Huffpost UK Culture uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Thomas Woodham Smith Headshot

Life in the Arts Lane - Week 11

Posted: Updated:

Following a manic day of moving pieces of furniture left and right, backwards and forwards, and generally wasting time, we finally arrived at an arrangement of furniture and objects on the Sungoose stand at the Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair, Battersea that all parties were happy with. Sharing is a tricky business, particularly when neither party wants to be forceful. There is a limit to the amount of 'please do' and ' no you' and ' I never liked it anyway, you have the space' that one can tolerate before you just want to scream and behave badly. Anyway, we got through it and it looked fine. Pearse disappeared and Mrs Sungoose and I took up our positions, ready to sell.

But I also need to buy and I spent the early hours rushing around spotting things for the surreal project I am working on in Hungary. I have a piece of paper in my pocket with small print which is a long shopping list that I was battling my way through- divided emotionally between the urge to get rid of things and the urge to acquire more.

One of the joys of the end of the day at the fair is when to have the first glass of alcohol. In the old days we would debate at what time was Seabreeze o'clock. The cocktail of grapefruit, cranberry and vodka. Fairs can be very dehydrating and the mixture of fruit was always a good one, and a stimulation to push you through to the end of the day.

Once in San Francisco at the Fall show I had a few too many. It spawned the phrase "what you don't mess up, you can claim as a triumph". The opening night party of that show is now something of a legend. It is the most lavish opening party I know. Stationed by my booth was a curious looking waiter who had a shiny bald head, with seemingly one part missing. His head looked as if a slice had been taken away. He was super charming and had as his responsibility, the caviar and vodka shots stand. The evening wore on and I visited his stand regularly, indeed rather too regularly. Towards the end of the evening I was getting rather jovial and was looking forward to the exit. Suffice to say a client and her decorator appear and look intently at a pair of mirrors. After some time they approach me asking ' are those mirrors available?'. Concentrating with all my might and manner, I utter the word "yes" they withdrew and muttered together for some time. Again they approached asking " may we buy them?" I considered their proposal and with some trepidation managed to get out the word "yes". Probably the hardest sale I have ever made. But "what you don't mess up you can claim as a triumph" was born.

The extraordinary thing about Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair, Battersea is the number of dogs. Seemingly every stand and every visitor has a dog. They come in all sizes and some match their owners and others are diametrically opposite. I think this is the only fair where there is a dog bowl of water by the entrance. At any given moment you can hear a bark or a whine. The most intense moment was on Thursday when a buzz swept through the fair from left to right as the dogs serially went CRAZY. An announcement over the tannoy explained there was a squirrel in the hall!

The fair divides old school from the new. There are young fashionable people who look like they went to art school .They either sell bleached chairs and chateau windows turned into mirrors or cabinet makers' benches as serving tables and industrial light fittings are everywhere. Then there are the old guard, they dress smartly and the men often wear a tie. They sell antiques. They gather and moan because they can recall better times. The average age in this division is around 70. The art school types sell and sell and sell. The old boys and girls stand around waiting for a client who might understand what 'Elizabethan' means. Despite their misery they do find great things and Tony produces a fabulous pietra dura circular table top. The nicest I have seen in years. Tony is fantastic. He has been around. He has reading glasses on a string and a moustache that reminisces on its own. His soft friendly voice is modulated by his generous stomach that enters the room a moment before him. I have bought from him for years and years. His eye remains innovative but driven by quality and technical excellence. It is actually a treat to buy from him.

The Masterpiece fair does not go away and I see many of our exhibitors and clients at the fair. It is a boost when people come up and say how much they like the fair. Of course, not everyone does. But it is all good, I feel passionately that this coming year will be superb and I embrace the challenge of justifying what we do and the way we do it. I am particularly excited by the number of continental dealers coming. It will have a really cosmopolitan feel. The Caprice will have to cater for greater supplies of Prosciutto and rich dark red wine.

My attention on Friday was diverted by being required to be in court. I had transgressed, and I was due to be punished. A couple of months ago I had been caught in Vauxhall parking wrongly. I was due up before the beak. At 9.30 I attended Bromley Magistrates court. A building of no great age or beauty. It seems to have been built by someone who had stayed at a Travelodge hotel. Brick and stone combined to no great effect, even describing the building as mock Georgian is to aggrandise it. I waited patiently in line as a litany of bad parkers, people with no license or insurance paraded their failings before the magistrate. The amazing thing was that the case before me, a no insurance Spaniard, lived in my street-clearly a hot bed of criminals! My turn came and my excuses were acknowledged and ignored. 3 points and a fine. Happy days.