Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bargain Hunt

I occasionally work from home. I'm lucky that I can choose two offices to go to if I want to go in but sometimes the prospect of rush hour public transport into Central London or a 90 mile round trip in the car don't appeal and I just stay at home.

I conscientiously take a lunch break at about midday and there's really not much you can practically do in that time so I have something simple to eat and stick the TV on for some mind-numbing daytime entertainment.

I usually land up watching a programme called Bargain Hunt. It's a simple premise and stock daytime TV fodder. Two teams of two people are given a modest sum of money and have to find three items at a local "antique fair". They are assigned an expert adviser to help them and the items purchased are then sold at auction and the winner is the team that can make the best return on their purchases. The show is overseen by another expert - a gap-toothed, aging dandy called Tim who has a terrible penchant for shapeless floppy hats worn at a jaunty angle. I'm sure the format is repeated the world over.

The subtext of the programme is that somewhere out there will be a lost masterpiece just waiting to be discovered. The expert carefully assesses the prospective purchases and uses a glossary of stock phrases to describe the items and suggest their value and potential for profit. The implication is almost always that the items on sale have some value and desirability.

But this is television and we all know that what you see on television rarely reflects reality. "Antique fair" is a terrible misnomer for a start. Usually the wares look no more-appealing than the contents of a house clearance because that's mostly what they are. The expert will study an item and perhaps declare it to be "collectible" or use some other somewhat evasive description. The implication is invariably that the value of the item is greater than its functional worth.

Of course, all items are nominally worthless as is anything in this world. We all think our car is worth £2000 until we discover we can only find someone prepared to give us £500 for it at which point it becomes worth exactly £500. Unless an item has some sort of base value - gold or other precious metals can always be melted down - their only value is actually what you can convince somebody else it is worth and, harder still, get them to part with their cash for it.

I am pretty sure these antique fairs are simply a relentless churn of the same items being endlessly resold, each purchaser hoping to make a profit from the next buyer they hope to find. There are far too many snuff boxes, walking sticks, tea caddies, gruesome items of usually chipped or cracked pottery and other gewgaws to believe there are serious collectors out there. "Collectors" are simply buyers waiting to find somebody prepared to pay more than they paid and hopefully to make an occasional killing.

Contestants rarely make a profit. It's innocent enough fun but it's also touchingly detached from reality. Having watched quite a few episodes I now present my interpretation of what the expert rather flatteringly tends to say about the items discovered and what I suspect they actually mean.

It's decorative: It's useless

It's quirky: It's worthless

It's charming: It's useless and worthless

It's unusual: Some people actually like this junk

It has a functional charm: It's ugly

It's an artisan piece: It's badly made

It's organic: It's very badly made

It's from the Arts and Crafts movement: It's dull and badly made

It's colourful: It's vulgar

It requires careful restoration: It's broken

It's desirable: I actualy managed to flog one of these a few months back

It's collectible: some idiot thinks it's worth something

It's difficult to date: It's a reproduction

Any more suggestions?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Trails...

It's funny where a Wikipedia trail can take you.

I've just been watching a film called Coogan's Bluff released in 1968. Not a very good film but it has late sixties New York as its backdrop and although I don't know New York particularly well, I know it looks sort of different today.

The closing scene of the film involves a large twin-rotor passenger helicopter taking off from the roof of the Pan Am building. The shot pans away dramatically as the helicopter takes off to show the New York cityscape. I was interested to see if this passenger service still operated.

First I googled the Pan Am building which took me to the Wikipedia page for the building. From there I discovered the helicopter passenger service only ran for a little over two years ending in early 1968 so the film was probably made in 1967. The service briefly resumed in 1977 but was ended after a particularly gruesome accident where the helicopter landing gear collapsed during landing and a helicopter rotor broke away and flew into a group of waiting passengers killing four people. Debris falling from the roof killed a pedestrian in the street fifty nine storeys below.

One of the people killed was a film director called Michael Findlay who along with his wife Roberta Findlay, directed and produced numerous sexploitation movies. They have been described as "the most notorious filmmakers in the annals of sexploitation".

Coogan's Bluff is mentioned on the Pan Am Building Wikipedia page as one of several film to feature the skyscraper. One of the actresses in the film is called Susan Clark. She was born in Sarnia in Canada - a place I've only ever heard of once before as the hometown of a girl called Kelly who I met on a group holiday in South America that I took in 1998. She was lovely. Her catchphrase was "better living through chemistry".

Kelly seemed to have arrrived in South America with most of the contents of her local pharmacy in her luggage. We laughed at her and her apparent dependence on all this medication but after a month of fairly vigourous travelling through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia we had all taken advantage of something from her medicine chest. "Better living through chemistry" became a catchphrase of that holiday as also did the habit of inventing different names for each other which was started by two New Zealand vets who were also on the holiday who always called each other Ken. Their real names were Sarah and Michelle. They were very funny girls and I think of them whenever I hear the name Ken. I always hear it in my mind in a broad New Zealand accent - "Kin".

Coogan's Bluff also stars Lee J. Cobb. An actor I remember for two particular roles. He was the racist bigot in 12 Angry Men and he was also in The Virginian - a western TV series that was shown on British televison in the sixties and seventies. Good wholesome family viewing.

The Virginian was played by an actor called James Drury - a name that has always stuck in my mind because I think I watched a lot of episodes of The Virginian as a small child and his name was very prominently featured in the opening titles as if he was BIG STAR. At the time I thought he must be the most famous man in America. I don't recall seeing him in anything else but he appears to have had a reasonable acting career and also worked in the oil and gas business. He has a son who is a keyboard player who worked with The Eagles and is currently with Whitesnake - a band that has had many, many, many lineup changes over the years.

Whitesnake was one of my favourite bands as a teenager. It was founded by David Coverdale who became something of a poodle rocker in the 80s - I went off them then. I always like the more rock/blues-influenced early albums. David Coverdale was born in Saltburn which is a small Victorian seaside resort in the north of England a few miles from where I grew up.