23 February 2012

Snakes & Moggies (and a few Antiques)

Some things are funny unless they happen to you.  Doug has been saying for ages how he planned to put a segment of snake skin into cars that are illegally parked in our shop car park (despite No Parking By Youse Lot signs telling them not to).  Many people around here leave their car windows slightly open, and oh how we laughed as we imagined their reaction to finding a snake skin draped across their steering wheel.  But karma’s a bitch, isn’t it, and it’s a whole lot less amusing when the snake actually leaves the skin itself rather than via Doug being a ratbag.

Our car is always shut up tight, with no windows open at all when we’re not in it, and yet we found a 1.5m snake skin across the back parcel shelf.  And seeing how the car is a two-seater, the back parcel shelf isn’t far from our heads.  We pulled the car apart as much as we were able to, but it appeared to have used it as a quiet spot to shed its skin and then moved on.  That’s what we hope.  The last time we had snakes in the car it was a couple of tree snakes in the glovebox, who tried to come out through the bottom of the dashboard as we were driving along a highway that had no hard shoulder so we couldn’t pull over for a few kilometres.  What a jolly trip that was.  But we removed the snakes and put them in a tree and it was all good until the next week, when I found another tree snake curled up in the engine compartment.  Now the snakes taking up residence in our car are starting to get real big, but what can you do but try to ensure they’re not physically there when you get in, and then chill?

Things have been quiet in the shop this week, except that the French pastry table we put in the window last week caused an enormous reaction and sold within two hours of being on display.  Quite a number of people admired it, and several people who did not notice the Sold sticker came in especially to buy it.  It was the piece of furniture that has caused the biggest reaction in a long time.  I’m so looking for something similar during the coming trip.  Unfortunately, the semi-industrial look is also very popular in England and France so these pieces are hard to find and don’t come cheaply, but I shall stop sucking my teeth over the prices in future and just buy them because they always sell.  I’m so fixated on getting utter bargains that sometimes I hesitate over fabuloso things at good but not excellent prices, but I shall try to stop.  When I find a gobsmackingly good Art Deco piece I never hesitate, so it’s not as if I’m not prepared to spend money when necessary.  I mean, I spend money for a living so I’m sure I can steel myself to fork out the necessary dosh for the semi-industrial stuff as well as the Deco stuff.  This will have to be my special attitude-adjustment project for myself.

This week we’ve brought out our other pastry table.  This one has been in storage and hasn’t seen the light of day since we brought it into Australia in 1997.  So it’s taken a while, but eventually its time came and now this piece is taking pride of place in the window.  It’s Baltic pine, dates to about 1930 and came out of an old patisserie in Provence.  It’s lovely and more traditional looking than the pastry table of last week, but I’d be one very happy Vegemite if I could find examples of both types again during the coming buying trip.

On the moggie front, we showed them the python skin from our car and it caused a commotion.  I can’t describe the smell of snake skin other than to say it’s unpleasant and quite distinctive but the cats loved it and were sniffing so deeply they were practically inhaling it.  Eau de la Reptile was a big hit.  I’ve stored the skin in a plastic box, to be brought out for a little treat every now and then – although Calypso in particular has attacked the box with great gusto, trying to break in so she can enjoy it when she choses, rather than when I chose.  But so far I’m still able to outwit a kitten.  So far.  I clipped her scimitars this week, and what a relief it is to not be mauled through the bed sheet any more.  But while she’s no longer drawing blood, it hasn’t stopped her launching her ninja attacks on Klaatu, where she pretends to walk past him but then throws herself sideways and knocks him flat.  He’s awake to this tactic but loves it and it always results in a huge wrestling match or a game that we call Bop You - No, Bop You, where the participants lay on the floor facing each other and take it in turns to wildly flail at the other’s head.  The first one to jump up and run off – with the other in hot pursuit – is the loser.

The entire gang continue to be much admired and photographed when it’s their turn in the shop.  On Wednesday Calypso spent a great deal of time madly playing with a toy made for her by my friend Fran, and she dashed about the shop like an idiot - the cat, not Fran. Well, Fran did a bit.  She was admired so much and photographed so many times that a money-making idea started to formulate in my brain:  what if I put a large cage in the shop window and advertise that for a fee you can get in with a Bengal?  I’m often asked if she bites, and if I say only if you move that would actually encourage some people.  You might recall that I paid good money to get in a meerkat enclosure (and get bitten) and to feed giraffes (when Doug got bitten), so why wouldn’t some crazies pay to get in a cage with a Bengal?  And then another fee to be allowed out goes without saying.  This might work a bit better when she weighs more than 3.5kg, but it’s an idea I shall keep in the back of my brain for when she gets to a more suitable might-drag-you-off-by-the-neck size.

16 February 2012

Getting Stuff Done

So that was Valentine’s Day, and wasn’t it nice?  Aw, shucks, it was downright sweet at my house.  Douglas secretly booked us into a nearby little French restaurant that had a visiting 2 Star Michelin Chef, and boy it was a fabulous meal.  We’ve eaten plenty of meals in Paris and broader France, and this was better than many we’ve had there.  And then we found out that the chef is going to be a permanent fixture from March, so hurrah! we’ll be able to have very decent French food fixes between our trips.  My only complaint was that the chairs were metal and looked all suitably Frenchified, but it was a case of form over function because dang they were uncomfortable.  Even with a nice little cushion for your bottom, they were still uncomfortable. 

Francoise, the charming restaurant proprietor, wants us to get her some tiny vintage copper saucepans for a particular dessert she wants to offer, but all I can do is promise to look.  She will only use vintage copper, as will all decent chefs, but getting her ten itsy-bitsy vintage saucepans is much easier promised than delivered.  Chefs in France also favour vintage copper, so getting hold of good pieces can be quite a competitive exercise.  But we’ll see what we can find, and we’re going to both the major Paris markets this trip so if they are there to be found I will find them.

From last week’s window we sold that nice Parisian metal cafĂ© table, plus the image of the mostly naked girl on a red heart was snapped up (as predicted), plus some other Erte images as well.   Elsewhere in the shop it was mostly jewellery, glass and other French pictures.  I’m about to run out of the spare jewellery – items I haven’t put out yet -  which means from quite soon gaps will start to appear in the jewellery cabinets until I get back in late April and replenish supplies.

This week in the window we put out a very fabulous French pastry table which has the semi-industrial look that I favour, and the top is such a thick slab of beech that I can barely move it even with Doug doing most of the lugging.  Sweet Doug morphed into Pain in the Arse Doug when it came to getting it properly restored and into the shop on schedule, though, because apparently everything can only be done at the very last minute and that drives me nuts.  Is it a just a boy thing that there has to be lots of asking (by me) and lots of complaining (by him) before things get done?  Or am I just the lucky one?  He came to pick me up from the shop at closing time and I told him that it’s already sold and now I need another piece for the window pronto, and he appeared to take it quite calmly.  But oh no, let the drama begin again because what I have in mind for the next window is currently smack bang in the middle of our shambolic storage garage and will take a bit of retrieving and then some serious elbow-grease to get it properly waxed, so he’s not going to be a happy vegemite.  Oh well, it had to come out at some time, so it can be sooner than later. 

Meanwhile, the pastry table can stay in place until at least Sunday, so for a while the window will look all patisserie / kitcheny.  I put a Sell It Now price on it and it was immediately admired by a number of people so I knew it wouldn’t last for long.  We can’t offer better than gobsmacking bargains for really lovely and unusual pieces, and so far that’s been a formula that’s worked for us.  It does make shopping a challenge, because the pressure is on during every trip to find other lovely and unusual pieces at seriously good prices, but that’s the bit we enjoy the most.

On the trip planning front, I’ve now done all the accommodation bookings for England, all that I’m going to do in France (because we tend to mostly wing it outside of Paris because we’re not sure exactly where we’re going to be), Singapore there and back, and the first stay in Istanbul.  If we like the Istanbul hotel on the way out we’ll stay there again on the way home, but if not we’ll find somewhere else once we’ve had a look around.  Now I have to consider where to stay in Brussels and Amsterdam and book a couple of ferry crossings for the English Channel, and then we’re done.  This approach requires a whole lot more organisation than we used to do, when we’d just turn up on the other side of the planet and take it from there, and while that’s of course still possible and in many ways it’s more fun to be more spontaneous, booking in advance is a whole lot cheaper.  And for a business trip we really should be budget conscious so we can spend more on stock, so we’re more fuddy-duddy than free-wheeling these days.  Mind you, if you know that you have to be at certain locations on certain dates (for Fairs or auctions) then you may as well be organised and get the cheaper accommodation. 

We’ve got a fair bit of play time available on this trip, so it should be fun.  We want to visit at least the Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and the Topkapi Palace if we have time (though that will probably be on the return trip).  We have zero interest in the Singapore Markets – once you done them once, let alone several times, then you’ve done them enough. But we haven’t been to Singapore Zoo for many years so that might be the go.  In Paris we have a bit of down time, and it’s been so long since we visited the Louvre that it didn’t have that glass pyramid out the front back then.  OMG that’s a long time ago. 

It’s funny how the memory works, because from the entire Louvre museum the only items I recall are some very beautiful highly polished red granite sphinx that you were allowed to touch, and a fabulous marble statue of a discus thrower right next to the Venus de Milo, and the discus thrower was so much better (to my not-very-educated-in-art eye) and that was by someone no-one had ever heard of.  And apart from the Mona Lisa, the only other painting I recall was some Renaissance picture featuring two women with frocks that entirely showed their bare bosoms (as was the fashion for a little while back then).  Both women are looking directly at the viewer and it would be an ordinary looking image except for the fact that one woman is very firmly pinching the other on a nipple.  What’s that about?   And who painted it?  I’ll just have to go and have another look for myself.  And what does it say about me that this is one of two paintings from the whole museum that I have any memory of?  That was rhetorical, by-the-way, so keep your opinions to yourself about that bit.  It’s not as if it was even an erotic image – it was more a Oh-My-Goodness-Look-At-That image.  But hey, it’s in the Louvre so it must be Art.

09 February 2012

Dealing with Stress

Finally I have gotten around to watching the movie Julie & Julia.   Yes it’s sad, I know the movie was made years ago and clearly I don’t get out much.  In fact, these days most of my movie watching is on the interminably long international flights twice a year so I save up what I want to see and wile away a few hours being entertained on various flights.  That’s one reason why it’s an absolute deal-breaker for us if an airline doesn’t have individual entertainment screens, and believe it or not some airlines still have group screens even these days.  I recall a hideous flight on Finnair from Singapore to Helsinki where we all had to watch the same movie at the same time, and it was Finland! Land of 180,000 Lakes!  Never again. 

But anyway, I digress:  apart from being one long advertisement for Julia Child’s French cookbook (which yes, I now intend to buy) it was really interesting to see her fabulous kitchen stuff.  Boy she had good kitchenalia!  Lovely French copper, beautiful enamel bowls and jugs, a very large and attractive pestle and mortar, all sorts of interesting things.  And apparently after she died her kitchen was dismantled and reassembled in the Smithsonian Museum, and if they’re going to do that for a cook (albeit a very famous one) you’ve got to wonder what else they’ve got there.  So my Note to Self for this week is that when I get around to doing a reconnaissance trip to America, if I end up in Washington I must put the Smithsonian on my list of Play Days.  Or it might be a Play Week all by itself, because under the umbrella term ‘Smithsonian Museum’ there appear to be lots of different museums, depending on the type of thing you want to see. 

Only five and a half weeks until we head off on the next buying trip, but how changeable are things in retail at the moment?  The week before last was our second best week ever (supplanting the week last December which had held the title until now).  But this week was downright ordinary.  Of course.  Just when I pay for the airline tickets and the trip is set in concrete, an avalanche of bills arrive and the selling week is ordinary.  Hey, cosmos!  Deliver!  So now I am stressing about going off on a buying trip with zero funds, which I do around this time every single trip, and Doug is telling me to stop being stressed because it all comes together every single trip, but how do you stop being stressed (however irrationally) when your brain is telling you to be stressed?  Answer me that.  The trouble is that I stress too much and Doug doesn’t stress at all, and on the basis that misery loves company I think he should become more stressed and I should become more relaxed.  But will he share?  No he will not.

This is before I even start the What If I Get There And Can’t Find Anything Decent to Buy? stress, which happens before every single trip but I’ve now learned will go away the second I make the first purchase and get the show on the road.  And then I get back from every single trip and go through the What If No-One Likes My Stuff And I Don’t Sell Anything? stress, which dissipates pretty well on Unpack Night, which is when we start selling stuff.  So why do I stress about these things when I know on the basis of past experience that it will all work out?  Is this natural or am I just trying to create a bit of drama in my life (even though it’s all in my own mind rather than my life per se)?  Could be I’m just a wannabe Drama Queen.  I really need that part as an extra on Merlin so I can channel all this unnecessary stress into something useful.  Or I could just get a grip.  But how boring would that be?  Who wants to be well-balanced and calm and serene and have other Zen-like qualities all the time?  Works for the Dalai Lama, but on balance I think I’ll deal with my drama by selecting the be-on-telly option rather than the be-an-adult-now option, and that way I can continue to wave my arms about and exclaim over poor me and the stress I must endure in my life.

On a more relaxing note, this week Kim and Fran, my friends and reliably fabulous window stylists, and I have gone all Valentine’s Day in the window.  We put out a lovely French metal garden table from the 1950s, which is suitably shabby chic after all these years, and decorated it for a romantic dinner for two.  We selected nice crockery, French linen, English Victorian cranberry wine glasses, English pewter Arts & Crafts era candlesticks, and even some French glass pate pots with tea candles in them (which look surprisingly good – I stole that idea from a customer), and then surrounded the setting with big French enamel ewers with lots of flowers and suitably romantic French pictures.  Plus jewellery, of course – you can’t have Valentine’s Day without jewellery, which every man who values his goolies should know by now.  I have had some romantic devils come in to purchase secret gifts for their loved-ones, and it’s nice to see that such men do still exist.

Finally we got around to getting some framing done, now that the weather isn’t as humid as it has been, so this week we’ve got some really stylish French advertisements on display.  Doug’s favourite is a Gitanes cigarette ad, featuring a crusty French gypsy having a fag, but I like the Cinzano ads better, with their black and white or red and white zebra stripe backgrounds, which sound like they’d be OTT but in fact look really striking.  In the window for Valentine’s Day we put a picture of an almost naked girl on a red heart by Erte, and at $48 she is gobsmackingly cheap (if I say so myself) and stunning so she is sure to sell pronto.

On the moggie front, it is now confirmed that Calypso is the naughtiest kitten we have ever had.  Klaatu and Artemis are very biddable pussycats, while Mischka is utterly relentless when she sets her mind on doing something and is difficult to dissuade, but Calypso takes that to a whole new level.  I’ve started bringing her into the shop twice a week again, because I’ve found that with more one-on-one contact with me her behaviour improves and she is a lot more responsive to doing as I instruct (rather than entirely ignoring me and running off to play with one of her co-conspirators).  She is one furry little ratbag who wants to do whatever she pleases whenever she pleases, and at five months old this is the age to get things under control.

At the moment, for example, she has taken to chewing up any small cords she can find – mobile phone chargers, computer speakers, etc – and then openly playing with the evidence of her wrong-doing.  It also appears to have become the rule that All Toilet Rolls Must Die.  You know that cute Sorbent Puppy advertisement, where the roll is dragged about (but able to be rolled back up)?  Our version is a little different.  The Kittenator wrestles the roll to the ground, then holds it to her chest while she kicks the bejesus out of it, then tears into it with her front claws until the whole thing is nicely shredded, then dashes about like an idiot, skidding and leaping and somersaulting over the carnage until it’s spread about the entire bathroom.  It’s apparently enormous fun, and even if you catch her in the act - mid-destruction, with an ears-back, wild-eyed look – and you loudly ask her what does she think she’s doing, she just looks at you as if you’re stupid because it should be self-evident what she’s doing.  The assassination of all toilet rolls has become her sacred duty, and she is assiduous in getting the job done.  Last night when I caught her red-pawed, after looking at me blankly for a few seconds she seemed to suddenly remember that This-is-a-bad-thing-and-I’m-in-trouble, so belatedly jumped up and ran behind the toilet to escape my wrath.  But then she immediately emerged to “help” with the clean up and I couldn’t help but laugh, which detracted from the whole You’re A Bad Girl attitude I was meant to be showing her.

But what else can you do but laugh?  The stress in my life is that I might be too poor to buy 1000+ lovely things on my next buying trip, and will have to limit myself to 500.  The aggravation in my life is a kitten who loves life and is busy getting on with enjoying herself immensely (and why not, when you’ve got a maid to clean up after you?).  Things aren’t so bad, on balance.  I would appreciate not having to buy so many toilet rolls, though.

02 February 2012

Planning the Next Trip (Already!)

Okay, the 2012 March/April buying trip has now officially gone into the Intensive Planning stage.  The airline tickets for us are bought, the airline tickets for the visiting shop/house/moggie sitters (my parents) are bought, and the dates are set in concrete.  Now I just have to fill in the details.

Because in my old age I am a woozy-girl, I really do insist on having two stop-overs on the way and way back.  We didn’t last trip, and I found the jump from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane to be a killer.  Doug is made of sterner stuff than me, but I get horrible jetlag and why should I when there’s no need?  So this time he’s indulging me and it’s going to be Singapore and Istanbul for our stopovers.  We prefer Hong Kong to Singapore, but these were the flights that panned out the best for us.  We’ve not been to Istanbul before, although we’ve talked about visiting for some time, so it should be a bit of fun. 

Lucky I’ve done some research on shopping in Turkey, though, because it is my intention to buy interesting antiquities whenever I can, and I rather thought I could do that in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  Not the cheapest place in the world to do some shopping, but interesting.  You can buy antiques, but it turns out that it is now illegal to export antiquities from Turkey (even if you’ve paid for them and are not a smuggler) and the penalty is a jail sentence.  And while I don’t doubt that my readership might grow if I took to blogging about my naked knife fights in a Turkish prison and getting all Midnight Express on you (minus the drugs but including some quite pretty ceramic tiles), on balance I do like to skip about as I please and my Blog will just have to be a little bit more boring that it might otherwise be.

This trip will be a bit chaotic because the timing and locations of the big antiques Fairs we want to attend are all over the place, so we’ll be dashing from pillar to post.  But we’ll still have time for a visit to Paris (mais oui), and this time we’ve decided to head north rather than south after that and have a look at Brussels and Amsterdam.  We visited Brugges a few trips ago and that was lovely and the only place in all of Belgium that I like so far.  There was some good buying there, so we’ll see if Brussels is as good.  Amsterdam has some famous markets but we’ll be there mid-week so we’ll see how viable it is to buy from the shops.  If all else fails and I just can’t find anything decent to buy at a decent price we can always visit the Rijksmuseum – and in fact will probably do that anyway even though our taste in paintings tends towards the Impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites rather than the Old Masters.

This trip I am definitely factoring in a visit to Chateau de Pierrefonds in Picardy, which we will go to on the way from Calais to Paris.  On our last trip I really wanted to go there, but because I only discovered that I really wanted to go there mid-trip I hadn’t factored it in as a Play Day, and therefore our only free day while in the region was a Monday and the Chateau is closed on Mondays.  Of course (mais oui).  So this time, with the capacity to work it in during the planning phase, we’ll go on a Thursday.  I want to visit this Chateau because it is the real-life backdrop to the television show Merlin, and I’ve heard that you can visit while they’re filming.  I have been filmed as Browser No. 1 in the background of Bargain Hunt 11 times now, and how much editing can they do? - I must feature in that show eventually.  But I feel my Thespian Career is now ready for the next step, and I aim to be Sorceress No. 3 in the credits of Merlin.  Hey I can be evil! (just ask Doug)  And I already have four moggie familiars – including the obligatory black cat.  And I can give a quite an effective death-ray stare (just ask Doug).  So all in all, I was made for this role, dahling.  You’ll get to read about how it goes – that’s if I’m still talking to you once I’m famous.

Thursday is always Restyle the Window Day, and today friends visited and we got all creative and went blue – very blue.  Lots of blue Deco glass, blue jewellery, blue enamelware, vintage books with blue covers, a fabuloso Royal Doulton Arts & Crafts era ceramic jug and bowl set, and even an American calendar girl with lots of blue in the image.  Yep, very blue.  And yet seeing a big block of colour (albeit different shades) looks really striking. 

I haven’t got a lot of pictures with blue in them or with blue matting at the moment – even though that’s one of the most popular shades for picture matts – and that’s because in January we sold close to 70 images.  That’s a lot, even for us who sell pictures pretty consistently.  So I’d better get a bit more framing done soon, and now the weather isn’t so hot and wet and humid as it’s been in the past few weeks we can again start to handle the paper items safely (unframed pictures can get a bit limp in really humid weather so we just leave them be).

We’ve also sold a lot of lamps over the last week so I urgently need to get the last of them rewired so they can be presented for sale, but in the meantime it will be downright dim in the shop at night.  We picked up a couple of elegant French reading lamps last trip, very similar to one I have on my bedside table right now, but I bought that one 15 years ago and have been looking for another one that I could afford ever since.  Ah the joys of antiques – you’ve got to hunt to find the good things, sometimes for a long time, but that’s fine if you enjoy the thrill of the hunt as we do.  It would be much easier to be able to ring a supplier and order seven more of whatever you need, but how boring would that be?