John Pye Auctions Weekly Story – ‘Dead Donkey’

From as far back as I can recall, I have had a burning desire to sell things. Even as a small boy in a poor mining area, I would manage to pick up a few bob for collecting and flogging such local ‘luxuries’ as acorns for fodder and horse muck for fertilizer.

As I spent more and more time around auctions and salerooms, I was fascinated by this magical art and science of bringing people together and getting them to bid against each other for items that they may not have even needed but ended up absolutely desiring. Perhaps it is something within all of us, this combination of need and competition. There is sometimes a madness in it all that we can’t control.

Few people have failed to be gripped by the adrenalin rush of an auction. Nowadays many of them are online but when I began, the setting was often in a cold and noisy market, where coughing and cursing often filled the damp air. Why do we do it? It’s part of human nature and has been with mankind throughout history.

As I was growing up, I was electrified with determination to become one of those auctioneers, who I regarded as orchestral conductors, keeping their audiences mesmerized. That desire made me into a bit of a pain and caused me to pester Midlands auctioneer Arnold Graham into allowing me to have a go at what I regarded as a magical stint on the podium.

After months of incessant nagging, the veteran Mr Graham gave in and handed me my first shot at the tricky world which would put a gavel in my hand for many decades to come. I felt like I was making my debut on the stage of the London Palladium  when he told me he was going to allow me to conduct my first-ever auction to the public.

For this major event, the wry Mr Graham, who was well experienced in selling livestock of all types, told me I was to be given the honour of putting a beast of burden under the hammer! At the end of one his auctions, I stood by as he made a grand  announcement, telling everyone that ‘a junior auctioneer’ was going to sell a donkey next and to follow me round to the pig shed to where the animal was tied up.

In true wet-behind-the-ears fashion, I then stepped up and made an equally grand announcement saying how pleased I was to be making the sale and how honoured I would be for the crowd to follow me. For some reason, I also said they were in for a big surprise.

It certainly proved to be a surprise – but it was anything but wonderful. As I followed the crowd round the corner, there seemed to be more than the usual laughter and banter going on, as if the crowd may have known something that I didn’t. Then as I arrived where they had started to gather, I saw exactly why – there was the donkey, lying on the ground, its legs stuck out straight and its ears drooping: as dead as a post!

The unfortunate animal had passed away. I couldn’t believe it. As sad as the occasion was for the poor beast, the crowd was in fits of laughter at my obvious discomfort. Some serious condition must have afflicted the animal. And, it seemed, everyone but me was in on the tale. So what could I do? I just burst into a huge laugh myself.

Mind you, I did manage to sell the donkey to a slaughter-man in the end for seven shillings and sixpence. But that was some start to my – hopefully – successful new career… a dead blooming donkey!

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