14 April 2016

Water Guns and Lovely Hair Don't Mix

Happy Songkran!

Whoever heard of Songkran (Thai New Year)? 

Except every Thai person.  And every Cambodian.  And every Laotian.  And yes, there’s probably a couple of other South-East Asian nations who know all about it.  But apart from quite a few million people, whoever heard of Songkran?

Not me.  Not before now.

And for every clever dick who has heard of Songkran, did you know that every antiques shop and hairdresser in Bangkok is closed on Songkran Day?  Ha! Bet you didn’t.

It turns out I was horribly jetlagged when we arrived in Bangkok, so I slept a good deal of Songkran Day.  Doug has a completely different metabolism, though, so after a quick sleep he leapt up and got moving while I slumbered on.

Water canons are used for fun during Songkran
The Songkran celebrations are said to be the biggest water-fight in the world, with everyone squirting each other with water guns.  So they’re good fun in this hot weather.  Doug came back a bit soggy.  And he  found the local hairdresser momentarily at her salon, so he made an appointment for me.

So at a civilized hour today, I arrived at the hairdresser to have my hair permanently straightened.  ‘Permanent’ means about six months in the hair-straightening world.

They do a great job in Bangkok (and Singapore).  They use strong chemicals – they kind of nuke your head – and take ages and special care to get it straight, straight, straight.

It took 2 hairdressers to tame my curls
But my hair has other ideas.  It’s determinedly curly.  Sideshow Bob would be proud of how steadfastly frizzy my hair is and intends to remain.  The hair straightening chemicals used in Australia are like lolly-water to my hair.  It’s even a challenge to Asian hairdressers, who have an arsenal of chemicals at their disposal that would put rogue governments to shame.

So as much as the hairdresser tried, my hair repeatedly Zoinged back into curls.  She called in her trusty assistant, and between them they grit their teeth and got to work.  And slowly, eventually, after four hours, my hair relented.   

Now, as I type, it’s straight, straight, straight.  When I wake up in the morning all I’ll need to do is shake my head like a girl in a shampoo commercial, and walk off with it looking fabulous.

Enormous bronze Buddha for sale
We’ll see how long it lasts.  I can't get it wet for five days, so last minute Songkran festivities are out for me.

Meanwhile, most of the antiques shops had reopened after Songkran Day.   

No harm in looking is what we always say.  It costs nothing to look.  But of course there’s plenty of harm because we never just look.

It’s Doug’s birthday on 18th April, and that was our rationale this time.  So we carried off two Han Dynasty cocoon wine jars.  They date to 200BC and they’re pretty fabulous. 

Cocoon jars were used in the tombs of Nobles and Royalty, to hold wine.  They were only ever used as funerary objects, and because you had to be an important person to get a tomb in ancient China, these jars aren’t thick on the ground.  Let alone affordable.  But these were a very good price, plus we received another discount because they’re birthday gifts for Doug, and another because it’s Songkran. 

If only it would fit in the hand luggage.
Soon we're heading off to the airport, for the flight home.  We expect the Immigration officials to be the same as they were on arrival - friendly and festive, all of them dressed in luridly bright, floral shirts to celebrate Songkran.

We expect the Customs officials to be same as they ever were.  Black uniforms, scowls, jack boots.  But you can tell they're thinking how much they'd like to squirt you with a water gun.  I'm sure it's something like that.

Happy Songkran!

12 April 2016

All Good Trips Must Come To An End

We avoided most of the April Showers

We have reached the end of this buying trip, and couldn’t be happier.  Didn’t get snowed on, didn’t get rained on (much), and spent all our money. Plus some.

I hope everyone likes good Art Deco and Semi-Industrial (and sometimes downright industrial) design, because that’s what you’re getting. Trust me, it’s good. 

Good enough that I had to fend off all manner of French and Italian dealers to get some of the really good stuff at the Newark International Antiques Fair. But how civilized is your shopping experience when fending off various gentlemen rivals includes outrageous flirting as you try to maneuver each other out of the way.

We have a number of pretty plates coming home.
I’m not immune to a wink and a roguish smile, especially when it’s accompanied by a heart-melting accent.  But when it comes to serious shopping, boys, you can flirt and flirt, and give me one of those lazy smiles while you raise an eyebrow suggestively at me, and I will enjoy it immensely.  But then get out of my way.

The pressure was off at Newark, because I had already shopped up a storm throughout the rest of the trip. So I was able to stroll about and select only the most interesting pieces. Of course, everyone wants the most interesting pieces, hence the flirting and fending. But what a fun way to end the trip. I really must recommend this lifestyle, you know. I know I’ve just written a book all about it, but having done a quick double-check before I start the publishing process, I’ve confirmed it’s all correct as at 2016 and as fun as I say. 

This is just one stand at the Newark Antiques Fair
And sometimes, like this time at Newark, it’s more funner than other times.

Last Sunday, when most of the packing was done, we had an excursion to Lincoln Cathedral and Lincoln Castle.  The castle was ruined by Edward Montegu, as I mentioned in the last instalment, so there’s not a lot to see anymore.  But the Cathedral is another matter.  Enormous and very beautiful.

And there, in the shadow of the Cathedral was a nice little antiques street market.  So I bought a lovely smoky-blue painted French trug and some semi-industrial metal boxes, and that really was that as far as the buying went.  There’s something quite joyous about the pealing of Cathedral bells, and our last shopping was done while the bells rang out over the city.

Next time Caleb is naughty I'll remind him he's worth more dead
Packing is always the most tedious part of a buying trip, but if we don’t pack well we have only ourselves to blame if things come home damaged. So it’s a necessary tedium. 

We ensconced in the hotel room for a few days – with wriggle-bum Doug going out for supplies from time to time – to get the job done. There were old James Bond movies, Time Team episodes and some appalling show called Jeremy Kyle in the background for entertainment.  Why would people agree to appear on TV to discuss intensely personal and horribly embarrassing details about their private lives? It's either entirely fake, or they’re paid a lot, lot of money.

The last pack of the van couldn't get more packed
Now I can’t wait for the shipment to arrive home.  I’d love to do a pop up shop, if I can find a good location with lots of passing foot traffic and a reasonable landlord.   

Alas, such a combination is hard to find.  But I’ll look.  Landlords in Australia aren’t used to the concept of pop up shops, where you pay less rent because you don’t get the benefits of a long-term lease.  They can’t seem to get their heads around it. 

In the UK landlords really embrace the idea of pop ups, to give them some cash while they’re waiting for a permanent tenant.  So it’s a bit frustrating when you attempt to engage with an Australian landlord who only sees dollar signs when you walk in the door, and insists you sign up for a long lease and thinks you’re so desperate for their premises you’ll do anything to get them.  Even though their shop has been vacant for months, and it’s the landlord who should be falling to their knees in joy that anyone is taking an interest in it. 

Chinese & English china, all nice, all well priced.
We dealt with one landlord who insisted that we could only take a one month pop up if we first paid for the (considerable) overdue electricity bill left by the previous tenant.  He couldn’t understand our mirth, but at first we really did think he was joking.  He wasn’t joking.  

The premises had holes in the ceiling, walls and floor, no electricity, no running water, no toilets or any in close proximity, plus he wanted us to sign a lease for a month, with the agreement that the rent would go up from its already high retail level if we stayed for more than a month. Yeah, no.

But this shipment will look fantastic presented all at the same time, rather than the piece-meal approach I have to do at the Peregian market.  So I will try. Otherwise, I’ll get a website up and running and every time we take a stand at Peregian for the next ages it will look completely different. And that’s got to be a good thing.

My favourite bridge in London
Now we’re back in London, and will fly out to Bangkok tomorrow. So we’re almost home. I’ll get my hair done in Bangkok, get some sleep, get some good room service.  There’ll be time for a rat around some antiques shops, and then the long, long flight home continues.

07 April 2016

Smiting your enemies is always fun

Lincoln Castle

372 years ago Edward Montagu, the Earl of Manchester, arrived in Lincoln and gathered his army on Canwick Hill.  From there he sallied forth to besiege Lincoln Castle, and it was all over red rover within half an hour.  He took the castle, smote his enemies and jumped up and down on the ruins.

Fast forward to 2016.   

Dougie and I arrived in Lincoln and booked into our hotel on Canwick Hill.  From there we sallied forth to besiege the Lincolnshire Antiques & Home Show, the second largest antiques fair in Europe. 

The pitiful amount I left behind.
Within half an hour I had spent over £1000 and smote all my enemies rivals who also wanted lots of fabulous European enamelware.  Take that, you laggards!  You’ve got to get up early to beat me to the best enamelware.

Oh yes, I’m feeling triumphant.

As soon as the gates opened I marched briskly to see Zoltan (the Magnificent), who always offers the best selection of enamelware, and always ends up giving me a secret discount.  It’s only a few pounds off per item, but when you’re buying over 50 pieces it adds up to a mighty fine discount.  And a great deal for me = a great deal for you.

But despite my bolt for Zoltan’s stand, there were still a couple of dealers there ahead of me, already buying.  Damn you, faster dealers!

I had to take Zoltan aside so we could conduct our secret negotiations.  He doesn’t usually give a discount and doesn’t like anyone else to know he gives me one.  But meanwhile, those other dealers were already making their selections.

French window shutters coming home
So I did a quick scan of the scene.  All of that, I said to Doug, pointing to a very large group of beautifully coloured enamelled storage vats, bowls, ewers, buckets, etc.  So Doug got to work gathering it into an enormous stack over which he stood guard, while I strode off to deal with Zoltan.  Thirty seconds of fierce whispering later, I had cajoled, harassed and nagged poor Zoltan into compliance.  I’m a well-practiced nagger, so I’ve been rudely informed.  Meanwhile, Doug had amassed an impressive pile of enamelware.  Teamwork!

But it turned out I had little to worry about from the other early-bird dealers.  Rank amateurs.  Slow as a wet week.  They bought, what – 10 pieces between them?  Ha!  I bought 50, baby!  Just in that first selection.

But there was more than one pile of enamelware to rifle through, so while Doug guarded our trove I made more selections.  Pretty soon our pile of All The Best Stuff was looking dang impressive, and was attracting the buyers who were slow to arrive.  By slow to arrive, I mean they were 15 minutes behind us.

Nice things coming home with me
Ear, ‘av you bought all that? one woman said to me.  Yep, I said.  Wot? But you’ve tooken all the best stuff, she said.  Yep, I said.

What can I say?  I’m here to shop.  I’ve come a long way to get what I want, and I’m jolly well going to get it.  These pieces were a nice addition to the fabulous shopping we did in the Porte de Vanves market in Paris.

I haven’t had a chance to talk about Paris other than the play day activities, but let me tell you now it was fantastic.  It started off slowly, because for once not many of the sellers had done much early unpacking.  But after a few cigarettes, strong coffees, arm-waving arguments, cigarettes, double-cheek kissing to resolve the arguments, and cigarettes, they got their acts together and presented some beautiful things.  And I bought them all.  At any rate, I bought lots. 

Lovely cloisonne, coming home
Doug and I staggered back to our van loaded with the most beautiful enamelware utensils we’ve ever had, lovely antique copper pots and pans, enormous wooden cheese and chopping boards, really pretty glass, striking cloisonné, more wire baskets, nicely shaped galvanized tubs, wine bottle carriers, ginormous carboys (giant, huge, bulbous green wine bottles), and so much more.

All in all, the buying in Paris was a triumph.  But not as triumphant as the buying in Lincoln.  There’s always a lot more competition at the big antiques fairs in England than there is in Paris, because many buyers attend only those fairs to stock up.  Doug and I skip everywhere, buying nice things wherever we alight.  But for a serious quantity of good stock, we need to put on our game faces for the Lincoln and Newark fairs.

Lovely Art Nouveau, but too expensive.
I’ve done so well shopping the freight forwarding company tells us we should take a container this time.  We haven’t done that for years, but once you reach a certain amount of cubic meterage it’s cheaper to take your own container.

So the gloves are off and some really serious shopping is about to begin. There’s an awful lot I can fit into a 20’ container.  Running out of money is now the issue, but somehow I’ll make it work.   

The biggest antiques fair in Europe starts in Newark tomorrow. Today we headed up to Derbyshire and Yorkshire to some good centres, and came away with some interesting bits and bobs. But tomorrow is my last chance for some big-time shopping. We'll see what happens.

French enameled lunch boxes all coming home + more
More from the Ever-Victorious Besieging Army of Two soon.

PS.  Don’t you love the word ‘tooken’? I’ve only ever heard it in England, but I might have to start using it.