Just to keep my hand in

Tuesday April 5, 2005

Prompted by Graham, who is good at these things, I was mooching around the pottery section of eBay today, looking for another Fiesta Ware jug to keep company with the one we bought a while back. I found a couple, put watches on them, and was just about to disconnect when I spotted a real bargain—a traditional English cake stand, not very grand but awfully reminiscent of one my paternal grandmother used when she set the tea table, years and years ago. It was close to the end of its auction and had no bids on a low starting price. So, having obtained permission, I counted the coins in my purse to be sure they’d cover it, and placed my I bid. Oh, all right, the postage was £4.50, but that’s entirely beyond the point when you’re caught up in the excitement of the last minutes of bidding.

Sure enough, both fortune and luck being with me, I won the piece for the starting price. I waited a few minutes for the invoice to turn up and, when it didn’t, snapped the computer off ready to go off a’shopping.

When we got home and had unpacked the provisions, sufficient to see us through to Saturday, I turned the computer back on, connected, and tried my mail. Still no invoice but no matter, some people don’t do invoices, so I went back to the item description, bearing congratulations that I’d won, and paid the bill with PayPal, asking the seller to let me know when the item was despatched. I emptied my coin purse into the Christmas jar, just to keep the books balanced.

Than, idly, I clicked on the guy’s feedback record, to find it pristine and glowing. A busy account, with lots of nice comments from buyers. I had a few minutes left before I needed to prepare lunch, so I started clicking on his sold items.

That was when the main inspiration of the day hit me.

Now, let’s be clear, he doesn’t sell grand stuff. Either he’s clearing a house or he’s an ardent searcher on the car boot sale, jumble sale and charity shop circuits. Stuff I pass by every day with not even a first glance. Books, postcards, ornamental and decorative pieces, curiosities and some plain junk. Brief, honest descriptions, reasonable photographs, and low, low starting prices but with sufficient added to his shipping costs to cover selling and PayPal fees. I did a rough tally, estimating his profit. Most things got a little more than the starting price, some considerably more. Not astonishing, but by dint of working hard at it, I reckon he earned enough each week for an evening in the pub or a decent meal or two.

And that’s where the inspiration comes in. Here’s a bloke, working hard at it, turning in a modest profit, not doing anything grand, just picking up a nice little amount which on a small income would make a big difference. And, assuming he enjoys eBaying, a pastime that has a respectable element of honest toil about it.

I like that thought. I know that, to make a dependable living on eBay, you have to settle for a niche, buy cheap, sell at a small profit, do lots and lots of it, and work hard and long. Honest toil again. But the idea of some bloke touring the second-hand goods markets, picking over the boxes of bits, doing a bit of haggling, and then selling them on for pin-money profit appeals to me greatly.

My original thoughts when I started were to specialise in decorative china of the English tea table kind. When it came to raking over the junk at the car boot sales, though, I was discouraged by the volume of tat I had to deal with. As it turns out, it’s likely that when I’ve worked up my watercolour skills, I can probably make that the mainstay of my eBay or web sales venture. But even so, next time I pass a junk shop, or a car boot sale, or see a general auction, I shall pop in with a less jaundiced eye, my expectations set at an appropriate and realistic level.

This bloke clearly has his expectations set at a realistic level, and I salute him for it.

So, last thing, buoyed up by the inspiration and encouraged by the fact that today was a 5p listing day, I worked up descriptions for the remaining two pieces of our household de-clutter operation—a nice blue and white coffee pot and a small Carlton Ware dish—and posted them with very low starting prices. If they sell, fine. If they don’t, I’ll drop them off at the charity shop. I shall look around for suitable stuff to sell while I’m there. Not seriously, not with industrious intent, because I know I can’t really get going on anything in earnest until we’re settled in our new home. I’ll keep it trickling, though. Just to keep my hand in, you understand. Rather like the watercolour postcards. Just to keep my hand in.


Watercolour on card, actual size, Stickford, Apr 5,'05
‘Postcards from my head’ No. 13
Another place



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