At half-term most parents probably took their kids to Madame Tussauds or the London Dungeon, but I dragged mine to a luxury hotel on the Embankment.
We didn't stay there - not on my wages. We just popped in for a snoop because the entire contents were up for sale and I thought the auction the following day could provide an affordable way to furnish the rental properties.
Everything inside the five-star Howard Hotel was going under the hammer, from the bedroom furnishings and the marble bathrooms to the ovens in the kitchens, the silver teaspoons and designer flowerpots.
The contents of each of the bedrooms were to be sold off as job lots so we joined a handful of people wandering from floor to floor, ticking off the best rooms in the auctioneer's catalogue. Some of the furniture was a little shabby, tables were chipped and the fabric worn, but many of the bedrooms had been refurbished only a few months ago and in these, everything looked pristine.
While I noted the items I'd like to buy, the kids were having a ball, bouncing on beds, pretending to shower in the bathrooms and soaking up the Thames views from the balconies. Having rarely been in anything posher than a Travelodge, this was a treat.
For my part I fell in love with a couple of funky armchairs from the lobby, designed by Squint Limited of Shoreditch, which would add a splash of glamour to my Victorian flat. Priced from £2,800 new, I was hoping to pick them up for a few hundred pounds at the auction. I was also keen on some of the artwork, a few lamps and a designer mirror, which I thought might impress prospective tenants.
I couldn't go to the auction the following day because children weren't allowed. Instead, I sat glued to my laptop for eight hours following the proceedings live on bidspotter.com and bidding online for items as they came up.
Amazingly the contents of one of the older bedrooms, including bed, wardrobe, desk, chair, curtains, minibar, safe and wardrobe sold for only £250, plus 20 per cent VAT and 15.5 per cent auctioneer's fee. When you consider that even a flimsy bed would cost more than that new, that's got to be a bargain.
Even the stuff from the recently refurbished rooms, which was virtually as new, sold from only £700, and someone picked up the contents of a rather plush suite for £1,900, with quality balcony furniture thrown in. A large, marble-top chest of drawers went for £300, a nice dark wood dining table and four chairs for £400, and a pair of armchairs fetched £390. Carpets, curtains, cupboards, vacuum cleaners and chairs all went for less than half their retail value. If you had a large, stylish property to furnish, the magnificent mahogany dining table would have been a bargain at £1,400.
Frustratingly, my optimistic bids were too low. The Squint chairs I had my eye on went for £2,000 each, which was way more than I'd be prepared to spend to furnish a rental property. I was quickly outbid for the other items, too. Only half the hotel's contents were sold on the first day of the two-day auction and I was tempted to log in the following morning to see if I could pick up some replacement crockery for one of my rental flats, but I didn't have the stamina.
Still, if you want to furnish a property on the cheap I think it's worth looking out for further auctions like this one or, failing that, house clearance sales. Check out auction-plus.com and proauction.com for forthcoming lots.