In my constant pursuit of all things upcycle worthy, I went in search of local auctions. Not those ever so fancy, hugely expensive auctions of actual antiques. Nope, that’s not what I’m after. Something more down scaled is more my forte. Just normal old second hand furniture at bargain prices. Unloved pieces that beg for a touch of upcycle magic! And the beauty of the internet is that if it exists, google knows! And it was on google that I found this fascinating truly South African place.
With the word Pickers in their name, I knew that this would be a treasure trove of “pickings”. They hold an auction every Saturday and upon payment of a negligible fee, you are welcome to bid on all items that come up. This fee also allows you to bring in all the clutter you want to get rid of and put it up for auction.
A bit nervous of entering this unknown territory alone I cajoled a friend into accompanying me. We approached the address along a narrow bumpy sand road becoming somewhat uneasy at the remote location and less than savoury area. But, undeterred, I pushed on. Finally we arrived at a gate barely holding on to its posts, manned by a toothless, grinning young man. He waved us through and told me to park anywhere in the adjoining veld. We walked into the auction area and were greeted by the sight of a number of burly, rough looking men, laughing and swearing profusely. Each with a glass in hand, they appeared to be having a great time of it, and the thought crossed my mind that we may be at the wrong address. Are auctions not serious, business like events? But I was assured that yes, this is the auction house. I paid my fee at the extremely dingy grubby office and was invited to stop at the bar on my way through and told that food was also on sale under another dilapidated awning.
We declined the offer to visit the bar since it was only 9am and decided to inspect the goods up for sale. The outdoor area is where the action takes place. Huge IBR shelters protect tables that groan under the weight of discarded computer equipment, kitchen appliances, toys and all sorts of other bits and pieces. Well this is definitely down scaled! Nothing fancy here! I wondered how they planned to pitch some of this stuff, which most of us would pay someone to remove! Off to the one side, we found the furniture section. My mood lifted, for here I saw genuinely useful pieces. As we wandered through this area, it was quite difficult to assess some of the pieces as there were customers, who seemed more like friends of the owner, sitting on the chairs and resting their drinks on the tables that were up for sale. A lot of joking and bantering was taking place and every person seemed to have a glass in hand. It felt much like a social gathering. Perhaps we should have visited the bar after all!
Then the auctioneer arrived and called out that he was about to begin. Now, when I have watched auctions on TV, the auctioneer usually stands at the front while items are brought to him and with much pomp and banging of hammers, the bidding proceeds. Not so here. Dressed in baggy shorts and flip flops, with what seemed like the mandatory drink in hand, this guy was much like a pied piper as he moved amongst all the dust and junk with us all following and jostling for a spot behind him. He stopped at the first item, took a big gulp from his glass and began shouting out for bids. He spoke Afrikaans mostly, and very fast, stopping only to glug down some more of his drink.
It was a running commentary of a description of the item, with amusing suggestions as to its purpose, to shouting out of bids, to numerous jokes thrown into his rhetoric. Hard to understand if Afrikaans is not your language, but highly entertaining none the less. And so he moved from piece to piece holding his audience’s attention with jovial efficiency. I was fascinated with the whole process and found myself unable to remain sombre amidst the festive, cheery nature of the transactions. Every once in a while someone was dispatched to the bar to fill the man’s glass. Auctioneering is clearly a very thirsty business! There was a side kick trailing along desperately trying to keep a written record of sales as well as keep up with the other business of emptying one’s glass as quickly as possible! I wondered how many other upcycle fanatics were here, and how many just along for an interesting outing.
My friend and I became bored at the snail’s pace of the proceedings, amusing as they were, and since they had got nowhere near to the furniture section, we decided to get out of the fierce sun for a while and investigate the possibilities the bar had to offer. Wonderfully cool and quiet, glowing wooden furniture and vintage items displayed everywhere; it was a stark contrast to the chaos outside. We sat in this cool oasis for some time enjoying a few refreshing beers along with some repartee with an obviously regular customer who informed us we were consuming “his” beers, until we felt sure the auction would have progressed to the furniture section. Now it was my turn! It seems I will definitely have to learn the fine art of bidding at auction. If there was a piece I liked, I would shout out numbers, enthusiastically determined to win the bid. My friend continuously jabbed me in the ribs telling me to wait and to keep my bids low. Evidently I would fail badly at poker! However, in the end I picked up four items of solid wooden furniture, that were perfect for me to upcycle, at give- away prices and felt very pleased with myself. We were told to return to the bar while the paper work was completed and my car would then be loaded. After another short sojourn in the bar, I was asked to settle my bill and bring my car for loading. We left the auction at about 4 pm, having arrived just before 9 am. To my utter surprise all the brandy drinking men were still standing after all that time! As we drove off, the auction was still going strong. I believe it continues every Saturday until about 8 pm! I definitely felt that I had found a gem of a place, had a hugely enjoyable day and will most certainly return soon. So far three of the pieces have been transformed and sold and I’m trying to decide on the final look of the last piece. It is just magical how a touch of creativity can upcycle a previously unloved item into a fabulous contemporary piece!