"What am I bid for this lost masterpiece by John Constable, entitled 'Duck Playing Snooker'?"
There was silence. Constable paintings usually sell for millions, but this work was unlike any other of Constable's creations, featuring as it did a duck playing snooker against an elk. Even though the government assured people of its veracity doubts remained.
"£92 million," said Sir John Bullingham, raising his arm.
"Any other bids?" said the auctioneer. There was a silence in the room. There were no other Bidders. The unique Constable painting was secured for the Department of English Culture.
The Department of English Culture had originally started life as the Department of British Culture, but ironically it was the very excesses of the Department that had led to the other nations leaving the Union. "You're just shitting our money into your mates' bank accounts," the Scottish Culture Secretary had complained.
Many used the 'new' Constable as an example. It had been discovered by Sir Marcus Markbury in his daughter's bedroom, in, of all places, his daughter's own scribble pad.
Sir Marcus, you will recall, recently came to public attention when he came to the Prime Minister's aid with a donation of £250,000 to transform the Prime Minister's Downing Street flat into a set for Abigail's Party, which was playing in the West End. The high cost of the refurbishment was caused by the need to close the theatre for several nights while the transfer took place and a replacement set was built, though ironically the set itself cost just £12.95.
Many, well in fact all, of the beneficiaries of English Culture's investments had similar ties to the Prime Minister, including Lord Terrence of Oblong, who was widely known as the sort of author who would write anything he was asked to if the money was right.
"What am I bid for the next item," said the auctioneer, "An original, hand-written first draft of the classic short story 'The Picture', by Terrence Oblong.
There was silence, before Sir John Bullingham again raised his arm. "£52 million," he said.
"Are there any other bids?" asked the auctioneer. "All bidders will of course gain a personal mention in the story. Do I hear £55 million?"