Oxfordshire, UK - No doubt there will be views elsewhere within our ranks, but I think Salvo has found a spiritual home. My own arrival - set-up day - was greeted by a spectacular display by 'Sir William & Lady Mac's' own Red Arrows - the aerial acrobatics and swoops of Red Kites enjoying the sun. And when lorry-driver Geoff trundled in with his Essex exclamation, "That's some bleedin' lane that is - I was beginnin' to fear for me wing-mirrers when I saw a bleedin' Kangaroo!" I knew we were in for some fun.
Matt the Hat was our main man. Ingenious. If you want a fork-lift, see the man-in-the-hat. Find him anywhere! Demolition sites should make their main man wear a top hat. In a world of Hi-Viz jackets, everyone looks the same. The man in the hat works! And so it did with whatever was required, with our old mate Alf N. Saifti looked after too. Matt: "You're not going up there balancing on a pallet. I'll get you a man-cage". A man-cage on site? The fact is, nothing was too much trouble for any of our hosts in any capacity…
…and so it was with great pleasure that my first sale went to The Grand Host - Sir William McAlpine - or 'Bill' as we shook hands on the deal. £625 for an 11ft 6inch giant garden spade that had held the Guinness world title for about 2 months in its day. "I like big things" he said. He doesn't half if you look at his train set! Must confess to crossing my fingers he'd like our 58ft Church spire!
Thornton flapped, with justifiable concerns. He sees the 11ft 6 inch spade as a trip hazard. The troughs are spoiling the view too. Three hernias later all is well, and my Oppo, James Savage (by name and nature), has not strangled him, as he is prone to do in such situations. We open for business.
My second sale was two quid for two rusty coat-hooks. That's the tea sorted.
Meanwhile, my erstwhile Oppo James has gone for a look round the show, something I didn't get to do for the remainder. When you are on your Jack Jones on a stand, there are three ways to guarantee customers to your pitch:
1. Roll a fag.
2. Go to the toilet
3. Start the crossword
4. Eat your lunch.
And finally, 5, take a phone call from the Mrs. and they'll come flocking in. "Sorry, love I'm with someone…" Repeat this a couple of times, and when I finally call her back, she says "Hello, but sorry love, I'm with someone..." click.
We never expected to sell a 58ft church spire within our three days, regardless of Clientele, but it became clear that whether they be well-trousered old duffers, Golf-Society-jumpered upstarts, or even a well-stetsoned Texan, they had the dosh and the estate to at least entertain one. We ended up with some serious enquiries, but in the meantime….
James had displayed some impressive pieces, whereas me, cart-away stuff. I was winning for a while until James took a sale, to include delivery, for an exquisite bird-bath, at £3.500. First day, quids in and and looking forward to a dealers' evening over a meal in Henley-on-Thames, a place which held memories of many a boozy evening for me. It did not disappoint. We had Peter Watson's fascinating account of the urns that netted him £440K. As alive as his first telling, and inspiring to us all. Unfortunately, Ron Jones' stories are unrepeatable here. A rare social occasion made only by the Salvo Fair.
Day two: Having turned down numerous offers for the bird-bath, James takes the devastating call that his purchasor has changed her mind! Lesson number one: take a deposit! The poor sod looked like he'd lost a tenner and found a quid, as Trooper Wootton was to observe.
The best sale of all, speaking generally, is where everyone is happy. Buyer and Seller alike. We had lots of those. As dealers, we are all closet collectors, and handing over a piece can sometimes bring a tear to the eye - that the piece has found a good home, fitting for it's place, but no longer in your ownership.
Such it was, my best sale was not my own: near closing time, a couple wandered on to the stand looking for "something to spout water". They described an artisan brick-built rill in the garden that needed to circulate water. No "Father Thames" or Lion-heads - a rainwater hopper, perhaps. They had done two laps of our fair circuit.
I knew just the thing, haven fallen in love with a pair of salt-glazed water spouts on Laurence's stand, Insitu. Crudely shaped dogs precisely fit for purpose, hardly noticeable until in action, and the pair meant a cascade of water at both ends of the rill: Sold. As it happens, I was out of baccy, so my commission was paid accordingly. The perfect sale.
We had a cracking get-together on Laurence's stand - Clive Wilson telling his old tales, and meanwhile the helicopter bringing in Bill's invited guests… We were all overjoyed when Jim O'Donnell sold his church outhouse at £15K, the
poor sod having toiled in the heat (and rain) slating the roof on-site last minute.
In the main, most of the visitors to the stand did not raise the hackles as some "punters" can. James has a solution for this. I had a mis-matched slate-top cast iron table, available elsewhere on site at £125. I was only asking fifty quid but when the prospective purchasers were into their tenth minute of haggling, James came over and gave me the fifty. "I'll have that, Busby", and then to the punting couple - "Sorry - it's sold!". Back in our seats, Jim demanded his fifty quid back. "Gets right on my wick, that does". Can't argue with that Jim.
James's best sale was a beautiful bronze fountain which attracted a lot of interest. I say best not because of the £8K receipt, but as aforementioned, to a
delightful local couple who had the perfect place from the moment they saw it.
I had the pleasure of delivering the piece, and after a dozen-or-so shunts of Geoff's 17-tonner at every corner, the removal of a fence-panel, an exchange of experiences of hernia operations between me, Geoff, and customer, it was across the lawn with a fond farewell… and a £20 tip each!
Never agree to deliver a half-ton trough to any street in Windsor. Nuff said.
Looking forward to home, Geoff had to drop me back at the showground for me to hop in my Tranny pick-up. Having waited for me all day in the sun, the cab was up to about Gas Mark Eight and I got a flash-burn on opening the door. The bottle of Evian was steaming from the cap fit to burst.
A shout from Geoff: "Oh, Christ - the eagle has landed". The tone of his voice said he was not slipping some code-word for success. He referred to the 4ft bronze eagle (on the stand at £3.5K) with had toppled its rocky perch somehere between Windsor and Fawley (or is that fall-y?) and was now sticking up from the load with it's arse in the air as if feeding chicks in some hole. On inspection, the eagle had the good fortune to find a soft landing-spot on which to nosedive - onto a pair of lead greyhounds (on the stand at £3K). "Eddie" as the eagle was fondly known, had half-docked one greyhound and taken a peck or two out of the other. An easy repair, I explained, and Geoff could breathe.
On climbing into the cab, I spotted on the ground the wing-feather of a Red Kite. The perfect souvenir of Fawley Hill.
The other reminder I have of the trip is a duck-taped huge lorry wing-mirror which I found while looking for my own, somewhere between Watlington and Shirburn. Those bleedin' lanes.
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Further write-up and pics of Salvo Fair will follow next week