Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sunflowers with faces? Gone. Bird on cat head? Gone.

Here's an account originally from the tombola blog again reproduced with kind permission.

In the end we decided to set the alarm for 0120, in order to get a bus at 0200. Warm in bed, at that moment sitting shivering on the streets of Kensington was a marginally less attractive proposition than embarking on a pleasure cruise around the Horn of Africa. But get up we did and after some night bus fun (everyone else was heading home from nights out), we got to the RCA by 0300. I'd avoided thinking about how many people might be there already but was pretty surprised to find so many tents and sleeping bags lined up outside.

Wrapped in as many layers as we could comfortably fit in, we then spent the next four hours reading books and periodically walking about in order to try and regain the feeling in our feet. Others had brought drinks and chairs and were making a party of it. I'm just glad that Claire thought to bring cushions to sit on. At least it wasn't snowing.

Gradually, the sun came up, the tents came down and people got ready to enter the building. At this point there was lots of checking and rechecking of the postcard list. Immediately in front of us in the queue was a rather cocksure German (is there any other kind? National Stereotyping Ed.). He was confidently claiming that he knew exactly which one was the Anish Kapoor, which was a Turner Prize winner etc. etc. His girlfriend was one of the lucky 50 to win raffle tickets to be first in the queue, and she was going to get these for him.

The queue inched forward through the building and towards the sales desk. We estimated that we were in the first 150 or so and at this point I was holding out some hope of getting at least one of my top targets (a Quentin Blake, which were fairly easy to spot, or perhaps one by Nick Park, ditto). While in the final stages of the queue, there were two screens showing the numbers turning red as they were sold. We'd brought a list of ~150 cards that we liked, with about 25 each as our top targets. What followed was the most disheartening game of bingo possible, as numbers were routinely crossed from our lists and the prospect grew of us getting to the front and just picking any old number that was still available. The Blakes were gone early, along with the couple of oil paintings of London views, as was a cartoony one of a lion and a rabbit (that turned out to be Paul Smith).

There were a few salespeople so once one became vacant it was a case of saying numbers as fast as possible before someone else bagged them. Happily, three from our prime list were still there so we captured those. We emerged to find the enormous queue disappearing around the building (and smirked as we spotted some guy who'd tried to push in at 8am, now way back down the line).

We were back home by 1030, and saved the suspense of revealing until then. No amazing big names worth thousands but all ones that we liked so happy days. It was then a case of sitting by the radiator to try and warm up again.

It was an exciting and stressful experience and I'm really glad that we did it and got there early. Also very glad that we put the time in and made a long list of the ones we liked - to have got to the desk and end up having to pick one virtually at random would have been a big waste of time. Reflecting on it afterwards, we decided:
a. getting there a couple of hours earlier would have made very little difference - many hardcore people had been there for a long, long time
b. choosing ones you actually like to look at is the best strategy - pinning your hopes on something that you don't actually like, simply because it might be by someone famous is a waste of time. I'd had a [quick] go at guessing which ones were by Grayson Perry, Tracey Emin and John Squire and, predictably, they weren't. I had a feeling that the doodles of Barack Obama might be by a big name and now slightly regret not getting one after discovering they were by Alex Katz and were available when we were buying.
c. going with your heart set on one or two particular cards would be pretty much pointless
I'm not sure that giving away the first 50 places in a raffle is the best thing as 200 cards could be gone (individuals can buy up to four cards each) before the first person in the queue could have a go, no matter how long they'd been queueing for.

Anyway, here's one that featured highly on both of our lists and we were delighted to get:

By last night the RCA website revealed who each of the cards was by. Amusingly, we discovered that the German's assertions were mistaken.

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