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  • Debra Palmen

England is Sunny! Yes, it's true. Mostly.

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

I know I said in my last Newsletter that I fancy living in France for a while.

And, bien sur, I still fancy that.

But today we basked in the sunshine on the Tattershall Castle, an old ferry now moored on the Thames riverbank and converted into a pub, directly opposite the London Eye. And I’ve decided I could live in London for a while too. Smack bang in the middle of all the action would do me nicely for a little while. Eventually I’d want some peace and quiet and privacy, so I’d have to scurry home. But for a while it could be fun.

England is always nice when the weather is good, and it's been good for almost this entire trip. We were drizzled on in Trafalgar Square (home to some of my favourite lions), but otherwise it’s been Happy and Glorious for us. I’ve even had a few beers, which I never do in Australia because I don’t like cold, fizzy beer.

Doug was pleased that the only shop I entered during our stroll down Regent Street was The Body Shop. It was by far the only shop I could afford to enter on Regent Street! I was after a fragrance that has been long discontinued by the company in Australia. They didn’t have exactly what I wanted but provided a near substitute. So now I smell good again (you’ll all be relieved to know).

We ratted around Liberty of London, a fabulous old shop full of beautiful stock. None of which I could afford. It was first made famous in the early 1900s as one of the first shops to stock pieces made by members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They're best known for their fabulous paintings, but they also strongly advocated a return to a pre-Industrial (a Pre-Raphaelite) era. So yes, Liberty stocked noice, different, unusual things. And expensive things.

The thing about the Pre-Raphaelites is that they were against mass-produced items on the grounds that industrialization destroyed the livelihoods of craftsmen and artisans. But while those craftsmen and artisans did produce very beautiful things, only rich people could afford them.

Mass-production worked because it produced household goods far more cheaply than any artisan ever could. So while we can appreciate the Pre-Raphaelites' position, we can also understand why it could never prevail. But Liberty still maintains the rage and today offers rare and unique ranges produced by artisans. I love how they style their homewares and food halls, with beautiful old distressed tables and benches and trolleys which I totally coveted. I could have made off with their fittings, no problem at all.

So there wasn’t a lot of shopping in the swishy shops of London. Up at the Lincoln Fair, though, it was another matter. As usual, I stepped out briskly to get to Zoltan the Magnificent before anyone else. And what a good thing I did. I’m skint this trip, have I mentioned that? Endlessly? But even if I had been cashed-up I couldn’t have bought too much more enamelware from Zoltan than I did. It’s in increasingly short supply, which is alarming for me because I sell so much of it and I need a ready supply. Even Robert, my main other source, had almost nothing. And Hungarian dude whose name I can’t pronounce didn’t have any at all!

Zoltan told me that with things so uncertain about whether European dealers could readily come and go after Brexit, he’s planning for the worse. He’s already booked several stands at some big American fairs, and said he’s not sure if he’ll bother coming to the UK again after next March. So that sucks. It might mean we need to investigate shopping in the US, though. Reconnaissance trips are always a bit of fun, scoping out a new country for possible good sources.

But anyway, I carried off all the good enamelware Zoltan and Robert had to offer, including five of the really enormous bowls that I always want but can’t always find. Then I went hunting for the guy I’ve often bought good giant wooden chopping boards from, but he was nowhere to be found. In fact, this time at Lincoln almost a half the dealers hadn’t come.

Fortunately I found another guy, a little more expensive than my usual guy but at least he had good boards. So now I have a good supply of large round and rectangular wooden chopping boards on the way. Quarantine will have a cow when it sees them, as Quarantine always does when it sees my shipments. I also found some lovely, very large glass olive oil bottles, a couple of French watering cans and some Art Nouveau and chinoiserie ceramics.

Well pleased with our efforts, we moved on to Newark. I felt under no pressure at all to buy anything at this Fair because I’d already scooped up so many nice things. We were allowed into the Fair an hour ahead of normal opening time because I was the only person on the planet who had noticed an error between their opening hours as advertised on their website versus their Twitter feed.

I don’t subscribe to Twitter, but the Fair's organisers display it on their website's main page, so the disparity was obvious. Or so I thought. So yay! having a good eye for detail on this one occasion in my life lead to the prize of getting in an hour before official opening time – which normally costs 55 pounds per person.

So we made the most of that opportunity and made a beeline for Stefan, a French dealer from whom I bought some really lovely green glass preserving jars on our last trip. They have a beautiful thistle on the body and lid, and I have only ever seen them with Stefan. They sold like hot cakes last time, so this time I bought every one he had. After keeping a few for myself I should have about 20 to sell.

I also found French weh pots, which were traditionally used in cheese making but these days many people pop tea-lights into them. And this time I found a good range of nice wooden items (called treen), from butter pats to big old French dairy spoons and a lovely carved duck, and they'll all look lovely when displayed together.

But the cow Quarantine is going to have over the big wooden chopping boards I found at Lincoln won’t get any smaller when they see the Newark haul. Especially because, yay! kettering tray man was back. He hasn’t had any to offer for the last few trips, but he was back with really good trays and I bought 20. I would have bought more, but Doug was not keen on lugging so many back to the van. And it’s true that kettering tray man is located about as far from our van as it’s possible for a dealer to be, at the Newark Fair.

These big wooden shallow crate/trays are sometimes called chitting trays. But I like kettering better. They were used for storing and transporting potatoes, so they’re coated in dirt and assorted crud. They certainly need a solid going over with a metal brush, which they’ll get in my carport after they arrive. Quarantine always hold them “for cleaning” whenever I import them, but when I collect them they’ve never been touched. I get charged for this fictional “cleaning” but get to do it myself. And no, I have never complained (except to you). With Quarantine you shut up and pay, no matter what they say or do, or you don’t get your shipment cleared for months.

So that was the end of the buying part of Buying Trip 2018. I spent more than I should have, but what’s new? I also found some excellent things, so I’m feeling good about what we’ll be able to offer.

The shipment isn’t due to arrive in Australia until early December, but then Customs and Quarantine will take an interminable amount of time to do their jobs, so we expect to take delivery a few days before Christmas. Fingers crossed that it’s earlier, but I know enough to not get my hopes up any more.

Fast-forward to now, and we've been ensconced in London for the last five days.

I’ve taken the opportunity to do some on-the-spot research for Calypso’s books while we’ve toured around London, which has been a bit of fun.

Buckingham Palace had a lovely exhibition called ‘Splendours of the Sub-Continent’, which displayed a range of gobsmacking gifts given to the British Royal Family by various Indian Moghul princes (like this very large, gold, ruby and emerald articulated fish). So from that I learned a lot about what could go into the book set in 1920s India.

And a trip to the Natural History Museum gave me great ideas about what can go into the Africa book. Look at the main hall of the NHM - even the building is beautiful, let alone the exhibits.

The illustrator for Calypso's books (Anticia) has sprained her wrist – a diabolical injury for someone who makes their living as an artist – so she needs to rest and recuperate for a little while. It’s frustrating, but there’s no choice but to chill for the next little while. And meanwhile I’m putting my time to good use in developing a variety of story lines for these books, and I’ll finally get that Peacocks chapter finished for my own book – rather than work on the cat’s books.

So there will be no shortage of things to do when we get home, and I’m looking forward to it all. But for now the next stop is Bangkok, where we shall rest and recline (and have a swim) for a little while on our journey home.

The next newsletter will come to you from Australia. Just in time for Collectorama, the big antiques fair at the Nambour Showgrounds, on 3 November. Hope to see you there!

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