Bidding frenzy for old dish

P1000984 The big surprise at yesterday’s Fine Art auction at Mitchells in Cockermouth was the bidding battle for Lot 31, described as “A continental porcelain dish with cover – possibly Sevres circa 1783, Height 9.5 inches. Estimated price £50 – £80.”

I was outside the auction room, looking at items in the galleries when I was attracted by the sound of rapid repetitive bidding. It reminded me of Wednesday night’s Wimbledon match when John Isner from the US after 11 hours defeated the Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in the final set by 70-68 games – a record length in the history of tennis, which has hit the headlines.

It wasn’t that long for Lot No 31, but it had everyone talking. The bidder sitting at the back was a svelte dark haired woman with a tall companion. She was definitely not a Cumbrian farmer’s wife. Did that metropolitan look suggest a French aristocratic provenance? After all our own Queen Elizabeth is said to have the world’s finest Sevres collection. “She’s a Parisian” someone whispered. On the grapevine I heard they’d come over from France the day before to look at Lot 31.

Her opponent bidding remotely via the telephone remained unknown – ‘Incognito’ we’ll call him – and wouldn’t give up on this bone. Both of the bidders thought they had smelled a good dish and proved willing to fight it out. The bidding started with lower increments, but after a while moved to £100s.

At the front the auctioneer’s face moved sideways and then forward like a pecking bird, inviting another £100 bid to the increasing amazement of the audience of farmers, locals, dealers and holiday makers. Up to £1,000.. £2,000.. £3,000.. £4,000.. £5,000 they soared. Surely this must stop.

‘Another bid?’ came the question to the man in green at the end of the telephone. Pause. A nodded head indicated ‘Yes’ and so it went on – £5,000, £6,000 reaching £7,000. How long could this continue? Put us and the bidders out of our agony please! Now it’s £7,200. The Parisian ups the stakes – “£7,400″. Incognito hesitates but goes to £7,600. Is the end near? The Parisian is back quick as a flash, “£7,800″.

The auctioneer turns once more, but that head by the phone is motionless then shakes a definite “No”. Incognito has seen the writing on the wall. This time the French are not going to fail at the last hurdle. “Going at £7,800″ and the hammer drops.

The price is almost exactly 100 times more than the highest expected. The prize a missing piece from a dining set of King Louis XVI, made just a few years before the Revolution, when the French monarchy was to disappear for ever.

“Surely someone at Mitchells should be a bit embarrassed”, I murmur as I pay at the desk for my 19th century Chinese plate of a watery scene with cherry blossom. “On no – that’s what happens”, I’m told. “If it’s more valuable than anticipated, it just gets picked up at auction by people in the know”. “Oh yes”, I’m thinking, I wouldn’t be so sure. The moral of all this? If you see there’s a good sale on at Mitchells, get along there. It’s good to support businesses in Cockermouth and you could be in for some fun!

On the Bob Graham Round …

P1000948e Any time after midnight this coming Saturday you’re likely to see a motley bunch of enthusiasts outside Keswick’s Moot Hall ‘straining upon the start’. The reason? We’re just past the shortest night of the year – the optimum time for fell runners to test themselves on the rigours of the Bob Graham Round (BGR).

To join the select group of successful BGR completers, you have to cover on foot a journey of 66 miles involving 26,000 feet of ascent and of descent whilst climbing 42 Lakeland peaks in under 24 hours. It’s a tough test of endurance.

Yesterday I was out on the Langdale fells with our friend Raj and Ahmed, one of his support runners, fine tuning the route for Raj’s attempt on the BGR this coming weekend. Raj is raising money for the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society, a charity supporting sufferers from this rare and debilitating disease. If you wish to support the charity you can donate by clicking here on the Just Giving site.

Apart from being super fit for the BGR, runners need to have the terrain and bearings hard wired into their brains. Smart route finding – cutting four or five minutes off each peak covered – can bring you three hours saved on your overall time.

We had a great scramble up via Gimmer Crag to Pike of Stickle (see photo above of Raj with the Pike on the right) and discovered a new line to Rossett Pike, saving 15 minutes on Raj’s last visit. This augurs well for the weekend and the 18 hours’ target time for the Round.

The pictures below catch the flavour of the day. On the left two possible routes are proposed and on the right the intrepid couple head off through the cloud with Ruby to climb Bow Fell.

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Raj had an excellent day, but had to finish at Wasdale, about two-thirds of the full Bob Graham Round. By then he had covered 41 miles and climbed just under 18,000 feet. He’s learnt a lot from the experience and plans to make a second attempt on 4th June 2011.

New Cockermouth, new start

Only 10 miles from The Larches, Cockermouth has long been a favourite for us with its cafés , restaurants, galleries, shops and attractive houses.

P1000859 Last November the floods delivered a hammer blow to this old market town as the converging rivers Derwent and Cocker broke their banks and brought water levels up to 8 feet deep in some of the streets.

Families were made homeless and businesses closed. Without insurance and with foundations made unstable, some shops still remain boarded up. Some have a very uncertain future.

But Cockermouth is a ‘can-do’ town. Shops like the marvellous ironmongers, J B Banks in Market Place were open again within a fortnight, as Vanessa Graham described to me, as she stood beside the 4½ feet water level marker in the shop (See above).

Last weekend a festival parade turned the streets into a riot of colour and fun and showed the world that the town is still very much alive and making a brave new start. Make sure you go there – there’s plenty to do and see!

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