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.

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