Friday, November 28, 2008

Chris and Nick's Story

Queue regular Chris has shared this story. Over the last couple of years he has persuaded his mate Nick into queueing with him. Here are their experiences.

After looking forward to the end of November trip to London like a child awaiting Christmas, my pal Nick and myself prepared ourselves for the cold of the pavement with a number of planning meetings in our local pub, and with a warming fire and some full glasses of Butty Bach, discussed the strategy…should we go on Monday, or Thursday, and should we use our old trusted tent, or buy a ‘pop up’ replacement off e bay… as the day approached, and new tent duly arrived (but only just in time), we set off for London at lunchtime on Wednesday to take up our place in the queue.

As we drove along the Kensington High Street at almost 3 pm, we hoped that we might be up at the front of the campers…that is, 51st in the pecking order on the day if not lucky in the raffle.

We were quite happy to see just the one tent in front of us as we parked on the meter right outside the RCA, and as I asked a prospective buyer to move his bike if possible from our camping pitch, Nick unloaded the tent from the car, and we gingerly released the straps, and hey presto, the tent was up and we assumed our place in the queue.

We discover soon afterwards that the first tent belonged to Anna, a regular in the queue, who had flown in from Lisbon and pitched camp on Tuesday afternoon, a very brave lady indeed.

So on with the strategy…one to stay with the car, on watch for the traffic warden, while the other viewed the cards…this worked well, and as the RCA closed its doors at 6pm, we only needed another 30 minute watch to reach the free parking time, and be able to wander off and find some supper and some warmth.

We had established some years previously a link with Imperial College students union, where the food is cheap as is the beer, so a curry and rice and a pint of Imperial lined the stomach, but we decided to stretch our legs and pop around the corner to another local and enjoy an hour of the footy in the bar.

So that takes us to the first night….a cosy double mattress and two 3-4 season sleeping bags resulted in a good nights sleep for us both….and awoke into Thursday and another day of list compilation and discussion.

As the day progressed, a few more intrepid souls arrived, the first whose tent refused to erect decided to use the outer as a bivi bag was followed by Gavin whose tent seemed to take on a mind of its own in the wind which gradually increased during the day.

We were in and out of the RCA many times during the day, and as is always the case, every visit and viewing opened up new possibilities as more fine detail became apparent on previously discounted cards!!

As the queue slowly snaked on to the College of Organists House, we paid for our last ticket of the day (after already having picked up a parking ticket for returning 5 minutes late), and walked to the tube to visit a Private View at a Gallery near Tower Bridge, of new works by Anita Klein, whose large watercolour greets me at the top of my stairs at home….and after a couple of glasses of wine, a long chat with Anita, returned to our tent and into Imperial for our supper.

Another new day dawns, and we are happy to see now 20 tents and chairs in the queue, with more arriving by the hour….and still we see many of the same people still fine tuning their lists and reaquanting ourselves with friends from the queue from previous years.

And so, as the gallery closes its doors at slightly before the 6pm deadline, we all await the next hour, and hopefully a call some time after 6…..and as we sit in the car,…having instructed family and friends to maintain radio silence during this hour….at about 18.06, the mobile rings…a withheld number…I answer…you are a lucky winner in the raffle…please be with us at 0700 tomorrow!...We are absolutely bowled over….as we decided to pool the raffle tickets and share any good cards we buy between us.

So after an evening meal in the pub, sleep beckons (after a wine nightcap in the car), and before long, the urban drone tells us its 0600 and time to decamp and see whose in the first fifty…..when we see it includes Peter and Gavin….are happy for them too, yet aware that if they are in front of me in buying terms, some of the best will undoubtedly be not available….

At 0700 we are called forward, and the raffle queue advances, and best wishes emanate from the remainder of the queue as we filter in to the RCA… seems that the fifty place cards each have the raffle ticket attached….so could my early evening call of the previous night suggest that I would be in the top 10…….in fact I was lucky to be number 4, so am in with a chance of some big name pieces….time for a slight strategy change….decide to ask for the top artists just in case there is a chance some still available.

The next 40 minutes seems to drag by as the college staff prepare for the onslaught….and at about 0745, we are ushered down the stairs and through the snake to the buying area.

It becomes clear that the order you have the cards noted could affect their availability….so, as we approach the desk, I put on a spurt, and am happy to see that the student using my terminal is ready and quick in entering the buyers number and card choices, and I am astounded that she replies YES to each of my selections. I am aware that number 1 in the queue must have been requesting the same cards as myself, but a split second behind, and the answers to her were ‘unavailable’.

I pay, and in a bit of a daze, skip up the stairs to the gallery to the press and runners, and hand them my buyers sheet…..the wait seems like an age….but it is as first thought….3 Regos and a Fedden!...Bingo…I say a few (very few) words to a German tv crew, and Reuters reporter, and with the white envelope tightly gripped, leave the building, and pass Nick at number 52 in the queue, still waiting to enter the college….we move to one side and I give him the good news….absolutely great news.

I see Perry and John behind the barrier….what’s the news Chris…..I am still shaking as I tell them that I have hit the jackpot.

Nick emerges some 30 minutes later, and drive down to CafĂ© Nero and over a Danish and a coffee, go over and over our good fortune. Nick has a Cassini and a lovely oil, and a couple of others…but we are both thrilled with our Regos and Fedden.

We drive home to Wales, and await the rest of the day….unfortunately, a victory over the All Blacks was not to be but we still ended the day on an incredible high.

The pictures will soon be in the framers, and will undoubtedly become a talking point when they take up their positions on my wall….an RCA Secret Sale never to be forgotten.

I must say that the organisation by the college was excellent, and the staff throughout were courteous and fair…shame that the lady guard could not smile a little more!

Look forward to seeing you all next year without fail….

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