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?


nursemyra said...

At least it sounds moderately more interesting than watching people eat which is all they seem to do on Masterchef

King of Scurf said...

nursemyra: I am vulnerable to the odd cookery show but Masterchef....nooooo. It seems to have become 101 ways to cook sea bass. Most of those ways look remarkably similar.