28 March 2016

Be careful what you name your child

Somerset hills

What’s not to love about England’s west country?  Gentle, rolling green hills, gnarled old fairy-tale forests, and extremely alcoholic cider.

This time we stayed overnight at Wookey Hole, a nice little village in the Mendip Hills near the Welsh border.  Wookey Hole itself, on the edge of the village, is a giant cave system with apparently very good cave diving.  What a pity we forgot our wetsuits.

On drive down we crossed the River Avon, which prompted Doug to tell me the story of an acquaintance called Avon.  She was named after the river in memory of her uncle, who drowned in it. 

A small selection of English Cornishware
Does this strike anyone else as bizarre?  I mean, unless you really didn’t like your brother, in which case you were so pleased with the river wot did him in, you named your first-born child after it – that would make sense.

But if you did rather like your brother, why would you name your child after the river he drowned in?  And it struck me, lucky the brother didn’t die of plague or something else dire.  Can you imagine the poor kid then?  Bubonic Smith.  Anaphalatic Smith.  Syphilis Smith.  It could have been a whole lot worse for Doug’s friend Avon.

We didn’t go to the Shepton Mallet Giant Flea last trip because it’s a long way west and our itinerary didn’t allow the time.  But I’m so glad we fit it in this time.  It now attracts dealers from all over Europe, and those dealers had carted over a great deal of fabulous stock.  So I shopped ‘til I fell down dead. 

A fraction of unpack day in our room
I told the Cosmos I wanted lots of semi-industrial stock this trip, and the Cosmos is delivering big time.  So now I have more French flower baskets, oyster baskets, tall, thin Hungarian fire buckets that will look striking with tall flowers in them, and some really lovely distressed wood stars.  There’s nothing functional about them, they’re just beautiful.  Sometimes you need a bit of ‘just beautiful’ in your life. 

I also found three very stylish French coffee grinders and a nice selection of enamelware, so my wish list is being ticked off nicely.  And we still have France and the two biggest antiques fairs in Europe to go.

You will meet a tall, dark stranger ....
Finally, finally, after years of searching, I found an old English fortune teller’s cup and saucer.  They’re used for reading tea leaves, and they’re difficult to find.  About seven years ago I had only the cup and it sold the instant I offered it.  

It went to a psychic who reckoned she used to be an Egyptian princess.  There sure are a lot of reincarnated Egyptian princesses, if you believe everyone who says they used to be one.  Strange, but I’ve never met anyone who claims they were an Egyptian peasant in a former life.

A few of the Hungarian stencils, interesting & tactile
This time I also found a good selection of very old, Hungarian roller stencils.  They were used to paint patterns on walls to imitate wallpaper.  Back when wallpaper cost a lot.  But now the stencils are very collectible, and I was first to this dealer so I got the best ones.  Yay!   

Our customers tend to be very creative with these sorts of finds, and I think they’ll work well on fabric and paper as well as walls.  So I’ll look forward to seeing what people come up with.  They’re interesting to look at and being rubber they’re very tactile, so maybe they’ll have a broader appeal as well.  We’ll see.

We're finding good enameled kitchenalia
One thing – no, not the only thing, but one thing I bought for myself was a lovely deep green French Art Deco glass vase.  The dealer told me she had only just obtained it and hadn’t had time to research it.  But it’s not a signed piece, so what’s to research?  You either know French Art Deco glass when you see it, or you don’t.   

Lucky for me, I know it and she didn’t.  She still charged a motza for it, but compared to what she should have charged it was a bargain.  It will look lovely at my house.

We didn’t see anyone famous at the Giant Flea, although at Peterborough we did shop alongside Carson (the butler from Downton Abbey).  To be more precise, we shopped while he sat and had a nice cup of tea. 

Victorian era Belgian lace bobbins
You can be sure to spot a celebrity or two at Kempton Park, the big London market, but we’ve had to cancel our plan to attend this time so we can instead visit the freight forwarding company to drop off the massive amount of stock we’ve already amassed.  

I’m doing the best buying I’ve done in years, and the van is so packed not another thing will fit into it.  It has to be emptied before we head over to France because I plan on a major shop in Paris as well.

Victorian era copper jelly molds.  Lovely.
So now we’re hunkering down in Leicester for a while, to pack and pack and pack.  If we’re very efficient we might take time off to look at the new grave marker for Richard III at Leicester Cathedral.  I do like a bit of medieval English history with my shopping.

Next stop will be Hungerford, a nice little village in Berkshire with a huge selection of antiques shops – but only one you can actually afford to buy in.  But it’s sufficiently good that it’s worth visiting Hungerford just to go there.  Then we’ll hop on a ferry to Dieppe.  I’ll next be in touch from France.

26 March 2016

Shop like the wind!

12 x French felt egg coddlers, c1930. Tres cute. $12 each.

I am a Shopping Demon!  There’s no stopping me.  I can shop like the wind.

Yes, the Peterborough fair was an outstanding success.  I hit the semi-industrial mother-lode, and literally filled the van with great finds.

It wasn’t a promising start, though.  We were there for the traders’ early entry at 7am (costs a lot more than the normal entry time at 10am), but at first the pickings were slim.  Slim to nothing.  I saw plenty I really liked, but the prices were ridiculous. 

Oh no, I thought, this isn’t good. 

Actually, I thought something a lot ruder than that but this is a lady-like, well brought up blog, thank you, and we don’t use that type of language around here.

French lunch boxes, way cool, c1920.  $64 each.
So for the first half hour I couldn’t find a single thing I liked and could afford.  But that all changed when I found a fabulous French dealer, selling fabulous French semi-industrial stock.   

Voila!  Suddenly my plaintive cries of I-got-nuffin changed to me doing little jigs.  What’s French for I shopped like the wind?  J'ai fait des courses comme le vent.  I think that’s actually a nonsense sentence in French, but you know what I mean.

I bought really old wooden well buckets, seriously cool wooden industrial stools, big, big pieces of enamelware, big metal milk carrying pots, big galvanized grape picking baskets – lots of big stuff. 

A few of the French utensils, c1930. $30 each.
But I also carried off colourful enamel utensils, and those nice, dinky enamel lunch boxes that customers variously use as handbags through to kitchen storage containers.  

And I got my hands on the most enormous green glass wine bottles I’ve ever seen.  They’re called carboys and they’ll look very fabulous on our stand at the Peregian Beach market.

After that the floodgates opened, and I shopped nonstop for the next six hours. 

Finally, finally I found a few small French wooden dough troughs.  I’ve been looking for small ones for the last few trips, with no luck because the very big ones are much more common.  I’ve only got three so far, but we’ve only been here for three days so there’s plenty of time.  If there are more out there, I’ll find them.

Vicki Carter are you reading this? This is yours.
And yay, I’ve also been looking for nice French Art Deco glass lidded trinket boxes for the last few trips, without a great deal of success.  Now I’ve got five.  

I've also got some really unusual pieces, including six English wooden kettering racks (used to store potatos during the winter), and a benchtop French bottle drainer that will look fabulous with small thingies hanging off it in someone’s kitchen.

I always look for French wire flower baskets, and so far I have three, but I also scored a good metal potato basket.  

The really big rectangular and round wooden French boards that everyone loves have increased enormously in price - thanks for nothing, Jamie Oliver! But I did get one of each.   I want to find a whole lot more of these boards, but there weren’t many to be had at remotely affordable prices at this fair.

Are we having fun yet? Poor Doug lugging a lot.
Poor Douglas was run ragged because I kept buying heavy and oddly shaped things.  He made many trips back to the van and had to get creative to jigsaw it all in.  Now he’s knackered, poor chook.  My own feet and back were complaining vigorously, and I didn’t cover anything like the kilometers he did.

I think it’s safe to say that Quarantine’s going to have a cow when it sees this shipment.  We’re trialing a new freight clearance company this time, though, so we’ll see how well they fend off the Feds. 

French wooden laundry tongs & butter pats
We had a bright, bright, sunshiny day for the Peterborough fair, and it was lovely.  But now it appears the English weather is closing in on us.  We’re traveling down to Somerset later today, to position ourselves for the Shepton Mallet Giant Flea.  Unless we’re lucky, we might be shopping in gales and driving rain down there.

The Shepton Mallet Flea is great fun, but knowing how to thwart the Queue Police is essential to ensure a happier shopping experience.  Happier for us, that is.  

The Queue Police aren’t keen on being thwarted, it has to be said.  I’ve devoted an entire chapter on this in my book, because the Queue Police’s antics are almost Python-esque in their absurdity.  And their apoplexy when you thwart them is dead impressive and worth seeing.

I’ll report from the wilds of deepest Somerset soon.

25 March 2016

Ghouls are no help when shopping

Ah, England in Springtime.  I like it here. 

It’s grey and chilly, but what would Springtime in England be without early morning mists and a little bit of damp?  Yes, okay, a whole lot of damp.  But there are also thousands of bluebells and daffodils, and little baby squirrels.  I like it here. 

What a contrast with Bangkok earlier in the week.  12 degrees in Lancashire, after a hot and steamy 35 in Bangkok.  My hair goes into Total Frizz Mode at this time of year in Thailand.  As soon as you step out of the airport you’re engulfed in an invisible warm, wet blanket and instantly develop a fine sheen all over your body. 

And we’ve never yet had Thai a taxi driver who wasn’t practicing for his Formula 1 debut.  On the way to the hotel we hit 130km at one point, as we gaily breezed past a flashing 80km speed sign.  Got to the hotel promptly, though, which is just what you want after an interminably long flight on a packed plane.  

And at least the drivers in Bangkok more-or-less stay in their allotted highway lanes.  A few countries over, in Borneo, it’s a total free for all.  Almost like dodgems.  And of course there are no seat belts.  But what can you do?  We turn to each other and smile.  We laugh in the face of imminent death.  Ha ha! we say.  Welcome to Asia.

But now we’re in the land of Road Rules and Queuing.  Much more sedate.  And we’ve hit the ground running.  As soon as we collected the hire van we made the trek up to Lancashire to visit Bygone Times.  It’s a huge converted mill, with over 500 dealers.  It’s one of the biggest indoor antiques venues in England but it’s seriously hard to find, even with a GPS.  Even when you’ve been there plenty of times.

The first time you visit you have to pay to get in – yes you have to pay them in order to buy things from them.  But then you’re given a pass to allow free entry for the rest of your life.  And we’ll probably be coming back for the rest of our lives, because the shopping is that good.

This place is supposed to be haunted – thoroughly haunted.  It’s meant to be one of the most haunted places in England.  And I’m as open as the next person to help from The Beyond to find nice things to buy.  

But despite my best efforts – suddenly spinning around to see if something mysterious was watching me, quickly peering into mirrors to see if an ethereal presence was at my shoulder, it always turned out to be Doug. He obligingly yelled Rah! to give me the fright I deserved for lurking in dark corners in such a haunted place.  

But nothing Other Worldly accosted me.  Or possessed me to make me shop better.  I did occasionally feel all tingly and odd but I’m pretty sure that was my jetlag rather than the resident ghouls – we had landed in England less than 24 hours earlier, afterall.  So I just had to find nice things by myself.

As you can see from the photos, this place is totally packed and totally chaotic.  The shopping is slow because of the sheer volume you’ve got to get through, much of it not worth a second glance.  Plenty of other things are perfectly good, but with delusional prices. 

But with enough hunting, you’ll find the gems.  I carried off nice Hungarian enamelware, Art Deco pink glass, a fabulous ceramic dragon-shaped teapot and a Victorian ceramic cat teapot, English and French copper pieces, a very beautiful and enormous Art Nouveau cheese cover with plate, and much, much more.  All in all, it was a terrific start to the buying trip.

Then we headed south-east, down to Peterborough, to position ourselves for the first of the big northern antiques fairs on Good Friday.  It’s largely an outdoor event and the weather forecast isn’t at all promising, so we’ll see how that works out.

The fair starts early tomorrow morning - trade entry is three hours before the normal punters, so we have to get up very early.  We usually do well at this fair, so I have high expectations.  More soon.