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Clapping, harping, farting, thrusting - there has to be some way of getting attention.

Byline: Bruce Millington

I DISLIKE buying drinks in a busy pub because you stand there like an idiot with a folded tenner poking towards the staff while they choose, through a combination of a half-arsed attempt to estimate the correct pecking order and sheer randomness, who to serve next.

And I detest trying to summon service in a restaurant because waiters are so adept at ignoring your attempts to catch their eye in a subtle way that you are left with no choice but to say "excuse me" at the exact moment the pianist stops playing.

That results in your request for attention being so conspicuous that you may as well have deployed the tactic of removing your trousers and pants, standing on the table and smashing plates over your head in order to earn the opportunity to ask a member of staff if they would be so kind as to fetch you some French mustard.

Pubs should use the ticket system that works so successfully in delicatessens, and it ought to be obligatory for restaurant tables to have a bell and/or light on them.

But it appears the perils of buying a pint or ordering a pecan nut pie are nothing compared to those that face people who want to buy a racehorse at an auction.

On Sunday night a man tried to acquire a three-year-old filly called Octave at the prestigious Fasig-Tipton sale in Kentucky. He was unable to because his bid, for the small matter of EUR4m, had gone unnoticed.

Now, it's one thing having to wait a few extra minutes because the person behind the bar thinks the guy who appeared alongside you five minutes after you should be served before you, quite another to be refused service over a pounds 4m bloodstock purchase for what amounts to pretty much the same reason.

It must have been galling at the time and will be especially galling if Octave proves to be good value for the successful bidder.

However, this was surely an avoidable situation. Why, in the 21st century, are people still trading these phenomenally expensive creatures in this haphazard fashion?

When I worked at Hackney dog track many moons ago one of my jobs was to be a bid spotter when they held their monthly sales, acting as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the man with the hammer.

It was bizarre. Some people would indicate a desire to buy the dog on the podium by waving their catalogue like a man guiding a Harrier jump jet on to the landing area.

Others would nod so gently you weren't sure whether they were interested in the brindle pup with a 29.82 at Enniscorthy on its card or were making a surreptitious sexual advance at the auctioneer. It was amazing there were so few disputes and even more amazing that such a basic system of acknowledging and making bids was used.

And it's still used today, which strikes me as bizarre. I'm told by bloodstock experts that some people like to do their bidding as secretly as possible, even setting up coded signs with bid-spotters.

I'm also told of an incident in which a would-be purchaser arranged with the sales organisation that he would indicate his bids by taking sips of water from a glass.

Inevitably, though, having ceased his interest early on for a particular horse, he then acted to quench his thirst and found himself in possession of said beast at a price far higher than he was prepared to pay.

It's just asking for trouble. Why can't purchasers indicate their interest by clapping loudly, playing a harp, making a noise like an owl, doing that farting sound by putting their fist inside their armpit an waggling their elbow up and down or just thrusting their hand skywards yelling "me"?

It would add to the fun and would prevent people being denied the chance to spend EUR4m on a horse.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Nov 8, 2007
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