14 October 2011

Some Work & Lots of Play

We left France, with regret, on Tuesday.  And no greater love hath these antiques dealers that they would forgo one of the last pleasures of France (lunch) in order to catch the earlier ferry so we could get to Portsmouth at a more reasonable hour and start packing stock for our customers.  We gave up lunch for you, people!  In France!  We expect appropriate gratitude to be showered upon us when we get back to Australia.

For the first time ever I thought I was going to experience a bad Channel crossing because the wind was blowing a gale and there were huge white caps all along the coast on the way up to Calais.  I haven’t had the joy of puking over the side of a Channel ferry so far, but I’ve heard horror stories from other passengers.  Anyway, Doug assured me that a bit of choppiness wouldn’t do a big vessel like a ferry any harm, and even though the choppiness turned into quite large swells mid-Channel and waves started crashing across the bow, he was right and it was fine.  So I emerged puke-free from another Channel crossing.  Hurrah! 

We spent the day in Portsmouth packing, packing, packing and re-admiring our French purchases as we went.  Dang, we did well!  I had forgotten about a number of things, including a very fabulous heavy glass vase that I will give a quick try in the shop and if it doesn’t sell super fast then I will take it home.  Plus OMG how many faceted glass pate pots did I buy?  A lot, is the answer.  Got the pate pot market cornered, I’m thinking.  But I haven’t had them for quite a while and they sold really well last time so here’s hoping there is still a demand for nice French faceted jars. 

There was little point in booking a hotel in a nice seaside location when we were actually trapped in the room all day, cataloguing and packing.  It’s the tedious bit of the job, but it has to be done.  Still, for once we applied ourselves and knuckled down and got it all done in one day.  We had the TV on in the background, and it was a non-stop parade of different antiques shows all day.  My goodness, don’t they ever get sick of watching shows on antiques?  I’m an antiques dealer, and I found it all a bit much.  Having said that, I did enjoy one show (Antiques Road Trip) where they task a couple of dealers to buy antiques in shops and centres and then make a profit on them at auction.  It’s a variation on Bargain Hunt (where I was filmed in the background twice on this trip) in that the contestants are professional dealers and so in theory should do better than the normal punters on Bargain Hunt.

This show did highlight a shop that sold quite nice kilim carpets at affordable prices, and although it was too far out of our way at this point (not to mention we’re at the Dead Broke stage of the trip) I shall factor in a visit for next trip.  So something good came of seeing the glut of antiques shows.  They also featured the antiques shops in Ashbourne, which is a beautiful town up in Derbyshire where the shops all look lovely but there isn’t an affordable thing between them – as the dealers discovered when they tried to sell their purchases at auction and made horrible losses. 

The last time we lingered in Ashbourne was during the last Rugby World Cup, where we spent a few hours in a pub surrounded by screaming Englishmen who were over-excited because England was beating Australia.  Doug and I know nothing about rugby, and care even less, and had only gone in to have a beer and a good time heckling the Englishers.  It’s amazing the reaction you can elicit when you randomly shout That was clearly offside!  We didn’t have the faintest idea what the rules were, but it was good fun to shout and exchange a bit of banter with the locals.  But anyway, I digress.  The point is that Ashbourne is good for pubs and looking about, but not for antiques shopping unless you have loads of cash and you don’t mind paying absolute top dollar.

Anyway, having finished the packing and been antique-showed to the eyeballs, that left Thursday entirely free for a play day. There was no hope of a sleep-in because the day started off very foggy and all the ferries turn out to have really powerful fog horns.  The horns sound quite eerie and I think would have been a bit scary if you were out there on a small boat, knowing that giant ferries were looming but you just couldn’t see where (yes, I know they were in the shipping lanes, but you know what I mean). 

So with all hopes of a good lie-in thwarted we instead went for a walk along the seafront.  We watched a hovercraft come roaring over from the Isle of Wight and just throw itself up the beach at Portsmouth, and then a few minutes later fling itself around and zoom back down the beach and hit the water at speed and race off.  It looked like tremendous fun so I will factor in an excursion via hovercraft to visit Osborne House (Victoria & Albert’s holiday house on the Isle of Wight) for next trip.  Then we briefly visited the historic dockyards, even though we had already seen the Victory and the Mary Rose some time ago.  We found a quite expensive antiques shop there, but did scrape up enough money to buy one last copper ship’s lamp because it was really lovely and unlike any other we had seen before.

In the gift shop across the way, though, we found light, tinny, brass reproductions of the really battered and weather-beaten ship’s lamp we bought at a Fair, and the repros were 239 pounds!  There was no prospect of mistaking them for real, and we couldn’t believe the price.  They also sold genuine Tek Sing and Hoi An shipwreck pottery, and I was very smug to see how much more expensive they were than our prices are for better pieces.  So I had no hope of buying any shipwreck pottery from them, but I did buy a book on the Tek Sing that looked interesting.

Then off to Highclere Castle, to take a tour of Downton Abbey.  It was the first day in October that the Castle was open to visitors, so there was a bigger crowd than normal and we had to wait in the queue for an hour before we got to the ticket counter.  Fortunately, it was a lovely warm sunny autumn day and the crowd was very good natured and we chatted and had a laugh with the people around us.  It was a good British queue, which is nothing like an unruly, seething, hold-your-position-or-be-trampled Italian queue and bears no semblance whatsoever to an Arabic “queue”, which is a queue only in the sense that someone who has muscled their way to the front is now being served and everyone else is in the process of muscling their way to the front and being loudly impatient about it.

Finally we were in the house, and having watched Downton Abbey it was very interesting to see that the rooms are nothing like as large as they appear in the show.  It’s still an impressively large house, but some of the rooms were downright compact.  The library and foyer with the huge vaulted ceiling were recognizable to us, even though the furnishings were different from in the show.  As far as the house’s actually furnishings were concerned, there wasn’t much we liked.  The only stealworthy things we saw were some really good Georgian fire buckets, a large Chinoiserie trunk in my favourite bedroom, a couple of nice screens, a good bronze of a hare, a large comfy looking (and very worn) leather couch and many lovely (and again very worn) Persian carpets.  Oh and their boot scrapers at the front door were lovely, and they feature wyverns, which are like dragons only they have two legs whereas dragons have four legs.  So there weren’t many covetable things to be found in such a large house, where I expected to be oohing and aahing at every turn.  Still, the house itself and its grounds are very beautiful and apparently the library and adjoining music room are used for weddings most weekends, and that would be lovely.  I asked a guide if it cost a lot to host a wedding at Highclere Castle.  No, she said, it costs a whole lot. 

In the music room there are the most fabulous finely embroidered wall panels, featuring all sorts of animals and foliage.  Very beautiful, and amazing workmanship.  No photography is allowed, which is a pity because these were very lovely panels which I would have liked to have a record of.  Less beautiful was the bath in the one bathroom in the entire place.  It’s a big bath, no doubt about that, but a deep avocado green.  Yerk.  Probably the ugliest bath I have ever seen.  I bet you don’t see that featured in Downton Abbey any time soon. 

The dining room in real life is nothing like as grand as it is in the show, where they clearly import a much larger table in order to fit the entire cast having dinner together.  By the time we had wandered into this room even huger queues had formed, not just for the ticket office but also to actually get in the front door.  One woman left the queue at the front door to come and peer into the dining room window, and I waved regally at her but she gave a little squeak at being observed and scurried back to the queue.  I’m sure it was my noble bearing that totally intimidated her to spring back into her place.

Then down into the basement to see the Egyptian exhibition.  Having been owned by Lord Carnarvon you’d expect the exhibition to be pretty good, and it was.  Only the artefacts in the first room are real, but those artefacts include an entire painted coffin and there probably aren’t too many other private collections that can boast that.  The coffin was that of a noble woman called Irtyru, and it was beautiful.  It is 3,500 years old and in amazingly good condition.  It shows in hieroglyphics and pictures of the story of what happens to you after you die, and the accompanying notes explained why a person’s heart was always kept with the body as it was mummified – because it was needed in order for judgement to be made of you and to help you get through your other trials to get into the afterlife.  You don’t just swan into the afterlife, you know.  So no pressure, but if your heart weighs more than the Feather of Truth a whacking big monster dog thingy eats it and there goes your chances of having an afterlife. 

All the other rooms had reproductions of things found in Tutankhamun’s tomb (including a resin copy of his body), because the originals are now either in the Cairo or London museum.  I guess they would be interesting if you hadn’t already seen the originals in the Cairo and London museums, so we were more intent on viewing the real things in Room One, which were well worth seeing. 

Then off to Leicester so we could offload all of our many boxes and sundry stuff with the packers.  Unfortunately we got in too late to see Emmerdale, of which I’ve only ever seen one episode but it had my all-time favourite line of TV dialogue:  Get a jog on, you sour-faced slag, ‘fore I slap you silly.  I love that line!  I’m dying to use it myself in the shop, and I shall say it to the next silly old cow who wants to diss my stuff. 

After the packers we have Friday free for another play day, then off to Abu Dhabi again for the first leg of our journey home.  When I’m next awake in Australia I shall finally see to getting some photos downloaded, and we’ll take it from there.  I'm having a major missing moggies moment right now, so it will be good to get home.  And yes friends and family, it will be good to see you too.

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