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Life In the Arts Lane - Week 6

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The public Christmas is over and the private one can begin. The last party was the Hatfields lunch. A wonderful gathering, rather an antidote to everything else over the last week or so. Though Anna is in her 30's and her sidekick in the office, known as the Princess of Nebraska, is in her 20's, the average age of the men is verging on antique. I sat next to Ken who has been restoring lacquer for 51 years. He is an exceptional character and he fits in well with the current company. The average age of the local industry is over 30 years. They have all been to many a Christmas do, and they slip with easy fluency into conversation and turkey. 5 hours later and a lot of ground covered, I drag myself away to walk home and prepare for a family evening.

However the phone rings and it is a request for a red lacquer cabinet. I rack my brains, I know one in Italy, one in Belgium, and one in Cambridgeshire, and finally I remember one in Barcelona. I start ringing round; all are sold except the Barcelona one. Emails with pictures follow, then details, then money is discussed. By midnight there is a deal on the table. It may not come off but it is an amazing realisation of the way the market has changed. Things can happen really fast. Images flick across the web like leaves in the wind, occasionally landing somewhere useful.

But what is it about red at Christmas? My assistant Francesca has been wearing a plastic silver tiara all week. Something that at any other time of the year would be seriously odd. She has also been wearing a series of red jumpers some of which are bedecked with Santa and some with cuddly deer. Red is everywhere. Shop windows, street lights even the otherwise sane start allowing the red and the sparkle to invade their lives. It is quite possible that the red cabinet client is not wanting a Christmas red, but I would not be surprised. And to cap it all it is not the true colour of Christmas anyway! The traditional seasonal colour is green and it was rebranded in the 20' s by the Coca Cola company. Anything Christmas and red is actually an advertisement for Coca Cola. And yet it is ubiquitously adopted, with a glance at the voluptuous bottle of fizzy brown liquid scurrying along behind.

One of the most delightful aspects of the restoration business is the opportunity to talk and reminisce with people who have lived through the trades many twists and turns over time, people who have worked through boom and recession. However the restorer tends to be only broadly affected, as long as there is work on the bench the vicissitudes can seem a little distant. However a dealer who has been in the business for his or her whole life and is possibly second generation has a more intense tale to tell. I really feel privileged to sit down and break bread with these leviathans from time to time. A lunch this week was one such moment. Wonderful anecdotes about current grandees in their early days, selling from backs of trucks. Miles of complicated deals involving international trades and swaps. Planes missed and long car journeys. It could never be all written down, it's probably all libellous but Adrian and Rosie' s lives would thrill and enchant. I am very envious of the intensity with which life has been embraced.

One of the features of Christmas is the indulgence and I have created an indulgence test. It is called Butterscotch Delight. It is served at "Little House Mayfair" off Curzon st. It is a Proustian doorway. Not a Madeleine cake but a spoonful of childhood. I, greedily, often consume it. But offering it to guests at lunch is a fascinating test. It does not simply divide the fat and the thin; it does not divide the sweet from the savoury. Being a good eatery the Butterscotch Delight does not come plain, topping each goblet is a spoonful of whipped cream with a hint of vanilla, and sprinkled on top are scattered shards of salty burnt caramel. It is as delicious as it could be. However most people I speak to think of school or worse when they reminisce about Butterscotch Delight. So in a way it is not just a greedy treat but it is enhanced to be a conquest over childhood. So I watch those who tuck in and note that they are not only indulging themselves at Christmas but they are also moving on, unfettered by memories or prejudices carried from the past. The best people eat the Butterscotch Delight.