Miles Kington: Why tidying the shed can damage your finances

Then someone bought two lamps. By the time his wife called him in for lunch, he had made £130

1. Once upon a time there was an only child called Robert. If Robert had one fault, it was being too clever by half. When, for instance, his mother said, "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bugs bite", Robert said: "I am not sure that bugs actually do bite, mother. Some of them have pincers, some of them have stinging equipment, but teeth? What bugs have teeth, mother?", and his mother smiled, but inside she felt like strangling him.

One day in his teens Robert told his mother that he had decided to go in search of his adoptive parents. He explained that as all adopted children had a natural set of parents elsewhere and often felt an urge to track them down, it seemed a logical pattern that children like him might also have a set of parents elsewhere who would have adopted him if things had been different. He now felt an urge to search them out.

"Go ahead," said his mother. "Make my day."

And so when he was 18 Robert set out into the big wide world and he did after some time find a married couple who had always wanted to adopt a boy but had never managed it.

"You were exactly what we wanted," said Mr and Mrs Touchstone, which was their name.

"You mean, you wanted a little curly-haired boy called Robert whom you could bring up in your own image and teach to play football and cricket?" said Robert.

"No," said Mr Touchstone. "What we wanted to adopt was an 18-year-old prig like you, who would leave home almost as soon as we had adopted him, having been trained and brought up by someone else. Now get out."

And Robert did get out, and he went back home to his real parents, but they had taken the opportunity to move house in his absence without leaving a forwarding address.

Moral: Omniscience is all very well, but being a know-all is unbearable.

2. Once upon a time a householder called Mr Carruthers decided to take everything out of his shed and sort it out, before putting it all back in again, which is what men do when they say they are "tidying up". As he surveyed the junk in his yard, he heard a voice behind him say: "How much are you asking for this?"

It belonged to a complete stranger who had wandered down into the yard and was pointing at an old lawn mower. Mr Carruthers quickly realised that the chap had mistaken his pile of stuff for a garage sale, and had the sense to ask eight quid for the mower. Then someone else bought two lamps, and a woman bought an old basket, and by the time his wife called him in for lunch he had made £130.

He was about to tell her all about his profitable morning when she said, "Oh, by the way, have you come across my mother's antique Japanese umbrella, the one made of lacquered paper? I've been looking for it everywhere, and I have no idea where it is, and she told me to look after it as it's priceless and must be worth £5,000 by now."

Mr Carruthers said he hadn't. Which was not entirely true, as he distinctly remembered selling it to a stout lady 20 minutes previously, for a fiver.

Moral: Oops.

3. Whenever Mr Finch drove badly, Mrs Finch reminded him that statistically speaking women were far the better drivers. In return, whenever Mrs Finch made a hash of parking the car, Mr Finch reminded her that women had far worse spatial awareness than men. And eventually, when they were driving 200 miles home from London one day, Mr Finch had a brilliant idea.

"You are a far better driver than me, my dear," he said, "so you drive all the way home. And then we will swap over and I will park the car when we get there."

So Mrs Finch drove all the way, and when they were 10 yards from home, she stopped, and got out, and Mr Finch also got out, and because he was not looking he was struck by a passing bicycle.

Moral: It could have been a lorry, but I didn't want a really unhappy ending.

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