Jobs I’ve had: Car auction driver

[Like many, I'm a firm believer that we learn by doing, and the benefit we gain from the variety of our experiences - both positive and negative - we bring to every new situation. So I thought I'd write about a few of the many different jobs I've done since my first in the mid 1980s.]

One of the numerous different jobs I’ve had was driving cars being sold at auction.

It was in the early 1990s, during my second stint at university. As I had no lectures on Wednesdays one year, and I needed the extra cash, I signed up with the temping agency Office Angels. They called me in. The auction house was just off Plough Lane, near Wimbledon Football Club’s old ground.

Over a couple of terms I must have driven about 200 cars, in all shapes, colours and sizes and in varying degrees of roadworthiness. From Minis to Mercs, from Reliants to Rollers.

I’d turn up each Wednesday at the Portakabin at 8.30am, put my overalls on, drink an oversweet instant coffee and smoke two or three roll-ups while reading the red-tops with the rest of the drivers.

At around 9.00am we’d head up to the old multi-storey car park, filled entirely with cars for auction. The supervisor, clipboard in hand, would point at each of us in turn and then point at our respective car. Then, with a bit of luck, the engine would start and we’d spiral down the multi-storey and form a queue outside the auction hall – really just a huge shed, with a carpeted space in the middle for each of us in turn to aim our car at, and a raised platform to the right for the auctioneer and his gavel.

If the car conked out in the queue, then you would be humiliatingly rolled on to the carpet by a few colleagues, causing cackles of laughter from the assembled buyers.

Wheeler dealers everywhere, mobile phones (still on the small brick scale) glued to their ears, sheepskin and leather jackets. A lot of cigar smoke. This was Arthur Daley territory.

“Ere, give it some revs son!”

“Lift the bonnet up will ya! ‘As it been clocked?”

Sitting in a car, that’s being auctioned, is like being on a very strange stage. And for some reason I used to feel slightly responsible for whether or not the car sold.

If the car went for a good price I’d feel quite chuffed. But if it didn’t sell at all, and then you had to be pushed off because the engine had died, I can imagine what it might feel like not to get through to the second round of auditions in Britain’s Got Talent.

Then it was back up to park the car, and pick up the next.

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