23 October 2012

And This Little Antiques Dealer Went Wee, Wee, Wee All The Way Home

Hurrah we’re home!  Actually we’ve been home for a week, but I’ve been doing a whole lot of catching up of the paperwork generated while we were away.  Sales were very quiet while we were gone, but thank goodness they’ve rebounded back to excellent since we’ve been back.
Asian deserts often look better than
they taste, but these were quite nice
And how good is it to be back in our own bed?  So, so good is the answer.  I can look out the window and gaze at the night sky – and up in the mountain stronghold we can actually see the night sky, with its shooting stars and satellites and around the house hunting owls silently cruising by.  I didn’t even know what phase the moon was in until we got home.  And then to wake up to birdsong and the sound of the wind hissing through the trees is very relaxing.  Light pollution and low level cloud cover means that we don’t often get a good view of the night sky while we’re on our trips.  We always really enjoy our trips, but we also really enjoy coming home. 

Our last day in the UK was spent in Manchester, and although there were intervals of strong sunshine for the most part it was blustery and cold and raining.  So what is this Mancunian fashion for short shorts with black tights?  It was 12 degrees at best, but we saw an awful lot of buttock action going on.  Maybe the black tights were intended to cover up the blue-with-cold bottom cheeks?  And ladies, who told you this looks good?  We made our many observations of this trend while ensconced for a leisurely lunch in the front window of an Italian restaurant, so I didn’t have the opportunity to surreptitiously photograph any of the Fashionistas, so you’ll just have to believe me that it was an interesting look.
Rush Hour for the Dinner Cruise Boats in Bangkok. 
Some crews stand at attention and salute as all
the diners come on board, and we laughed over
their version of the Roman Gladiator motto:
Those Who Are About to Pay, We Salute You.

Our flight from Manchester to Bangkok with Swiss Air was every bit as bad as we were expecting, given our flight a month ago.  This time I had enough sense to reject their extremely ordinary airline food, and contented myself with tonic water until we got to Bangkok and could order a decent meal.  Nuff said – just awful, and we shall never fly with Swiss Air again.  Thank goodness we travelled with Thai Airlines from Bangkok to Brisbane, because they have a good amount of leg room, a decent entertainment system and excellent food.  Though I did question the wisdom of feeding chilli to a few hundred people trapped on a plane for nine hours ….
Caleb still loves dragging his favourite stuffed toy about the house.
The beautiful Calypso just keeps getting more beautiful. 
Caleb is also stunning, but is so different you wouldn't
know they are siblings.       
Anyway, after the extremely uncomfortable flight from Manchester to Bangkok we were far more tired and jetlagged than necessary, but fortunately we had arranged for a very late check-out with the hotel.  That meant we could have a huge sleep-in, emerge in time to enjoy a delicious buffet lunch, check the price of a large Han Dynasty terracotta horse I had admired in the window of a shop during our last visit ($A69,000 - a touch too expensive), and then retreat back to the room to recline and snooze and watch the river traffic into the evening.  Apart from having good views over the river and good room service, the thing I like about the Sheraton Orchid in Bangkok is – what a surprise – there are orchids everywhere.  The place is just brimming with orchids and there doesn’t appear to be a surface that doesn’t have mass plantings of these beautiful flowers, probably my most favourite of all flowers.

What???  If I can't sleep on the bed, the least
you can do is leave me alone to suffer on this
hard, uncomfortable, hurt-my-poor-back chair. 
The House Sitters let me sleep on the bed,
you know. 
We came home to a report from the House/Shop/Moggie Sitters, and oh dear it appears that the inmates had taken over the asylum while we were gone.  The House Sitters slept on the couch for a month because the cats wanted the bed!  And apparently they all ran about like furry idiots (the cats, not the house sitters) being raucous and massively boisterous at every opportunity.  Too bad for the moggies when we got back, because there’s plenty of other places they can and do sleep in and I expect at least some wriggle room for myself in my own bed.  There has been one wild game of 5am-five-way-chasey since we’ve been back, and that did involve bouncing off us as we tried to sleep, but they have such enormous fun it’s hard to be grumpy at them.  They positively fly about the house, clearing the bed in single bounds (unless they miss and land on you) and you can see how much they’re enjoying each other. 
Mischka guarding her current favourite toy.         
Caleb is always right in the middle of the action, and now he’s learned that the game involves chasing as well as being chased.  He even keeps up with Artemis (more-or-less), which means he’s seriously fast.  Unfortunately, he has also developed into a bit of a Klepto-Kitten, stealing pretty well anything he fancies that he can cart off.  We’ve lost mostly sink plugs and pens, although he does try to make off with an unguarded watch every now and then.  I had just him in the shop with me for the first week back, so he could relearn the drill, and he tried very hard to bite the diamond setting off a woman’s ring.  If he’s going to be a Cat Burglar at least he’s going for good stones.  I told her that I wouldn’t be retrieving her diamond if he succeeded in swallowing it so she would be well advised to not let him gnaw at her ring, but she said it was cute.  And no he didn’t succeed (because of course I would have gone diamond hunting the next day – or at least got Doug to).

It’s back to normal programming in the shop on the moggie front from tomorrow.  And by the end of the week I hope to have updated the website with some of the new jewellery we picked up in Paris.

And look who's picked up some bad habits while we've been gone!  This is Artemis - good girl Artemis! - trying to kill my hot water bottle.  This is something she learned from that ratbag Caleb, proving that they all watch and copy each other.

12 October 2012

Don't Push Me Coz I'm Close To The Edge

Part of the continuing series of Things I Didn't
Want At The Fair.  OMG who would buy a
pooping dog bronze?  It stayed behind, I promise.

So the day dawned in London for the final antiques Fair of the trip.  Well, eventually it dawned but seeing how the Fair opens at 6.30am we didn’t see the sunrise for some time.  What a silly time for a Fair to open.  And you’ve got to be there by at least 6.00am if you want any chance of a car park.  So we stood in the chilly dark of an autumn morning with quite a few hundred people, waiting for the Fair to open.  It was Tuesday, why weren’t all these people at work?  And actually, at that time of day why weren’t they all at home in bed?  Any sensible person would have been.
I did buy this nice little
piece of Art Deco.

Buyers behave very oddly at this Fair and are far more aggressive than at any other antiques Fair we’ve ever been to.  Once the gates open at 6.30 the crowd surges forward, with people pushing and shoving and running to get to the stands first.  Why?  It’s dark, people!  What can you see in the dark? 
We decided to go to the inside stands first so we could actually see the stock on offer but it was absolute mayhem there as well, with people still trying to run from stand to stand even though the aisles were packed with hundreds of people and a slow shuffle was the best you could realistically hope for. This ludicrous behaviour happens every time we visit this Fair, with the politeness that the British pride themselves on not one bit in evidence. 

It’s just like on the roads, where many British drivers seem pathologically unable to queue in two lanes of traffic when those lanes need to merge into one another.  They just won’t do it, and prefer instead to queue up into one very, very, very long queue in the slow lane for sometimes a mile before the merge point.  This is so silly that various counties have now erected Use Both Lanes signs on various high volume roads.  But when the signs are not there people can get seriously upset and all fist-shaking and abusive and road-ragey at the upstarts who dare to use the (entirely legal) fast lane.  And often a driver will become a self-appointed Queue Monitor, blocking cars seeking to use the fast lane by getting in the fast lane but maintaining the speed they were doing in the slow lane.  In any other country this gobsmackingly rude behaviour would see them booked for a traffic offence, but in England we’ve even seen a Police car behave in such a manner. 
Nope, didn't want this either.
It makes us wonder how the Brits would cope with the Paris Périphérique, where everyone drives like the clappers and every single bit of space is used and a whole lot of rapid lane changing goes on, but it works because everyone is courteous to each other.  If the Brits would get over their need to queue on the roads at every opportunity, especially when it’s entirely unnecessary, they would all get to where they’re going twice as fast and with much less upset.  Just an idea.

But anyway, that’s another gripe.  Back to the Gripe du Jour, which is the exceedingly rude behaviour of buyers at the London Fair.  It wasn’t every single person because I did encounter two perfect gentlemen, not counting Doug, who is always chivalrous.  But mostly there was more pushing here than at Italian ski lifts, and that’s a lot of pushing.  More pushing than at the Harrods’ yearly sale, and that’s a whole lot of pushing (albeit posh pushing).  More pushing than at Abu Dhabi Immigration Clearance, and that’s like, what queue – charge! 
This nice little bowl is one of the more unusual
pieces of French enamelware we're bringing home.
It appears that this Fair is the sole source of stock for some London dealers, so the reason they dash about to get in front as if their lives depend on it is that their livelihoods to some degree do depend on it.  Because they’re not willing to travel far from London, if they don’t buy at this Fair they’ll have no new stock that fortnight.  But still, that doesn’t account for all the unpleasant pushing and shoving, and all to get to stock that is for the most part over-priced.  If the Somerset sellers are delusional, the London sellers are positively certifiable - you see plenty of things for more than ten times the price of what you’d pay at the big northern Fairs.  And yet, even here, with sufficient hunting you can still find bargains so it’s still worth going.

So we bought an attractive terracotta Buddha head that is about 120 years old, a cool quarter-circle metal plant stand that will look really stylish with the terracotta pots I bought in Paris, good glass and ceramics, some particularly nice vintage tins, some last pieces of jewellery, a very fabulous French Moulinex coffee grinder (just like the one I kept from a previous Fair and I absolutely did not expect to find another for the next few years), and a very beautiful French Art Deco glass lamp base.

Then it was up to Leicester to hunker down for the final bit of packing.  We spent the day getting the last of the stock wrapped and packed, then delivered all our boxes to the shippers and returned the van.  So that’s that – it’s done.  It’s been a good trip, with fun Play Days and interesting stock.  We’re heavy on good kitchenalia and lovely jewellery, but also have interesting individual pieces such as the Buddha’s head.  I think we’ve bought more vintage French copper cookware than we ever have before, and that means the wall in the shop will look fabulous.  And my French enamelware shelf will be stunning.  Now we have to wait until December for the bulk of it to arrive in Australia, although I will be able to start listing some of the jewellery, pictures and a few other bits and bobs on the website pretty soon after we get home.

The latest Moggie Report is that Caleb is being an utter ratbag, each day searching out everyone else one by one in their chosen comfy spots and jumping on them, biting them in the neck (his favourite tactic) and evicting them from their spots.  And when they move to a new comfy spot, he follows them and does it all again.  It was already the case before we left that he was running from bowl to bowl at mealtimes, snatching the tastiest bits from everyone else’s meals.  And everyone is so tolerant of him, he gets away with every annoy-you, bodge-you, steal-your-food, bite-you-in-the-neck antic he tries. 

I've mentioned before that the current fashion
for leopard skin isn't new.  These cake
forks date from 1960.

But oh dear, She Who Must Be Obeyed At All Times is about to arrive home and Caleb’s Reign of Terror Annoy is about to be curtailed.  Despite what he appears to be thinking, I am in fact Top Cat and he will do as I bid.  He and I had several clashes of will before I left on this trip, and visitors to the shop can attest to how incredibly loudly he can screech when he’s having a baby pussycat tantrum for not getting his way.  And now he’s had a month to run feral and get his way in everything so I’m afraid my return is going to shock his little furry socks off. 

Caleb is going to be a big boy when he grows up and I don’t want him turning into a bully with a sense that he can just take whatever the others have, and I also insist on certain Rules that must always be obeyed.  In the shop Rule Number 1 is Not a Paw Past the Door.  The shop is on the main road through Eumundi, and there is no prospect that any of the moggies are allowed out onto the street unaccompanied for obvious reasons.  And that means I have to be able to trust them to obey Rule Number 1 even if I’m not looking because I’m with a customer. 
Caleb has a fascination with the door, though, so he and I have already had several chats about it being The Forbidden Zone (which has led to a smacked furry bum a few times when he’s tried to ignore me).  I suspect that we’ll have to start from scratch regarding the shop door, which means he will be permanently tied to me via his leash when he’s in the shop, which will lead to hysterics when he wants to go and look out the window and I don’t.  Ah, you’ve got to love moggie training, so much harder than mutt training.  But being consistent and patient has worked with all the others and I’ll get there with Caleb too.  He just doesn’t know it yet.
1960s coffee table & magazine rack

One last Play Day in Manchester to do bit of personal shopping, then the next stop is Bangkok, then home.  I won't get to write again until we're back in Australia, hopefully in the firm grip of a five-pussycat-embrace.

09 October 2012

Hurricanes Hardly Ever Happen in Hampshire

Naked Girl with Trident.
Not sure if she was for sale.
The biggest antiques Fair in the world is always exhausting, but such good fun.  Whatever you want you can find, and it’s so huge that it’s essential that Doug and I use walkie-talkies to let each other know where we are.  I’ll meet you near the naked woman with the trident isn’t something you get to say every day, but she was a big girl and a good landmark.
We’re happy with the amount of good-priced semi-industrial stock we’re accumulating.  The semi-industrial look is very popular and you can find a lot of great things, but usually at Designer prices and I need Bargain prices.  But if you hunt for long enough you can find good things at good prices, you just have to hold your nerve when passing on the more expensive things that you know are going to be snapped up by Italian and French dealers as soon as your back is turned. 
I didn't get the stone dog, but I did snap
up this lovely glass baby elephant.
I did see a really cute stone dog – not remotely semi-industrial and not something I would normally buy, but it caught my eye so I stopped to consider it.  And while I dithered someone else came up and also declared it cute and bought it out from under my nose!  I hadn’t officially declared my interest so it was first-in-best-dressed, but boy you’ve got to be quick for the good stuff.

We now we have a huge amount of really excellent enamelware, mostly French but some Hungarian, so it will have to be exceptionally super-duper to attract me from now on.  I think my most favourite purchases at this Fair, though, were a French Art Deco angel lamp and a 1950s Italian majolica horse’s head.  It takes a lot to get my attention from 30 paces and the horse’s head is seriously special so it had to be mine, and French angels have such a distinctive appearance – always beautiful and always with extra large wings – that they are hard to pass up.
French Art Deco Angel Lamp
      Italian majolica horse's head      

Then it was off to the third Fair of the week, which started very slowly for us because I slept in.  Our hotel had a fire alarm at 2.30am, which lead to me being comatose at get-up time (Doug always wakes up when he’s supposed to) so we arrived at the Fair an hour and a half later than planned.  But what the heck, at one of the world’s biggest antiques Fairs there is plenty to see whatever time you arrive.  I bought some really interesting items that I can’t ordinarily afford, such as vintage chocolate molds, shortbread molds, and some excellent French copper steak pans (which magically allow you to cook the best steak you’ve ever cooked).  I also walked away with some lovely Murano end-of-day glass fish, interesting kitchenalia and great 1930s coffee grinder that won’t be making it past our own kitchen – I’ll look for another one for customers, I promise.
I quite fancied this ship's canon, but it wouldn't
have been worth my life to tell Doug he had
to get it back to the van.
So then we were finished with the big Fairs in the north of the country and headed south to Hampshire, where all fans of Eliza Doolittle know that urricanes ardly eva appen.  It’s a lovely county, with gentle, rolling green hills, and at this time of year the autumnal shades are just touching the trees.

Being based in Hampshire for a few days was a good central location for the work and play days we had in mind.  First off we popped over to Wiltshire to visit Avebury, site of the biggest Neolithic standing stones monument in Europe.  It is indeed a very big site and takes a bit of walking around.  We also visited nearby Silbury Hill, which at 40m tall is the largest man-made mound in Europe.  It’s such a pity that for sites that were clearly so important to the people who created them, who put such massive effort into them, today no-one knows what they were for. 
A few of the Avebury standing stones.
Avebury doesn't have the visual impact of Stone Henge, and it has lost something from having a mansion built next to it 400 years ago and then the charming village that grew up around the mansion.  It’s all very lovely, but it’s a shame that it’s right next to the standing stones, and indeed several roads dissect the circle. 

Today sheep graze among Avebury’s standing stones, and I told Doug that having lived there so long they are now ooooh spooky sheep, said to be imbued with the power of the stones, and only they know the mysteries of the stone circle.  Wot? said Doug, Really?  Yeah, really, I said, it’s in the brochure.  But then he realized he was being an idiot for believing a word I said and threatened to throw me in the quite deep ditch that the Ancients had dug around the standing stone circle, and also drive off very fast without me because he had the car keys.  But too late, I had spun my tale and he had (momentarily) believed it, making him a Ninny and me the Winner.
Stuff I didn't want at the Somerset Fair.
Then it was down to Somerset for the second last of the big antiques Fairs.  It was a cold morning, with a thick fog that took a little while to clear.  We passed Stone Henge, looking suitably mysterious in the fog, agreeing to come back for a picnic lunch a bit later.  We eluded the Queue Nazis who are always bossing people about at this Fair by simply waiting until the Fair had been open for a few minutes and then buying our tickets directly from the ticket booth rather than via the Queue Nazis.  So then we were in the Fair and shopping a good 15 minutes before the people who had agreed to let the Queue Nazis herd them into a lovely long queue, a few hundred metres long, in the freezing cold.  Many people have run-ins with the Queue Nazis at this Fair, but the simplest way of dealing with them is to ignore them entirely.  The Queue Nazis do a little bit of jumping up and down at the people who refuse to be herded, but there's not much they can do once the ticket booth has opened.
Other stuff I didn't want
at the Somerset Fair.
I didn’t buy high volume at the Fair, but I certainly did buy high quality.  As promised I found an excellent French coffee grinder to offer in the shop, plus some really excellent glass, and a few very nice ceramic pieces.  It was hard to find bargains at this Fair, because largely the dealers were delusional about their prices, but I did some serious hunting and came away pleased with our goodies.

Then it was back to Stone Henge for a picnic lunch.  We didn’t feel the need to walk around the stones, having done it before and being somewhat put off by the very large crowd that had gathered there on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.  So we instead drove down a little known and hardly used dirt road near the site which gives a great view of Stone Henge and all the barrows on the ridges around it.  It’s poorly maintained but it is a public road so we couldn’t believe we were the only people there.  But that was fine by us, and we enjoyed a leisurely picnic with the view to ourselves. 

Doug didn't fall for any cockamamy stories I told him about Stone Henge,
but there's so many outlandish ones how come he wouldn't believe my perfectly reasonable sounding ones?  Just cause I got him over the spooky, mystical sheep of Avebury story.
He's so untrusting. 

On the way home we stopped by the Hawk Conservancy, which has a huge variety of owls and hawks and other birds of prey.  We were both able to hold a baby Long-Eared Owl, which was great.  It was a very beautiful bird, with deep orange eyes, and if you closed your eyes you wouldn’t even know it was sitting on you because it weighed hardly anything. 
Jonathon, the Baby
Long-Eared Owl that
we were allowed to hold.
There is a famous owl called Toby who lives at the Hawk Conservancy because he was "rescued" as a fledgling and spent too long with humans to now know how to act like a proper owl, to the point where he is scared of heights.  He wasn't really rescued, despite the best intentions of the people who found him, because fledgling Small Owls fall out of their nests all the time but can climb back up the tree as long as they're not first carted off by well-meaning humans.
Anyway, Toby is a Small Owl and apparently Florence Nightengale used to carry one on her rounds, back when hospitals had a few more rats and mice running about than (you hope) today.  You can have birthday parties at the Hawk Conservancy, where Toby will fly to you and deliver a Happy Birthday message, just like in Harry Potter.  This is apparently a big hit with the kids, but just secretly it would be a big hit with me, too.
So that was our final Play Day in the UK, and so now only a bit of playing will occur in Bangkok before we get home.  Tomorrow will see us in London for the final Fair of the trip.  It seems as if we’ve been here for ages, and we’ve certainly packed enough in.  We don’t have the quantity of stock we would normally expect after visiting so many Fairs, but I think the quality is higher than usual.  We’ll see what the customers think when it all arrives in December.
One of the eight huge White Horse figures that are cut into the chalk hills in Wiltshire.

03 October 2012

Shopping Til I Fall Down Dead in England

French Lead Crystal Cross
On Sunday we hunkered down to get everything we had bought so far wrapped and boxed.  It was a grey, cold autumn day with high wind chill and squally rain so we were glad to be inside, phaffing about.  Boy are we happy with our purchases, with a good range of high quality Deco glass and ceramics, a wide selection of interesting kitchenalia from Victorian era ceramic jelly molds to French enamelware and giant wooden platters/chopping boards, plus great metalware and beautiful costume jewellery.  If we can keep up this level of quality and interest in our buying this trip will easily be one of our best ever. 
Embroidered Postcard

Among the more unusual things we sourced are some lovely WWI embroidered postcards, which were made in France for English soldiers heading to the Western Front and some of them have touching messages of love written on the back.  One just says Yours, Charles, so young Charlie was a man of few words.  I wonder which of those boys made it home.

We’ve also found some really beautiful large bookplates of birds of prey, mostly owls but also some hawks, and they will look lovely on the wall in the shop.  And this time we have found two brass-topped Byzantine Revival tables, which we are particularly pleased with.  We’re usually lucky if we can find one every second trip, so finding two this time was great.

Turquoise Glass Chicken Dish.
 They usually only come in white,
so this one is  especially good
So having packed the purchases so far and dropped them off with the shippers, we started on the main week of the trip, with three of the biggest antiques Fairs in the world occurring back-to-back.  I’ve had a head cold that moved to a chest cold for a week, so this time I really am shopping until I fall down dead, but we’ve now completed the first Fair and it was a lot of fun and the shopping was brilliant.  On the way there Doug said he doubted I would spend all the money we had on us, but I told him I accepted that challenge and yes I was the winner.  In addition with really fabulous glass and ceramics, I also caught up with the lady I buy lovely Lea Stein brooches from and she didn’t let me down so I have some really good examples of cats, owls and foxes to offer as soon as we get back.

This time I didn’t get filmed in the background of Bargain Hunt, as I so often do, but I did come across Tim Wannacott doing a spiel to camera on some clocks, so I got some photos of him and his film crew.  What wasn’t apparent was that a small dog was running about under his table, trying very hard to get his attention, but he didn’t miss a beat and just kept on talking about antique clocks.

Tim Wannacott from Bargain Hunt
ignoring the little dog under the table
and soldiering on.
News from home is that all the moggies are happy and well – they always get spoiled rotten by the house sitters – but cryptic reports were that Caleb had been pushing the envelope in terms of bad behaviour.  So I sought a more detailed report but he doesn’t appear to be doing anything other than what a normal ratbag kitten would do.  Although he does seem to be developing Klepto-Cat tendencies, making off with pens whenever he comes across them.  Mischka stole jewellery whenever she could get her paws on it when she was little, and there are still a few little pieces that we still haven’t found, three years on.  I’m really missing the moggies and looking forward to being home with them again.  Only 11 days left until we leave the UK, and there’s an awful lot of shopping to be done in that time.

The current fashion for leopard skin prints is not new -
this spectacle case dates from the 1950s