31 October 2013

From Newark to Nambour, the Shopping is Great

Aw, inne cute?  This little piggy is wee-wee-
weeing all the way to Australia.
Well the travel computer carked it while we were away, so I’ve been incommunicado for a while.  But we’re back now, safe and sound, and this is a catch-up blog. 

But before I go on, let me mention that we’ve gotten back just in time for the next Collectorama Antiques Fair, the biggest in south-east Queensland.  It is only a tiny fraction of the size of the Newark International Antiques Fair in the north of England (more on that below), but it’s the biggest we’ve got and it has a good variety of dealers who come from all over to attend.  We took a double stand at the September Fair, and that went really well so we’re taking another double stand.  It’s on this coming Saturday, 2 November, so if you’re able to come be sure to visit us to say hello.
These pieces of copper came back in our hand
luggage but are all sold already.  More great
pieces are on the way, though.
Even though the shipment from the buying trip is currently on the high seas somewhere between the UK and Singapore, we did manage to put a few things in our hand luggage and they’ll be coming out at Collectorama.  I knew I had done a lot of shopping, but the shippers tell me that it came to a little over 600kg!  Yep, I surely know how to shop. 
Among the things we crammed into our hand luggage was the collection of lovely copper moulds I had amassed, and they are all sold already.  But I also have a small selection of really charming small glass birds, a seriously good pair of large French tailor’s shears, and I’ve put a lot effort since we’ve been back into getting some very beautiful travel advertisements reproduced, so they’re ready to go.  The reaction to reproduced images at the last Collectorama was great, and this time I have a good selection of images that I’m really happy with.
This is one of the hand blown glass birds that
came back with us and will be offered at
Collectorama on Saturday.  Those brown spots
are actually glittering aventurine inclusions, so
this little fellow is much prettier in real life.
But anyway, that’s to come and I shall report on it in due course.  In the meantime I shall finish talking about the buying trip.  So, to continue ….
The last of the big Antiques Fairs for this trip was at Newark.  It’s certainly the biggest antiques fair in Europe, and is said to be the biggest in the world.  It covers quite a few acres, but we barely got 20m through the gate before we’d run out of money.  But by then I did have six wooden printers trays, three of them with nice little brass highlights between each segment, and four ship’s lights from a German freighter that was dismantled in the 1940s. 
We already had three of these lights for our house's breezeway when it’s built, but figured it would be too late to realise we needed more when we’re back on the other side of the planet.  And if we have any to spare we’ll offer them for sale, and they will be unlike anything else currently available that we’ve found.  So dang, we were glad to find these lights but we hadn't planned on spending so much money and had to hunt down a cash machine and see if we could trick it into spitting out some cash.
Tim Wonnacott walking towards the cameras
as he does his opening spiel for Bargain Hunt.
I was in Take 2, but he did 7 Takes so good
luck seeing me on't telly any time soon.
And yay that our trickster skills are still up to par, so we resumed our exploration of the Fair re-cashed.  For the first time this trip I finally ran into Tim Wonnacott, the presenter of Bargain Hunt, and we exchanged quick greetings before I was filmed in the background of his opening spiel – my 16th time filmed in the background on Bargain Hunt, although to the best of my knowledge I have yet to appear on TV.  He did his opening spiel seven times and I was only filmed once, so unless they go with Take 2 I am destined to remain undiscovered by the antiques viewing public.  I told the crew that after all this time I hadn’t yet made an appearance, and they said they’d see what they could do for Lucky 16. 
We felt under no pressure at all to buy stock, which was a very pleasant change for this Fair, where we normally go nuts.  But we had already bought so much on this trip, so for this Fair we decided to limit ourselves to really special things. 
Doug said this was the ugliest
Buddha he had ever seen.
She was Not Amused.
So anyway, I was looking for anything interesting, and for a few extra things like more potato baskets.  I found potato baskets, but boy oh boy, the prices were ludicrous!  At first I deeply suspected that there was a Potato Basket Price Fixing Racket going on, because everyone had the same delusional prices.  But that was until I ventured further into the Fair and found the deeply delusional prices.  So I had to walk away from more potato baskets on this trip, and can offer only three when they arrive.  But three good ones!
On the positive side, we found a more pieces of interesting French enamelware, some great vintage kitchenware including two enormous Italian sieves, and finally a small brass-topped Byzantine Revival table.  I had been on the look out for as many Byzantine Revival tables as I could find all trip, because they’re very attractive, the tops come off so they travel well (and store well at home) and they always sold immediately when I had them in the shop.  So anyway, at least I found one and we’ll see how it goes at an antiques fair.  A few trips ago we decided to keep one of these tables for ourselves because they are attractive but so hard to come by, and they’re getting increasingly hard to find so I’m glad we decided to keep one before it's too late.
The weather was starting to
turn at the Newark International
Antiques Fair just as we got
to our van.  Shopping at the
Fair is great fun, but not in
the rain.
Finally, we decided we were done.  It was the first really chilly day of the trip, and all of our shopping had been done at the outside stands.  Then, just as we were slowly traipsing back to the van, each heavily loaded with our finds, tired, cold and all shopped out, we stumbled across two big terracotta pineapple finials.  This was a big deal thing to find, let me tell you, so we perked up immediately. 
These finials are French and date from the early 1800s.  They both have a bit of scuffing, as you’d expect on something that has spent the last 200 years outside, and fabulously crackled white glaze.  Earlier in the trip we found a great English pineapple finial which I snapped up because they are so hard to come by.  Interior decorators love them, and why not?  They were traditionally put on gate posts, or somewhere close to a front door, including on stair banister posts in a home's entry, because they symbolize welcome and hospitality.  Sometimes you can even see little wooden pineapples used as finials on very old four poster beds, and you know by seeing them that it was a guest bed.
The stylized fox is my favourite
of Lea Stein's brooch designs. 
I caught up with my main supplier
at Newark and bought some
lovely pieces.  One fox brooch
has sold already, but this piece 
will get his first showing at
In the early days of colonial America, real pineapples were used as table centrepieces by the most gobsmackingly rich of rich hostesses to demonstrate just how much richer they were than you, you hopelessly impoverished rich-as-me-wannabe.  You could even rent pineapples in the early days, just so you could dead impress your guests, but then you had to return the fruit in good condition, without little bites taken out of them.  So over time the fruit took on a particular meaning, which continued into the 1800s, and stylized pineapples made of wood or terracotta or metal were used rather than real fruit. 
I have looked out for a large terracotta pineapple finial for years, but have only seen them in chic but expensive Parisian shops.  Much as I’d love to, I don’t shop in chic but expensive Parisian shops, so I’ve always come away empty-handed.  But guess what?  Now I have three.  I'm not sure if we’re keeping one or two, but either way we’ll have at least one to offer when they arrive in Australia.
So then there was a flurry of final packing, getting things to the shippers, and bolting down to London to return the van to the hire company (which we did with one minute to spare), and then had two days of chilling until our flight home.

This was a momentary break in the crowd at Portobello Road.  Way too many people and way
too expensive prices to enable any serious shopping.
We elected to spend Saturday visiting Portobello Road, a very famous antiques tourist strip that we last visited about 20 years ago.  I’m afraid the passage of time hasn’t really improved this location.  Not only were there thousands and thousands of people strolling around, but the prices were ridiculously high for often pretty routine stuff.  There were some good stands, but few and far between.  I did buy a small sugar sifter as a souvenir purchase, but overall it was a disappointing experience.  Years ago – okay decades ago – you could pick up truly spectacular pieces at Portobello Road, and even though you jolly well had to pay large for them, you were getting something fabulous for your money.  These days it’s not worth the effort of fighting your way through the incredible crowds.
Doug would dearly love to carry
off a set of WW2 airplane
spotting binoculars.  But at
3000 pounds tell him he's
The one good thing we did find was a tiny burger bar called Honesty that had a vacant table right in the front window, so we ensconced there to watch the crowd and have a bite of lunch.  And wow, it was fantastic!  I can put my hand on my heart and say it was the best burger I ever had.  And of course it came with chips, because in England everything comes with chips.  And again, OMG the best chips I ever, ever had, with a seriously delicious rosemary salt over them.  Then we decided we’d need something equally delicious to follow, so we headed off to Harrods for desserts. 
Harrods is such a lovely shop, full of lovely things.  I inspected the Prada handbags because some years ago I picked up a vintage Prada bag for a song and wanted to see if that little investment had proven to be a good one, but I was left guessing.  In Harrods the designer handbag prices are of the if-you-have-to-ask variety.  But the little cakes and petit fours were lovely and not too outrageously expensive, so we indulged.  And we found a modern counter-part for the gobsmackingly richie-rich colonial American hostess – these days, if you want to dead impress your guests with how terribly well off you are, you can buy a cake from Harrods with a giant ‘H’ across the top of it.  Smaller cakes had edible gold-leafed Harrods labels on them.  All terribly, terribly, dahling.
Don't leave your guests wondering where
you got your afternoon tea supplies from.
Harrods bakes all its cakes in its own
kitchens every day, and they're all delicious.
We stepped out of Harrods to find a couple of young ladies busking by singing opera arias.  Wow, were they good.  Seriously good.  We decided that Harrods attracts a better class of busker than the Eumundi Markets, and in that location I expect these gels were well compensated for their efforts.  As they deserved to be.
Our final Sunday in England was dismally cold, and it poured and poured with rain. Thank goodness the really bad weather didn’t start until our last day.  We had plans to visit Hampton Court Palace, but decided it would still be there next trip and instead arranged for a late check-out at the hotel and lounged about instead.  Then it was back to Bangkok, where due to the hotel being heavily booked we were upgraded to a two king sized bedroom apartment that was a whole lot bigger than our house.  I know we have a small house until the rest is built but, come on, I had booked a hotel room
The different halls in Harrods have signs over the
doorways telling you what you can expect inside.
I want to talk to my local supermarket about getting
something similar installed rather than the
standard aisle signs.
I had time to have my hair straightened – at a third of the price you pay in Australia – so goodbye to frizzy hair for the next few humid months, and then we ordered room service.  A lot of room service.  Another late check out was arranged, because it’s much nicer to laze away the hours before your flight in a luxury apartment rather than Suvarnabhumi Airport, which I must say isn’t very comfortable if you’ve got a while to wait before your flight. 
Then, voila!, we were home and that was that for another trip.  Now we have to get through Collectorama next Saturday, and then we can relax until the shipment arrives in December.  We are thinking about taking a stand at a nearby Sunday morning market that is right on the beach, but we’ve yet to see if the logistics will work for us, so more on that later.
Nice looking wooden crates at the Newark Fair, but what a pity they are all fake.
How good to be home.  The builders did as we asked and stopped work while we away, but we’re back now, boys, so I’m expecting that we’ll have a little hive of activity at our house from next week.  Hopefully I’ll have some progress photos real soon.
More fakes.  Many dealers don't declare when things aren't real, but seeing the same thing again and again is a bit of a give away.


11 October 2013

The Semi-Industrial Look is Still On Trend - Dammit!

One of the excellent glass chooks in a basket that
I've sourced.  I also have a couple of lovely
caramel coloured ceramic ones.  They will make
a nice display when put together.
We prevaricated over attending the Dealers' Day at the Lincoln Antiques Fair.  £20 each for entry on Dealers' Day versus £5 entry on Punters’ Day is a big difference.  In the end we decided to attend Dealers' Day at around midday, after the dealers had time to unpack, and this turned out to be the right decision.

It was another fabulous autumn day – t-shirt weather.  The Lincoln Fair is enormous, covering many acres, so walkie-talkies are essential if Doug and I want to find each other after he has taken things back to the van.  And he took things back to the van a lot, so the walkie-talkies saw some use.

We were on a mission to find more good enamelware and those elusive Jamie Oliver giant wooden boards.  This was one of the last chances to find them, so our eyes were peeled.  And at last, success!  I wanted Jamie Oliver boards, and boy did I get Jamie Oliver boards.  And, even better, this time I have three round boards as well as the more usual rectangular boards. 
I am suddenly going through a Pretty Plate Phase.
This one is staying home with me, but I've found
some other really lovely ones to offer.
Many people have asked if I could get the round boards, which were originally used for curing large rounds of cheese.  The answer has always been no, because they are few and far between and when I have seen them they have been horribly expensive.  The round boards I found were more expensive than the rectangular ones, but this time they were affordable so I scooped them up.  And this was one of the advantages of attending on Dealers' Day – it costs a whole lot more to get in, but the best bargains are available.

My next task was to find some good French rural metalware.  I already had the giant wire basket from the Porte de Vanves markets in Paris, but as you know I may well be keeping that one so I needed some stock.  Metal potato baskets always sold promptly in the shop so I was on the hunt for some.  They are utilitarian items, but their spare lines are very attractive.  But boy, has the price gone up on potato baskets!  Who would have thought that the market for potato baskets would take off? 
How good is this cockerel teapot?  He's one of a
number of good quality and interesting teapots
I'm bringing back.
Having said that, over the years the prices for good industrial and semi-industrial pieces has risen steadily, as interior decorators discovered the look and then homeware stores followed the trend.  But nothing beats the original pieces, in terms of looks or quality or actual useability.  The reproduction items in homeware stores are often so flimsy that you would never dream of trying to use them – they are just for looking at.

But this sought-after status has now impacted even on potato baskets, making my job as a buyer that much more difficult.  So I picked up only three baskets, but each one is completely different so I’m happy with the selection.  I would like a few more, if I can find some bargains, but bargains on the semi-industrial front are becoming more difficult to find, so we’ll see what I can do.

This looks totally uncomfortable and is
totally reproduction.  There are a great
many undeclared reproduction items
at the big Fairs, so you have to be on
guard and use your good judgement. 
This one is bleedin' obvious, though.
We packed our purchases promptly, so decided to revisit the Lincoln Fair on Punters’ Day, which our Dealers' Day tickets also allowed.  There was no pressure to buy, having done so well the day before, so we strolled around the grounds, enjoying the sunshine and picking up a few extra bits and bobs.  Often at the Lincoln Fair we are entertained by the Red Arrows, the RAF aerobatics team, training directly above us.  I have often thought, as the team has gone roaring not that far above us, that if they crashed and burned they would take out the entire Antiques Fair with them.  But so far so good.  This time there was only one Arrow, but he shot back and forth at tremendous speed as we shopped.

We came away from Punters’ Day with some more good vintage tins, a French copper sautéing pan, a little bit more glass and a very beautiful French pancheon with a deep mustard interior glaze.  I’ve only had a couple of pancheons before, because they are so hard to find at a remotely affordable price, but in the shop they always sold within a few days of being offered.  We have one of our own, and will now decide which one to keep and which one to offer for sale. 

One of the 5 enamel trays we found, totally unlike
the normal enamelware we find.  And now we've
also found similar deep bowls, which should prove
to be very popular when we offer them.
After that it was off for a late lunch on a charming barge on the Trent River in Nottinghamshire, not far from Sherwood Forest.  So it was a relaxed, fun and productive day – you can’t ask for more on a buying trip.

An aside on the topic of pork pies:  there is no middle ground with the pastry on pork pies – it is either 100% right or 100% wrong.  There is a special texture and flavour to the pastry, and nothing else will do.  The ones we’ve found in Australia are all wrong, and not worth buying.  You expect the British ones to be correct, but we have found only three that pass muster, one from our favourite supermarket (Waitrose), one from a tiny café in South Yorkshire and one from Melton Mowbray, the home of English pork pies.  All the rest we declare to be fake and need to shape up.  Fair warning – we shall test again next trip.

Almost all of this dealer's enamelware was incomplete or broken.  And yet she made it look great by using the pieces as planters for herbs and cyclamen and tiny seaside daisies.  It looked really pretty and was a nice way to use otherwise unuseable pieces.


08 October 2013

Damn Fine Shopping & Damn Fine Cowboys

Dead critters aren't my thing - I'd rather they stay
alive out in Nature.  But there's no shortage of
taxidermy available at the Peterborough Fair.

Well yay for crappy weather forecasting!  Despite dire warnings about flooding rain, and although enormous deep grey clouds sat low and billowed ominously, it only drizzled a bit.  The Peterborough Antiques Fair is huge and delivers the goods every time, and seeing how almost all of my shopping is done at the outdoor stands, it was great that the weather was surprisingly warm.

The search continues for the Jamie Oliver giant wooden boards I’m looking for, but there’s still time.  I did see one, but it had a whole heap of woodworm damage and that’s no good if you’re going to put food on it.  Not to mention the utter meltdown that Quarantine would have had over it, even though it was obvious that the woodworms cleared out about 100 years ago.

See those giant wooden dough troughs at the
back of the photo (look a bit canoe-like)?
Too big for antiques fairs in Australia, but
now I'm hunting for a few in a more
manageable size.
But we did find lots of fabulous vintage French copper that is really interesting.  So now we have a number of soufflé moulds, jelly moulds, one brawn mould (blerk to brawn, but it’s an attractive mould that you can use for other things), plus small frying pans, an excellent lidded oval pan that I think is intended for poaching fish – Doug has his eye on that one, plus the most giant copper saucepan I’ve ever seen – and Doug has his beady eye on that as well. 

I did see a couple of giant wooden dough troughs, and even though they would have looked great in the shop I judged them to be too big to lug around to antiques fairs.  Doug, the Lugger in Chief, was totally in agreement.  So now I’m looking out for smaller dough troughs, because I have been reminded of how good they look when they’re all waxed and glowing.  I saw a cooking show here in the UK where they were making bread by mixing all the ingredients in a small wooden dough trough, so people do still use them for their intended purpose, even though for most people they are decorative.

OMG can you imagine to waking up to this every
morning?  I don't even know what it is. Except
hideous.  It didn't come home with me.
So we emerged from Peterborough fully loaded with lots of lovely kitchenware, yet more seriously good quality glass, and an unexpectedly large haul of vintage French copper and enamelware.  I bought five enamel trays, of a type that I’ve never seen before after years of actively sourcing great enamelware, and then suddenly I had five to choose from.  So I bought them all.  I have also been building up a nice selection of small but beautiful ginger jars and lidded ceramic pots, from 1930s English Sadler through to 1800s Chinese Qing Dynasty.  They should look great when presented together, and give a terrific choice to select from.

Anglia Pottery has
a very distinctive
turquoise glaze.
I'm looking for
an owl, but so far
have this Madonna,
a shoe, rabbit &
So then it was time for a big pack day, with The Magnificent Seven on TV in the background.  Dang but Yul Bryner and Steve McQueen made fine badass cowboys.  They can come and protect my village any time.  Yes, yes, my afterlife village.  There were some pretty ordinary stunts, with baddies being yanked backwards off their horses by not-so-secret-string, when they had apparently been shot while riding past the goodies – entirely defying the law of physics.  But it’s still a cool movie, full of cool, badass dudes who are actually honourable and kind at heart.  Aw, shucks, that’s the best type of badass dude.  Especially when they are so damn fine.  Just saying.  Pack days, as you might have guessed, are quite boring and it’s easy to be distracted by cool cowboys in tight cowboy chaps.

Then I discovered that a reasonably large antiques Fair was being held at the Doncaster Racecourse up in Yorkshire on Sunday morning.  That wasn’t too far from where we had ensconced in Lincolnshire, so we decided to go and investigate. 

It was a glorious autumn morning, with a blue sky and sunshine but still a nip in the early morning air.  It was a slow start at the Fair, but the deeper we delved the better it became, and after a few hours we emerged with excellent stock, ranging from yet more interesting French copper, a few teapots in collectable shapes, big name ceramics such as Shelley, Crown Devon and Royal Worcester, good books and even some very large French tailor’s shears.  All in all, a good selection.

A lot of the enamelware at Peterborough is too
expensive and too boring.  I didn't buy any of this
for you.  Only good stuff gets included in my
selections, although I have to hunt to find it
 - just wait til you see it.

A terrific find was a French enamel splashback, which I really hope will fit in our larder-to-be.  I saw an enamel splashback on a TV show a few days ago, when a cool French retro home was being featured, and I thought it was lovely but I had never seen one in real life.  And then, voila!, within a week I found one.  This is one of the joys of shopping in Europe – everything is available.  It won’t go in our kitchen-to-be, but we’ve got a spot in the larder in mind.  And if it doesn’t fit there I will present it at an antiques fair, and if it doesn’t sell the moment I offer it for sale I’ll forsake antiques dealing forever because clearly I don’t know squat.  But that’s a false promise, because I actually do know quite a lot of squat on this topic, and the splashback will be snapped up if I can’t use it.  We shall see in due course.
I'd never seen a French enamel splashback before I saw one on TV last week. 
And now I have one of my own.  Yay!

04 October 2013

Angels to the left of us, Angels to the right of us

The Angel of the North, a huge sculpture near Durham in the north of England.  Stunning.

After having spent too long playing on Hadrian’s Wall and at Vicovicium, we had to forego visiting the city of Durham and will need to add that to the itinerary of a future trip.  We did, however, finally get to see The Angel of North as we drove along the motorway.  This is the most enormous sculpture, 20m tall, and at the time it was erected it was a controversial choice.  But its stark lines are compellingly beautiful when you see the piece in situ, and it dominates the landscape far more than you realise from photos.

I don't buy a lot of figures,
but this is one cute cat.
So we headed over to Leicester, where our freighters are located, to ensconce for a few days while we packed the purchases so far and delivered the boxes to the freight company.  Packing is the boring-but-necessary part of every trip,  but it saves a huge amount of money to pack yourself so Pack Days have to be factored into every trip. 

But having been well organised and got a lot of packing done, we decided to take a day to head over to Lancashire to visit one of the biggest and best antiques centres we’ve found.  Lancashire is a bit of a hike from Leicestershire, but it was worth the trip.  We emerged from the centre five hours after going in, loaded with boxes and boxes of great finds.  It was the best buying we’ve ever done there, with excellent bargains at every turn.  We’ll be able to offer fantastic prices on excellent glass and really attractive ceramics, so I can’t wait for the shipment to arrive in Australia.

This chap stands at about 14" tall and is very
heavy.  He dates to about 1910.
Our best buy was probably a large, striking ceramic elephant, c1910.  I know some people get all superstitious about the position of elephant’s trunks, but I’m not one of them.  I’m interested in the overall aesthetic of the piece, and this one is really lovely so I have no doubt that it will be loved and snapped up when I present it for sale.

I had also been looking out for some owls and chicken figures, having missed out on that lovely French chook at the Porte de Vanves markets.  And Lancashire delivered, so now I have two amber glass chickens sitting in their baskets, plus a couple of cute owls.  In the shop I could be sure that these pieces would have sold within a day or two of being put out, so we’ll see how they go at antiques fairs.   Being somewhat cheaper than I would have been able to offer in the shop, and really attractive, should help a lot.
Steiff is an excellent German brand, very
collectable and usually not particularly
affordable, so I was very happy to
score this fellow.
I don’t usually buy vintage toys, but I couldn’t resist a Steiff leopard, in excellent condition.  Steiff is a German brand, most famous for its teddy bears, and the really old ones sell for gobsmacking amounts.  It wasn’t long before the company branched out from the standard bear figures, though, and created all sorts of critters.  I’d never seen a leopard before, and it was affordable – unbelievable for Steiff – so it had to be mine.  It reminded me that somewhere in the depths of our garage are a number of vintage teddy bears that are mostly stock, so I must go hunting for them when I get home.

Owls are always popular.  This one
has some age, and it shows, but I
couldn't resist him.
So after a great deal of additional packing we headed off to Peterborough, to position ourselves for the first of the really big antiques fairs in the north of England.  On the way we called in to see St Kyneburgha’s Church, which is said to be the finest Norman church in England.  Kyneburgha was a Saxon princess who ultimately founded a monastery and convent on the site of some significant Roman ruins.  Those Roman ruins are really famous in the archaeological world because they are so comprehensive, but the church on top of them is also really lovely, with a stunning ceiling covered with golden-winged angels.  Even though the church was dedicated in 1124AD, some time after the Norman conquest, it was still dedicated to the Saxon princess-come-saint who built the original monastery and convent.

We’ve been really lucky with the weather so far, with no coats needed.  But torrential rain is forecast for tomorrow, and seeing how most of my shopping at Peterborough is at the outdoor stalls, that could be problematic.  We’ve not had a wash-out at this Fair before, although I have heard of it being snowed out before.  So fingers crossed that we don’t get wet, very wet, and that the shopping is inspiring. 

Next blog:  what happened next.
A couple of the angels on the ceiling of St Kyneburgha's Church in Castor.  Many of the tombstones in the church and the graveyard also featured angels and cherubs, together with lovely dedications that described the fine qualities of the person laid to rest, and what everyone thought of them.  It really humanised these very old burials - they were real people who were much loved and some of the memorials described the intense grief of their families.  Fascinating and very touching.  But it also got me thinking that this could be a good practice for us all, with our tombstones having to tell the truth about our qualities and what everyone thought of us.  Wouldn't that be interesting?


01 October 2013

Who'd be a Roman Centurion?

Hadrian's Wall, not far from Vicovicium.  It's not high at this
point, but wide enough for two people to walk along for
some considerable distance.
We left Bonnie Scotland and headed south through Cumbria and Northumberland, which were windblown and chilly but so very beautiful.  Our plan was to find an accessible part of Hadrian’s Wall for a bit of Roman-style trekking along it.  Yeah, well the Romans can keep their Roman-style trekking.  It was dang cold along the Wall!  We walked along it for a while, but then scurried back to the car for a bit of warmth and a good pork pie.

The Roman Emperor Hadrian began the wall in about 122AD.  It spans the entire width of Britain and can be up to 20 feet tall, so it’s dead impressive, and it took only six years to build.  We thought it was a bit grim that this huge edifice could take such a short period to complete when we’re still getting the rest of our house built.  But in our defence, we don’t have endless Imperial funds and legions of Roman Centurions to help us.  As an odd aside, we discovered that a Centurion was actually a solider in a group of 80 men, as opposed to 100 men. 

The wall is nice and wide, and still in
fantastic condition after close on 2000
years.  Amazing workmanship. Roman
centurions were all trained in
something else besides being soldiers,
so there were plenty of stone masons
So we headed off to inspect Vicovicium, the most famous and best preserved of the Roman Hill Forts along Hadrian’s Wall.  Today it’s known as Housesteads for reasons that aren’t clear.  When you’ve bought your entry tickets you are pointed in the right direction to find the Fort, which is a kilometre away, at the top of a nearby hill, and which you can only reach by foot along a very steep and gravelly path.  So we girded our loins and set off – if the Romans could do it in sandals and skirts, we reckoned we could in sandshoes and warm trousers. 

But what is it with the Romans and their hill forts?  What’s wrong with plains forts, or some-pleasant-location-near-a-good-pub forts?  Sheesh, they’re all up whacking great hills which take some getting to.  I know about the good defensive position argument, blah, blah, but hey they were Romans – they should have been able to defend whatever location so why not somewhere nice?  So not only did they have to hoik themselves up a mountain to get home (near enough), once there they got to wear only skirts, sandals and little tunic numbers in some dang chilly weather, plus they had to fend off quite cranky Scottish Barbarians at every turn.  And only the Commander got a heated house – all the rest of the 800 men at Vicovicium got to live in barracks with 8 to a (very small) room, a bathhouse that only served about 5 at a time, and communal toilets that were spacious but a bit of a trek to get to.  All in all, guarding the Edge of the Empire seemed to suck majorly. All good if you were the Emperor, though.  Until the Senate came for you …

The remains of the granary at Vicovicium.  The
posts allowed for a raised floor to prevent damp
and let small dogs in to hunt rats.
So then down south to Norfolk, to visit with our friend Sarah for a few days.  She has an acre of land, a couple of horses, a really nice dog and an interesting Victorian era roundhouse, all in the Norfolk countryside.  We went for long walks and had a very relaxing time, ready to plunge into the big antiques fairs coming up later in the week.

As an entirely pointless aside, having moved on from Norfolk and casting no aspersions there whatsoever, we have seen the worst ever cross dressers while on this trip.  I mean, wow, really bad.  If you are a bloke inclined to wear frocks, could you perhaps consider making them nice frocks?  And nice lined frocks, that would be lovely.  A good bit of lining in a frock covers a world of lumps and bumps that no-one else really wants to see.  Having the entire frock cover your entire body should go without saying, but there you go, it had to be said.  And I’m not completely sure about the rules of cross dressing, but are beards really allowed?  Really?  This is a sub-culture I have no familiarity with, but as a general observation I’d have to say that beards and lipstick don’t seem to sit well together.  The Brits do seem to find men dressing up as women to be hilariously funny, so maybe it’s a broader cultural issue that I’m learning about.   Ah, international travel, it totally broadens the mind.

Part of the North Gate at Vicovicium.  On the other
side thar be Barbarians.  And sheep.
Now we have a few days of packing our purchases, plus Play Days if we are good and pack promptly.  The first of the big antiques fairs is on Friday, and from then on it’s flat out until we’re next back in London.  Fingers crossed for great buying.  You shall, of course, be the first to know how it went.