The Plonk Auction & Other Stories

By | 24/11/2019

Total Plonk – What am I bid?

The Rotarian supporting our Rotaract club (an 18 – 30 yrs social / charitable club affiliated to Rotary) had a fund-raising party trick. Basically he’d produce a bottle of wine, stand on a table and auction it (the wine, not the table.)

Well, we were invited to the Rotary Club’s annual Dinner Dance. Before his party trick he said he wanted our help in maximising the selling price. “Keep bidding,” he said to us, “Don’t worry, I won’t allow you to win. That’s a promise.”

So he ascends a table and says, “Ladies and gents, I’d like to offer this bottle of total plonk for sale by auction. Funds raised will go to the Chairman’s chosen charity, (XYZ). Now, who’d like to open with a bid of ten pounds?”

I didn’t think calling it total plonk was a great opening strategy. It didn’t shout ‘Bargain!’ to me, anyway. Perhaps that was why the bidding limped so painfully up to £30.

“Going once… going twice,” he said.

“Thirty five!” shouted one of our members, ill-advisedly.

Tragically there seemed to be no one in the room willing to spend nearly 40 quid on a genuine bouteille de plonk.

Struggling on

The unfortunate chap then had a huge struggle on. He was in the highly embarrassing position of having to beg for someone to rescue him with another bid. 

He pleaded with the gathered Rotarians and their wives. “Please, there must be someone in the room who’s willing to part with just a little bit more cash, maybe even just one more pound… You’re surely not going to let Rotaract win this wine??!!”

Eventually, someone did bid. Our man virtually fell off the table with a combination of nervous exhaustion and relief. He mopped the sweat from his brow and disappeared for a few moments before returning gulping at a pint of ice-cold lager, rather in the manner of a pelican gobbling a shoal of fish.

A gift of fireworks

Shortly afterwards we were given a new Rotarian, Des. He was a Scot who’d made his money in the North Sea oil and gas industries. Bonfire night was approaching and he’d volunteered himself (and us) to put on a fireworks display at a home for young people with learning difficulties.

The first thing he asked us was for donations of fireworks. Everyone in our club gave liberally. So did our parent Rotarian club.

Next, he asked for a team of us to go with him to the home to ignite the blue touch paper. For some reason, this request wasn’t something that floated everyone’s boat.

In fact only one of our members was happy to do it. (No prizes.)

So, a couple of days later, armed with twenty boxes of fireworks, Derek and I set off to provide the young folk with the best display we possibly could.

We arrived in plenty of time and went round the back of the home to decide exactly where to let off. We based ourselves at each end of a foot-high wall separating a concrete slabbed patio from a bushy border.

Next, we shared out our boxes and declared ourselves ready.

When the young people were with us (at a safe distance) we started sending our collection up into the night sky. After a couple of minutes, Derek shouted to me, “Marc, set three or four off at a time, otherwise we’ll be here all night!”

Even at that rate it took us half an hour to present our own little version of the gunpowder plot.

The aftermath

The home manager’s words afterwards uplifted us. “Our biggest problem with our clients is their lack of any sort of attention span. I’ve never seen them glued to the spot for so long by anything. An amazing display. You’ve had them absolutely gripped from beginning to end. Thank you.”

I asked if there was anything else I could do to help. He said they had a constant need for cuddly toys. I took myself off to a jumble sale to see if there were any on sale. I discovered that there were, and they were always the last items left.

For a spell I went to all the local jumble sales. I’d arrive near the end and hoover up the best soft toys and delivering them to their new home.

Impressive: The National Team Disabled Games

Sarah from our Rotaract club and I volunteered to help at this event. Our brief was to look after the needs of a team called the London Hawks.

There were so many inspirational people there doing inspirational things. I was present at the archery event, and witnessed two competitors at opposite ends of the disability scale: a guy who seemed totally able-bodied (turned out he had a lower-leg prosthesis) and a guy without arms who shot his arrows from a sitting position, loading them with his right foot and drawing back the bowstring with his teeth.

To me, the fact that he managed to get one of his arrows to hit the edge of the target was a greater achievement than the lower-leg prosthesis guy getting all his arrows near the bull.

Things you don’t see every day

While taking a brief rest in the bar at Pool Meadow Sports Centre, I noticed two unusual things.

At the edge of my vision a man was drinking a pint. So what’s unusual about that? Well when I turned and looked, I saw that he had no arms. He was lifting his beer jug up to his mouth with his bare right foot.

The other one was a young wheelchair-bound member of the London Hawks who periodically stood and walked to the bar. I thought this was a bit strange. It turned out that he had brittle bone disease and could only safely play wheelchair basketball .

Mystery, Hercule Poirot-style

Just before the deciding event, the final of the table tennis, there was an announcement over the PA system which caused the entire population of the building, disabled or not, to unilaterally dissolve into uproarious, hysterical laughter.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. A pair of legs has been found in the gents lavatory on the 2nd floor. Would the owner please make their way to the lost property office on the 3rd floor and announce themselves.”

Various questions came to mind on hearing this:

Had the guy simply forgotten to take his legs with him? If so, how did he exit the gents?

Had he flushed himself down the loo?

Had he imitated Reggie Perrin or the MP John Stonehouse and faked his death?

Had he been abducted by aliens?

No answer has come my way, so we remain, years later, mystified and bemused, just like anyone pondering the mystery of the Marie Celeste.

The decider

The standard of the teams was generally very high and the scores between them were close. In the end the result depended on the outcome of the men’s table tennis final. The grandstand-style seating was fully stocked with a boisterous crowd. The atmosphere was electric.

A London Hawks guy who could only stand in one spot but had a wide reach to either side was facing a guy who had some sideways movement but maybe wasn’t quite as flexible.

Very closely matched, these two men gave their hearts and souls – and everything else – to the game. You had the impression that this was their Olympic Games.

In the end our London Hawks guy came out on top. The moment when he smashed his winning shot echoed some astonishing historic sporting feats like Eric Liddel’s in Chariots of Fire.

Our man threw his bat in the air and fell onto the table. The crowd screamed their appreciation of his sheer bloody-mindedness and determination – and that of the losing player who looked totally grief-stricken.

In fact the screaming seemed louder than any I’ve heard on any football terraces anywhere. Then again, we were indoors, so maybe the noise bounced around the walls of the hall.

The trumpets and the presentation

Four or five colourfully uniformed people appeared on the balcony above. They each put one of those long, straight trumpets with a banner hanging off it to their lips and blew, filling the hall with a huge, scintillating fanfare.

It was goosebumps time.

A giant trophy was presented to the guy with the lower-leg prosthesis, who turned out to be the captain of the London Hawks.

The whole experience of attending this amazing event was deeply inspirational. If those people could do those things with their difficulties, what should I be able to do?

Games at the disabled club

Every few months our Rotaract club went to a local club for the disabled to compete with them at darts, pool and other indoor games. Because our opponents played these games at their club all the time, they were quite skilled and we normally lost.

Read all about it! Sighted man loses darts game to blind girl!

Yes, that night I lost at darts to a girl who was blind. OK, I hear you ask, how is it possible for a sighted, able bodied man to lose at a game needing so much eye-power?

It all depends on your definition of ‘blind.’ The term covers people who see nothing, not even light or dark right up to people who are ‘partially sighted,’ which can mean discerning colours or shapes but not much detail.

The girl I played could see colours – they were very fuzzy, but she could see them. We agreed that I had to end on a double to win and she could end anywhere on her closing number.

She knew where ’20’ was on the board and aimed for that. We descended from 501 neck and neck like two horses leading the pack in the Grand National, except slower. I struggled to get my double 19 and she asked me to point to the area of the board that 16 occupied.

She threw her first and second darts and missed, but her third dart landed squarely in number 16.

And so I lost. Fair play to her – she was a better player than me.

That’s all for now, folks.

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Best regards,