26 January 2012

Australia Days I Have Known (and Other Reminiscences)

Happy Australia Day!  And in celebration we’ve gone all Green and Gold in the shop’s window.  Not my favourite colour combination, I must say, but they’re the official colours so there you go.  Fortunately I still have sufficient green and amber glass to make a good display, plus some green and yellow French enamelware, a nice large French bottle carrier, ceramics, tins, good jewellery, etc – a good cross-section of items in the right colours.

It was also our wedding anniversary this week, and on this day 24 years ago we were zipping about Sydney Harbour – along with every other yacht on the planet – because it was the Australian Bicentennial celebrations in 1988 as well as our wedding.  We told people that getting married was our Bicentennial Project (whatever that meant) and people believed us without asking for details, which was just as well because we made it up.  Our honeymoon was my first ever visit to the UK, and while there we went to Whitby and bought an antique ceramic gravy boat which we told people was Captain Cook’s personal gravy boat – seeing how he came from Whitby our theory was that it must have been his – and people believed that too.  Aren't people fun?

Boy have times changed since my first foray into buying antiques.  Back then I had zero experience but a lot of opinions.  I reliably informed Doug that there was no point in looking in antiques shops in the UK because with a gazillion people living there, all the good things would have been long since bought.  So I refused to look in antiques shops all the way from Lands End in Cornwall (as south as you can get) to Tongue in Scotland (as north as you can get).  Finally, though, we were driving through some back-of-beyond village in Scotland and Doug pointed out yet another antiques shop so I said Stop the car!  Stop the car, get out of the car, and come with me while I prove what I say is true.  So off we went into this higgledy-piggledy shop, with stuff piled haphazardly everywhere over several storeys, and boy was I wrong!  It was fantastic!  We bought heaps of stuff, which was a problem because we only had small bags on that trip and no idea about how to properly ship things other than via the post, which even then was hideously expensive for big things.  Ever since then we have tried desperately to remember the name of that little Scottish village, but to no avail.  I think it might have been Brigadoon, because after our visit it appeared to disappear off all maps.

But while I’m being all confessional about making classic know-nothing-beginner mistakes, here’s another confession – I walked straight past the jewellery cabinets in that fabulous little Scottish shop, without a second glance.  How dumb was that???   The prices in that shop were so amazingly good I would surely have picked up some lovely pieces that were affordable, but hey I was still a beginner back then.  Plus I was too distracted by my hunt to dig out various bits of the same set of beautiful blue and white Scottish china that was scattered throughout the shop in all sorts of hidden corners, and you know we still have that china today and use it almost every day. 

I do enjoy having a good dig around such messy, everything-precariously-balanced shops, but I’m afraid I just can’t bring myself to have the same set up in my own shop.  I don’t like our shelves to be over-stocked, and I like things to be nicely displayed.  Although from time to time I do let the very bottom shelves get messy and haphazard so people have to get on their hands and knees and have a bit of a dig around, and they seem to enjoy that.  But that’s my only concession to messy – in the shop, at least.  Home is mayhem.

19 January 2012

Rude and Ruder

This week I’m having a whinge.  Rant begins:

Much to our amazement, people continue to ask outright how much Calypso cost.  I think it is extraordinarily rude but there is no shortage of people who really press to know how much she cost.  Most people realize they should pull their heads in when I reply that I don’t discuss my finances with people, but there is a sizeable minority who really push to know exactly how much she cost.

But there’s no point just complaining about rude people, so I’ve decided to take it back to them.  To this end, Doug came up with an excellent response to anyone who persists in being so rude.  I shall now reply First tell me, how much were your hideous shoes? We cacked ourselves laughing at this possible response, and I swear I'm going to use it. And you know, this has all sorts of possibilities, depending on how the person presents.  I could say How much was that hideous toupee?, or How much was that hideous rag you’re wearing? Or How much did it cost you to get that hideous beer belly?   'Hideous' is the essential word in all of these encounters, and for the rest I shall have to wing it.   All come-back suggestions will be considered, so suggest away, you’ve got my email address.  I don’t see why the onus should be on me to be the polite one, when I have tried to gently deflect the rudeness of others, so if they continue it shall be Game On.  Could have a bit of fun with this.

I’m afraid I don’t subscribe at all to the The Customer Is Always Right doctrine.  Who made up that rule?  Rude customers, that’s who.  My Shop, My Rules is what we work to.  And my rules include that people will be polite to me, and in turn I will be polite to people.  Those wot think they can come in and behave in a way that would earn them a smacked bum if they were a child get short-shrift here.  Mind you, I have only physically thrown one gobsmackingly rude old bat out of the shop – literally had my arm around her shoulders and escorted her to the door – and doing this only once in three and a half years just serves to demonstrate how remarkably tolerant I have become in my old age.

And what is it with people who just walk out of the shop without even saying Goodbye?  Even if it’s just me and them in the shop and we’ve had a little chat, many people just turn and walk out without another word.  How rude is that?  Manners, people!  I quite fancy enforcing the French practice, which is particularly seen in the more upmarket parts of Paris, where the customer has to be the one who initiates a greeting upon entering a shop.  If the customer fails in this most basic of courtesies then either they won’t be served or the shop keeper will at least ignore them for as long as possible – and the French are tres very good at ignoring customers when they have a mind to.  And then the customer has to be the one who initiates the farewell, because that’s just polite.

I know I’m harping on like a graduate from the Miss Manners Academy For Polite Gels this week, but how much does it hurt to be courteous?  If you can’t break your face and crack a smile or even go the whole hog and be downright friendly, the least people around you should be able to expect is courtesy.  So ends the rant.  But smarten up your act before you step foot in my shop, people!  Only nice people allowed.

Meanwhile, we continue to bring new things into the shop every single day and it’s going well.  This week we have brought in almost the last of the French enamelware – can’t believe we’ve gotten through so much already – and we’re now down to one box left of Deco glass.  But more copper pans are to come, more lamps are awaiting rewiring, more pictures (which is just as well because we’re selling heaps of the old French magazine covers, illustrations and advertisements), and some more interesting metalware such as those fabuloso fire tools that I took so long to source.  All coming out over the next few weeks.

A friend alerted us to an Antiques Fair being held in Noosa last weekend which we hadn’t heard about, so on Sunday morning we went for a quick squizz before we went into the shop.  Most of the dealers there were complaining pretty loudly about the lack of buyers the previous day, but it didn’t take long to identify a few problems – fully one third of stock on display there appeared to be undeclared reproductions, and the prices of the ‘real’ things were as a general rule gobsmackingly expensive.  We saw a glass vase with frog similar to one we have in the shop for $82 that was priced at $165!  At an Antiques Fair!  Get out!  You can see why we actually have to traipse off to Europe to buy large quantities of high quality pieces at realistic prices, because you just can’t get enough things here at remotely affordable prices.  Luckily, we really like traipsing off to Europe twice a year.

And as for the reproduction stuff at the Fair, it was easy enough for us, as dealers, to spot most of it.  But some of it was such low quality and often there were multiple examples of exactly the same thing (always a sign of probable reproduction) that even a beginner with their wits about them should have been able to tell.  As I said while chatting with one stall holder (who did have real things), when I go to an antiques fair I like to see antiques, not pretendy antiques with people trying to fool me.  She said something about it was good to have those sellers there because they helped make the Fair look bigger, and they offered things at lower prices so people could find things they could afford.  But as I said, if people think they’re buying actual antique or vintage items, when in fact they’re buying something that was made last week, that’s not honest.  Not much she could say to that.  It’s not unique to Australia – I’ve had similar conversations about large amounts of undeclared reproduction items with Antiques Centre Managers in the UK as well, but it’s always disappointing when you encounter it.  Gives the industry a bad name, I reckon.

12 January 2012

Hot and Hotter

Boy has it been hot here.  Really oppressive.  And yet do you see people (mostly men) in public parks during their lunch hour taking off all their clothes except for their socks and jocks?  No you do not.  Do you see men running about with hankies on their heads with little knots in the corners?  No you do not.  Yay for semi-nakedness and bad head-gear being restricted to the beach in Australia!  In England almost the entire population would be unclothed in the streets and lobster in colour by now.

Mind you, we did encounter a man with an extraordinarily big belly and wobbly buttocks wearing an extraordinarily small yellow g-string swimsuit on the beach at Noosa.  Boy did he cause a reaction.  You could actually see a Mexican wave of people’s heads turning as he moved through the crowd walking down to the water.  We were absolutely certain there were cameras hidden somewhere for some sort of hidden camera show, but no.  He was just a dude entirely comfortable in his own skin.  It was a pity he felt the need to share so much of it with the rest of us, though.  That’s an image in my brain forever now, thanks fella.  Mostly, though, walking along the beach in the mornings is good for your soul and in keeping with my New Year’s Resolutions.

Meanwhile, things are going great guns in the shop.  We have spent the last few days getting the first of the big wooden platters and bowls ready for display – though that’s been a leisurely exercise because it’s been done in-between lounging around because it’s been too hot to do much except lounge around.  Thursdays are always Restyle the Window Day, though, and today we’ve gone with a mostly Asian theme.  On the last buying trip I purchased three really big wooden communal rice bowls, and they are nice enough and unusual enough to warrant going straight to the front window.  The lady I bought them from sourced them from northern Thailand, and they date from the mid 1800s so they’re pretty old and they look all glowing and aged and used.  But I really like nice old wooden things, so I bought three that are quite different from each other (because each family made their own, according to their taste and needs) and we’ll see how they go. 

I’ve also got a big French Art Deco chrome lamp shaped like a sailing yacht which has just come back from the electrician after being rewired for Australia, so the window has gone all Asian and ocean-oriented.  Along with the big wooden rice bowls and Deco sailing yacht lamp I’ve also featured some Japanese glass fishing floats, a really lovely brass-topped folding coffee table with a Chinese influence and some Qing Dynasty ginger jars.  I think that Asian and French pieces can complement each other well, so I’ve popped a few pieces of nice French glass and ceramics with a chinoiserie design in the window as well.  Looks completely different from last week.

I was showing a friend some photos from one of our buying trips, and there was a picture of the big castle at Vitre.  There isn’t any buying of note for us in that town, but it’s often a convenient location to stop on a drive south, and we’ve had one of the best stek frites ever in one of its bistros.  The castle is also worth looking through and it looks very much like the one in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so of course I was obliged to stand on its battlements and shriek I Fart in your General Direction, and Your father likes Elderberries and Your Mother Wears Army Boots to passers-by at the bottom of the walls.  And do you know, not one person looked up.  No-one even batted an eyelid.  As I said to Doug, I don’t think I was the first person to do that on these castle walls.

Meanwhile, Mischka was in the chair today, and what a lovely, schmoozy pussycat she is.  Not for the first time she helped a shy little girl overcome her fear of cats by laying very still and being all snugly cuddly when the little girl was finally coaxed by her mother to have a very quick stroke.  And after a few minutes the little girl was telling her mother to move her hand out of the way so she could have more strokes.  My own furry little therapist earned her cat food today.

05 January 2012

The best laid Resolutions

Okay so last week my New Year’s Resolution was to have a life less busy and more funnerer.

But that’s so last week.  The best laid Resolutions of me were totally thwarted by being absolutely hammered in the shop.  Boy have we been busy!  Things have been flying off the shelves, and we’ve been hard pressed to keep up.  On Wednesday Doug had to quickly bring in three more boxes of things for me to unpack mid-morning so we could restock the by-then embarrassingly bare shelves.  It’s not sustainable for things to keep up at this pace, because we will run out of stock well before our next trip in March, let alone by the time the next consignment arrives in June.  I shan’t complain if that happens, but it will present a problem.

Meanwhile, we’re working on bringing out new things every day.  There will be a nice selection of French copper frying pans and saucepans on the wall by the weekend, and I will be working hard to get the giant Thai wooden bowls out by next week, as well as a nice brass-topped Egyptian Revival coffee table.

For the window this week we decided on a riot of colour, and I must say it looks quite striking.  I think my favourite piece is a Wedgwood Chinese Dragon jug.  It has a lovely mid-green glaze and amazing detail.  Thar be dragons at the bottom of our driveway at home (albeit water dragons) and they’re beautiful animals.  It’s interesting to see how the Chinese versions look so different from the English depictions.  But that’s just one of a number of lovely things in the window this week.  There is also a number of vividly coloured French enamel kitchen storage containers, and it’s always good when we pick up these pieces on our travels because you just can’t get these enamel colours in Australia. 

On the pictures front, we’ve sold 29 images in 3 days.  That meant we had to dash home and do a whole lot more framing, but we sourced some lovely French magazine covers, illustrations and advertisements on our last trip, so we’re sitting well on the pictures front.

So all in all, we’re back to looking very Frenchified in the shop at the moment.  It won’t last, and after every trip we look less and less French as all the noice, interesting, unusual things are carted off, until we need to run off and get more.  But meanwhile, viva la France!  We’ve started preliminary planning for the March trip, because it will be here before we know it, and Doug is very keen on a side trip to Amsterdam this time, so I’m seeing if I can work that in.  And if we’re going there we might as well drop in on Brugges on the way down to France, and the old part of that city is very beautiful and has good shopping (not to mention fabo Belgian chocolate that is a Must Buy – in fact I don’t think you’re allowed to leave the country unless you can prove you have bought at least a kilo of chocolate.  That’s what I tell Doug, anyway).  It means no south of France for the March trip, which was what I was originally considering, but I have in mind it will be a nice birthday treat for me during the September trip, so I’m fine with north instead of south for the coming trip.

Meanwhile we’re dealing with the stock bought on the last trip.  Tomorrow I shall bring in a large French wine bottle carrier, a bit more French enamel, a good combination stool and step ladder  (although someone has already asked for first option on that), some bitching giant French butcher’s hooks, and the second last lot of jewellery.  I distinctly remember buying jewellery in England, but it appears I went insanely shopaholic in Paris because boy did I buy a whole lot there.  But clearly I shopped until I fell down dead because I have no memory of buying quite so much, and I’m not just saying that because Doug might be reading this.  But what the heck, we sell heaps of jewellery so too much is not enough I say.

Calypso continues to cause a stir whenever she appears in public, and Kim (her breeder) reported that she sold 3 kittens in the last week as a direct result of people seeing and playing with Calypso.  She is a lovely gel, but I swear I really am going to have that sign made to hang around her neck, just as soon as her little neck is big enough that a giant sign won't smother her.

So no, I haven’t been less busy and no, I haven’t started work on the website (although I will be contacting the graphic designer next week to talk about the branding I have in mind for Chequered Past, which will be the name of our eShop, the sister shop to real-life shop Continuum).  But I have contacted the builder and authorised getting the engineering specifications done for the rest of our house.  So hey, not even one week into 2012 and I have made progress on 1 out of 3 New Year’s Resolutions.  And really it’s 1.5 out of 3, technically, because I have at least found the graphic designer’s details and put her on my To Do List.

Next week I will have more funnerer things to report, I’m hope.  The shop is fun, and we must be among the slacker business owners in Eumundi, working 25 hours a week, holding a mini coffee club every week with visitors who linger for a chat, and sodding off to Europe twice a year.  But we do have set hours we are open, and that means getting up and going to work even on the days when I would prefer to go and have breakfast at the Noosa Surf Club, followed by a stroll along the beach.  And I feel like that most days, but do I go and eat Eggs Benedict and get some sand between my toes whenever I feel like it?  No I don’t.  That’s dedication, people.  It’s the next thing to being a Wage Slave, I swear.  Okay I’m lying about that, but anyway it’s work of a kind.