A wine auction is as good a place as any to observe democracy in action.
To me it represents the very pinnacle of the western market economy, and therefore demands certain forms of behaviour which I usually reserve for socio-political debates and visits by insurance salespersons. First of all there's a good deal of lying amongst the parties. The vendor lies about the description of the goods, the auctioneer always initially over-estimates the value of the lot, and the seasoned bidder spends most of their time in the auction room sitting firmly on his or her hands, pretending for all the world that they have very little money to contribute to the preacher's plate should it ever come their way. It's a grown-ups game of liar's bluff.
There are the usual large sweaty persons in expensive silver suits and calculating hair pieces circumnavigating each lot as it comes up, giving the impression, unlike we poor suckers, that the place doesn't own them. They seem to barely move when nodding a wink the auctioneers way, and have the impressive ability to conduct an intensive bidding session against Joe Public without Joseph ever really being aware as to who his opposition actually is. It's only after your average Joe has lost his nerve, that he realizes the successful bidder for the '58 Grange was Flash Jim, the well dressed, moderately obese cove with the plastic smile and the slim line mobile phone tattooed into his ear. The horror of it all is that the parsimonious purchaser is usually standing right next to him. By then of course it's too late, and the next bargain is up for examination so Joe reconciles himself to an all out attack on the very rare '48 Grange in lot 61.
The auctioneer is usually a fairly straightforward style of a chap with little to distinguish him, (and it's always a him) from the tentative congregation except the growth in his throat which moves with impressive speed at ever increasing pitch as each anointed lot reaches its crescendo.
A note here for the uninitiated. You can always tell when a parcel of booze is having difficulty reaching its undeclared no-reserve price. The auctioneer will stop in full flight, pause, and in collusion with his flanking spotters, carry out a manoeuver designed to ease the extra dollar from the desperate pockets of you and me. The spotter on his left with the loud iridescent pink baseball cap will throw both hands into the air, and in passable harmony with the boss, aria the following magic phrase. In an underlined and boldfaced tribal chant they will demonstratively recite 'It's FOR SALE!!!" Now this may seem a pretty clumsy statement of the bleedin' obvious, but it never fails to get the case of Chateau ordinare 1973 Marsanne (perfectly cellared in an air-conditioned brick veneer room in Dubbo since 1979) across the line.
And what of the token public servants (haven't you noticed they always travel in pairs) who represent The Department of Fair Trading during the liquidation of the former Prime Ministers collection of Japanese Cabernet and Californian Chardonnay. At the commencement of the auction they are reverentially introduced to the assembled congregation, and make quite a picture in their striped pink shirts, grey ties and matching Departmental suit coats. They remove and clean their designer glasses and after the mandatory tug of the designer stubble on their shallow chins , they're away, shouting 'yo' and flailing sweaty armpits just like real spotters. The fact that they are usually slightly out to lunch at the business end of each bidding frenzy, and invariably point to Joe, when everyone else knows it's the suited gentleman with the mobile tattooed to his ear who really won the bidding, is of little consequence.
They are both on a mission from god and provide a colourful addition to the auction pageant, spending as they do, enormous sums on 'refreshments' during the course of the day. This necessary intake of fluids over the course of the humid and stressful stretch of overtime, usually results in them performing the Departmentally approved striptease, reaching as they do by afternoons end, the rolled up shirt sleeves and open necked casual collar look so indicative of the real working classes.
And so it goes. There's the odd bargain which slips through, and the intensity of bidding on the very very rare '48 Grange undoes the whole front pew of Joes, but on the whole, everyone gets what they deserve. The suited gentleman hangs up his ear phone, collects his '58 Grange and changes banks. The auctioneer collects his 5% from the owner of the Dubbo Marsanne, Joe and flash Jim alike, and everybody believes the lie that they each leave with their own personal bargain.
Now isn't that what I think true democracy is all about!.