It is the penultimate day, Saturday. I am standing in the corner of my 5 m by 2.5 m grey painted stand. My feet are on the sisel carpet that got laid down a week ago. The mortadella, cheese and chutney sandwich in sourdough that I have just bought is disappearing fast. The glass of cold white Chilean Chardonnay that is supporting the sandwich and me, is comfortingly still not empty. My mouthfuls are a bit nervous. I don't like eating on the stand,but I don't want to go away for fear of missing the stand clearing deal. But equally my dribbling chutney down my chin and onto the white calico upholstery is not a good look. My wife, optimistic and cheerful as ever, is cleaning the glass on her cabinets of costume jewellery. My stuff lurks in recrimination around the rest of the stand. Don't get me wrong. I still have affection for the pieces but the fact that they are still here tarnishes that affection. They are like children in their twenties who still live at home. Of course you love them, of course you will cry when they do eventually leave home, but another part of you will whoop for joy and feel like your work has been done.
Around me there is a wonderful binary character to the dealers and their stock. There is a dealer here called 'the trading room'. On the fair website they specify what they sell economically as; 'nice things' is all you get as guidance. On the other hand you have my neighbours at the fair Pinn and Lennard; '17th & 18th century furniture, metalwork, treen & decorative objects.' The former wears jeans and artfully torn clothes, has his hair fashioned in a cunningly tousled, slightly oiled manner and has a contented, successful, look to him. His stock is undeniably glamorous; pieces are chosen for scale and drama. They are what the estate agents call 'statement' pieces. Friends of his buyers will gather around the latest purchase and jealously, covetously admire. The secret is that these are 'nice things' not really antiques with concern for history, provenance, knowledge, condition or restoration. They are all about shape, colour and function. This is what people want!! Pinn and Lennard worry. They are concerned about every aspect of what they buy and what they offer. I bought a Windsor chair from them. They took me through the condition, the regional variation of the chair, they explained how to care for and maintain the chair for the next generation. They really appear to care deeply and have profound knowledge about each object.
If you sell Antiques here you face an uphill struggle. If you sell a 'look' you start at an advantage. There are dealers who strive to achieve both, but it is not easy. It is a sort of Holy Grail. It is a credit to the fair that both strands have their place but the team playing in the old, historic, antique way are definitely the B team.
I cannot resist buying, each day when I wander around to stretch my legs I find a new treasure to delight and attract. Graham Child, erstwhile of Sotheby's brings a collection of garden implements. He retains that smart smooth Sotheby's way almost like a retired senior army officer, charming to everyone, casually dressed but with beautifully polished and cared for old shoes. He chooses things for their sculptural qualities. Each one is metamorphosed from a humble tool to a cross between surrealism and the antique. I often gravitate his way, and I hate gardening. It is like housework -washing, tidying and hoovering, but outside in the cold and rain. Then we have the Norfolk crew of father and son Pearse and Morgan. The latter is relatively new to the business but his father has been around for ever - I suspect he was doing deals at Primary school. He looks formidable with a shaved head and a penchant for black but he is incredibly nice. He can be rather gloomy though, his stand looks impressive, combining a crumbling country chic with a dash of scholarship. But everyone is friendly and charming, they all are happy to chat, reminisce and discuss their stock. It may not always be commercial but the sense of community is palpable. They are all real people.
But I must not forget the dogs, they are everywhere. Exhibitors and visitors alike worship and parade their hounds. I don't know anything about dog breeds but every size, every colour, every nose or leg or head shape out there would be available for view at some point. There are the perky, cheeky, noisy ones that yap and need constant attention, walks, water and cuddles. Then there the others who are larger and more docile that curl up on a blanket in the corner of the stand and sleep or yawn all day, between the occasional biscuit, noisy slurp of water and rotation in their bed. It is the fair for dogs.
All week I have been wearing, to much comment, my daffodil from the charity Marie Curie. The masterpiece team attended a breakfast at the super sleek Bulgari hotel, sponsored by the generous owner Hani Farsi. I gave a brief talk about the fair and our party chairwoman Heather Kerzner enthusiastically and passionately roused the troops for action. The assembled listened and watched a touching film about the last few days in the life of the labour party strategist and erstwhile advertising executive Philip Gould, Baron Gould of Brookwood. The role of the Marie Curie nurses in bringing his last days, the 'death zone' as he chillingly dubbed it, as much comfort as possible was very powerfully expressed. He spoke of his own forthcoming death with incredible honesty and frankness. I spoke to one of the nurses, Irene. She had been a nurse, then had turned to holistic healing and finally had returned to nursing for Marie Curie with a zeal for care that was intensely humbling. We all pledged our efforts to Heather for the party. And I have been promoting the charity and its spring fundraising daffodil as hard as I can.