Going, Going, Gone - Finally

"Wake up love. It's sale say, at last." Despite the late night and sporadic sleep, interrupted by nightmares of things forgotten, things going wrong, there was an instant wakefulness, a mental standing to attention. We've all heard of Father Christmas 'making a list and checking it twice'... well-ll... we had made countless lists and checked them all a heap more times than just twice, and still I fretted about oversights.

All of our sale items sorted and cleaned; tentatively priced; moved here and moved there, and sometimes moved back to the first position again; until finally all were in their "order of sale"... check. Advertising of the Clearing Sale in the local paper and other rural newspapers further afield, a few weeks ago, and again last week... check. Catering organized (local Red Cross)... check. Agent's signs up on roads leading to our place and on our property itself... check.

And yet, after all that prior organization, there were still a myriad of items to be moved out of sheds, garage and our home itself, all those things that couldn't be outdoors until the day itself in case of unfriendly weather. Just when we'd thought we were so organized, and had been congratulating ourselves on all our planning and hard work, these last minute chores deteriorated into a serious scramble.

Although the sale was not due to start until 10 am, the first of the potential buyers (or was that just "lookers"?), started to arrive before 8am, whilst we were still flat out in the midst of all this final "shuffling" and arranging. Politely, but in vain, we tried to encourage them to go for a wander down the rows of farm machinery and stuff, so we could get these last items in place (without side-stepping and/or tripping over an alarmingly fast-growing number of parents, and kids... and their toys!).

Some of the earliest and most inquisitive fossickers start poking around in boxes, even as you are carrying them out... whilst other more unscrupulous types change the contents of some boxes to include and/or exclude unwanted items. This can prove disastrous for the first "re-arranger", as the same action is repeated by others, sometimes several times over until the final boxes bear no resemblance whatsoever to their original, (vendor-packed) content. Karma, maybe?

In the last hour or so before the action begins, the crowd swells to amazing proportions as the designated 'parking paddock' fills with all manner of farm vehicles and trailers, until it looks like a major auto-yard. And each side of your road in both directions, and up your driveway, all but blocking it. They are everywhere... like measles. But it is, after all, a good sign, the numbers should make for spirited bidding... you hope!

"Sale-o... sale-o", the auctioneer shouts, and as the crowds draw close around the starting point, the tray top of countless boxes and other unlikely containers of farm sundries, at last, the Clearing Sale begins. And I can take a short break and a sit down with a cuppa... inside my house... blissfully alone for just a short reprieve, far from the 'madding crowd'.

All too soon, it was necessary to be present, hovering around the outskirts, trying to keep an unobtrusive eye on other potential disaster areas, particularly of the type involving vehicles and machinery with working parts. Imagine the horror of the engine that is extremely difficult to 'fire up' or won't even start at all. Especially after being described confidently by the auctioneer, "goes like a possum up a gumtree" or perhaps, "runs on the smell of an oily rag".

So how is it possible for there to be a problem? In a word, sabotage! A seemingly innocent but close examination of an engine by a dodgy buyer, can result in a rotor being removed from the distributor or turning the ignition key on and off repeatedly (without actually starting the motor), floods the firing chamber, causing great difficulty in starting next time (when the auctioneer's offsider cheerfully tries it). Simply and speedily achieved, and the end result, of course is a decrease in value, so that the saboteur will pay considerably less, maybe even get the "bargain of the day" for what appears to be a faulty or unreliable vehicle or piece of machinery. Lucky for the buyer, diabolical for the vendor.

We are told that today's Clearing Sales commonly expect to include actual theft in the 'normal' agenda. The creativity of these thieves makes you wonder what levels of success they could achieve honestly, instead of hurting their fellow-farmer. Thankfully, the majority of would-be buyers are a happy, friendly and supportive group, as evidenced by their willingness to help each other to gather their purchases at the end of the sale.

In the meantime, the large buying group move along with the auctioneer and his assistants in a reasonably quiet fashion, compared to his loud voice chanting "...do I hear 20, 20, 20?... or 15?... come on, someone must have 15?... oh, come on!.. 10, surely 10? This is an insult!". And then the prices can go all the way up again, as the bidding starts in earnest.

It's a bitter-sweet time for the vendor, as the sale progresses. The amount many items get 'knocked down' for surprise you, both happily and regretfully. On the day, at that particular moment it's anybody's guess where the interest and the bidding will start... and eventually stop. This would be true of all auctions, but a Clearing Sale moves along at a 'bone-rattling' pace.

After all those weeks of planning and preparation, it's suddenly all over. The auctioneer has ended (somewhat hoarsely) with his thanks and last instructions about attending the temporary "office" to finalise payments and requesting a patient and orderly collection of purchases. For some considerable time after this, bedlam ensues as queues form at the 'office' and then traffic jams of all manner of farm vehicles, trucks and trailers bank up between the long lines of goods, to collect their purchases, many previously gathered together into motley heaps.

There is much dust, and maneuvering of vehicles, and barking of dogs, and shouted directions for backing up to the chosen 'heap'. More often than not, the finest traditions of mateship are witnessed, as farmers pitch in and heave together to lift and man-handle that heavy load that one man can't manage... up onto the back of that ute... or trailer. "She'll be right, mate" would be the most common phrase heard at this time. And over to one side will be a couple of low-loader semi-trailers, ready and able to be hired to take home the large machinery and maybe another with a large crane for lifting oversized and over-weighty items.

At last, the final items have been collected, and the last vehicle drives away. The silence is deafening until the birds remember to sing again, and the sheep and cows in the paddocks to discuss the day. Most shocking is the huge barren space where first of all so much farm gear has been lined up for days and weeks, and then covered in all those people and their vehicles.

Once again, that bitter-sweet feeling engulfs you. Sad to think of all that 'stash', once upon a time your treasures, now no longer absolutely necessary... now no longer yours, and yet... when you come to pack up the rest, how much easier it will be. And suddenly, you lift your head and straighten your back, and stop looking over your shoulder.