Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blackbird


So the male blackbird, which so proudly sung on my rooftop with its arsetail pointed to the heaven, is now no more than a mass of scattered feathers. It made a perfect target for brer sparrowhawk up there. RIP you noisy musical bastard. Presumably a female blackbird has been left to rear the chicks alone.

There are a helluva lot of blackbirds and thrushes around my way. Presumably, the warm, wet conditions are ideal for slugs and snails and worms, a blackbird's favourite meal. Well, I say that, but I've never asked them what they prefer to eat. I know they love a bit of dogfood and rotten apple. There was one blackbird - maybe the fellow lately pecked to death - who was so enticed by the smell of dogfood in our kitchen that he'd hop right up to the closed back door in search of it. Right into the porch.

So with the explosion in numbers, the male blackbirds have been singing and hopping around on rooftops very vigorously. They're marking out their territory and trying to find some love interest. I've seen them trying to shoo away prowling cats too, although the starling is better at this.

Though once I got up early one morning to watch my long dead cat(then alive) climb the apple tree. A bunch of starlings kept hopping onto branches just above her, tauntingly out of reach. As they screeched derisively at her, a sparrowhawk suddenly hurled itself javelin-like toward the rising sun and took the toppermost starling clean off the tree. It made the most horrific, startled anguished screeching as the hawk carried it down to the field. Last I saw of it was a mass of feathers tossed into the air as the hunter stripped down its feast.

But while I have no love for starlings I like blackbirds. RIP.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Auction


I went to an auction last week. As previously reported, I've been having a lot of problems with my bike. The aged rear wheel finally broke, so purchased a cut price new one at £10. Two weeks later, this collapsed too under my vast weight; this time I dropped the vehicle into a cycle shop for repairs. The owners persuaded me to let them fit both new wheel and front and rear brakes. They then charged £10 for service and £38 for parts. Robdogs. So having spent £58 on a bike which only cost £110 new, I decided to buy a new one, or at least a second hand one.

My friend Jo had told me that Bangor auctions was the place to go for bicycle auctions. She's a regular there. My mum's a huge fan of shows like Bargain Hunt and Flog it! So she came along too.

When the taxi arrived at the address in the industrial estate, the car park was teeming with all human life. A burger van had pulled up outside and was doing a brisk trade. It turns out that the auction is very popular. Entering the large warehouse premises, the place was jam packed and very hot. It was difficult to view the items due to the crush. A good proportion of the attendees seem to go there as a form of spectator sport. Loaded up with paper wrappers full of steaming chips, they lounge around on the sofas and chairs for sale, eyeing the auctioneer and the bidders.

I eyed up a number of bikes and noted the auction numbers. Many of the people around me had catalogues, so went to the front to get one. The auctioneer quoted me a price of £1. Since the catalogued consisted of six sheets of photocopied A4 paper, I declined. However, when the auction started it soon became apparent that to bid for anything you needed an auction number, and to get an auction number you needed a catalogue. A catch 22 then, and a nice little earner for the company.

Most of the stuff for sale looked pretty ordinary to me. It wouldn't have been out of place in church jumble sale or charity shop. There were really old, rusted golf clubs, which sold for three quid; a dirty old petrol lawnmower the seller hadn't bothered clearing the grass from; boxes stuffed full of assorted crockery and cutlery, impossible to sort through; old toys; fridges, freezers and even a speedboat, amongst much, much else. There were six hundred lots and the auction was scheduled to run from 6pm until 10pm.

I found it boring as hell to sit through the first hour of auctions waiting for the bikes to come up at 7.30pm. I think I may have left if they had been at the end. Half the time I had no idea what was being bid on, the items came thick and fast, and were sold in a few seconds of bidding. Most goods sold for a few quid, if they sold at all, but every now and then a prized item appeared. Then there would be frenzied bidding between unseen bidders. Some plumbers went crazy for a pipe bending tool. A box of scented candles went for over £40. Then a big American-style fridge freezer, which looked brand new, went right up to over £300.

My mum decided to liven things up by buying a big vegetable steamer for £10; I doubt she'll ever use it. Then she decided on a pair of binoculars. I got excited about these, as they'll be useful for birdwatching; in our eagerness to win we started bidding against each other. Another bidder entered the market and things got very confusing, but eventually one of us won for £8.

When the bikes came round I was hot, bothered and fed up. My mood didn't improve when the main bike I had my eye on went for £55, far too much since it had two bald and flat tyres which needed replacing. So I bid on a second bike, one I wasn't too sure about as it seemed a bit small and rusty. With few counter bidders, I won with a bid of £28. Add on the 15% commission and the VAT, and that comes to £32.83. A man came came up and shook and man and told me I'd got a bargain, but I wasn't so sure.

When I got the vehicle outside for a spin round the car park, I found that the gears didn't work, the rear brake rubbed on the rim, the seat was ridiculously low for my long legs, and the tyres were part deflated. Hmm. This was a problem as I intended to cycle the thing the five miles home. A passing tradesman helpfully informed that I just needed to tighten the gear cables to make them work, but he nor I had any tools.

I went back into the auction in a grumpy mood. I didn't really want to stay but there was an acoustic guitar I fancied bidding on. Jo turned up, she was in a grumpy mood too because she had sent her dad ahead to bid on a double bed while she was at work, but he hadn't bothered. The bed went for £4. While waiting for the guitar, I had to sit through the 'fancy' ceramics and paste jewellery auction. This provoked a scrum of mostly grey haired folk to mill around the auctioneer to get a close eye on the goods. Amidst the Royal Doulton and cheap trinkets were the following catalogue items:

Cider Bird - not an alcoholic duck, but a clay woodpecker advertising, well, Woodpecker Cider. A discontinued brand, I believe. Went for a fiver.

Jewish Religion - I asked the auctioneer if I could see 'Jewish religion' but he just directed me to a glass cabinet. I couldn't find it. Turns out it is a tiny, roughly carved piece of wood that looks like a shoehorn, with triangular lines scraped on it. Went for three quid. My ma said you hang it over your door, like a charm.

Unfortunately, the guitar already had a starting bid of £30, and soon went up to £60. I think that's overpriced for a basic Yamaha acoustic, especially one that isn't in perfect condition.

So I left my mum to fend for herself with her steamer and binoculars, after phoning her a taxi, and set off home on my bike. I released the rear brakes completely and pedalled along the pavement of the dual carriageway. With the low seat, it felt like my knees were around my ears when I sat down, like a clown's bike. It was stuck in the lowest gear so I had to peddle furiously, especially when going uphill. But I made it home, soaked by the incessant rain, and fed up.

My mood lightened considerably when I fixed the seat and brakes in a matter of minutes. But I still haven't fixed the gears. The bike has been lying in the garage while I ponder this problem. Any ideas?