the criminal underworld. Eventually, he would lead the ‘Wembley Mob’, a gang responsible for bank robberies in the nineteen sixties and early seventies. Bank security was poor in those days, security guards were amenable to bribes and police corruption was rife. The London police commissioner at the time was quoted as saying: “A good police force is one that catches more criminals than it employs.”
Despite the corruption, policemen taking bribes to look the other way and on occasion helping set up bank robberies, the Wembley Mob were successful and innovative too. On one occasion, a gang member dressed up as a woman sidled up to a security van driver during a cash delivery. As the `female’ robber pushed a pram, a gun hidden under baby blankets, towards the security man, a team of building workers on a nearby construction site, whistled at `her`. Having a short temper and high stress level for the impending cash raid, together with the effrontery of being wolf whistled, the robber lost his temper and despite the convincing disguise, pulled the sawn off shotgun from the pram and pointed the two barrels at the workmen. The raid was aborted.

 

After his last bank robbery, Bertie went to Spain to lay low for a while, but was arrested on his return to England whilst sitting in his house consuming a bottle of vodka.

When making a deal with his prosecutors, he proposed a deal where he would name names for a plethora of crimes, in return for immunity. Bertie Smalls was labelled the first ‘Supergrass’. The London crime underworld put a price of one million pounds on his head so he had to be protected, hidden away safely, until the trial of his former partners in crime.

My friend Jim, a Police officer and his colleague, were tasked with keeping Bertie safe and delivering him alive to the trial where he would give evidence against numerous bank robbers, his former friends. Eventually, a total of thirty cohorts.

Holed up at a secret address, life became mundane and boredom set in, despite the chance of any one of many corrupt policemen finding Bertie’s whereabouts and tipping off the criminal underworld.

One fateful day, to relieve the monotony, Jim and his colleague decided to take Bertie for a drive out to the country, maybe for a beer in a remote bar somewhere.

The three men drove out through Surrey and found a suitable pub. The Starr Inn was considered suitable, tucked away down a narrow lane, surrounded by farmland and a mile from the nearest village. On this Friday, the regulars were there as was usual. Farmworkers mingled with retired villagers in the oak beamed bar; the cigarette and pipe smoke fusing to create a thin haze swirling around the patrons.

The two policemen drank beer and ordered a vodka for their charge, the diminutive yet rotund figure in their midst, a fugitive from the criminal world from whence he came. The three men stood at the bar, for once relieved to be in a more relaxing environment.

The bar room door opened a few minutes into their drinking session.

Instinctively, Jim turned to look at the new arrivals at the country pub. His training had taught him to be vigilant. The room was large with a low ceiling; fortuitously, the only entrance door was at the far end, slightly obscured by the small crowd of imbibers. Jim’s first act for reassurance was to feel for the holster hidden under his black leather jacket. He put his beer glass up to his lips, trying to speak at the same time.

“Billy Yates is here,” said Jim. His words were lost in his glass, the beer bubbling as he spoke. He tried again, “Let`s go, Billy….” His second attempt to speak, whilst shielding his face with the beer glass, was marginally better. Talking whist drinking is an art best left to ventriloquists. The beer began flowing, tipping down Jim’s shirt and jacket, soaking his clothing as gravity took hold. The cigarette he had been holding in his left hand fell to the flagstone floor. The second policeman and Bertie initially thought something was wrong with Jim. They noticed his eyes though, fixed on the doorway at the far end of the bar.

By good fortune, the toilets were behind them at the opposite end to the entrance.

“This way,” whispered Jim, having discarded his glass on the bar. The two men bundled Bertie, spinning him around and pushed him in the direction of the door marked ‘Gentleman’. The room was empty, cubicle doors open. The place was deserted, only the aroma of cleaning fluid infused the air.The diffused sunlight came from a window, high on the wall. Jim stood on a waste bin and tried the handle; the window hadn’t been used in a long time, it would not open. The other policeman leant on the entrance door to make sure no one came in, whilst Jim wrestled with the window handle.

In a few seconds, which seemed like minutes, the window opened.

They lifted Bertie on to the waste bin and pushed his bulbous form through the opening. He landed with a thump on to the ground below, pale with fear, his heart racing. The other two followed in quick succession, grabbing one arm each of the now perspiring, breathless and stumbling Bertie Smalls.

Once all were safely in Jim’s car, he fired up the engine and without looking back, sped up the lane to find the quickest way back to the relative safety of London. The fear of being seen by Billy Yates subsided. The chances of another gangster visiting a remote country pub were infinitesimal, impossible to calculate.

By remarkable coincidence, Billy Yates had been in that remote village on occasion three years previously, since an acquaintance owned a farm cottage and barn a mile or two from the Starr Inn. The barn was used to prepare motor vehicles and Billy had been orchestrating the creation of a very special conversion to a Mercedes Benz.

The luxury sedan was undergoing some major alterations. To enable the smuggling of gold bars, the suspension was strengthened and secret compartments were fitted into the doors. An Ian Fleming James Bond story had traversed from delightful fiction into fact.

The Mercedes was taken to Spain. The gold bars were secreted into the newly formed voids and the vehicle was ready for its sojourn to Switzerland. Return plane tickets, for the driver, were sent to London. To none other than Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Moody.

Moody, as head of the obscene publications squad, had been extracting protection money from Soho pornographers for years. In perverse irony he was also leading an anti corruption enquiry.

Bill Moody took a few days leave, at the height of the investigation, to drive the car across Spain, across borders. He would show his credentials, his Scotland Yard warrant card, to unsuspecting, supine customs officials. The officials would ignorantly shake his hand, as a fellow law enforcement officer, then wave Moody, the Mercedes and it’s hidden contraband through the checkpoints, until Moody eventually reached Switzerland.

 Bertie Smalls was given a new identity, he died in 2008.

Bill Moody eventually went jail, his taking of ‘the bent penny’ finally caught up with him.

 

Although this piece is based on true stories, some names and place descriptions have been changed.

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ART FOR ART’S SAKE, AUCTIONEER’S MISTAKE.

The value of a painting is as baffling to me now as it was some forty years or more ago.
Provenance, a dedicated trail of previous owners and a whole list of other variants will determine a price at auction. In addition, if a picture is sought after, the price demanded will be higher; in this story, significantly so.

Tom was born to a travelling gypsy family. He made a living finding antiques in thrift shops, old barns and rubbish dumps.

“You don’t believe what people throw out” was his mantra.

Tom’s car was his shop, his stock room, as he drifted from one antique shop to another, selling and dealing.

I first met Tom in a cafe, a tough looking fellow with dark unreadable eyes, a useful tool in negotiations with slick, smartly attired dealers. He was likeable and generous.

” Cup o’ tea mate?” He called across to me. ” Mind if I sit here, all the seats are taken.”

One or two seats were available, although being a gypsy, the ignorantly discriminant would not let him sit at their tables.

We talked about everything over that cup of tea, particularly horses as this subject was a love, a fondness for these animals, we had in common.

“Bought this great painting of an ‘orse’, oil in a gold frame.” He informed me.

“Love to see it.” I responded, sipping the mug of tea he had kindly bought for me.

We agreed to meet at the cafe, the next day, for me to have a look. I was no serious collector of art, just curious to see what Tom had found.
“I paid forty pound for this.” Tom informed me as he pulled the large painting from the back of his car, the next day, in the cafe car park. “I think it’s by an artist called Alken, but don’t know which one, there was a father and son and I think the whole family were at it.” The painting was old but in reasonable condition. The horse was pulling a trap with a man aloft, wearing a top hat and holding a whip. 

“You’ll make money on this, mate, no problem at all.”

“how much, Tom.”

“I want over a hundred, in pound notes.” Came his swift response.

“What about a hundred and five?”

Tom smiled. I originally thought at my tender age at the time, that by telling me how much he had paid, this was a marker for a bid that must be higher, he could have paid a pound for all I knew, but when Tom put his reserve at one hundred pounds, at least I had some idea of where this negotiation was going.

“Yeah, go on then, got cash?”

One hundred and five pounds was a huge sum for me in those days and unlike Tom, I did not walk around with wads of folding money stuffed in my pocket. We agreed to meet again for me to pay and take the painting home.
The local library was blessed with several pictorial books of nineteenth century painters and soon, after thumbing through a digest of artists, revealed to me was a chapter with images of the work of Henry Alken and Henry Alken Junior. Starring at me, leaping off the page, was a photograph of the exact same picture purchased from Tom. My heart raced and then sank. ‘ was mine just a copy? Did Henry Junior do several on the same subject?’ Confused, I went home, exhilarated and despondent all at once.

I called a friend to share my emotional roller coaster. Jim had retired from a career in the Flying Squad, a department of the police which dealt with serious crime in London.

He consoled me with the idea that we should take a trip to London, to Sotheby’s, no less, to see if the painting was indeed a copy or possibly an original work of art.

We chose a day to go to Sotheby’s. Jim obviously knew London well and drove me in his car, a large enough vehicle to lay the painting in the back, covered in an old blanket.

The lady at the Sotheby’s counter looked at our offering and picked up the telephone on her desk. “I’ll just call one of our experts to come and see this.” She announced, in a cut glass accent, slightly dismissive and with no eye contact at all. Was this a sign of ‘not another chocolate box copy?’ We had no way of knowing and perhaps, as she saw so many hopeful souls approaching her counter every day, with their heirlooms and valuables, she had grown a cynical shell.

The expert introduced himself, looking not at us but at the painting propped against the wall. His eyes moved up and down the artwork and then targeted the signature.

“Yes, mmm.” He muttered to himself. ” This is indeed, by Henry Alken Junior, look at the style of…” I failed to hear the rest of his sentence for a flush of excitement washed over me. Then he began again. ” Value? Well, if you would like us to place this in auction for you…… twelve to fifteen hundred.” I began to feel a little light headed. In today’s money, this was akin to ten times as much, possibly fifteen thousand pounds.

I decided to take the painting home to give thought to my next move and enjoy not only the heady valuation, but the picture itself. Jim and I went to celebrate at a nearby coffee house. What a wonderful day.
Sheer bad luck followed, some nine months later. The intervening years have ravaged my memory of how the painting was damaged, a small but significant tear about two inches in length, was to throw me into a state of flux. The painting I had enjoyed, not only from the monetary aspect, also the beauty and the privilege of ownership.

The cost of the repair was within a whisker of my original price from Tom.

Time to sell, although Sotheby’s would not be the place, due to the repair; I sought another smaller, although still renowned, firm of London auctioneers. Fortuitously, especially after the Sotheby’s guide was relayed to them, they gave a valuation, only fractionally less, despite the damage.

There was no news from the auction room for several weeks. I telephoned to enquire which upcoming auction they had in mind. They promised to come back with a date. Nothing happened, no letter, telephone call, no contact of any kind.

I called to speak to someone, anyone. Eventually, the manager contacted me.

“We did sell your painting.” He almost whispered down the telephone.

“When, how much?”

“Well, I am sorry…” The manager hesitated. “We made a mistake, our junior staff member put your painting in one of our clearance auctions.”

“What do you mean?” By now I was beginning to worry.

“Property in our clearance auctions has no reserve. We sold the picture for two hundred pounds.”

“Two hundred pounds? But you valued it at twelve hundred.” I exclaimed. “Sotheby’s said fifteen hundred!” 

“Yes, we are trying to recover the painting from the buyer.”

“…and?”

“We went around to his house, the picture is hung above his fireplace in the lounge.”

This description was of no real use to me. The auctioneer had sold my painting in the wrong auction to a chap who now had it ensconced in his drawing room, having paid two hundred pounds. I wondered if this was the beginnings of a nightmare.

“Did you explain the mistake?”

“Yes, but the man now thinks the painting is very valuable and claimed he was the legal purchaser, which he is of course. He wants ten thousand pounds for it.”

“Ten thousand?” I scoffed. “So what are you going to do?”

“The man is convinced the.. your painting is very good and worth much more than he paid; he won’t give it back. So we have decided to offer you the one thousand, five hundred that Sotheby’s valued, less our commission. Is that acceptable to you Sir?”

Now, he was referring to me as ‘Sir’, my immediate thought was this ingratiating title was proffered to soften me, to extinguish blame, to make us equals just resolving a minor issue.

“Why should you have commission? No that would not be fair, after months of keeping this from me, you can’t expect commission, surely?”

The conversation drew to a close. The auctioneer sent a cheque which arrived a few days later. 

They rescinded their commission claim and paid the full one thousand, five hundred pounds.

Somewhere in London, maybe until this day, the damaged painting by Henry Alken Junior hangs above a fireplace and in the minds of those past and present, is worth ten thousand pounds or presumably more now,as some time has passed.The value of a painting is, indeed, baffling.
Although the contents of this story are true, some names have been changed to protect those still living or in possession of an overvalued painting.

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