My elderly neighbours invited the children and I to accompany them to church for the harvest festival service. The promise of a buffet lunch clinched the deal for me, the cupboards being bare apart from this year’s glut of runner beans. We packed a pound or so of said beans into a basket to present at the festival, and trotted into town in our best frocks. Well, it’s not often I get to dress up.
Ever keen on the opportunity to do a little shopping, I was delighted to hear that the harvest produce would be auctioned off after lunch, and the proceeds donated to those in need. I positioned myself near the front of the hall and limbered up, arm poised for some serious bidding action. I lost the first few lots (home-made raspberry jam, a prize-winning marrow and eight cooking apples) thanks to a frustrating cap of three pounds on any one bid, and a trigger-happy octogenarian sitting behind me.
But then I discovered my secret weapon.
In an effort to interest three year old E, sitting on my lap in a bored stupor, I wondered if I could persuade her to act as my proxy. I whispered “sixty pence” in her ear and like a meercat on steroids, she sat bolt upright to deliver her bid.
“Thixty pence!” she lisped, hand raised firmly in the air.
“Ahh, the little love!” I heard, from somewhere on our right. “Let the little lamb have it, Derek.” A man in a tweed jacket reluctantly abandoned his quest for a jar of tomato chutney, which was passed with due ceremony to the sweetly smiling girl on my lap.
And so we continued. “Theventy pence!” “One pounds!” “Ninety pee. Pleathe.” On each occasion the competing bidder would bow out gracefully, oohs and ahhs echoing around the dusty hall, as little E’s harvest mountain grew and grew.
“I love broccoli,” she announced wistfully, as lot 30 was held aloft. I turned my incredulous snort into a sneeze. The girl was good.
“Then you shall have it,” beamed the auctioneer, abandoning the bidding process entirely.
We struggled home and filled the kitchen cupboards with produce, little E basking in the glory of such unprecedented attention. “That was fun,” she said, “can we do it again?”
“Of course,” I told her. “How do you feel about antiques?”