Bargain Hunting

There is little I like more than a mission and bargain hunting.

(When I lived in Paris, I would set myself small missions to give structure to otherwise very, very, very boring days. Whether it was seeing a particular picture in the Louvre or buying a wooden spoon from a kitchen shop several miles across the city…..)

Anyway, I was on a couple of missions to Chichester which, luckily, has two auction houses and some good charity shops.

I like auctions a lot.

I like the range of people there, I like the auctioneer’s savvy and the fact they maintain a straight face when a lot doesn’t even manage to get a £10 bid or goes for several thousands of pounds more than the estimate.

Infact one picture – an Indian one with an estimate of £200 went for £22,000. It made the seller very happy as he had picked it up in another auction  a few years ago as part of a general lot and paid not very much for it – it is the internet viewing and bidding that has made the difference.

I like seeing the dealers in action and the sheer, nerve-wracking excitement of people bidding for the first time for something they really, really want.

Anyway, we need a replacement for the table in our spare room. The current table worked when the best beloved changed the spare room into a history-writing room, but now he has moved back into his old study, the large table is something that has to go.

So mission number one was a smaller table.

I had been to the Stride and Son auction rooms a week or so before to take the Victorian photo albums – oh please do keep up, all that was in a previous blog – and had had a mooch around the sale room which was gearing up for a sale and found a couple of tables which would work nicely in our spare room.

Each auction is run slightly different and this one had a quirk I hadn’t seen before.

For the first hour or so, everyone was in their back yard bidding for the ‘outside stuff’ which you couldn’t view until the day – so, dear bidder, be quick in your assessment and even quicker with your bidding.

Then everyone moved inside for the posh stuff.

I had seen a very nice Georgian round table in yew and fruitwood which was estimated at £100 to £150.

At the country auction I usually go to, the estimate is a bit optimistic so I pitched up prepared to pay £100 but rather hoping to get it for,say, £60.

After all you have to pay a buyer’s premium on top of the hammer price and that is about 20% – yes I know, quite a lot, but they have to make a living out of all this.

This auction turned out to be a better place to sell than buy. That table went for £220  (before buyer’s premium.)

That is, presumably, the difference between cosmopolitan Chichester (think Westeros, for those of us who know Game of Thrones ) and out in the country north of the Downs (Winterfell) auctions.

I like a bit of yew and fruitwood but I am not proud and there was another similar Georgian table but in mahogany which is nowhere near as popular – but of course this table dates from the 1700s.

It has survived from then and I could own it but, dear reader, ‘brown’ furniture is not in vogue so it goes for less than pine furniture. Can that be true? you ask, indeed it can.

Anyway the latter lot was a long way from the first lot so I went out to hunt around the shops on Mission Two.

I was looking for bits of a wedding outfit – not my wedding you understand – and I went into TK Maxx and found a nice pair of shoes that would do and/but they were £29.99.

I say and/but because my charity shopping personality says, ‘What? How much?’ and so I left them behind.

I then did a fingertip search of the charity shops and found a pair of shoes for £7.

Here they are:



Yes indeed Ferragamo designer shoes, and I paid £7.

Then I found a lovely vintage Jaegar silk scarf – might not work with wedding plans but hey who cares for £4.


And then I went back to the auction. It was still hours, and I really do mean hours away from my lot so I put a commission bid on it and set off home.

Recently I have signed up with the website Saleroom which allows you to bid live online but I wasn’t sure I would be back and sorted out with a bidding identity in time, so I left the commission bid.

I hate doing that because you have no control – if you have left a bid of say £30 then the auctioneer is probably not going to start the bidding at £10 but if you were sitting there and holding your nerve and not bidding too soon, you might get it for say £15.

Or you could be outbid in the room by £5 and if you were sitting there you might be reckless and bid another £5 and get it. But the auctioneer is limited to what you told him to bid – no leeway and no extra fivers.

When I got home, I got logged in and ‘watched’ the sale live and could indeed have bid via the wonders of the internet.

My lot was one of the last ones – everyone is tired, many have gone home –  late lot is always a good bet.

I got it for £28.

So, this is a table that has ‘lived’ for more than 300 years, is handmade and with a good polish will look lovely.

Missions complete.








You can’t overcook a mushroom

It is a time of mysteries at the Oxfam bookshop in Petersfield and that is not a sentence which often forms itself around the mundane life of our bookshop and what is more, they are nothing to do with books.

I will leave the most recent mystery to last, and start with the first.

( This is a long story, dear reader, I must warn you, so either get yourself a drink and settle down or decide you really must break off and go and clean out the fridge. I will quite understand.)

We have an art sale of books and pictures about twice a year and they are, by our standards, a big money spinner.

Most of the art we get is not, shall we say, of the highest calibre – amateur daubs, dreary and not very good Victorian prints of Bath, watercolours of geraniums in France, that sort of thing.

But now and then we get some good stuff.

(Three large oil paintings did a treat as centrepieces in the window and though they were not worth the £200 we originally thought, they did sell for £50 a piece.)

Then, by complete chance, a week before we were due to do our sale, the nice man closing down his art shop in a nearby town, brought us all he was left with. Including, a large image of Marilyn Monroe that he had paid some £300 for. (Whether we can get anything like that at auction – for that is where we will sell it, remains to be seen but, be assured,I will let you know what happens.)

I assume by now, if you are not clearing out the fridge, you are asking yourself what is, in the remotest sense, mysterious about all this – well, nothing.

But, as I was rifling through art donations, I came across this:

Now I am a sucker for any painting with snow in it and any Russian painting with snow in it gets my heart beating a little faster.

But I am not sure whether this is an amateur daub worth diddly-squat or the nice early piece by an up and coming Russian artist – and Russians are willing to pay quite a lot for their art these days.

I put out on Facebook the image of the cyrillic and what I presume is the translation on the back and asked for help – and indeed got it not least via the Polish friend of a French friend.

But no one has come back with any information about the artist.

It took it to a local auction house who said they weren’t sure either and the only way to tell whether it was a rare find or a piece of nice junk, was to put it in the auction and see what happened.

Oh, dear reader, my dilemma. I want that painting. But I also want Oxfam to get as much money as possible. So, what to do?

I brought it home and asked another auction house – where I happened to be, bidding for stuff but more of that in another blog – even if you have stayed with me this long, there are only so many diversions and sentences you can put up with.

They said they had an art expert and send over some picture of the painting and they would get her to have a look.

All excited I did that – but she is away for two weeks.

Then I Googled for longer and with more patience than is usual and found that there is a register of several thousand Russian artists but it costs money – remember this is Oxfam so we can’t go mad and short of crowd-funding the registration fee or getting my best-beloved to pay up on what might be a wild goose chase, that is not going to happen.

The Polish friend of my French friend suggested I got in contact with the union of Russian artists, and I did, and I have heard nothing.

In the village is someone who deals in East European art and in the ways of villages and I am thinking of contacting him and asking for help.

The second mystery is about three photograph albums which belonged to, we think, the son of the more famous father, Lord Raglan – in case you re racking your brains, the father sent off the boys in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

But you can get the full details of that story in a previous blog. All that remains is to see what they fetch at an April auction.

So, the final mystery.

I had been sorting and sacking a depressing amount of books on Monday and needed a rest.

So, I went upstairs and rooted around the Old and Interesting shelves to get them in some order.

It is my contention that in our shop you can put something down and it might well be there several years later but then again, if you need it be there two days later, it will have vanished.

It is also my belief that there are all kinds of hidden treasures to be unearthed if only you have the time to rootle behind and under shelves and desks and boxes.

Anyway, on this occasion, I found, on a windowsill and god knows how long they had been there, two postcard and picture albums with a handwritten slip in one which read, ‘My parents Eileen and William Shackleton holidays in Switzerland 1906 -1913.’

There were indeed images of Switzerland – but also, I have to say, Llandudno and other places.

I know that anything relating to Ernest Shackleton is priceless but were these people related.

My Googling has not yet been extensive enough to find out and right this minute I need to go and cook a nice risotto for the best beloved so I will ask any reader making it this far and who has any information, please let me know.

I am pretty sure that is a very long shot, but thank you anyway.

PS I had to leave off and go cook that risotto but I had left those mushrooms cooking and realised (too late) that you can over-cook a mushroom, so it will be a ham and pea risotto…..


Bossy, moi?

I have rather exerted my influence over proceedings at the Oxfam bookshop in Petersfield – this will come as no surprise to people who know me.

This week, there have been several reminders of how that works.

Our manager was due holiday and that means we have to get extra cover and I was charming, as I thought, a fellow volunteer to do an extra shift when she said, but much more nicely, ‘OK just tell me what you want me to do.’

Then on Thursday, sweeping down to the shop from upstairs book-sorting, I saw that the display of Valentines cards were still there.

‘Let’s get rid of those, ‘ I said, and so swept them into the back room and replaced them with Comic Relief wristbands. ( I was busy sweeping as you can see.)

It was only a couple of days later the manager managed to retrieve them – they were Mothers’ Day cards.

We have a Syrian refugee volunteer and my best beloved can speak some Arabic so they come into the shop together on a Wednesday which is a day I am not normally in the shop – phew, say the Wednesday volunteers.

Anyway, this Wednesday I was in, and a relatively new volunteer was in too, as was my best beloved and the Syrian.

The latter two were talking in Arabic and the new volunteer and I were talking about how strange it was to listen to a language when you couldn’t catch anything familiar – if it was Italian or French or Greek or Spanish, you would pick up something but with Arabic , there was nothing.

Then the nice Syrian man looked at me and smiled and said, ‘No, no.’

The best beloved explained they had been searching through the dictionary for the best word for bossy.

The new volunteer was found giggling in the corner.




Another Day in A Life

For regular readers, and I know there are one or two ( thank you very much), this might be a bit repetitive – more on the life of an ordinary Oxfam bookshop.

And some days it feels a bit like that for me too, but then you have those days when you stumble across all sorts of weird and wonderful books.

So here is what I found at the bottom – it always is at the bottom – of a box:


Well, well, I thought, there is indeed a book out there on any subject in the world you can think of. And, dear reader, thumbing through it was a real eye opener.

Dedicated readers will know of the Petersfield Porn shelf in our shop where we stash all those rather racy books we cannot put out on the shop floor, and we keep for the owner of the second-hand bookshop in the town who buys them in a job lot.

Even more dedicated readers will recall that our book expert wants Petersfield to be the porn hub of Oxfam on the basis that erotica gets thrown out, but some of it is worth a lot of money – so all the other bookshops should send theirs to us. He made this impassioned appeal at a volunteer conference but sadly, none has yet arrived.

And then there was this – handed to me by a fellow volunteer who said, ‘You will put this in a blog I expect.’ So, here it is.


Then there were the several, actually many, boxes of Mills and Boon. I would not say it was the complete oeuvre on the basis that would be so many books, we would be filled to bodice brimming – but certainly there were a lot of them.

We used to send them on to the shop in Cosham which relished – and sold – them but sadly Cosham Oxfam is no more.

They were all in very good condition which suggests they were recently bought and read, and the feminist in me is appalled – but maybe given a spare moment, I might want to know how the seductive miss worked….and where else would you see the word ‘reprobate’ on a book cover?


And then there is this gem. It is a lovely book with all sorts of illustrations and samples of wood to show the cabinet maker what they were working with.

The cover is designed by Talwin Morris who was, according to Wikipedia ‘ a prolific book designer and decorative artist working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly known for his Glasgow Style furniture, metalwork and book designs.’


Finally, I was jus wondering what to do with two donated camping stoves when I came across this little gem and thought there is a box of camping stuff to be started here so should you have any books on camping or caravanning that you have no need of, please drop them off.

I have to say that the ‘cheese a broccoli rolls ‘ did not sound all that appetising….


Dilettante Blogging

As with most things in my life, I am a rather dilettante blogger.

I am gratified and, rather childishly, thrilled when I see from the statistics that a heady 24 people have visited it on one day, but I don’t do anything about promoting it.

Not really sure what categories and tags are about, and only having the link on my email signature because the nice algorithm did it for me, I can’t claim to be anything other than a seriously self-indulgent writer.

Therefore, I take my hat off to people who do it so much better than me – nicely shot and embedded photos, posh layout, hundreds, nay thousands, of followers, all sorts of inventive links and stuff and stuff.

Being a woman of a certain age – when I started writing, it was on a typewriter –  and I am lax about keeping up with any technology that doesn’t find itself into my daily life.

The effort to get better at it is always derailed by a dog walk, supper to cook, a book to read or more to the point, a few hundred Oxfam books to sort.

So fuzzy photos and lazily laid out copy, lax interest in many other blogs, and writing when I feel like it rather than having commitment to get stuff out there as often as possible, and no promotion whatsoever, are what works for me.

(I only just realised that though you can schedule when your blog is posted it goes up on Facebook and Twitter that moment, so I seem to have splurged all over the place when I had hoped to spread myself about a bit.)

So, as I say, I take my hat off to anyone who does it better than me and there are no doubt millions.

But at this point I want to take the aforementioned hat off to a friend who has turned his blog about living the Good life into a book.

Tom and Barbara Good and their two children Rather and Jolly ( yes, they are indeed nom des plumes) live on a small holding in Herefordshire and Tom has written the tale of how they did it – warts and all.

Once when we were working together, he told me how to set up a basic blog and encouraged me to go for it and this, dear reader, is the result.

But whereas I just witter about what I think at that moment, he has a story to tell and I have to admit that I have been reading it rather more avidly than my current book club book which is rather ernest and worthy, albeit good for me.

I spot things I know about him and his family and things I didn’t, and it makes me laugh – a real antidote to the book club book.

One chapter mentions something I once wrote, and I was so delighted.

By the way, it wasn’t all frills and frippery of presentation but a good/Good story and in the end that is what matters to middle-aged Deepest Sussex Housewives.

So, I will refrain from scheduling this witter, and I will have no pretensions about making a good tale out of my life, but I will keep on writing.

Now though, the supper needs cooking, the dog needs walking and there is a chair which needs upholstering.

And here is the link the to his book

Just a snapshot

A few months ago I discovered three photograph albums at the bottom of a box.

I am not sure why treasures are hidden at the bottom of boxes, but it is nearly always the case.

Anyway, these needed some researching – they were clearly old and of the aristocracy and were in what would have been very nice albums in the 1860s.

As is the way, I put them on a high up shelf  (out of the way and not likely to get thrown away by mistake) ready to ‘have a go at’ when I had time.

I got them down once to show our antiquarian book expert who said, yes, they were interesting but neither of us had much time, so they went back up there and I forgot about them.

This week, he came into the shop for a few hours and rootling among the  books I couldn’t value or didn’t know how to describe in the internet and needed him to look at, I found the photo albums.

There is something about old photos because of the effort needed to produce them – the subject sitting still for a long time, for a start.

I thought of the thousands of photos I have on my laptop – taken instantly, in colour, many taken on my phone and most of which don’t have much in the way of artistic merit – then again these albums are full of rather unattractive, stern looking, rich Victorians….

Neither of us are photographic experts so we did what anyone would do, and set about Google.

We worked out that at least one of the albums had been put together by Lord Raglan and we think he was the son of the more famous father. ( Papa had sent off the Charge of the Light Brigade.)

We also discovered there had been a relatively recent battle over the inheritance of the title, and all it entailed, between two nephews of the childless 5th Lord Raglan – you can read about this in an entertaining sidetrack

Anyway, whilst reading around this court battle we found the name Jonathan Spencer and he was the lawyer for the British nephew ( the one who thought he was going to inherit, only to find the 5th Lord had decided his American nephew would get it all.)

Rootling around, we came up with contact details for Jonathan Spencer and decided to give him a call to see if the family would be interested in having the photos back – for a small consideration of course.

I was rather surprised that such an eminent lawyer would answer his own phone but not half as surprised as Dorset solicitor Jonathan Spencer was – he had never heard of the Raglan Row ( as we are now calling it,) leave alone been the lawyer involved.

So, back to Google to find another route.

By this time, I had taken the albums home to spend an evening seeing what I could find out.

I discovered that some of the photos were taken by notable photographers and the ones of Queen Vic and Albert were taken by someone who was appointed to do that for her.

Others were prominent photographers of the well-to-do.

In case you are interested: Camille Silvy, and the National Portrait Gallery has stuff of his – that made my heart beat a little faster but for all I know, they have millions of his old photos, worth not very much.

(He went back to France thinking he had been poisoned by the chemicals used for developing but, according to Wikipedia, he probably had manic depression and indeed his self-portrait does not show a jolly chap.)

Then there are John Mayall, Negretti & Zambra and W & D Downey  – the Downeys were brothers from Newcastle who made good in London.

But I still don’t know if we are sitting on a small goldmine of early photography or whether they are not interesting to anyone at all.

Through a friend, I have made contact with the book department at Bonhams and have sent off an email, with attached images.

Through Facebook, I have made contact with a friend of a friend and likewise sent off images.

All I can do now is wait, and in the meantime it is back to sorting paperback fiction.