26 October 2011

Back in the Saddle

18 degrees at Manchester was nice for England in autumn but going straight to 38 degrees in Abu Dhabi was a bit of a shock to the system.  Fortunately, the Crowne Plaza hotel has perfectly adequate air conditioning.  It also has the best beds ever.  It wins this trip’s prize for biggest and most comfortable beds complete with good pillows.  Hey, these things are important when you’re tired and ratty and starting to feel jetlag even though you’ve only completed a third of the journey home.  I hate this bit of every trip – planes suck when you’re in Sardine Class, Anchovy Class, Packed Herring Class.  All airlines seem to have invented fancy names for Economy (Etihad calls it Coral Class, for example), but the end result is the same for all of them – lots of being squished for extended periods.  We don’t mind Abu Dhabi as a stopover location, though, and will think about it for the March trip next year but probably also include a stop in Singapore as well to break up the flight.

It’s amazing the variations on the burqua you see at airports in this neck of the woods.  They range from an entire body covering where you can’t even see the lady’s eyes because they are behind a gauze of fabric, through to just a cursory scarf that’s not covering much at all.  My least favourite version is one that for some reason covers all the hair, but on the face covers the eyebrows, has a thin bar down the nose, and then covers just above the mouth.  It has the unfortunate result of making the lady in question look like she has a big black mono-brow and an impressive moustache.  There are lots of hennaed hands, too, and the designs are lovely.  All the western passengers stand out because they are so ordinary looking.

Next stop Singapore (after an 8 hour flight – can’t wait) then a quick shop in the Duty Free and another 7 hours to Australia.  I hate international flights.  All this bumph people say about it being about the journey and not the destination is said by people who either don’t travel very much or who get on the plane and turn left (towards Business and First Class), or who sensibly avoid planes altogether and travel via luxury ships or trains where they have their own suites.  Unfortunately, this would add a few months to every buying trip, so we’re stuck with planes.  And I will continue to bleat about how hard my life is until I find a way to justify spending the dosh I would need to spend for a Business or First Class ticket, instead of using the money to buy quite a lot of stock for the shop.  Can’t do both right now, which sucks.  When we travelled internationally on Government business we always went Business or First Class, and my memory isn’t so dementia-riddled yet that I can’t remember how much better it was.  Rooster to Feather Duster I think it’s called.  Still, on balance the Feather Duster life has more going for it and I guess that’s why we’ve made that choice.  So on balance I should stop bleating now, shouldn’t I?  Bleating has ceased.

So now a week has passed and we’re ensconced back in Eumundi.  Started selling jewellery immediately, as we always do, plus some very nice cutlery.  The bulk of our new stock won’t arrive in Australia until 6 December, and that’s forever away.  And after it’s arrived we will still have the Customs/Quarantine palaver, which they always say will take 3-4 days but always takes about 2 weeks. 

We’re almost over jetlag, although I’m still waking promptly at 3.00am.  Last trip I was really hammered and took more than a week to recover, and this time it seems a bit better.  Thank goodness for civilized opening hours in the shop, which means we can take our time and potter about before the ten minute drive to work.

The moggies are reacting well to being back at work, which is good because they are Working Cats and are expected to earn their keep.  Even Mischka is being a good girl, although I know this is a trick and she is just lulling me into relaxing my guard for as long as it will take her to go and jump on the jewellery cases or otherwise be naughty.  Klaatu is his normal dependable self on Wednesday and Saturday Market Days and snoozes the day away, interrupted only by admiring fans who want to rub his belly or photograph him.  He loves a good belly rub, though, so he’s always amenable when his fans approach him for an audience.

Now I will spend the next few weeks doing as much advance work as possible to prepare price and descriptor tags for the incoming stock – all that I can recall clearly enough, that is.  We bought well over 1000 items, so some of the recollections are a bit hazy and those pieces will have to wait until I can see them again.  Meanwhile we still have furniture items from the April trip that have yet to appear in the shop, and they can now come out to replace items that sold while we were away.  So there’s no rest for the wicked, as they say, and plenty to be going on with.

And looky-here, I've developed a modicum of technical skills and have been able to download some photos.  I thought I'd better start with the Shop Managers.  The pictures turned out somewhat bigger than I was expecting, but I'll work on that.  So now I can formally introduce Artemis, Klaatu and Mischka, our furry shop managers.  Feel free to come and visit them whenever you like.

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.

12 October 2011

Shopping and then Shopping Some More

Shopping in Paris has always been a pleasure (albeit an expensive one), and this time was no exception.  The only problem with our trips during the northern hemisphere autumn is that the sun doesn’t come up until after 8am, so it was a pre-dawn foray off to the markets.  And when we got there we found we had forgotten to bring the torch – an essential shopping tool if you want to really be sure what you’re getting before it gets light.  But plenty of the locals had brought their torches, so we were able to see most stalls pretty clearly. 

Even though the markets officially open at 7am, plenty is going on before that and stalls progressively get their wares out until even 9am, so you need to do a few laps in order to be sure you see everything.  And again, with this type of market where the stall holders and the punters all turn up at the same time, it’s often a matter of being in the right place at the right time in order to be the first to spot a bargain being put out.

After several laps we were loaded down with a quite elegant retro Italian electric lamp, the biggest and heaviest metal pestle and mortar you’ve ever seen, more enamel kitchenalia, really nice Art Deco cutlery – French Deco cutlery is very different from the English, and often features bakelite or horn handles which are lovely - some seriously cool giant butcher’s hooks that Doug is thinking of invoking the I-Must-Pry-From-His-Cold-Dead-Hands clause over, more good glass, some copper saucepans, lovely jewellery and a very elegant piece that is an Art Deco polished aluminium coat hooks and luggage rack with a mirror ensemble - very French Art Deco, very nice.

So after a couple of hours and a number of laps, each one slower than the last because by then we were lugging quite a lot of heavy things, we decided to head off to the Loire Valley to position ourselves for an excellent Puce (flea market) on Sunday morning held right on the Loire River.  We spent the night in Saumur, which is a lovely medieval town with the most giant and apparently unassailable fortress chateau, and had the best meal of the trip so far.  Then up before dawn for the Puce. 

A whole bunch of fit young cyclists in very very tight lycra were staying at our hotel, and the inn-keeper told us that he hoped they wouldn’t wake us the next morning because they wanted to have quite an early breakfast.  Ha!  The definition of “early” was clearly lost in translation, and it’s a sad day when a couple of unfit lay-about antiques dealers are the first up and out, and the super fit cyclists were starting to emerge all bleary-eyed just as we were skipping out the door.

Okay maybe ‘skipping’ wasn’t exactly what we were doing at that point, but we were up and on our way and most of the cyclists looked like they were going to miss their scheduled early breakfast.  We decided a 7.30am start at the Puce would be civilized, seeing how the dealers arrive at about 7am and we had learned from previous experience that a great deal of coffee drinking, cigarette smoking, arguing and making up, and general wandering about socialising is what goes on for the first half hour of this market.

They call it a Puce rather than the more upmarket term of Brocante, but I think this is just an affectation because there is no way this is a junky flea market.  There are some serious dealers there, with serious stock that has serious prices.  But if you navigate your way (carefully!) between them you can find the more realistic dealers with prices you are prepared to pay.  And just as the sky started to develop its first blush of pink and the last of the mists were rising from the river, we made our first purchase. 

And with that, as with our last visit here, we started a stampede of punters.  Last time we attended this Puce we milled about with all the other buyers at the top of the ramp leading to the riverbank, unsure of whether we were allowed to go down and mix it with the dealers while they were setting up (and drinking coffee, smoking fags, arguing, mwah-mwah kissing to make up, dashing off to buy forgotten baguettes, etc, etc).  On that occasion I spotted something I wanted to get my hands on before anyone else - a fabulous big red enamelled bread bin - so I decided to risk breaching protocol to pop down to see the dealer to buy it before anyone else could. 

Emboldened by my move, some of the other punters decided that they too would come down the ramp, but most of them (American tourists) continued to mill at the top, unsure what to do.  This is what comes from only travelling with tour guides, I reckon – you lose all sense of independence and the ability to make your own decisions, however dodgy.  But anyway it was fine by me – gave me room to browse unimpeded and buy before my rivals got their act together.  I almost said until my rivals grew some balls, but that would have been mean and I’m a nice gel.

And after chatting with the seller of the bread bin in my pidgin French I learned that indeed punters can come down to the riverbank at any time – the stall holders will take your money whatever the time it is and however chaotic the whole scene appears to be.  So this time, armed that knowledge, I weaved my way through the waiting throng of buyers at the top of the ramp and went to inspect the first of the day’s offerings.

Immediately I found a really good bottle carrier at a very reasonable price, so that was the first buy of the day.  And not counting the dealers trading between themselves it literally was the first buy of the day because all the other punters, watching from the top of the ramp, saw me hand over my money and realised Hey! She’s shopping!  And we’re standing here like Dills! and this set off a great rush of people, some trotting, some walking briskly, down into the Puce to mix it with the dealers.  I didn’t point and laugh, though, because it was only my determination to get my hands on that bread bin before anyone else that stopped me being a Dill myself last time.

Yet again we had to do quite a few laps of the Puce before we were satisfied that everything that was going to come out had come out.  And fortunately, this time the van was nearby so we were able to make several trips to unload my trolley and Doug’s bag and then start again.  When I say “we” I mean mostly Doug, but I did get to lug stuff myself from time to time.  So now we have heaps of good copper, some more Deco electric lamps, a bit more linen (although the price of linen has tripled over the last year in most places so now it’s a real challenge to get at a good price), more cutlery and yet more beautiful jewellery. 

But the things we were most pleased about were three large wooden platters with legs.  We’ve been looking for these for about two years, because the last time we had them Doug decided we had to keep one and I had given dibs to someone for the others, thinking she would buy one, but when she saw them she bought both.  And mid-purchase someone tried to gazump her and make off with one himself, but she very smartly told him to be on his way (without her platters).  He came back later and asked for first option if we ever found another, and it’s taken two years but at last I’ve got what he wants.

After the Puce we started the trek north, at a leisurely pace because I had discovered that the Chateau de Pierrefonds (the Camelot castle in the TV show Merlin) isn’t open on Mondays at this time of year and that was the only day we could venture into Picardy on this trip.  Bugger!  So I shall work it into the schedule for next trip, and we shall see the chateau in the Springtime rather than Autumn.  We consoled ourselves by visiting a small street Fete we unexpectedly found in a tiny village, and came away with some really beautiful kero lamps.

On Monday we visited Serge, who occasionally has cross-roads crosses in stock, and hurrah he had one!  And yes, it is accounted for already because I have a Wait List of 11 people for one of these beauties.  Serge told me (and so had another dealer) that these crosses are getting really hard to source because dealers from South Africa and Brazil have been coming to France to get them because the market for large cross-roads crosses in those countries is very strong.  So now French dealers are having a hard time getting hold of them, let alone poor Australian dealers.  But anyway, we got one and were very grateful.

Continuing to head north, we stopped for a quick picnic lunch of cheese and pate and baguettes at a charming old village called La Bouille, which is on the Seine but quite close to the sea.  We ate our lunch at the quay, watching a dinky little car ferry struggle against very strong currents, but it made good progress and was continually dashing back and forth across the river with lots of customers.  Then we decided to stop nearby for the evening and headed for Honfleur, another charming town, this time on the sea.  It’s one of our favourite towns, and you have to stay right in the middle of the old part of town so you can wander about and enjoy its ambiance. 

Honfleur has a lovely small harbour which is lined by incredibly narrow and incredibly tall old buildings, and has boats moored all around it.  You know you’re very very rich if you’ve got your yacht moored in Honfleur’s harbour.  And so does everyone else.  So the important thing is that you sit on your yacht for as long as possible, so everyone else can see you sitting on it and know that you’re very very rich.  I want to be effluent!  I want to ponce about on a yacht on Honfleur harbour, going nowhere but being seen to be very very rich.  Ah Lotto, wherefore art thou? 

Okay yet again it’s a mega-missive, and I still haven’t gotten around to trying to download photos so it’s a lot of text and no pictures.  Suck it up and learn to concentrate, I say!  Reading is good for you!  I shall make it pretty with pictures when I next have the time to experiment.  So far that’s not been happening.  But soon.

10 October 2011

Buying up Big in England, and Oh La La in France

Boy are we having fun!  On Thursday we headed off to the biggest antiques Fair in the world, held in the north-east of England, and even though it’s the biggest it’s not always the best so you can never be sure what you’ll find. 

The forecast was rain and extremely high winds, and the high winds certainly made their presence felt – very strong gusts sent things everywhere flying and dealers diving to save their stock.  There was lots of damage.  But one dealer told me that after we had left the other big Fair on Tuesday huge winds developed and in one gust a 100 foot long marquee was ripped up and flew off, scattering thousands of pounds of stock and causing general mayhem.  Fortunately no-one was hurt, but lots of damage.

No such drama at Thursday’s Fair, but mini-disasters were happening all over the place.  We had one period of heavy rain for about 15 minutes, so we took that opportunity to dash into a pavilion to visit one of the jewellery sellers we see most trips, and yes I bought up big.  Over the course of the day I bought masses of jewellery, so we shall be well and truly stocked until the next trip.  And that’s before we got to Paris on Saturday (spoiler alert:  Paris buying was fantastic!), so we’re well set for jewellery I’m thinking.

And yet more scales.  Last trip we saw nothing affordable that was worth buying, and this trip we have so many we’re going to have to re-name the shop Scales R Us.  Actually, they are all excellent scales, and some really quite beautiful and rare, so the shop shall be called Really Cool Scales R Us.  I really should have photographed some before we dropped them with the packers, but as usual I forgot.  Oh well, they’ll all arrive soon enough and then they can be viewed in person.

We also have quite a few very high quality glass pieces, and I’m now feeling very happy and relaxed about the glass.  I bought so much glass at one point I started to get concerned about the shop having little but scales and glass on display but then I thought bugger it, fabulous glass always sells well so I should just go for it.  So I did.  And now I have an awful lot of glass and there isn’t a single piece I don’t think warrants front window status, so that’s pretty good going.  Already I’m planning what flowers will go into what vases and how they will be displayed, and it’s going to be fun styling the shop when it all arrives.

And despite all this good buying, which was indeed very good, this is the Fair where we tend to find the more esoteric things.  So now we have another good croquet set (because the set I had in the window has now sold and they’re actually hard to come by so as soon as I found another good quality one I snapped it up).  Plus we have a really cool iron street lamp that we might keep if we can think of somewhere to put it around the house-to-be, but if we decide to offer it for sale it shall go straight to the front window and should attract a lot of attention.  We now also have a particularly battered and weathered Master Not in Command copper ship’s lamp, that is probably the oldest one we’ve had so far, the smallest and certainly the most lived-in.  It’s certainly seen some high seas, there’s no doubt about that. 

Something really unusual was a pair of quite old Foo Dog roof cap tiles.  The provenance is that they were removed from a temple roof in 1972, right in the middle of the Cultural Revolution.  Religious items were often removed and hidden so they weren’t destroyed, often at considerable risk to the people hiding them.  I used to be able to get these tiles from time to time years ago from a supplier who went into China all the time, but I haven’t managed to get any for at least five years so these were good finds.  Poor Doug had so many trips back to the van over the course of the day, but he is such a wriggle bum and it’s good that I can harness his powers of wriggle for good rather than evil.

Then on Friday it was off to Dover to catch a ferry to France.  An uneventful crossing, as usual, and then we hit the road for Paris.  Doug wasn’t impressed at having to negotiate the Paris Périphérique (the ring road around Paris) during peak hour, when the traffic was manic, but he did really well.  And the traffic was manic but also strangely courteous.  With so many vehicles on the road going in all sorts of directions I guess there is no choice but for everyone to be polite or else or it would all just grind to a halt. 

And talking of grinding to a halt, at one point the car in front of us stopped and the guy driving jumped out.  Right in the middle of peak hour on one of the busiest roads in Paris, he dashed over to the side of the road (a 6 lane road, I might add) so he could have a pee.  In his defence, he clearly had been hanging on for a long time – it was a very long pee, right in front of a significant audience waiting in their cars for him to finish and get back into his car so we could all proceed.  Welcome to Paris!

In addition to such edifying sights we also noticed that there was one spot between two of the lanes on the Périphérique where all of the hundreds of motorbikes travelled, and also all the Police cars.  Police sirens in France have such a distinctive sound (re-watch the Bourne Identity if you forget) and they are all dinky little cars that can fit into that little gap between lanes of traffic on busy Parisian roads.  We also saw motorbike taxis, which we had never seen before, and they would certainly get you where you want to be a whole lot faster than a car but with all their ducking and weaving between cars you would be taking your life in your hands.

Our hotel was incredibly convenient for us to visit the markets next morning, so we didn’t have to leap out of bed at some ungodly hour.  And ah, a comfortable mattress at last.  The French do such good mattresses – so much better than the English.  But they also do the world’s suckiest pillows.  A prize to the first hotel in all of France to offer decent pillows.  Thank goodness I know enough to always bring my own pillow, otherwise I’d have difficulty sleeping.  Anyway, I digress.  After dinner in a nearby bistro we settled in for the evening and it took five entire minutes before we saw a bare bosom on the telly, which is unheard of.  On every other trip, no matter what TV station we have turned on, we have been guaranteed to see bare bosoms within a minute or two.  What has happened?  Are the French going all staid and inhibited on us?  Of course that’s not counting men prepared to flash their willies on major Parisian thoroughfares.

We didn’t get to Paris in time for me to see The Bold & The Beautiful in French, which was a pity, but maybe I’ll see it next week.  Oooh, Ridge sounds so much more sexy in French than American.  I remember years ago watching the show in a bar in Portugal, with a bunch of old Portuguese men.  It was just me and the Portuguese bar flies, but I couldn’t understand a single thing that was being said (by either Ridge or the Portuguese codgers).  At least in French I have some hope of keeping up with who’s sleeping with whom. 

This has turned into a long missive, so I shall stop here and talk about the rest of our French merchant adventuring a bit later.

06 October 2011

Shopping & Whinging but Mostly Shopping

You know what I hate?  What I really, really hate? 

I’ll tell you what I hate:  I hate it when you’re at a Fair and you’re looking at things on a stall and there isn’t a price on anything.  Generally, if you can’t be bothered putting a price on your stuff, I can’t be bothered asking.  But every now and then you see something that is really quite nice and if it’s the right price you will buy it, so you’re obliged to ask.  And then the dealer looks you and up and down and decides on the price there and then, based on what they reckon they can extract from you.  I really, really hate that.  We’ve even had a woman say Oh, let me think of a number when we asked her the price of one of her pieces.  And that number was really big, even for me who dresses like an impoverished bag lady when doing the Fairs.  How much would she have nominated for a punter who looked all coiffured and nicely presented? 

So okay, that might sound like a pet hate unique to someone who shops at the big English antiques Fairs and encounters this type of behaviour, but no-one likes it when someone tries to rip them off.  And so blatantly.  And then these dealers sit around moaning about what a bad day they’re having and how no-one is buying anything.  It’s because we’re not total Idiots who majored in Idiocy at the Idiots Acadamy based in Idiotsville that we’re not buying from them.

And yet, notwithstanding my whinging (I’m becoming an honorary Englander!) today’s Fair was probably the best buying we’ve done at any Fair ever.  We made our first major purchase – a really nice large French metal & wire garden table – within 10 seconds of entering the Fair, and it was all good from then on.  We even ran out of money and had to run off and get more, which is unprecedented because we take scads of cash with us and it’s usually more than enough.  Doug has even stopped nagging me that I need to buy more stuff, which is also unprecedented.  We bought a very large amount of fabuloso Art Deco glass and really lovely ceramics from the late Victorian era to about the 1930s, and we bought so well that our customers are going to swoon with excitement when they see our prices.  I fell down dead myself at some of the bargains I was getting.  So we came away very Happy Vegemites indeed.

Some of the more unusual purchases were a number of Ming Dynasty pot shards (c1590) that have been made into pendants.  They were excavated from the archaeological dig of a large kiln site in central China, along the Yangtze River.  Broken pots were tossed into ditches back in the day (seeing how they didn’t have rubbish collections in rural China in the 1500s) and it’s these ditches that are now being excavated.  I asked the dealer to be a little more specific about the location because the Yangtze River is the third longest in the world and “somewhere along the Yangtze” covers a pretty big area, but like all dealers he jealously guarded his precise source, so central China was the best I was going to get. 

And you never know, I might have decided to quickly learn Mandarin and then go trekking the entire length of the Yangtze River to find a restricted-entry archaeological site, and then bribe the guards to let me in (because my language training would naturally have included all the necessary espionage and bribery phrases), and then negotiate with the site administrators to purchase the shards I want and convince them that even though I only want about 20 I’m still totally worth dealing with, and then clip them into shape and band them with silver-plated metal myself.  It’s possible.  I’m sure I’ve done stranger things.  Anyway, no matter how unlikely it was that I would take the necessary action to gazump this dealer and go directly to his source myself, I do understand about protecting supply sources.  It’s just in my case it’s entirely sensible and in his case it was silly.

Meanwhile, back at the Fair, to make the day even better the Red Arrows spent most of the day doing the most spectacular aerobatics directly over us.  I think they belong to the RAF, and they are a synchronized flying stunt team.  They were fantastic, and from time to time all activity stopped at the Fair as everyone just stood and watched what they were doing, with all their loop-de-loops and close formation zig-zaggy routines.  At times they seemed perilously close to the ground so if they were going to have a horrible crash they would also have taken out most of the Fair.  But away, they did well and didn’t crash and dead impressed everyone.

We’ve just finished a mega pack day, so now we’re regrouping so we can head off tomorrow to attend the biggest antiques Fair in the world.  After the Fair we’re heading down to Dover so we can catch a ferry to France on Friday so another big day is ahead.

03 October 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (seriously, please put your clothes back on)

The good thing about nice warm weather in England is that it’s nice and warm.  The bad thing about nice warm weather in England is that every second person seems to feel the urge to take most of their clothes off.  Goodness me, we have seen sights these last few days we did not need to see.  Big fat pot bellies are not enhanced by turning bright red, let me tell you that right now.  I know we have no grounds to mock other peoples’ bodies, but hey we kept our kit on and did not inflict a big fat (bright red) pot belly or an incredibly huge, heaving, wobbling, life-of-its-own (bright red) bosom on anyone else.  We’re beginning to hope it turns horribly cold and necessitates lots of coats and scarves.  Lots of coats and scarves.  Yessiree, feel free to just pile on those clothes, people.

So anyway, off we traipsed to the west Midlands to go to a Fair and a couple of antiques centres.  What a disappointment!  Boring and over-priced when it wasn’t reproduction.  I mentioned to one centre manager that there was a huge amount of (undeclared) reproduction throughout the centre, and she came up with some pathetic excuse, saying that if the dealers can’t get sufficient real stock they have no choice but to get in reproduction.  They live in England – the place is crammed with real antique and vintage stock.  Yes you have to hunt to find particularly good things at particularly good prices, but it’s totally possible.  And there is no excuse at all to pretend that reproduction items are real - isn't that what normal people call LYING???  And what is this insane philosophy about putting prices massively up during tough financial times?  What am I not getting?  So anyway, suffice to say that we did not buy very much at either the Fair or the antiques centres. 

On the up side as far as stock goes, I did find a very beautiful large German ceramic jardiniere that looks just like Australian Melrose pottery, and I envisaged potting it up with some orchids and putting it in the front window of the shop.  On the down side as far as stock goes, I was better able to envisage it potted up with some orchids at my house, so it’s probably going to stay home.  As far as stock that I am prepared to sell goes, the buy of the day was a beautiful Wedgwood gurgling fish jug (also called a glug jug).  I’ve been looking for a nice glug jug for ages, but usually their fishy features aren’t very crisply moulded and they are a really boring brown, so finding a very crisply detailed green majolica glug jug was a great find.  So something good came of the trip West.

Then it was off to Nottingham, where we will be based for the next week.  Sherwood Forest is a fraction of its former self, but still lovely for a quick walk through.  On Sunday mornings in Nottingham all the churches (and there are many) ring their bells at the same time and it sounds really lovely.  Too bad if you want a Sunday sleep-in, but our plan was to go shopping in any case.  First we saw the end of Wales annihilating Fiji in the Rugby World Cup, and the start of Ireland doing in Italy.  We’re not really into rugby union, but there’s no escaping it here at the moment and some of the matches are turning out to be quite exciting.

Then off to a few centres we usually frequent when we’re in this area and a new one that has only just opened, plus a little Fair that we came across unexpectedly.  All up, it was pretty good.  Nice books, really good jewellery, more interesting cutlery, and some nice Victorian ceramics.  I don’t buy a lot of Victoriana as a general rule, but some of the ceramics are lovely so I was particularly looking out for some.  I’m keeping a small plate for my own collection, but in the shop I’ll be offering a really nice cake plate that features Bluebirds.  I don’t know if blue birds meant anything in Victorian symbolism, where every single flower had a secret meaning, but many indigenous cultures around the world feature a Bluebird of Happiness in their mythologies.  In that context blue birds usually symbolise happiness, prosperity and good health, so it’s all very positive.  See, whoever said a degree in Anthropology wouldn’t come in useful?

Now we have a lot, lot, lot of packing to do before we regroup and then hit the next big Fair on Tuesday. 

01 October 2011

Hot and Tired but Triumphant

We had a quiet day on Wednesday, with a little bit of shopping and a whole lot of packing.  The centre we often visit in the Midlands provided slim pickings this time.  Every trip is different, but this time there was a great deal of reproduction and the real things were often very over-priced.  We found some bits and bobs to buy, but not many.  I remember that last trip I overheard some dealers talking about their way to deal with tough financial times was to put their prices up a lot, so you didn’t make as many sales but when you did they were really good.  This seemed to be an extraordinary tactic to us, but indeed it appears to have been embraced by most sellers in the centre.  From 160 dealers we bought just 12 items.  Sorry expensive dealers, but I still want bargains.  Fortunately, the big Fairs are just a few days off and I should be well-satisfied then.

As we’ve been driving around the countryside we’ve again noticed the Brits’ proclivity to add apparently extraneous letters to the names of their towns.  I mean if you’re not going to pronounce all the letters, why include them?  So Wymondham is actually pronounced Windam, Towcester is Toaster, Worcester is Wooster, Mousehole is Mauzil, and so on.  This must make it hard for people learning English, let alone blow-ins from Australia who are supposed to already speak the language.  Or Convicts, as we’re often called. 

New Zealanders are Kiwis and we’re Convicts, apparently.  Or Colonials.  And yet I heard on the radio the other day that one in five English people are trying right now to migrate to Australia or actively thinking about it.  So even though they often still try to denigrate us with smartarse names, they still want to join us.  I remember some years ago when I was Vice Consul in the Australian Consulate in the UK I refused a visa to a man with a considerable criminal record.  He got very sneery with me and said But you used to take convicts.  Ah, if only you had applied 200 years ago, I said.  He didn’t appreciate my humour, but I enjoyed my own joke.

The weather continues to be glorious, with blue, blue skies and not a cloud in sight.  Temperatures are consistently 10 degrees above average for this time of year and as a result a lot of plants are again flowering, so there is the odd sight of spring flowers with autumn leaves.  Looks good, though I’m not sure how good it is for the plants.

I was watching the BBC this morning and learned that the castle that features as Camelot in the TV show Merlin is a real castle.  I thought it was computer-generated because it looks too fairy-tale, but it’s real and it’s called Chateau de Pierrefonds and is in Picardy in the north of France.  And we shall be in the north of France in about a week, so we might go looking for it.  Apparently visitors are allowed to wander about even when they’re filming the show so I could end up doing better than last trip, when I was filmed in the background of Bargain Hunt seven times, and this time I could end up being Witch Number 3 in the background in Merlin.

So now it’s Friday and today was the first of the big northern Fairs.  Ah, happy days.  It took seven hours to get around the Fair, and our feet are worn down to the knees.  It was dang hot, and now I’m sunburned as well as really tired.  If you ever want to get over an addiction to Retail Therapy, this is the job for you.  I was having fun, but was still ready to stop shopping.  As usual we paid extra for ‘trade entry’ at 7am, but you sure could tell when the punters were let in at 10am because suddenly there was hardly room to move.  I got lots of things I set out to find, so now we have some particularly lovely enamelware, good Art Deco glass, a couple of beautiful ceramic owls and pickle jars are well and truly back under control.  There’s no way I will run out of pickle jars this time.  Jewellery is off to a roaring start, yay!  And yet another Murano end-of-day fish, but this time much bigger than usual and mostly a lovely deep red.  I now have a particularly big school of fish coming back.  What’s the term for a particularly big school of fish?  I think it’s just a particularly big school of fish. 

Prices this time were mostly very reasonable, so there were plenty of bargains to be had and that means my own prices can reflect that, which is good news for everyone.  After the Fair we drove a few hours west to position ourselves for the next Fair, which is small in comparison with the mega Fairs but held in a lovely Stately Home in the west Midlands.  I’m not expecting as many bargain buys as today, but you never know.  Well I do know, really, and there won’t be as many bargains, but we’re going anyway.

When I'm not so tired I shall experiment with downloading some photos of stuff, but right now I'm only capable of sitting back and watching telly and eating Chinese takeaway.  What a glamorous life we lead!