The irregular auctioneer

I’m having one of those nightmares again. I’m in Darien’s smartest Country Club and it’s full of well-dressed people, some rather bizarrely in Hawaiian shirts. I notice with horror that I myself am wearing a bright pink affair with a bold floral pattern. This exploration of my feminine side must be getting way out control if even my dreams are dressing me in gear like this. What would Freud make of that, I wonder? I notice I’m only drinking water; everyone else has wine. I become aware of a growing weight of trepidation. Something is about to happen, but I have no idea what. People are talking to me. Paralysed by inexplicable fear, I can’t say anything. I smile weakly. The room is packed. I feel hot and claustrophobic. I think I’m going to throw up. Someone pats me on the back and wishes me good luck. I spot a familiar face. It’s Natasha’s headmaster. He’s standing at a podium. Oh my God, he’s introducing me. There’s a round of applause. Everyone’s looking at me. I see one or two more familiar faces. Celine Dion’s manager is one of them. It’s the moneyed set of Darien. What am I doing here? The headmaster is referring to me as the evening’s auctioneer. What’s going on? What kind of twisted dream would have me as a fundraiser in a place where fundraising is the national sport? Wake up. Wake up. This is horrible. Wake up.

Jesus Christ, I am awake. This is no dream. A nightmare for sure, but all too real.

I’m taking the microphone and find myself addressing one hundred and seventy extremely wealthy people by telling them that it’s my job to part them from their money.

How could this have possibly happened?

Ros dreamt the other night that I was covered in wasps. She tried to tell me, but I refused to believe her. I’ve no idea why her subconsciousness should imbue me with such stubbornness. It’s so unlike me. Perhaps I was re-enacting one my favourite moments in Catch-22, the one where Yossarian said, “You’ve got flies in your eyes, that’s probably why you can’t see them”.

Having a wasp-covered husband in denial presented Ros with a quite a challenge.

I’m not sure which is the harder: swiping angry wasps off a recalcitrant husband or raising $3,000 for a bookcase painted by a kindergarten class. Together, with my co-auctioneer, I had to sell a number of items that could best be described as naïve art.

It was my co-auctioneer’s fault I was there in the first place. Helen Waller, who runs Darien’s Brit Group, has made it her mission in life to take me as far as possible outside my comfort zone. She took umbrage when I grumpily refused to go to the Brit Group’s annual pantomime. She was reluctant to accept my perfect excuse that I had already been dragged kicking and screaming to one too many pantomimes this year. I had been to one in Bath. I hate pantomimes. Having first extracted revenge by inviting me to demonstrate my nasal hair remover at a coffee morning, she then raised the ante considerably by entrapping me into accepting a role that I am patently unqualified for. I thought I had made it perfectly clear in one of my earlier e-mails that I’m a shy and retiring type. I can write a funny line or two if you give me a month to craft it, but the kind of quick witted spontaneity and repartee that’s staple fare for an auctioneer is just not me. Helen perfectly well knows this, which is why she volunteered me for the task.

Her latest act of vindictiveness is, and here I have to applaud her creativity, to propose me as next year’s pantomime scriptwriter. She could regret it though; The Darien Playhouse might witness Hansel & Gretel like no one has ever seen them before. And, as if that isn’t enough, she now has me on the rota not just to attend, but to host a coffee morning.

So there I was, a helpless victim of one of my compatriot’s maliciousness, frozen by fear at the overwhelming responsibility of being the main attraction at one of the big events on Darien’s social calendar.

As we were there on account of our peculiar English humour we decided the option was to play off our nationality. The one glorious moment that evening made the whole excruciating experience worthwhile was when we got the entire room of close on two hundred Americans to stand for ‘God Save The Queen’. I reasoned with them that since our children have to pledge allegiance to the American flag every morning, it was only fair that they should pay their due respect to our monarchy.

I also took the opportunity to correct their interpretation of certain historical events. I told them that back in 1776 England was under the rule of a German King, George III, and a largely German army, whereas America had a significant number of English mercenaries fighting for them. The American War of Independence was not therefore, I contended, a victory for America over England, but rather a triumph for the English over our traditional foes, the Germans.

We ended up raising rather more laughs than dollars, but laughter is my currency. If they wanted money they should have employed a proper American fundraiser. I told our audience that we English are rather coy about money and don’t like asking people for it, explaining that this disdain stems from the fact we tend not to have any.

I put the whole thing down to experience. That’s all you can do, when you find yourself shouting ‘going, going gone’ and wishing you were.

When people told me I would learn a lot about myself from the experience moving country, I never imagined this would involve presiding over an auction and I certainly wasn’t expecting to discover that one of my legs is shorter than the other.

For a long term now I’ve lived with the fear that, at some point in the future, Ros will be asked to point out her husband at a drinks party. ‘It’s that bald guy in the corner with a hearing aid’, she’ll say. Fortunately I now think I might be spared this humiliation, if only because Ros’s eyesight is deteriorating faster than my hearing. She won’t be able to see me to point me out. If she could, the description would be even worse than previously feared. I would now be signalled as ‘that bald guy in the corner with a hearing aid and a six inch wedge shoe on his left leg.”

The devastating discovery of my physical imperfection comes courtesy of the Moore Centre of Rehabilitation. Those of you familiar with the plot of The Stepford Wives, shot in Darien, will understand why the idea of a rehabilitation centre, a place where they reconstruct people, in Darien is just a little unnerving.

I’ve been going there on account of my Illiotial Band Syndrome, apparently a common runner’s injury (which I must have picked up vicariously from my father as he runs marathons and I don’t run anywhere. I drive). When I was given my diagnosis by one of the rehabilitation therapists, a chunky American with a big smile called Zach who has clearly spent far too much time in the gym, I couldn’t help picturing Kevin Spacey as Keyser Soze hobbling away in the final scene of ‘The Usual Suspects’. I was also reminded of Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar nominated depiction of the crippled Ratso in ‘Midnight Cowboy’. Great actors admittedly, but perhaps not at their most attractive.

My left leg is apparently a few millimetres shorter than my right. I’ve told my new colleagues at Greenwich Arsenal FC that, from now on, I’ll probably be quite good on sloping pitches. So long as I’m pointing in the right direction. If not I’m liable to fall over. It’s a wonder that, when traversing Mont Fort in Verbier from right to left, I haven’t tumbled to the bottom. From now on I must take care only to ski left to right. Then I’ll have an advantage, an edge, over all my equal length limbed friends.

It’s fair to say that when we eventually return home, I will be a changed man.

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