THE BLOG

Life In the Arts Lane - Week 94 - Post Olympia Reflections

14/11/2014 11:42 GMT | Updated 13/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Sunday 5pm rolled round and the Olympia fair morphed from the serene elegance of a West London antique show into a frantic scramble of destruction. Everyone wants to get out at once, and we wrestle for access to the stores. Plastic boxes and bubble-wrap replace the aged visitors and family friends who formed the residual visitor crowd. I had been hoping for a final flurry of cheeky offers with which to tussle. Emails had been buzzing away from my various devices to supposedly interested parties for the last few days and expectation was present - if not high. But the phone remained stubbornly silent. I packed up, the carriers arrived and we all beetled around. A few handshakes, a few hugs and the occasional kiss later and my goodbyes are done and the car is threading its way through the traffic home. Three shows ended at Olympia at the same time, and the ensuing chaos and bad temper left all feeling a little bruised. Another long hour passes and van's contents have all been disgorged into my sitting room at the Oval and the process of re-ordering will begin in the morning.

But not before a semi-ritual of dining at the Dragon Castle in Elephant and Castle. When this restaurant opened its grandiose portals rumour had it that a group of Hong Kong Chinese had been conned by a wily estate agent into opening here. The famously rough area with its double roundabout and run-down shopping centre seemed a totally incongruous home for a glamorous and enormous restaurant. Not only did it seem out of place, it also served absolutely excellent dishes - both traditional and innovative. It has been flourishing now for over a decade and whilst the interior sheen has slightly rubbed off, the quality of the output is undimmed. My sons had notionally helped with the breakdown and their friend Oscar had been my sidekick all week, so we all deserved the post-fair Dragon Castle feast. We duly did what you might call a classic, which is to massively over-order - but then, because I was in the company of three ravenous young men, it all got swiftly and thoroughly demolished. The gastronomic highlights were their legendary soft shell crab, which is so light and crispy you almost have to hold it down to stop it floating off; and the sticky rice which comes folded into a leaf and is full of dark rice and mysterious strange dark bits. It is delicious, heavy and sticky - though billed as enough for the table, each lad consumes one solo.

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So, it is over. The food is eaten. The goods are back at home and eyes start to scan the horizon for the next stop on the endless caravan trail of fairs. In retrospect, the fair had seemed poorly attended and there were times when one could look down the aisle and not even see the exhibitors as they were tucked away on their phones or nestled snugly drinking coffee at the back of their stands. You hop disconsolately from foot to foot. But what is the alternative? To sit in a shop and stare at the unopened front door? Despite the longueurs, despite the ghastly coffee, despite the visitors who come wearing fancy dress - like one who came in an illuminated flashing clown's hat, or the elderly gentleman who came in very short shorts - the deals do get done. Obviously we cannot all aspire to being the dealing machine that is Roger Lamb, but most of the trade stalling out their wares seemed happy enough as they scrabbled to tear down their booths and head off into the night. It is a debate that continues to rage. The costs of doing a fair are massively high in comparison to the annual rent of a shop. Yet, fairs continue to proliferate. I have a client in London who is always busy. I sent him a ticket to the fair and he came and he bought something I would never have anticipated. The significance of this is - I would not have guessed to email him its picture. What is more he would never come into a shop; that would be like me visiting one of the famous tourist sites of London. For example, I rarely, if ever, go to the Natural History Museum. I know it's there and I know that it is wonderful and I would enjoy it. But there is no need to go today because tomorrow it will still be there. There is - in other words - no pressure. The conclusion is that you need to do fairs even to see your local clients - in addition to the hope that you will make a new friend who will ask you to fulfil all their buying needs for the next 20 years. Well, that would be nice! The modern dealer needs to get out and about; sitting waiting for the next transaction is a recipe for inertia and decline. But writing off shops is also clearly a mistake. Many people like to visit a shop, but the visit to premises has become a planned choice rather than a serendipitous accident. Clients come and see you only if you make the journey worthwhile. It is all an effort. In the end I did business at the Olympia fair and it was hard work; but there again a little hard work never hurt anyone.