28 March 2012

It's Good to Shop

Bath is such a lovely town.  I really do like West Berkshire, Somerset and Wiltshire and many of their towns, and this is the part of England where you see the least amount of litter.  When you drive along the motorways and other major roads in much of the country it’s like driving through a tip at times – an absolute disgrace.  Do they not have a Clean Up England Day here?  They desperately need it.  You particularly notice the huge amounts of litter in early Spring, before all the foliage fills out and covers it up, and it’s really awful.  But less so in the south-west counties, where the beautiful countryside is not marred by rubbish along every road.

But anyway, Bath doesn’t suffer from the scourge of the litter-bug and it’s a beautiful town with elegant Georgian buildings everywhere you look.  Not to mention the Roman Baths, which are in amazing condition.  We went there to try out a couple of Fairs we hadn’t visited before.  The weather forecast was for a fine, sunny day so I decided to not wear my coat on the grounds that I would warm up with all my walking about and shopping.  Big mistake!  The morning fog hadn’t yet burned off when we arrived at Bath Racecourse so it was horribly cold, and the first dealers whose wares we inspected were positively delusional about their price expectations, so I was freezing and not shopping.  Douglas kindly offered me his coat, but I elected to suffer in silence.  Well okay not exactly silence, but I did suffer.  After a little while the sun finally made its appearance and I found some dealers who were realistic in their pricing, so in the end my trolley and Doug’s bag were full plus we were both lugging other items. 

Then it was into Bath itself for another Fair, and again mostly the prices were based on the expectation that rich buyers who live in Bath would be coming by, but there were still some good purchases to be made.  We bought a couple of seriously cool 1950s electric lamps, and we’re going to try to bring them back in our hand luggage so we can offer them immediately upon our arrival home.  We don’t have a lot of lamps out in the shop right now, and seeing how we use them to light the place for night-time browsers, it’s important that we get more in asap.  We’ll see how it goes, but back in the hand luggage is the plan at the moment. 

I caught up with a dealer I hadn’t seen for a long time who specialises in antiquities and they are always lovely, and I was very pleased to obtain my first ever Egyptian pieces.  How fabulous they are.  I now have three faience ceramic bead necklaces from the 30th Dynasty, so late in the pharonic era but still about 380BC.  Being a total boy, he had restrung them but not in a way that they can fit over your head!  He said he didn’t expect anyone would actually wear them, given their age and delicacy and rarity, and perhaps he’s right.  And they were originally so short because they went around the necks of mummies, and so were sewn in situ rather than having clasps, so his restringing was true to the original, but still it would be nice to have the option to wear them.  Still, restringing is quite cheap if I elect to go down that path.

It turned out to be such a lovely day we decided to visit a couple of centres down in Somerset and Wiltshire, but that didn’t prove to be particularly fruitful.  On the way back to our hotel we drove past Stonehenge for the eleventy-hundredth time, but we never get tired of seeing this monument.  It’s such a little place – you realise when you see it that every photo you’ve ever seen of it was taken by someone laying on the ground and looking up at it - and yet it’s still dead impressive for a Neolithic site.  And the landscape all around it is dotted with burial barrows, so it’s all very mysterious and has no doubt been a happy hunting ground for archaeologists over many years.

Then it was a pack and relax day, and we ventured down to Marlborough to find a nice pub for lunch.  We found the Lamb Inn, which first opened in 1673 and Douglas noted that it might be time for them to renew their carpet.  They had a nice mutt lounging around, but not as nice as my moggies, who I am missing a lot.

Yesterday it was off to a giant Fair on the outskirts of London.  It starts at 6.30am and thousands of people attend.  Why aren’t all these people at work?  I think before anyone is allowed in they should have to bring a note to explain why they’re play-shopping on a Tuesday morning rather than being off somewhere earning a legitimate living.  When the gates open the crowd surges forward, and it’s kind of fun to be in the middle of a shopping frenzy that isn’t just made up of me.  Having said that, there are some silly people who want to push through the thousands of the rest of us so they can run to every stand and see everything first, first, First!  I am happy to be the Gel In Front at most antiques Fairs, but this is one where you really to have to take into account that there are thousands of other people.  And the silly run-to-and-fro people were just getting on everyone else’s nerves. 

This Fair suffers from being in London in terms of pricing, so let us all sing together De-Lu-Sional, De-Lu-Sional, They-Are-All-De-Lu-Sional.  Well they weren’t all delusional, but mostly they were.  Notwithstanding my determination to spend what it takes to buy good semi-industrial pieces, this new rule has its limits and most of the prices were gag-worthy and based on the expectation that rich dealers from London would be buying.  And they did – all the pieces I admired but didn’t buy that I later took Doug back to see were gone by the time I got back.  I’m not a rich London dealer, damn it.  I did buy some nice French metal milk crates and a really cool metal (and seriously heavy) ship’s wheel with nicely distressed aqua paint, but mostly it was Deco glass for me.  And Deco glass is lovely, so I was still happy.

It was a sunny day and in keeping with the get-your-kit-off ethos that grips the British public in such weather, I saw a couple of gels at the Fair with shorts that were so short that they were practically g-strings.  Hey gels, it wasn’t that warm!  Douglas said I was too harsh in my judgement of other peoples’ choice of clothes (or lack of clothes).  He saw nothing at all odd at the sight of these perky little white buttocks getting their first taste of sunshine for the year.  In the middle of an antiques Fair.  Of course he didn’t.  It was only 19 degrees so in fact they were brave gels because it truly wasn’t short-shorts weather and they must have been suffering from quite chilly bottoms.  And so much for British gallantry – not a single man in sight offered them his coat to keep them warm.

Today we’re going to France, and will spend the night in Calais because we’ve never had a good look around there but only driven past on the way to Paris.  But the old part of town looks interesting, so we’ll go and investigate.  Looking forward to a nice dinner tonight!

24 March 2012

The Ups & Downs of Merchant Adventuring

So who voted that Turkish Airlines is Europe’s No. 1 Airline?  Turkish Airlines executives and their mums is the answer.  Honestly, who these days has an international service that doesn’t have individual entertainment stations?  Turkish Airlines, that’s who.  So if you wanted to watch a movie on the four hour trip from Istanbul to Manchester, your choice was TinTin interspersed every half hour or so with unexpected and very loud Arabic music that played over the dialogue.  Maybe it was controversial dialogue that was being censored?  In TinTin.  But I’ll never know because I stopped watching.  Not to mention that the earphones provided were those tiny ones you stick right in your earholes and they hurt. 

And then when we landed we were obviously going a tad too fast, so the pilot braked using the wheel brakes a lot so we massively fish-tailed with lots of smoke off the wheels, and then he still overshot the exit off the runway and we had to proceed to the next exit.  The meal was the nicest I’ve had on a plane for a very long time, perhaps ever, but a big thumbs down for the rest of the experience.  We’re on Turkish Airlines for the return trip to Istanbul, but I will need a lot of persuading to book with them again for future trips.

Douglas is far more tolerant than me of travelling trials and tribulations, but hey when you pay thousands of dollars for airfare I expect decent service, and that includes the entertainment I select and not dying a horrible fiery death upon arrival.

But anyway, we arrived alive and the benefits of coming through Manchester Airport rather than Heathrow were yet again reinforced by virtue of the fact that we were in our hotel within an hour of landing.  At Heathrow you’d still be waiting in the Immigration line an hour after landing, and then you have to pay a fortune to taxi drivers to go a short distance (because it’s them or the bus and they know it).  We did spit the dummy once and caught the bus rather than pay a taxi driver 50 pounds (pounds!) to go 16 kilometres, but with all our travelling kit it is dang inconvenient on the bus.  It’s all much easier and way cheaper coming through Manchester Airport.

We hit the ground running on Day One, and were well pleased with our efforts.  We headed off to a big centre in Lancashire which I really object to having to pay to get into – I might start charging to get into my shop! – but notwithstanding my grumbling it’s worth going there.  We ended the day with lovely Art Deco and 1960s glass, a couple of fabulous and enormous Chinoiserie tins – big enough to be cookie jars, very nice ceramics (including a beautiful late Elizabethan tile (c1600) featuring a lion rampant and a beautiful giant Art Nouveau Chinoiserie ginger jar) and interesting kitchenalia. 

Then off to a place we hadn’t tried before, and despite my earlier self-admonition to not hesitate when I found good semi-industrial pieces that is precisely what I did.  Old habits die hard and I sucked my teeth over having to pay more than I wanted, but them’s the breaks if you want good semi-industrial pieces these days.  So I slapped myself about the head and got a grip, and walked away with a really cool trolley from an old textile mill in Lancashire, plus some lovely and very unusually shaped wooden spools, presumably from the same mill.  The trolley was a good price, but I want great prices and particularly so on Day One when there is no pressure to get lots of things.  However, I couldn’t pass up this piece.  It has four wheels and is very low to the ground and three sides are raised.  Goodness knows what it was used to lug about in the mill, but the moment I saw it I thought what an excellent coffee table it would make.  The wooden textile spools were really well priced so I snapped up all of them, and I think they will look nicely decorative in the shop when I group them together. 

On Day Two we visited a dealer we have had enormous difficulty connecting with (because he’s never where he says he’ll be) but at last we caught up and that was good news because I bought yet another set of really excellent bench scales (so that was three sets of scales in two days, despite my plan to not buy any scales at all during this trip) and a seriously cool old typewriter (c1920).  These are really interesting and high quality pieces and both are going straight to the front window when they arrive in Australia.

Then today was the first of the big Antiques Fairs of the trip.  It was pretty slim pickings, with lots of boring stuff or good but over-priced-to-billyo stuff, but I did cart off some nice Scottish neeps baskets (look it up!), and some attractive French grape pickers buckets.  Good semi-industrial pieces over which I yet again hesitated (because of the price) but ended up buying (because of how unusual and interesting they are).  I’m getting there with my campaign to be more realistic if I want to secure good semi-industrial pieces, but it’s not coming easily to me.

My quest for interesting antiquities is already off to a successful start, which is very pleasing this early in the trip, and I am now the proud owner of a selection of Roman bronze medical instruments.  Most people (normal people) will go Yuck when they consider where these pieces have been – they are a variety of bodge-you/scrape-out-your-insides implements – but I know a certain nurse who loves her antiquities and who is going to positively wet herself when she sees them.  It’s lovely when collectors are so enthusiastic, as long as all bladder functions occur outside my shop.

The weather here has been lovely, with sunny, t-shirt wearing days.  You know it’s Springtime in the English countryside when wherever you go you see hedgerows just breaking into leaf, thousands and thousands of daffodils and squirrels scampering everywhere.  And OMG we saw our first topless-bloke-who-really-should-have-kept-his-kit-on.  What is it about the smallest amount of sunshine that causes Englishmen to take their clothes off?  He was quite a youngish bloke, but with an impressive paunch and man-boobs and even though I shrieked and quickly looked away that image is now emblazoned in my brain.  But misery loves company, and hopefully you are now envisaging an image similar to what I had to look at.  Enjoy.

20 March 2012

Turkish Delight

Yes, I know, blogging again so soon.  But I write when I can when we’re travelling, and hopefully keep the episodes to manageable lengths.  Don’t know when I’ll be doing this next, but here is a spoiler – look away now if you have no interest in a bit of a travelogue that involves no shopping whatsoever.

Istanbul is quite a city.  We stayed in the old town, which was as hilly as our initial pre-dawn impressions indicated, and all the roads are cobble-stoned.  Everywhere you look there are stray cats so I got quite a good moggie-patting-fix because plenty of them were friendly.  Very skinny, poor things, except the ones who live around the doner kebab shops.  Our moggies at home should thank their little furry stars that they live with us.

Off we went to the Grand Bazaar, and oh dear I can’t say I was particularly overwhelmed.  As far as goods were concerned, it was very much like the Stanley Markets in Hong Kong except 100 times bigger and the quality of items was much better.  But boy you get hassled a lot, which doesn’t happen in the Stanley Markets.  No, we didn’t want leather jackets, no we didn’t want made-last-week rugs, no we didn’t want genuine-guaranteed-100%-pashmina shawls, no we didn’t want brand new Turkish Iznik imitation tiles that are actually cheaper to buy in the Eumundi markets at home.  Even Doug was being hassled, which was surprising because it’s usually me that everyone makes a bee-line for in these situations.  Alas for the vendors, we were the worst type of tourists – ones wot didn’t intend to buy anything, only look around. 

Having said that, I did see some nice fabric that I might consider on the return trip so we can cover the mattress of a charming child’s French sleigh bed we bought a few trips back (Sister Kym: sewing alert!).  But all in all, the souk in Marrakech is much better in terms of variety and authenticity (well it was last time I looked) and the huge street market in Isle sur la Sorgue in the south of France or El Rastro in Madrid are miles ahead in terms of variety and authenticity.   But anyway, it was interesting to look around for a while and I’m glad we’ve done it. 

We eventually found our way into the Old Bazaar which is in the centre of the Grand Bazaar and where the antiques are sold, but my Suss-o-Meter was on full alert here and I didn’t believe that most of what I was seeing was actually antique.  What a pity.  I saw some lovely jewellery, but I’m about to go to Paris where I shall buy tonnes of lovely jewellery that I have some confidence in being real.  The ‘antique’ jewellery sellers weren’t helped by other shops outside the Antiques Market selling really very similar – to the point where I couldn’t tell the difference – antique style jewellery that they didn’t pretend for a second was old.  It just looked old.  And it also looked just like much of the stuff that was purporting to actually be old.  If I can’t be sure of what I’m buying, I don’t buy it. 

So okay we saved some money there, which was probably a good thing.  On the upside, the Grand Bazaar has really lovely architecture, with its vaulted ceilings and hundreds of arches that are covered in intricate paintings which appeared to have been designed to imitate tiles.  And while we were wandering about the call to prayer commenced, which added considerably to the exotic ambiance for us.  We decided to regroup over a Turkish coffee while we considered our next excursion, and seeing how it was just down the road we headed for the Blue Mosque.  What a spectacular and very beautiful building that is, inside and out.  And it is categorical proof that you can go way, way over the top with beautiful blue (and red) tiles and the result will be stunning.  There are over 24,000 tiles in the main chamber and it is gorgeous. 

Then we did a lap of the Hippodrome – the race course the Romans used for chariot racing back in the day, and checked out the Obelisk of Theoddosius, which is Egyptian and dates to 1500BC but was pinched from Egypt and erected in the Hippodrome in 390AD.  How amazing, we thought, as we stood in the middle of the Roman Hippodrome, looking at an Egyptian obelisk with the minarets of the Blue Mosque in the background and a beautiful fountain with gold mosaic a few steps on which had been a gift from a German Kaiser.  Everyone got to Istanbul at some point, and it seems that plundering has gone on into as well as out of Turkey for some time.  And talking of plunder, we inspected the Serpentine Column which was made by the Greeks (winners) out of the weapons captured from the Persians (losers) after a huge sea battle in 479BC, but Constantine the Great stole the Column from Delphi in Greece and erected it in – yes, the Hippodrome, and in turn the Crusaders stole the golden urn from the top of the Serpentine Column to cart off to England.  And yet I’d get arrested and imprisoned if I legitimately purchased an antiquity and sought to export it out of Turkey today.  Times, they have changed.

Then we decided it was time for lunch, and spent a leisurely while on a rooftop terrace café overlooking the Blue Mosque and Bosphorus Straits.  We collected some baklava for late night dessert in our room, and that was that for the Istanbul Play Day Part One.  Part Two will probably include the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia, but we’ll see when the time comes.  So on the shopping front, there hasn’t been any!  But wait for it, wait for it.  Next stop, Manchester.

19 March 2012

And we're off

The rain just wouldn’t stop on the so-called ‘Sunshine’ Coast, so on Saturday we sodded off to Singapore.  As usual, Doug decided that it would be best to start packing a few hours before we had to go to the airport, so lucky for him the Packing Fairies got a whole lot of his kit out the night before so he could yet again declare that there is nothing at all to packing for international travel and it only takes half an hour.

Brisbane Airport has a little noodle café that is always good for a light and quick lunch, then it was a seven hour movie marathon to Singapore.  But you can only be distracted from the fact that you’re stuck in a small seat with little leg room for so long, and despite okay movies and very attentive service from the cabin crew I was downright antsy and ready to get off the plane by the time we arrived in Singapore.  It was hot and humid like a wet blanket descending upon you when we left the airport – does Singapore do any weather other than hot and humid?  Everywhere inside is air-conditioned, but lots of the food markets we prefer to frequent are outside affairs so you just have to get used to it, and you do quickly enough.  Singapore appears to be having a charm offensive at the moment, with every single person you meet very friendly and helpful and smiling and all in all it was very nice dealing with everyone.

We got all adventurous this time and stayed in the red light district of Geylang, though it seemed pretty tame when we went for a stroll on Saturday night – lots of people everywhere but that’s how it is all over Singapore.  There were a few gels who could have been Ladies of the Red Light District, or they could have just been office girls out for a good time on Saturday night wearing their floozie frocks.  Sunday morning, though, was an entirely different matter.  Who would have thought that Sunday morning was peak hour in the red light district?  Doug ventured out to find somewhere for us to have breakfast while I showered, and he was propositioned a number of times and asked if he wanted a massage.  But, poor dear, all he wanted was breakfast.  And just as well for him. 

Geylang is pretty rough and rundown, but do you know I like it a whole lot more than the upmarket shopping malls of Orchard Road, which bore me silly.  Prada and Louis Vuitton and Armani have shops in all the big cities, and upmarket shops are the same the world over.  You could be anywhere if you choose to shop in Orchard Road because absolutely nothing about it is authentic Singaporean.  The Geylang district has no shortage of prostitutes and gangs and illegal gambling dens and drug dealers, but you still feel perfectly safe walking about.  If you don’t want anything on offer, the person offering quickly moves on.  On many street corners enterprising individuals set up plastic sheets on the ground to display their array of performance enhancing drugs, which I guess is handy if you’ve come to Geylang to partake of its attractions but are feeling a bit tuckered out.  The architecture is old and interesting, with attractive detailing everywhere and big wooden shutters over many windows.  It’s the same when we travel through Hong Kong – we never stay on HK Island, which is mostly like Orchard Road only island-sized, but always go a bit further afield and find somewhere in Kowloon – more grotty, more noisy, harder to navigate if you don’t speak Chinese, but so much more interesting.

Anyway, we decided to spend the day at Singapore Zoo on the grounds that it’s been 20 years since we were last there.  And before there are any cracks about my age, I was very young when I was last there.  For the most part, it’s a great Zoo.  However, 20 years ago I complained about the inadequacy of the big cat enclosures, and nothing has changed in two decades and I still lament how small they are and how bored spitless the poor things must be.  And the rhino enclosure was dead unimpressive for such big animals.  Just consider Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo – now that’s a Zoo for big critters that like to trot about, and it’s how they should be accommodated.  I think Singapore Zoo should have less species on display, and give a lot more space to those they keep.  And what about enrichment activities, people!  The chimps had it, and the elephants, and a few others but not the cats.  I shall be a Big Cat Advocate here and declare that Singapore Zoo is Not Good Enough in terms of enrichment or space for them and if they can’t provide adequate care they shouldn’t have them.

But on the up side, it is said to be the best rainforest Zoo in the world and indeed it is a very beautiful place.  The orang utans have a large free range environment, to the point where they can come pretty close to watch you having lunch (from the tree trunks and ropes connecting the trees next to the open-air restaurant – they can’t come down and actually join you).  Baby squirrels ran around our feet while we had a pretty good Laksa lunch and they were gorgeous.  And OMG I can’t believe I’m commenting on public toilets, but they were the best we'd ever seen.  A wall the entire length of the room is an open-air waterfall, then a small garden, then a bamboo privacy wall.  How fabulous, we thought, and immediately started considering how we could work a similar idea into our coming house. 

We set off to find Calypso’s wild relatives (Asian Leopard Cats) and what a surprise they were - really quite small.  I think Calypso is already bigger than the female Leopard Cat in the Zoo.  They are very beautiful little cats, though, and you could definitely see that they are related to our moggie in looks and behaviour.  Then we encountered free range ring-tailed lemurs, and they came right up to us and guess what?  I wasn’t bitten.  Hurrah, no blood!  And then I got to feed a couple of elephants and was not mauled.  This is a good development in our interactions with wild animals.  Last trip, you may recall, I was bitten on the hand by a meerkat (and it drew blood and I almost fell down dead from rabies) and Doug was bitten on the bum by a giraffe.  Not having looked up an elephant’s trunk before, I did not know that they actually have two nostrils and that the tip is really muscular and has small bristles like whiskers.  What a fun day it was, and we emerged wound-free.

Then back to Geylang, where we managed to order a nice meal in a Chinese restaurant where they spoke no English and the menu was entirely in Chinese and even though the place was packed we were the only Westerners there – just how we like it.  It’s always a risk when you’re not entirely sure what you’re ordering, but the menu did have pictures and we figure it’s a good sign if a restaurant is full of locals.  Having said that, using this approach I once accidentally ordered tripe in a restaurant in Spain and it was blah and Doug had to (grudgingly) share his much nicer meal, so it doesn’t always work.  But mostly it does.

By early evening it had started bucketing with rain, positively monsoonal, so we decided to sod off to Istanbul. *** break of 12 hours ***  And now we’re here.  There was a crescent moon low in the sky as we flew into Istanbul, which we took for a good sign.  But who knew that the city is so incredibly hilly?  The old part of town, at least.  I'm not fond of walking up hills - I'm more a plains girl myself.  But anyway, it looks like it will be good.  The sun has just come up, and we have a charming room up in the eaves of our old hotel, with a lovely view of the Marmara Sea and the Sultanahmet Mosque just up the hill.  The Grand Bazaar is apparently not too far away – just don’t let be up the top of one of these monumental hills!  It’s a lovely sunny day, so after a shower we shall go exploring.

08 March 2012

Either This Rain Goes Or I Do

By golly can it rain any more than it has lately?  I know it’s meant to be the wet season, but this one has been particularly wet and we’re really over it.  Still, we’re fortunate that we haven’t suffered as much damage as many.  At home we had a 30 tonne landslide across our driveway – last year we had a 200 tonne slide across one of our access tracks so this one was a whole lot smaller but much more inconvenient because it trapped us on the mountain for a few hours.  In the shop we’ve suffered no damage at all, although the art gallery a few doors down has been flooded twice in two weeks.  Having the high ground is a good thing in so many ways, including flood avoidance.

It’s nine sleeps before we head off, and the incessant rain has played havoc with our plans to get some decent land care done before we go.  Unless we issue the house sitters with machetes there’s an awful lot of slashing and whipper-snipping that needs to be done so the jungle doesn’t engulf the house while we’re away.  But there should still be enough time to get things done before the house sitters arrive if the rain holds off, including our bi-annual Pretend We’re Always This Tidy clean up.

The temperature should be downright chilly in Istanbul, but we plan to be inside the Grand Bazaar or the Hagia Sophia during the outward leg, so we’ll be under cover.  And looking at the long range weather forecast for the UK, the temperatures are expected to be above average for our first two weeks there, although cooler in the north (and of course we’re flying in via Manchester).  Still, we’ve been really lucky with the weather for most of our trips – we even got sunburned last October which is amazing for autumn in England – so fingers crossed for this time.  Neither rain nor hail nor sleet will stop me shopping, but it’s far more pleasant in a bit of sunshine.
It’s been a mixture of customers in the shop this week.  A chap came in today and declared I’m in Love.  I get that a lot I said, but it turned out he was talking about the vintage French copper saucepans on the wall.  And yeah, they’re nice too.  People march up to my desk all the time and say Hello Gorgeous, but alas I have learned that they’re usually talking to the cat.  Okay, they’re always talking to the cat.  I am relegated to Cat’s Entourage.  We used to have a lovely old Burmese who had unstable diabetes for the last eight years of his life, so we had him at the vet a lot and the receptionist used to call out Tripitaka’s here when we walked through the door.  Tripitaka and his (unnamed) minions.  But anyway, besides lots of people admiring and photographing the moggies, we have also had Actual Customers to the point that the shelves are now starting to look a bit bare and I shall have to drag out the spare stock boxes starting tomorrow.  The spare stock is actually perfectly good, just not stock from the most recent trip and I always give stock from the most recent trip precedence, but now I’m running out of that so I shall delve into the spare stock and see what niceties I can find. 

But that was the good bit.  I’ve also had two people in as many days who wanted to buy several of our vintage French magazine advertisements but only if I offered a discounted price.  Just to contextualize, we are the only shop in Australia that sells the originals of these images and we frame them for free.  How many other picture framers do you know who don’t charge for their labour?  So we outlaid for the proper framing equipment and we just wore that cost, and then the time we spend framing the images is not included in the price of the images.  That’s why something so lovely is so affordable – because we’re so dang reasonable.  So if you want three images, you will get originals from the only shop in the country that sells them, framed, and pay the same as you would ordinarily have to pay just for framing.  Am I deluding myself that this is an utter bargain?  And yes, I explained our approach.  And no, it wasn’t good enough.  Hey, why don’t I just pay them to take the pictures off my hands?  On the other hand, we sold over 70 images just in January, so plenty of other people know a good thing when they see it, but it’s the snippy, insulting ones who want something fabulous for less than you paid yourself that you dwell on. 

So here’s my solution - they can pay for airfare to France, scour the city to find the right ephemera dealers, get to the good images before I do (though I promise I will have been there first), pay for all the associated costs in hanging out in one of the more expensive cities in the world, ship the images back to Australia and then get them framed from a framer who is less kind than me and Doug and who will charge you for his time.  So, snippy, insulting people who want free framing for less than free - let’s see how you fare if you have to do it all yourself.  Commence.

I know it will do my head in if I focus on stoopid people, so let’s return to the man who’s in love with my copper saucepans.  Nice man.  Very complimentary.  Took lots of photos to show his partner.  He’s lived in the little town down the road for nine years and only just discovered us, but said he was very happy that he had.  Yes, I’m feeling fine now.  And if I start to focus on all the lovely French men I’m about to meet, yes I feel even better.  I have rarely met a French man on our trips who hasn’t flirted outrageously.  It’s all a game, with lots of winks and laughter, and I tell you it does a girl good.  Ever patient Douglas just raises an eyebrow at their antics.  Last trip I met a very gorgeous English man but he lived in Le Mans and had clearly learned the art of French Flirting so he counted as almost-French.  It should be compulsory for everyone to speak English with a lovely French accent.  Or maybe a soft Scottish or Irish lilt.  Yep, now I’m feeling pretty good and downright anticipatory.  Bring it on.

01 March 2012

Jewels, Boules & Being Villainous

It appears that La Palace des Pythons has now been successfully cleared of its inhabitants.  I am sure everyone will gasp in admiration at the extreme bravery I displayed by driving the entire way to the mechanics with Jet turned up to full volume before I was sure that the latest snake really had gone from the car.  I figured that so much thumping vibration would flush out any critter, whereupon I could grab it and evict it.  I’ve evicted plenty of snakes from our storage shed before, so I can handle them if I have to although I’m not happy about it.  I even removed a tick from one tree snake before I released it, although the ungrateful wretch then tried to bite me.  So anyway the drive to the mechanic was a little bit fraught, but now I feel confident that the python has run off.

It’s been a good week in the shop.  We sold the second pastry table within 24 hours, which was excellent and I am positively determined to get over my reluctance to spend the necessary money when I find good semi-industrial pieces.  This week in the window we’ve put out a nice Baltic pine blanket box which has attractive bone escutcheons around the locks and cool secret compartments.  We’ve also put out the last of the French bedside cabinets, this one with ormolu highlights, serpentine legs and a beautiful marble top – very Parisian.  So it is a very different look in the window this week – a move away from the kitchen and into the boudoir.  Having said that, many people who buy the cabinets don’t use them in the bedroom, and they end up in loungerooms, bathrooms, hallways and all over the place.  My own one is next to my bed, so clearly I am a traditionalist when it comes to French bedside cabinets.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing a bit of research into likely places to shop while in Brussels and Amsterdam, and it looks promising.  My fallback position is buying chocolate in Belgium and visiting famous art galleries in Amsterdam, which is a pretty good fallback position I thought, but getting some actual shopping done will also be nice.  The plan is to visit both of the main Paris markets this time, and that’s just as well because I need serious amounts of jewellery.  Yet again I have no spare jewellery to let the shop sitters put out while we’re gone, but what can I do?  We sell a lot of vintage costume jewellery and I literally can’t buy enough to keep fully stocked all the time.

This week a jewellery collector came by and bought five Christmas Tree brooches and the last of my Trifari pieces, so replacements are on the shopping list for the coming trip.  All the Christmas Tree brooches are American, but I always buy them in England – I’ve never even seen one in France.  For a few trips all I found were light, tinny reproductions and I would rather go without than buy reproduction.  So when I found a goodly number of vintage Christmas Tree brooches last trip I went berko and bought all that I liked and could afford.  As we were unpacking them Doug kept asking How many did you buy? but I couldn’t remember other than it was a lot.  And now I’m down to three left so it’s worth waiting for the real deal because people appreciate quality. 

Trifari is one of the best known American costume jewellery brands, first made famous by being worn by Mamie Eisenhower at both of President Eisenhower’s Inauguration Balls.  Even though it’s costume jewellery, the brand has many beautiful pieces so it’s very collectable and usually priced accordingly and I don’t get many examples.  But with enough hunting I can usually turn up something nice, so we’ll see what I can do this time.  I also like pieces by Sphinx but my favourites are probably the beautifully enamelled necklaces by Matisse (which sounds French but is actually American).  What a fun job it is go hunting for lovely things.

The Eumundi Tennis Club is soon to hold a Timber Challenge, wherein only wooden tennis rackets can be used.  And in conjunction with this they are also introducing croquet and boules matches, so there will be something everyone can do and have fun doing.   We sourced a very nice 1930s croquet set for the Club, which will be used on the day.  We’ll be on the buying trip when the tournament is on, which is a pity because it is a well known fact that Douglas is a horrible cheat at croquet so he had a good chance of winning.  I’ve not been in a boules tournament before, but I’d like to have a go next year if we’re around.  Once, while driving around France, we passed a huge complex called La Bouledrome, which we figured to be the French equivalent of Mad Max’s Thunderdome, only with lots of red wine and arm waving arguments rather than chainsaw duels on motorbikes.  But still, the French take their boules quite seriously, and it was probably the case that there was only one man left standing over the bodies of his rivals at the end, in part due to how he handled his boules, and in part due to copious red wine consumption by the rivals.  It has been scientifically proven that too much red wine doesn’t stand you in good stead if you want luck with your boules.

Mischka is the Thursday Shop Manager, and apart from getting entirely underfoot and trying to trip and kill us while we restyle the window, she’s a sweetheart.  Even though she is the schmooziest pussycat ever and demands constant cuddles and stroking, she will not sit on my lap except while in the shop.  In the shop when she’s not knocking out zeds she’s taken to sitting across my lap, positioned so she can see the door, keep a weather eye on the bit of wall where the gecko most often makes his appearance, and obtain maximum scratching along her back.  I feel like a total Bond villain greeting people as they come into the shop while stroking the cat on my lap.  Welcome to my secret lair shop, Mr Bond.  I’m more old school Goldfinger than Dr Evil, but Mischka still has a lot to learn as a villainous offsider.  A proper malevolent moggie, for example, does not throw herself at visitors’ feet for a belly rub - not unless she is actually planning a diabolical grab-and-maul tactic that will result in shrieking and bloodloss from her victims.  Lolling about on the floor and purring your head off while being admired and tickled is the wrong look.  We’ll work on it.