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  • Debra Palmen

I Quite Like This Job


And why wouldn't I? Here we are in England, where the sun has been shining, the temperature balmy and the shopping pretty fabulous. I've included in this post photos of a few of the goodies we've scooped up so far, but lots more are on our French & Vintage FB page, if you'd like to have a look.

We started with the Sunbury Fair at Kempton Park Racecourse in London. It was dark and chilly at 5.45am, but because Doug knows how to show a girl a good time I scored a bacon and egg butty for my birthday breakfast. He’s devilish romantic, is our Dougie.

Then we met up with Catherine, a lovely lady we had met at the Peregian Beach Market and who wants the lifestyle I’ve outlined in my book. And why wouldn’t you? I totally recommend it. Catherine had asked if we would guide her about the Sunbury Fair. We haven’t agreed to do this before, because on a buying trip you’re busy focusing on making lots and lots of commercial decisions rather than being a guide. But we decided to give it a go.

Catherine showed remarkable self-restraint in not buying a single thing, even though she saw lots of things she liked. I could never do that! But she was there to observe, to follow me around and see what I bought and why, what I rejected and why, and what I really wanted but had to walk away from (which is always a lot of things).

It turns out that Catherine has very similar taste to me – so fabulous taste, dahling – so I feel sure she’ll do well. With experience and practice you can always develop “an eye” for good, commercial pieces, but it certainly helps if you already have one. And Catherine already has one, I reckon.

So we had a nice time chatting and shopping together (well, me doing the shopping) and Catherine even pitched in and helped us lug things back to the van, which was lovely of her. On the basis of this experiment I would certainly agree to guide clients around a range of antiques fairs and good centres I know. So, who wants to come? Send me a message on our Contact Us page if you’d like to explore some options. It’ll be fun!

On this trip Europcar has upgraded us to a cool, black FBI surveillance van. Except it’s the worst surveillance van ever! At every opportunity it turns the headlights on itself, turns the cabin lights on itself, turns the radio on really loudly whether you want to rock-along or not. All-in-all, it’s a failure as a cool, unobtrusive surveillance van, so our enemies are going to know our every move. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

We’re skint this trip, because of the cost of sacking the incompetent builder plus the last minute bills to get the Porsche finally up and running again. It’s a seriously cool car and we’re enjoying hooning about it in again, but we ate into our travel money to pay some unexpected costs for that final push to get it finished. And that means I have to control myself when shopping, which sucks.

Having said that, so far I’m well ahead of the buying schedule. Doug usually spends every trip nagging me about not spending enough. Not this time!

At Sunbury I got to Louis well before the fancy-schmancy London florists, and I bought every single one of the lovely ceramic floor polishing jars he had. Yay! In your face, fancy-schmancy London florists! I knew I had to get to him first, and he hadn’t even unpacked them when I turned up and told him I wanted every one he had. Florists like these jars because any flower you put in them looks gorgeous, so they pop some flowers in them and sell them at huge mark-ups.

Then I turned my attention to some lovely old Chinese ginger jars Louis had just excavated from the same landfill, and Catherine helped me select the best of them. Oooh, they’re lovely. No patterns on them, just a lovely, earthy-ochre textured glaze on each. I might have to keep a couple, I’m thinking.

Elsewhere, I scored some lovely enamel pieces from some French dealers, finally another French flower basket which I’ve been after for the last few trips but couldn’t find one I could afford, some nice carboys (giant glass bottles), a lot of beautiful, dinky French terracotta plant pots, French and English antique saucepans and mixing bowls, a nice old-fashioned concrete pig, and a seriously cute pussy-cat stool, just the right size for a little person who loves pussy-cats. Plus lots more. I’ve already started to photograph a range of things for FB, and I’ll pop on more, with measurements and prices, as we go. A number of pieces have already sold, which is always nice.

Then it was a four hour drive up to Lancashire, to visit a haunted mill-turned antiques centre. I usually do very well at this centre, but boy the prices had gone up a lot. From reasonably priced to delusional since last trip. And yet I still found a good range of excellent pieces, including a lovely blue cast iron casserole pot (always hugely popular with our customers), a great Scottish wooden shortbread stamp in terrific condition, a couple of glass chooks known as hen-in-a-nest, and lovely brass trivet shaped like a heart, and an attractive, deep Blue Willow bowl.

Blue Willow is known to lots of people, even if they don’t know the official name. It’s always a deep blue design on a white background. It looks Chinese and shows the story of forbidden love, with a young couple fleeing the wrath of the girl’s father. They run over a bridge, in the shadow of a large pagoda, towards a stylized willow tree. But just before they make their escape the father magically turns them into birds (possibly swallows). This sort of thing happened a lot in ancient China, apparently.

Blue Willow pattern shows the entire story in one picture, and if you have a piece have a look at it and you’ll see the whole saga. But this isn’t a traditional Chinese story at all – it was invented in Victorian England in the late 1800s. So it falls into the style category called Chinoiserie (Chinese style). I’m very partial to all things Chinoiserie.

Blue Willow was occasionally reproduced as Red Willow, and even Mauve Willow, but Blue Willow is the original and best. And the good news is that blue and white china in general, and Blue Willow in particular, is making a come-back. So if you have any you’re back in fashion! Blue and white is a classic, clean, modern look, whether the stripes of Cornishware or the Chinoiserie of Blue Willow. Even if you have a totally modern kitchen, why not start gently and try styling it with a piece or two of Blue Willow. You might like what you see.

Then it was north-east to visit Elsecar, which has a café that makes the best pork pies in all of England. They’re only small, but they’re topped with stilton and caramelized onion and I don’t have sufficient words to express how delicious they are. Yummo!

More on Elsecar and then Peterborough in the next Newsletter.


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