Charity Auction


At last year's charity auction, while others auctioned themselves as a date for an evening, I offered the chance to be me for a whole year. 

The winning bid was from a retired investment banker named Clive. 


The fine print stated that the winner could be me "for any period up to a year". This could have meant a week, or just a few hours, but Clive opted for the full year. 


People told me I was crazy, which I expected. What I didn't expect was for some to accuse me of being lazy, cunning and evil – the insinuation being that I was only doing it to exploit the poor auction winner into doing all of my work for a year. But villagers will be villagers. 


(I should explain my profession: I'm a full-time Surrealist in a small village in Surrey. And while I would never suggest that every village needs a Surrealist, nor even that every town or city needs one, I will say that it's sometimes good for people to have their views turned upside-down, so if you happen to have one, try not to take her for granted or burn her house down. But I digress...)


Valerie, the butcher's wife, announced the items on auction, and when it came to mine, her voice quivered a little.


"… and the next item, generously donated by Bitsy-Woo-Woo, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to BE her for a full year".


There was some awkward, stifled laugher (which was exactly what I wanted) and I managed to keep a straight face.  


Clive's winning bid was a respectable sum, I thought (£70), and it was met with some healthy applause and appreciative cheering. 


It was only when we were discussing the details afterwards that I overheard rumbles of judgment and discontent. 


The judgements were directed entirely at me, not Clive, and I found this a little bit hurtful. I was doing it for charity (the funds raised were going to the local amateur football team), and very few people appreciated the sacrifice I would be making. Didn't they see that allowing someone to be me for a year would mean that I'd have to disappear for a year?


I managed this by living up a tree and foraging in the woods. Meanwhile, Clive slept in my bed and wore my clothes. 


(At this point, considering that I'm a woman in my twenties and he is a man in his sixties, you might be thinking that Clive sounds like a dirty old man. But I need to make clear that that was definitely not the spirit in which he was doing this (I know this because that's what he told me, emphatically, on several occasions)).


As part of the deal, I had to let him do all of my Surrealist work. 


(I think this is why the villagers called me lazy. But what they forget is that I've never actually been paid to do my Surrealist work. Nor do I have a trust fund, as some people like to think. My lifestyle – which Clive took on for a year – involves surviving on out-of-date food from the local shop, and living in the spare room of a house belonging to a lovely old lady who enjoys the company and doesn't need the rent).


As a good-will gesture, above and beyond the contract, I tutored Clive in the art of being a Surrealist.


He improved over the months, but one the whole, the work he produced (as me) wasn't of any standard I'd be proud of (if it were actually me). So in some ways, my reputation as a Surrealist suffered. (Although some people saw the whole enterprise as the ultimate in extreme Surrealist art statements, so it balanced out.)


People often ask, did he pay me? (He owns several mansions, so he could certainly have afforded to). My answer is that he offered to, but I didn't accept because that would not have been the point. (I did suggest that he could help fund my next Surrealist project, but he hasn't come through on that yet, and I'm not sure he will). 


The other question people ask, now that the year has passed, is whether I regret the whole thing. My answer is no, not at all. 


It wasn't easy at times. I developed a few health problems from sleeping outdoors for a year. And most of my favourite clothes were ruined because Clive is much bigger than me. 


Also, looking back, I sometimes think that Clive got a pretty good deal out of the whole thing. I'm not sure we've become friends, because we don't have a great deal in common. But we'll probably stay in touch.


If his work had been any good, we might have been able to collaborate on future work. But in many ways, I'm glad his work was below par. I've pretty much devoted every waking hour to being a Surrealist since I ran away from home aged twelve. So if Clive had turned out to be a peer in the trade, it might have felt somewhat bittersweet. 


After a year's break from doing any of my own Surrealism, my levels of inspiration and commitment to the cause are at an all-time peak. 


So, overall I'd say that I'm glad I did. It wasn't without its difficulties, but – with a couple of mild caveats – I would recommend it wholeheartedly to any Surrealist who might be contemplating something similar.