You could tell at first sight that the tall man in the sheepskin jacket had a price for everything. I mean, even the sheepskin jacket had a price- tag on it! I heard a bloke once go up to him and say, "How much for the sheepskin jacket?" And the tall thin man looked at the price-tag and said, "Sorry - there's been some mistake - these are the dry-cleaning instructions!"
And they both laughed.
And then the tall man sold it to the bloke for 50 quid.
Anyway, it wasn't coats I was after, it was Staffordshire china. I thought I knew a bit about china, having inherited a couple of books about antiques from my auntie, and I fancied I could spot a bargain. And this thin tall man had a lot of Staffordshire china for sale, all of it priced quite reasonably - except for the pair of spaniels at pounds 6,000. Everything else was less than pounds 100 but the spaniels were pounds 6,000.
"Is this is a misprint?" I said, first time I saw them.
"The spaniels?" he said, without looking up. "No, that's the price. Six thousand nicker."
"It's a lot."
"That's 6,000 the pair, not each."
"They're not worth 6,000 quid either way," I said.
"Then don't buy them," he said.
And I didn't. I bought one or two other things from him, at good prices, but I didn't even think of buying the spaniels. At the same time, I couldn't stop thinking about them. I couldn't see why they were different from the other stuff. And he wouldn't tell me.
"Special, they are. Very special."
"What's special about them?"
He didn't answer. I pored over my reference books, but I couldn't find anything about extremely rare or unusual Staffordshire spaniels. Every week I went to the car-boot sale, he was there and so were the spaniels.
"Is that price negotiable on the spaniels?" I asked him.
He thought for a moment.
"Give me a price," he said.
I looked at the spaniels.
He said nothing.
"Each," I said.
He smiled then, and said: "Tell you what. I'll come down to pounds 5,500."
"pounds 120 and that's my last offer."
There didn't seem to be a deal on, so I left it there. But I was shaken by the whole encounter. First, I had never ever left off haggling with a gap of pounds 5,000 between my price and the other man's price. Second, the bloke had come down in price by pounds 700. pounds 700! That was more than I had ever paid for anything in my life. Blimey O'Riley. I bought a small china cottage off him for a very reasonable price and left the spaniels, and their mystery, behind.
Next time I went to the car-boot sale, he wasn't there. A bit after that, I stopped going to sales altogether, when I got engaged to be married and we started buying new furniture on Sunday instead. But I bumped into the tall thin bloke in a pub a year later and I recognised him straightaway. He remembered me, too.
"I've still got those spaniels," he said.
"Not surprised, at that price," I said. "Tell me, how much are they really worth?"
"Between you and me - about 50 quid."
"Then why ...?"
"Price them at pounds 6,000? Because it makes everything else on the stall seem so reasonable, of course. When I marked those spaniels up from pounds 50 to pounds 6,000 I knew I'd never sell them. But my volume of sales on everything else doubled. Psychology, mate."
"I remember," he said, "you offered me pounds 120 for them. I was tempted. Gawd, I was tempted. But then I thought - no, I don't want to diddle this bloke, because they're not worth even that. So I didn't."
He took a draught from his pint.
"Anyway," he said, "I'd have felt a bit stupid coming down from five and a half grand to a hundred quid. Know what I mean?" I started going to car-boot sales again the next year. Saw the man again. Bought the spaniels off him for pounds 80. But I didn't make an offer for his china shepherd, priced at pounds 7,000.Reuse content