Monday, 27 October 2014

The social media addict

Sara spent most of her days hunched over her computer with her mobile phone readily to hand as back-up.  Social media was the lifeblood of her existence.  On the occasional day when the internet withdrew its mystical powers, Sara's world would seem dull and empty without her beautiful vintage bubble.  Early in the morning or late at night, the computer screen held her ensnared, Siren-like in its strange blue light.  Her husband had given up trying to speak to her and would often stomp off to bed with the plaintive comment "are you coming up soon?".  Her posts indicated that bed-time was rarely before 2 am.

Sara was an avid vintage-fair-goer and knew all the traders by name - not just their own names, but the whimsical, eccentric or downright peculiar names of their small businesses.  Somehow these became co-joined with the name of the owner and their identity merged into one.  There was unspoken competition amongst the traders to accrue the most likes on their Facebook pages.  Some were subtle about acquiring followers, relying purely on chance and a few randomly distributed business cards.  Others set about it with military rigour, scouring the Facebook vintage diaspora to find similar businesses to like, in the hope of reciprocated likes and "loves".  Reaching any round number of likes, be it 20, 2,000 or 20,000 would be the spur for a Facebook page "giveaway".  Sara was rather keen on those, having amassed quite a few wins by being the umpteenth liker, having shared to all and sundry or by posting a clever comment.  She was delighted with her haul of coffee table books, handmade knick knacks and free tickets - she wasn't too sure what to do with the enormous handcrafted dog bed made out of old pallet wood, though.

Opening up her laptop or hearing the ping of an incoming message on her mobile created a frisson of excitement. Whose pictures of the latest vintage find or decorative fair would be posted?  The Church of All Things Vintage thrived on social media and Sara was its most fervent disciple.  Her Facebook approval was given generously as new pictures, comments and updates jumped out of her screen.  Sometimes, the photos were quite indistinct - a blur of pink, somewhat faded material, draped over a bleached wood table or ancient old chair.   Such photos were regarded by the disciples as the pinnacle of "loveliness" and ardent comments would be posted, always followed by many xxxxs.  For it was never enough to say simply that something was nice, the prescribed words might include "lovely" "stunning" "chippy" (only in the case of a painted item) "beautiful" with the occasional "divine".  A simple like was acceptable, but a comment re-inforced that the liker understood the good taste and beautiful styling demonstrated in the picture.

Sara enjoyed vicariously the excitement of visiting boot sales and fairs, as her favourite sellers proclaimed their newest finds and bargains.  Some were illustrated with casual shots of items piled high; others preferred a more stylized approach with carefully staged photos of their treasures.  Certain Facebook sites could send Sara delirious with longing for plainly painted rustic cupboards, fabulous French chandeliers or painstakingly handcrafted fairies and dolls.  In a rush of desire to own beautiful things, she would often impulse buy from such posts filling her home with unwieldy pieces of furniture and sweetly crafted pieces, often left in their boxes and postage envelopes.  The thrill of the purchase was often greater than the enjoyment of the received item.  A lot of Christmas presents were acquired in this haphazard way.

All this Facebook time could have been spent far more usefully on her own business or even simple chores.  But Sara was in thrall and all other concerns fell by the wayside.  Her vast circle of Facebook "friends" made her feel part of something lovely and exciting.  Once upon a time it had been Ebay that had taken hold, but now social media filled the gap.  And with Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter all needing her attention, Sara was unlikely to find space any time soon for mundane necessities of real life.

Monday, 22 September 2014

The stylist

The traders at Vintage Decor Fair just loved a stylist - and the arrival of Lola Black, proclaimed by Vintage Style Interiors Magazine as the "stylists' stylist", was just too thrilling.  Somehow or another, Lola was never out of the media - magazines queued up to feature her eclectically styled homes in fashionable Hoxton and rural Provence, her rock-queen slash vintage wardrobe, her adorable photogenic children and her handsome-to-a-tee husband.  Her blog went viral every time she published a new chapter; her book signings were beseiged by eager fans desperate to catch the style-germ.  In short, Lola was a phenomenon.  And Lola was canny enough to ensure that her profile remained high and her fans loyal.  Her appearance at local fairs was part of her strategy of getting amongst her people.  And a spot of high-end shopping never hurt.

Lola's appearance at the fair was heralded by the sighting of her Range Rover Evoque by a trusty look-out on the front desk who spied her swoosh into the car park.  The  tinted windows ensured her privacy, but her personalised number plate, LOL1 was somewhat of a giveaway.  A sussuration of excitement went around the hall - "Lola's here"......  Stallholders immediately and frantically started to re-style their stalls to show off their finest wares in the best light.  The fair organiser rushed to the door to greet her most favoured guest in a fluster of kisses and shrieks.  Lola would never travel alone - her not-quite equally fabulous friends formed her posse.  All as skinny as whippets, with long well-groomed hair, the pack would strut into the hall ready to spend.  Lola, of course, ensured that she was the skinniest of the group - dressed in her trademark uniform of black with a coolly ethnic neck-piece (necklace is too dainty a word) and her vertiginious heels, she made quite an impression amongst her linen clad worshippers.  As the daughter of an iconic but somewhat wasted rock star, Lola channelled the rock chick vibe effortlessly.

Other customers blocking the aisles would part, as the Red Sea before Moses, to allow their style queen to move amongst the stalls.  Her progress was infuriatingly erratic, as she flitted like a butterfly from stall to stall, her eyes caught, captured and then released from the net of many artfully positioned pieces.  A few stallholders felt the warmth of her glow of fame as she exclaimed over their treasures - "what an adorable little chair, it would look simply divine in my French house".  And their status would rise further should a purchase be made.  Others would feel somewhat neglected, as the edgy butterfly flitted past without resting at their table.  Whatever Lola touched assumed a magical quality as her posse would scrabble to buy her rejects whilst the fairy dust of her touch still lingered.  Stallholders were asked by other customers in whispers, if they had a similar item to that just procured by their guru hoping to replicate an entire style with one standout piece .  The provenance of any item would be ehanced by the fact that Lola had "simply loved it" but had no space.

The pack would then come to rest in the tea room - nothing as vulgar or calorific as a cake would pass their lips, just strong black coffee.  One or two would slip outside to enjoy a cigarette - old rock chick habits die hard.  Purchases would be rounded up and piled into various cars and with a final round of kisses, the posse would depart.  Peace would descend on the hall with those favoured with sales to their style heroine feeling just a tad smug.  One or two would dine out for weeks on stories of Lola buying from their stall, bathing in reflecting glory.

All would eagerly scan the next blog chapter hoping for a photo or at least a mention by name. The blog, however, remained irritatingly vague about location, purchases and stallholders and featured a lot of clever pictures at funny angles unattributable to any one stallholder.  Oh well, at least Lola had been friendly and her friends did spend a lot of money.  The fans were satisfied and sales of her next book, "Lola Loves", were guaranteed.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Is this a cushion I see before me?

It was an unwritten rule that at any vintage fair or decorative interiors event,  the number of cushions should at least be equal to the number of visitors in attendance.  In fact, so consistent was the anecdotal evidence on this matter, that a team of crack mathematicians at the University of East Russetshire were researching the phenomena with a view to publishing a learned paper with full stastical proof.  Visitors to any fair in Southern England pooh-poohed the need for such laborious investigation - they knew that cushion overload was a very real problem and that the evidence was clear to see to anyone with eyes.

Many stallholders saw running-up a few cushions as an easy way to utilise their limited sewing skills and to enjoy the creative process involved in machine sewing up four seams and inserting a zip, buttons or other more elaborate fastenings.  And cushions filled up stall space, were nice and easy to pack and transported squashed around less yielding goods such as rusted garden furniture or large woodwormholed cupboards.  Cushions could also be crafted from a limitless selection of otherwise unselleable textiles including old grain sacks; linen sheets too far gone to be repaired; distressed and fraying kelims and rugs; scrappy patchwork quilts; old woollen blankets made obsolescent by duvets and other sundry offerings.  In fact all manner of textiles, old and new, were being re-purposed into cushions to suit every taste and pocket.

The cushion genus took many forms.  In its lowest manifestation, the product would be fashioned from some rather poorly designed, garish and inevitably synthetic "vintage" print.  The envelope fastening indicated the lack of sewing skills of the novice maker - zips and buttonholes were simply a step too far.  Remnants of said fabric would then be turned into bunting - the edges pinked to save sewing and the flags tacked to bias binding.  The cushion pad would be polyester, with not a feather in sight.  However, the lure of the gaudy colours and bargain prices would be irresistible to cushion-hunting virgins, as yet unschooled in the whys and wherefores of prestige cushionery.  And how lovely to be able to buy matching bunting, too!

Further up the ladder of cushion acquisitions, the more savvy buyer would seek out classy numbers featuring a combination of aged linen, patched with a favoured designer fabric.  The mid-range status cushion would be one that boasted old soft linen, adorned with a scrap of Cauliflowers & Posies "Faded Floribunda" range.  The canny cushion crafter would ensure that every leftover scrap of this "Faded Florrie" would be utilised for heart-shaped lavender bags; tiny, unusable pencil cases and miniscule make up bags.  The correct response of the afficianado, on seeing such a cushion, would be a series of small shrieks and moans, "Oh, oh, oh....look at that darling cushion - that gorgeous's sooooo pretty!".  And as the process of making a cushion was not dissimilar to making a shoulder bag, the stall would also proffer a range of bags, similarly decorated with scraps of the desired fabric.  No cushion on this stall would be supplied with anything less than a feather pad.  The cost of such padded perfection was eye-wateringly high, but each buyer would be convinced of its uniqueness and beauty.  Quibbling husbands who were suffering from cushionitis would oft be heard objecting - "Not Another Cushion". Naturally, their wives would ignore such petulant grumbles.

The pinnacle of cushion excellence was rarely to be found amongst the sea of cushion mediocrity or downright ugliness.  However, the hawk-eyed cushion doyenne would be able to spot a glimpse of vintage Sanderson or finest crewel work at a thousand paces.  Like a bloodhound on a human trail, said doyenne would hone in on the stall where such precious bounty was to be found.  Cushions of this calibre involved a series of challenges that would put the labours of Hercules in the shade.  Firstly, the vintage Sanderson, faded Victorian patchwork and ragged samplers would be tracked down at obscure country auctions or specialist and inaccessible textile fairs.  The exquisite antique linen backing material would be sourced from France, via a specialist dealer who was a "dear, dear friend" of the cushion artiste; maker would be too lowly a title for such dedication and creativity.

Each cushion was a work of art, repurposing the fragile and the frayed into an object of loveliness. As the artiste's skill level was on a different plain to the average cushion crafter, further customisation ensued involving monogrammed initials cut from old French smocks and chemises, tiny mother of pearl buttons, hand sewn ruffles and frills and exquisitely embroidered flourishes.  The completed artefact would be worthy of a showcase at the World Heritage Cushion Museum, if such a place existed.  This cushion was the creme de la creme, the piece de resistance, the Cushion Olympics Gold Medallist.

Such loveliness would come at a massive price - but the salivating cushion addict would loudly justify her purchase to anyone within earshot.  ""Well, it is my birthday in four months' time and Jasper can give it to me for my house present". Reverently, the artiste would place her masterwork, enveloped in acid-free tisssue paper,  into a large white carrier bag, rope-handled, of course.  With equal reverence, the cushion was borne away by its disciple and driven with great care to its final resting-place.  Once there, the cushion was unveiled and threats issued to anyone who sat, leant, slept or ate anywhere in its vicinity.   After all, you would not go to sleep or eat your supper by the Mona Lisa.  Jasper was none too pleased about the Queen's Ransom that he was expected to stump up for this early birthday present - he knew that this would soon be forgotten and that further gifts would be required for the Big Day. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The painted lady

Annabel was the proud purveyor of painted furniture - Painted Lady was her new enterprise and she had visions of becoming the next Rachel Ashwell.  Her addiction to the painted and distressed was triggered by an overdose of homes and interiors magazines depicting endless rustic boltholes, Georgian rectories and restored chapels.  Not a natural piece of wood or unadorned furniture were to be found in the pages of La Maison Francaise or Vintage Home Interior magazines.  Giles, Annabel's husband, sensing that she could be directed away from her previous interest of breeding Labradors, stumped up for a painted furniture course for her birthday.  Giles figured it would be cheaper in the long run to invest in painted furniture, rather than in  futures of Labrador puppies (go long on Labradors!) and the inevitable destruction that followed in their wake.

The Painted Furniture course was organised by an ardent disciple of the cult of the Lazy Artisan chalky paint range - affectionately known as Lazy A to those in the know.   Annabel was thrilled to learn that rubbing down, sanding and prepping were things of the past.  Lazy A paint would cover a multitude of sins with minimal effort - perfect!   Jilly, the efficient, no-nonsense tutor on the course, took the  ladies through a multitude of paint finishes and techniques, with each daubing and dabbing at their boards to get the desired effects.  At the end of the course, all were released back into the wild, having mastered stippling, stencilling, rag rolling, distressing and crackling.  A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and Annabel could hardly wait to experiment at home.  No piece of furniture was safe from her ministrations.  All went well until a very lovely Georgian mahogany tallboy, inherited from Giles' grand-parents, fell victim to the curse of the paint effect.  Annabel gave it the full treatment with a Boulevard Grey base coat, topped with Madame Pompadour Lilac.  Artful rubbing down and distressing lent the piece a suitably shabby demeanour, sealed by a thick coat of clear wax.  On discovering his heirloom's fate, Giles retreated to the 19th hole at his golf club for some gin and sympathy.

Having exhausted her home supply of items to decorate, Annabel became a regular visitor at her local car boot sales - a new and alien experience.  Dealers were delighted to offload their lumpen 1930s brown furniture, third-hand flatpack coffee tables and tannic orange Mexican pine blanket boxes.  No piece of furniture was too ugly for Annabel to makeover - upcycling had became her watchword.  The latest batch of Cinderella tables, chairs, bedside cupboards and the odd wardrobe would be squeezed into an already over-full garage awaiting their magical transformation. Giles' Lexus was permanently excluded from its quarters and had to live on the drive.  Annabel would set to work excitedly running through the paint chart to choose the best colours.  Her taste tended to direct her to soft greys and whites, but occasionally she would branch out and experiment with the Lazy A's latest paint colours - Jaundice Yellow, Poison Bottle Blue and Nuclear Orange.

Taking a stand at the Country Vintage Fair was Annabel's first foray into the world of fairs and markets.  Her expectations were high as she unloaded her hired van packed to the gunnels.   As she was the new girl on the block, Annabel was allocated a tucked away spot reached via stairs and heavy self-closing fire doors.  Her nerves were in shreds by the time she had unloaded all her stock and pulled it into some kind of display.  The public proved to be less enthralled by her offerings than she had hoped.  Most rushed past her stand on their way to buy coffee and cake or to the disabled WC; those who lingered opened and closed every door and drawer, perhaps with a friendly comment but no sale.  By the end of the day, her sales amounted to one folding chair and a small coffee table.  Some fairgoers had taken her card, promising to speak to their husbands about specific items - she was pinning her hopes on a rush of sales after the fair.

Back home, Giles' enquiries about sales and the possibility of getting his car back into the garage were met with somewhat sulky responses from Annabel.  And her froideur was further increased when Giles chortled about her paint-splashed arms and called her his very own Painted Lady.  Perhaps Labrador puppies were the easier option after all.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

One fat lady

Juliana was on the rotund side and was somewhat the laughing stock of the skinny vintage ladies whom she met at fairs.  She was a latecomer to the vintage scene, but had eagerly tried to conform to its unspoken rules in the hope of blending in as part of the pack. 

Rule One - thou shalt always dress in a linen dress, smock, floral or gauzy garment.
Sadly, Juliana's ample frame was ill-suited to the floating waftiness of the most desirable garments.  She had found a dressmaker who obliged by making her XXXL sized dresses, out of cheap and colourful linen.  Her bulky form strained the seams on these creations, designed for thinner and lither ladies.  Juliana's sack like garments were at least comfortable and hid a multitude of sins.  She was oblivious to the fact that she looked like a galleon in full sail in her linen garb, particularly on a windy day.

Rule Two - in wet weather or muddy conditions, thou shalt wear Hunter wellies. 
As her stocky calves were not accommodated by Hunters, designed for slim, aristrocratic horsey legs,  Juliana was on a mission.  Her quest was to find boots that could slip over her large feet and chunky calves. Hours were spent on the Internet tracking down the elusive wide-fitting boots.  Her delight in completing her vintage uniform, by securing a pair of boots that could be eased on to her stubby legs, was boundless.  And Chunky Monkey, the boot suppliers, were assured of her lifelong custom.

Rule Three - thou shalt have long hair tied up casually in a chic French knot secured by a pencil. 
Juliana's hair was her pride and joy, regularly maintained by Sylvestro, the excitable Italian hairdresser at The HairPlace.  But her beautifully cut and coloured hair was no match for the wispy golden curls or shiny blonde curtains of her fellow traders.  Juliana's attempts at growing her hair were unsuccessful, as her thick tresses became bushier and wilder as they grew. Sylvestro was not about to allow his client to appear like a badly-kept hedge and ruthlessly pruned Juliana's locks into a more practical style, with cries of "bella, bella" as she emerged from his ministrations.  She ws never quite sure how "bella, bella" she really was.

Rule Four - all stock on the stall shalt be pastel or white, linen, distressed, shabby chic, floral, French or combination thereof. 
Juliana aspired to having a stall styled exactly the same as her counterparts.  But she was inexorably drawn to the complete opposite preferring dark wood, obsolete and obscure items of kitchenalia, heavy garden ornaments and funny old toys and books.  Mixed in with this were a few sundry items on the "must have" list, but these sat uneasily amongst the weird and wonderful artefacts on her stall.  Embarrassed by her peculiar stock, some organisers would locate Juliana in an out-lying corridor or in a dark corner to hide her from the customers.

Rule Five - all dogs shalt be worshipped and adored. 
Juliana's household consisted of  five whippets and one husband; and all of the dogs slept on her bed. Charles, her long-suffering husband had moved into the spare room, as he could no longer face the broken sleep created by fidgeting hounds. Dogs were her passion, to the extent that her life was spent raising funds for all kinds of obscure dog-related causes, when she was not out buying her random range of stock.  Occasionally, she would bring a dog or two to the fair with her, to spend the day running in and out of the hall at their whims and fancy.  Her interest in customers was vastly increased if they had a dog in tow; the opposite with small children.

Rule Six - thou shalt only eat one piece of cake at each fair. 
Juliana loved the tea and cake aspect of every fair, and her regular position near the tea room was a happy accident.  Starting the day with a cheese scone, moving on to the homemade quiche, finishing with a massive piece of Coffee and Walnut sponge,  her profits were often frittered on refreshments.  Not only the tea and cake, but any artisan food provider would be sure to enjoy her custom.  Her fridge was full of homemade pates, pies and salads - often not nearly as nice as they looked and usually bought at twice the price of the local deli. 

Juliana frequently hired a man with a van to bring her curious collection of stock to the fair.  Wrestling with large garden urns and solid pieces of furniture was not to be endured.  Luckily, she found a marvellous little man, Tony, who was willing to load his enormous van, drive to the fair and unload the stock all for a reasonable price.  The downside was that Tony was always over-booked, so the loading and unloading was always done at top speed, often with dire consequences for fragile pieces.  Tony, and his lanky sidekick Kev, were oblivious to Juliana's cries and warnings as they clattered boxes and furniture out of the van.  Anything very precious would travel in her car, to be unloaded after the Two Men in a Van had departed.  She was worried about upsetting her hired hands.

Once the stock was disgorged, it would take Juliana at least two hours to arrange it into a pleasing display. The process involved much huffing and puffing, a very red face and frequent stops for water.   She didn't quite have the knack of styling of her vintage sisters and so her displays might hit or miss the mark spectacularly.  Her hastily gathered bunch of wildflowers was her token attempt to prettify the stall, by contrast to the artfully prepared flower arrangements and copious greenery featuring on other stalls.  By some miracle she would be ready as the doors opened, but the colour of boiled beetroot from her efforts.

Once the doors were opened, the ladies that lunch and the yummy mummies would whisk by her stall, eyes drawn to piles of cushions or tiny handmade fairies temptingly displayed elsewhere. Very occasionally, she would make a sale to one of the most selective ladies and this small triumph would be celebrated with the reward of an extra cake.  But by some means or another, Juliana did have her own loyal following and frequently managed to sell a large quantity of her pieces.  Packing up was so much easier with less to take home; Tony would turn up and load the remaining items in a trice.  Meantime, Juliana would be saying her goodbyes hoping that she might be invited to the pub with the other ladies.  As no invitation was forthcoming, her day would end with feet up, enjoying fish and chips in front of Coronation Street - eyeballed by five greedy whippets waiting for their scraps.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The pop-up tea shoppe

Visitors to the monthly DecorativeVintage Fair came in two categories.  Firstly, there were the avid vintage-hunters firmly focussed on tracking down the most beautiful and useless of vintage knick-knacks available. For them, food was but a distraction from their noble cause.  The second and larger group, were those that regarded a trip to the fair as a chance to indulge in some highly calorific, sugar-saturated and unhealthy treats.  The lure of the pop-up tea shoppe was like that of a rancid, water-logged tennis ball to a Labrador, totally irresistible.  The organisers of DecorativeVintage knew that if the cake ran out there would be revolution in the ranks of Middle Englanders but finding reliable and professional caterers was a challenge only slightly less difficult than balancing the National Debt.

In the early days of the fair, the local WI ladies had been persuaded to come and run the catering operation.  Their cakes enjoyed legendary status in the village. The gremlins in the tea urn were too much in awe of the WI Dragons to play their usual tricks and jinxes.  All had run smoothly, with slick sandwich preparation, fabulously flaky pastry for the sausage rolls, and sumptuously iced sponge cakes on display.   That is until the issue of crockery had arisen.  The WI insisted on using the crested china supplied by the village hall - probably orginating from the 1890s when the hall was built.  Unfortunately, due to excessive breakages of the precious china, the over-officious Village Hall Catering Sub-Committee had insisted that paper tableware be used for the event.  This did not sit well with the WI, who to a woman refused to serve their tasty creations and carefully stewed hot drinks on anything less than earthenware, with bone china the preferred option.  The Committee were inflexible on this issue, causing a schism in the village,  not seen since the days of The Great Drama Society Feud.  Thus, the WI resigned as event caterers leaving the organisers in a dreadful panic with only weeks to go before the next event. 

The vacancy was filled by Cressida, a wannabe Vintage Wedding and Party Caterer who started her business, having collected together a mass of pretty china for her own wedding and needing an excuse to use it.  Cressida had done a Cordon Bleu course after leaving school and had run the Directors' Dining Room at a private bank whilst living in Notting Hill .  Her new business, Let Them Eat Cake, was just so exciting - she loved meeting all the brides and visiting all the wedding venues.  She was simply dying to get out her lovely baking books and fuscia pink silicon bakeware to create marvellous treats for the vintage fair - it would make a change from all the seafood vol-au-vents and mini-Yorkshire-puddings-with-beef.  Cressida was a School Path mummy and coffee-morning friend of the fair organiser, who had little choice but to give her the job.

Cressida had not anticipated the sheer volume of customers that would be lining up for her exquisitely made Pomegranate Drizzle Cake or Roast Vegetable and Quinoa tartlets.   Whilst her food looked stunning, service was tortoise-slow, as her only helper, Jacintha, dithered and flustered under the pressue of the ever-mounting queue.  Jacintha had only been roped in at the last minute and was rather peturbed at the vast mountain of washing up that was already building on every available clear surface. None of Cressida's other girls were available.  Cressida clearly had no intention of doing anything such as washing-up or clearing pots,  her role as "chef" precluded such lowly work. Grimly, Jacintha set-to, handwashing all the lovely vintage bone china, with Cressida frequently reminding her to "be careful with that".  The working relationship between the two ladies was finally severed when Jacintha managed to break the Royal Doulton milk jug that had been Cressida's grandmonther's wedding gift.  And the fair organisers could no longer countenance such massive queues of frustrated and hungry customers blocking the aisles to the vast irritation of the sellers.  Cressida stepped-down from her tea room duties, before she was asked to resign and honour was duly saved on all sides.

The next tea shoppe incarnation came in the form of two sweet but rather ineffectual girls from the village.  These were not School Path mummies, but younger girls who were keen to earn some extra money.  Chloe and Lara had boundless enthusiasm, but with little or no catering experience were as useful as a chocolate teapot.  Luckily, the organisers brought in mounds of food and all the girls had to do was serve it up, make the drinks and clear the decks.  Unfortunately, neither girl could add up in their heads and without the benefit of an electric till or calculator, their sums were somewhat erratic.  The profits were considerably down, as customers were either under-charged or given the wrong change. A lot of giggling and chatting, and fiddling on mobile phones, impaired the speed and efficiency of service.  Both girls were more than happy to use paper plates and had no concept of cleaning as they went along.  By the end of the fair, the kitchen was knee deep in rubbish.  As a social experiment on "how the young would survive if left to their own devices" it was interesting; but a bit of a failure in terms of customer service and profit!  Back to the drawing-board.

The poor fair organiser's quest for the impossible was finally resolved, when the services of a very efficient, friendly and competent caterer were secured.  The details of how this paragon was located were kept closely guarded, for fear of poaching by other organisers.  No more broken crockery, snake-like queues of hungry punters, over-cooked shop bought quiche or insipid tea.  Just the hum and buzz of happy people, enjoying delicious homemade cake washed down by a nice cup of tea.  Finally, the organisers could relax and enjoy a piece of coffee and walnut sponge - truly, a just dessert.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The perpetual browsers

Mr and Mrs Jolly loved a nice drive out to a country fair, particularly if it could be combined with a slap-up afternoon tea to keep Mr J "onside".  They lived in an enormous "executive home" in suburbia, built in the 80s and characterised by its characterlessness.  Mrs J was keen to make a move to their final "forever home" ie a romantic country cottage.  "Rural Escape" was her very favourite TV programme and thoughts of "a-cosy-snug-with-an-open-fire" "a kitchen-diner with an island" "space for chickens" and "a beautiful view" were never too far from her mind.  Plus, she had a bit of a crush on the dapper presenter, Alistair Hudson.  Their trips to VintageDecor, and other such events, were research trips for when they finally acquired their country idyll.  Mrs J was in love with the whole shabby chic concept, providing it wasn't too dusty or grimy or rustic.  Mr J was more into minimalism, with no enthusiasm for knick-knacks, tchotchkes, floral curtains or chintzy cushions.  But as Mrs J ruled the interior roost with a rod of iron, his wishes were largely unheeded in matters of decor and furnishings.

Their trips to local vintage fairs and markets were numerous, but until they found "the house of our dreams" a strict embargo was maintained on purchases.  This did not dent Mrs J's enthusiasm and passion or diminish her downright gushing over each and every item on display.  It would take hours for her to examine the array of hand-embroidered linen cushions, decorative hand-painted china, not-too shabbily painted chests and cupboards not to mention all the pretty planted-out tin baths, dented watering cans and lumps of garden statues.  Stallholders would get excited, sensing big sales as she oohed and aahed over their temptingly displayed wares.  "Darling, just look at this pretty little table/cushion/lavender bag" she would coo to the long-suffering Mr J.  Enquiries would be made about provenance, price, the possibility of delivery of many an object - her interest could not be beaten by any genuine customer. Drawers would be opened and closed, cupboards minutely examined for woodworm, tables wobbled, chairs sat on, cushions plumped - a veritable vintage assault course. The stallholder by now could almost taste a massive sale, mentally working out the space available in their car to take home an impulse purchase of an armchair made earlier in the day.

Alas, it was not to be.  Having built the stallholder to a crescendo of expectation, Mrs J would dash hopes with her much-used excuse, "Oh, but we are downsizing - and I must be really, really good and not buy anything else!".  Sometimes,  a much vaguer promise would be made, "I'm just going to look round, but I will come back - I so love the xxxxxx (insert name of item as necessary).  Mr J would heave an inward sigh of relief but had the sense not to make any comment.  Had he raised an objection to the item, Mrs J would have to purchase it on point of principle!  The savvy stallholder would realise that the sale had slipped from their lifeless grasp and would refuse to engage in any further chit-chat about "your lovely stock" or possible discounts.  The newbie trader, however, would believe the promise of a return and the mouth-watering prospect of a large sale, at least until they saw the Jollys make their exit clutching nothing more than two garishly iced cupcakes from the Cake Lady.

No-one could quite remember when the Jollys had ever made a purchase other than refreshments, cakes and the occasional birthday card.  Mr J intended to keep it that way - he was very good at finding objections to every property sourced by his wife on the numerous property websites she browsed.  "Not that one, darling, we can't possibly take on a thatched cottage".  Estate agents' details clogged up their mail box, and were filed as "maybes" "yeses" or "never in a million years".  Quiet, unassuming Mr J waged his secret war and when his wife was out playing golf, somehow or another the property porn got filed to the WPB (waste paper bin AKA recycling).  And the details of a nice, easy-to-maintain bungalow would miraculously rise to the top of the pile. No shabby chic or "space for chickens" for him.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The seasoned dealers..

Jane and Trevor were old-school antiques dealers, in the trade for 30 years.  They were now enjoying a renaissance in fortunes at the plethora of vintage and decorative fairs in their home county.  Having lived through many fads and fashions their radar was tuned to anything that could be bought and sold at a profit.  Jane was the brains, Trevor the brawn of the outfit, and their trusty white van, Boudicca, could be seen trundling the roads from boot sale to auction on a regular basis.  They rather turned their noses up at the new traders to the market - the eager young blondes, hunting in pairs for prettily distressed furniture and French enamelware and the wealthy ladies having a dabble.  They'd seen it all before and enjoyed a good old rant with other old hands about how prices were being pushed up, nothing good to buy any more...blah, blah blah....Moaning actually made them really happy.

Their house would have made an interesting anthropological study of the hoarding habits of the Great British Public, with its many strata of long-neglected collections, dog-eared Millers's price guides, yellowing old copies of Antiques Trade Gazette and Collect Stuff magazine.  Boxes of stock were piled precariously in hallways and the kitchen, with only a narrow path available to the kettle, sink and microwave.  Partially completed restoration projects cluttered the living room - stripped down chairs, bare of upholstery; broken ceramics waiting to be pieced together and half polished or painted furniture.  Verdigrised copper kettles and tarnished brass knick-knacks decorated their massive inglenook fireplace.  Ropes of cobwebs hung from every corner, safe from the attentions of Jane's rather intermittent housework programme.

Having cottoned on that "vintage" "shabby chic" and French style were de rigeur amongst the smart ladies who visited fairs, J&T ruthlessly hunted down stock across the county and beyond.  Jane had an amazing knack of being first at the back of any promising vehicle at a boot sale, using her sharp elbows to ward off competition from the less gung-ho buyers.  Trevor's bulk came in useful to block access, whilst she cross-examined the sellers about their goods "Got any French any any old bits".....Sellers, too traumatised by the pack of dealers slavering at their boots to unpack, were only too pleased to sell all their best stuff to her.  When not at boot sales, the couple would frequent local auctions, bidding up unsuspected newcomers and securing boxes of mis-matched china in the quest for one or two decent items.  Occasionally, they would be able to buy privately from an estate sale - but they kept this hush-hush from all their dealer friends.  It helped that Trevor played golf with a solicitor and estate agent on a regular basis.

Their latest source of goods involved long trips to France, covering innumerable kilometres in Boudicca to out-of-the way markets and brocantes.  Without knowing a word of French, Jane would negotiate with gusto - the natives stood no chance against her.  Trevor would haul back the day's treasures - enormous armoires, bottle driers, shutters, enamel, clocks and heaps of dusty linen.  Both would then sit down and enjoy a slap-up French meal before their long journey home.  Trevor did all the driving and held the strong belief that women drivers were the scourge of the road.  Jane was quite content navigating and back-seat driving.

Their stand at any fairs was always somewhat unusual - whilst the shabby chic and French items were prominent, odd items from back-dated stock would also appear.  These old friends were hauled from fair to fair, with the vain hope that someone might finally buy them.  If a hard won sale was made, Jane would be hard-pushed to hide her glee.  The other, younger and less-experienced traders, were quite in awe of the couple, although they never invited them to the pub aftewards for a post-show drink. 

Jane and Trevor would often speculate on "how long can this vintage thing last" and would be beadily looking around at other dealers' stands to spot the next Big Thing.  Jane just wished that brown furniture and brass would come back so they could clear their garage of ancient stock and actually put the lawnmower away. Trevor just wanted a quiet life and more time for golf.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The children came too....

Anoushka, or Noushi Noo-Noo as her Mummy and Daddy called her, appeared to be a perfectly cherubic little girl. Her white-gold hair and enormous blue eyes disguised her shrewd and criminal cunning at gaining the upper hand. Noushi's Mummy, Claudia, was so thrilled to have a little angel who could be dolled up in smocked dresses and leggings with Mary-Jane shoes, mostly in pink.  Claudia was a regular customer at at the Vintage Living fair held in Little Bunting and little Noushi was always by her side, causing untold havoc.  But recently, things had rather changed and Noushi's nose was very much out of joint.  A new arrival, a chubby little boy named Alfie, was taking up rather a lot of Mummy's time and attention.  Noushi was not taken in by her parents' assurances that Alfie was going to be her "dear little friend" or that she was going to be "a very special big sister". 

Claudia was so keen to trawl for vintage bargains, that rather unwisely she decided to take Noushi and Alfie along with her to the Vintage Living fair.  Her husband, Seb, was far too busy with his "work" to be looking after his offspring, despite his affectations as a New Man and thus, totally at one with changing nappies, bottle feeding and general toddler wrangling.  Noo-Noo was wrestled into the giant Landrover styled double pushchair - designed to go across Arctic tundra and tropical rainforest - neither of which were very prevalent in Little Bunting.  She demanded the front seat, her body an unyielding plank, until her Mummy caved in to her superior will.  Alfie was transported in a fashionable "BabyHammock" splayed across Claudia's chest like a tiny koala.  Having loaded up with baby changing kit, spare clothes, toys and snacks, Claudia walked from her charming cottage, to Little Bunting village hall, home of the Vintage Living fair.  Other mummies would join her en route, similarly laden like Sherpas on an Everest expedition. 

Upon their arrival at the hall, Claudia exhorted Noushi "not to touch anything, darling" - this fell on deaf ears, as Noushi touched exactly what she wanted with no restraint.  The heavy pram steered perilously through the throng of chattering ladies and narrow walkways lined with wonky furniture, heavy garden ornaments and towers of textiles.  Progress was snail-like, often further complicated by some mummies coming the other way causing a gridlock amongst the stalls.  Meantime, Noushi had a lovely time and played with all the pretty things within reach of her sticky, chubby yet deft fingers. A cornucopia of knick-knacks were picked up and tucked into the pushchair seat or simply dropped on the floor, when Noushi became bored.  Claudia was blind to the chaos under her nose, as she bathed in the adulation paid to her firstborn son. "Oh what a dear little man" and "He's a proper little boy" as the stallholders competed to pay Alfie the most inane compliment of the day.

Baby Alfie, oblivious to his surroundings and admiring public, howled like a coyote having spotted a shiny red toy train amongst the piles of bric-a-brac.  Of course, the toy was totally unsuitable for a babe in arms, coated in a livery of lead paint and designed with ferocious metal corners perfect for serious injury. As he wriggled and yelped, Alfie was carried out by Claudia, leaving the mammoth puschair blocking all pedestrian access.  This abandonment was the cue for Noushi to behave really badly, when she realised that at last she was free of her Mummy's control.  Unbeknownst to Claudia, Noushi released herself from the pushchair harness and began her Reign of Terror.

Noushi and her "best friend at nursery", Tilly,  played a lovely game of Racing around the Hall slipping, sliding and skating on the well-polished floorboards.  The girls' excitement and volume of shrieks spiralled, with the perils of toppling tables, crashing chairs and cascades of stock adding a new element to the game.   Stallholders scowled at the uncontrolled antics of the two little hoodlums, muttering "breakages MUST be paid for" to one another in a glow of self-righteousness.

Eventually, Claudia returned with a pacified Alfie and at last halted the mayhem.  "Darlings, please stop - let's go and have a lovely cake".  Noushi and Tilly were easily bought off as long as their demands for a "big piece of choccy cake" were met.  Alfie avidly sucked down his milk, which he then promptly sicked up all over Claudia's handmade linen frockcoat.  Claudia  recognised defeat and decided to make for home, but not before a further battle was enacted with a defiant Noushi who had set her sights on an old and battered bunny rabbit toy.  "But I really wa-aa-aa-aa-nntt it", Noushi sobbed, gearing up to have an epic tantrum.  Having paid £20 for the tatty object, Claudia finally dragged Noushi away with precious bunny toy in her iron grasp. 

Once they had departed, the hall was at last restored to a picture of calm and decorum.  Only at the end of the day was there further drama, when several stallholders realised that a number of tiny objects were no longer in their keeping.  Back at the cottage, Claudia discovered the extent of Noushi's kleptomania when she found a cache of small items secreted in the pushchair linings.  Claudia's account of her visit to the fair fell on unsympathetic ears as Seb fiddled with his tablet and mobile simultatneously.  His helpful suggestion "Darling, next time get Granny to go with you" was rewarded by the sight of Claudia storming out of the house with the car keys, finally leaving him in sole charge of his by now rather smelly son and heir and a grizzling Noushi.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The stallholder's dog

Hugo, the smooth haired dachsund, went everywhere with Cordelia, sole proprietor of All Things Bright and Beautiful.  He was quite a regular feature at Russsetshire vintage and antique fairs and was always dressed for the occasion.   As a stallholder's dog, Hugo was allowed special treatment  and access all areas,  denied to the common-or-garden labradors, whippets and terriers who visited CountryVintage Living fairs. Hugo suffered from small dog syndrome, believing himself to be at least twice as large and scary than any other dog in town. He was less than keen on sharing the space around his human's stall.  A rumbling growl would emmanate from under the table, should any other canine dare to sniff at his garden urns or galvanised baths, or even put a paw into the 12 Mile Dog Exclusion Zone.

Hugo was also the star of his very own "Dogbook" page, where his latest antics and activities would be lovingly described.  Cordelia adopted a very special style of writing for Hugo's "voice".  Hugo is "very actually quite a busy dog" and delegates the diarising of his busy social whirl to Cordelia, his willing slave.

Cordelia loved to spoil  Hugo, her "precious furbaby" and he possessed a wardrobe that would put Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen to shame.  His winter attire consisted of tailored coats of Harris tweed, naturally, created with as much care as a Savile Row tailor by Dapper Dogs.  Or a Barbour raincoat lined with softest Scottish cashmere, for inclement weather.  Summer outfits were equally flamboyant with a special blazer designed for formal wear and number of doggie T-shirts with witty slogans for dress-down days.  Hugo bore the dressing and undressing with placid good nature, recognising that he received far more treats and attention when dressed up.  His fancy dress wear was a legend - he had Superhero costumes, a Reindeer outfit for Christmas and an Easter Chick bright yellow fluffy fleece.All of which endeared him to ladies and small children and garnered him treats a-plenty.

The stallholders adored Hugo -he was the object of much fawning, petting and baby talk " how is ickle baby Hugo today" they would coo.  However, noone wanted to be on the adjacent stall - customers would be browsing but on catching sight of darling Hugo, would drop any item and move immediately to admire the tiny dog.  Many sales were lost in this way.  Cordelia, however, was quids in - her special range of handmade dog treats beautifully packed into Kilner Jars with bespoke dachshund-shaped labels - went down a storm.  And rather conveniently, Hugo would do well when purchasers proffered him a treat from the just-purchased jar. 

Once the initial bout of Hugo-worship abated, he would curl up on his custom-made dog bed - French ticking upholstery - for a lovely sleep.  He would dream of chasing rabbits and running across enormous fields, naked in his fur leading a pack of slavering hounds.  Naturally, he would catch his prey and be the hero of the hour.

At the end of every market, Hugo would be bundled into the footwell of Cordelia's over-loaded car squashed between plants, a handbag and precariously loaded stock.  He enjoyed sniffing and chewing woodwormy bits of furniture, redolent of old French chiens from centuries past!  Disappointingly, Cordelia did not share his delight in this activity, or indeed allow him free reign amongst her stock.  Sometimes, Hugo reflected, it's a dog's life!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The lone wolf - the male stallholder

All the vintage ladies loved Inigo, who was often the sole representative of his gender trading at The Vintage Loveliness market.  Whilst Inigo was quite clearly gay, and as camp as a row of tents, his predilection for outrageous statements, caustic asides and  flirtatious charm was irresistible to all but the most diehard prude.  As thin as a whip, Inigo dressed as a countryman in cords, Viyella checked shirts and a dashing cloth cap.  His summer garb consisted of a crumpled linen jacket and trousers - he would never, ever, be seen wearing a  T-shirt.  His only concession to modernity was his ancient mobile phone - a computer was beyond him. 

On arrival to set up, Inigo would be showered with kisses - "both cheeks please" and given a hero's welcome as his adoring public trilled at his every bon mot.  Inigo's aesthetic sensibilities were finely honed and he would often suppress a shudder at the sight of poorly laid out stock.    He was a self-confessed design snob and with his background in Fine Art, his taste was exquisite if somewhat left field.  Not for him the cluttered table, loaded with motley bric-a-brac or splashily painted bits of "upcycled" furniture.  Often, his stall would feature just a few beautifully styled objets d'art - quirky, unique and electic were his watchwords.  Or, he would delve into his trove of old textiles and pile up museum quality antique French toile de Jouy, English damasks and brocades, butter and coffee-coloured linens, Japanese kimonos and Indian hemp sacks.  The buyers would fall upon his stock like hungry dogs and he would often sell out within the first hour, much to the envy of his fellow traders.   He was deliberately vague about his sources and no-one had ever seen him at any local auction or boot sale, despite vigorous interrogation by his peers.

Despite his easy charm, Inigo was a man of mystery.  No-one quite knew how he survived between each vintage fair - he had no other obvious source of income nor admitted to having any kind of job.  It was only known that he lived in a converted coach house, attached to the side of the largest Victorian house in the village with his aged mother, Venetia.  Rumour had it that Venetia had been an Actress and a Beauty in her time and Inigo was her only child, the product of a short liaison with a famous director.  Unable to escape her talon-like clutches for a more conventional suburban existence, "dear, precious Inigo" was firmly attached to his mother's apron strings.   Venetia claimed that he was the only one who understood her artistic sensibilities and ensured that he was never able to leave to create an independent life.  This quite suited Inigo, who having tried a career in a leading auction house, had never quite recovered from the experience.  And as
his mother had spent her life acquiring beautiful antiques and had a wardrobe packed with designer fashion from the 50s onwards, there was no shortage of stock for his little business. 

Having sold out early on, Inigo would spend the rest of the day flitting between the over-loaded stalls, gossiping with his special ladies and then would disappear for a couple of hours to the local pub.  He stayed well clear of the posse of husbands staking out the tea room - he was unwilling to be drawn into discussions of cricket scores or politics.  Instead, the landlord of the Hedgehog and Shovel would pour him a large G&T and he could catch up on village gossip.  And as the pub was a "Venetia Free Zone", he was safe for a few hours from his demanding parent.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Queen Bee of Vintage

Clarissa was the self-appointed queen of vintage and her presence at any event was only marginally less of a sensation than a visit by HRH herself. Swathed in soft linens in the most tasteful shades of lavender and grey, she would arrive in a flurry of kisses and exclamations about her simply frightful journey across country from deepest Hampshire.  Her long-suffering husband, Piers, dragged away from his gardening or cricket would drive for miles across country to visit the latest vintage or homes and interiors event.  He was oblivious to the charm of Barrow & Fall painted tables, embroidered linens or French garden furniture.  His only consolation was the promise of a good pub lunch and quiet read of the paper whilst Clarissa struck fear and trembling amongst her followers.

Clarissa’s procession through the array of stalls was akin to the Royal line-up at a charity premiere.  Pausing before each stall, she would wait for the stallholder to make a suitably obsequious greeting before examining the carefully displayed stock.  She was the Simon Cowell of the vintage world – her word could make or break a business.  Her keen eye would unerringly fall upon any handmade item – and however well-made or beautifully designed, she would be sure to find fault.  Her sharp criticism would drop upon the lowered head of her submissive victim, dashing their hopes of approval to the ground.  Occasionally, a gracious word or compliment would be issued with the invitation to apply for a stand at her prestigious Blathington Exquisite Living Fair.  The obeisant stallholders prayed that they would be accorded the privilege of an invitation to stand at Blathington, the stately home of the Portland-Stone family. (Grade I Listed, of course).

In the vintage world, Blathington was regarded as the crème de la crème of all fairs. Ladies that lunch and their younger sisters, the yummy mummies, from all over Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and beyond would flock to buy over-priced shabby chic furniture and mysterious rustic objects to dress their country houses or seaside villas.  Of course, access to such greatness did not come cheap – on accepting one’s hard-won invitation to exhibit, an invoice for the equivalent of a small country’s Gross Domestic Product would follow.  Wannabe traders would almost bob a curtsey when speaking to Clarissa in the hope that they would receive the magic key to unlock this well-guarded door.  The chosen ones could not help but feel a slight smugness, even tinged with schadenfreude, as their less successful peers agonised at being overlooked or downright ignored.  Clarissa’s co-organiser, Froggy Portland-Stone whose family owned Blathington, was a further barrier to entry.  If Clarissa was head girl, Froggy was the fourth form toady, agreeing with Clarissa's every crushing word.  It was quite a mystery as to why or how anyone was picked, so exacting and convoluted were their standards.

Having laid out a small fortune for the pleasure of exhibiting, stand holders would then be expected to undergo further trials of character and humility.  Set-up day was notorious for its difficulties akin to the labours of Hercules.  The marquees would be laid out in the landscaped gardens – but no vehicle would be allowed to cross the hallowed turf.  Instead, freshly painted cupboards, chests, shelves, trunks, boxes of china and garden statuary would be carried or trollied by sweating porters and grumpy husbands to their final resting point.  Often, patience and nerve would be further tested by downpours of rain and seas of mud, not to mention slippery moss-coated flagstones and uneven grass.  Having negotiated these obstacles, stallholders would then spend many hours dressing the walls of their marquees and setting up displays of their carefully sourced stock.  Clarissa and Froggy would patrol the stands to keep out aesthetic anomalies such as tribal artefacts or warehouse-sourced atrocities. 
As day turned to night, the stallholders would become more frenetic in their efforts to create an eye-catching display that would gain the seal of approval from the two hard-to-please organisers.  Stressed and exhausted, the stallholders would spend a sleepless night fretting about their placement of objets and their chances of recouping the queen’s ransom of their stand fee

On the day, Blathington would be swamped by 4x4s carrying maquillaged ladies suitably attired in linen smocks and floral dresses with the obligatory Hunter wellies.  Well-bred ladies would turn into avid hunters, keen to find the latest fashionably distressed table or vintage Sanderson-clad armchair.  Clarissa and Froggy would hold court from their own lavishly adorned stands, enjoying their moment of glory.

By the end of the day, stallholders would be on their knees with exhaustion, vowing never to put themselves through such pain again.  The final straw would be breaking down their stands and carrying stock across the well-trodden and now very muddy paths.  Frayed tempers, tussles over well located parking spaces and general tiredness would add to the explosive atmosphere.   Finally, the gardens and drives of Blathington would be returned to their normally somnolent state.  Meanwhile, Clarissa and Froggy would be counting up their enormous takings whilst swigging well chilled vintage champagne.  After all, what else would the queen of vintage and her lady-in-waiting deserve after all their hard work.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The frantic fair organiser...

Charlotte's passion for all things vintage and her countless forays to vintage fairs across England, were the catalyst for her ambitions to hold her very own vintage fair.  She just loved organising things - her wedding had been a masterpiece of vintage styling from the sweetly mismatched tea-cups to the original 1920s cricket pavilion where the reception took place - and was determined to style her event with similar panache.  Plus, she reckoned that the money she made would subsidise her addiction to purposeless but pretty bric-a-brac and crumbling old furniture.  With all the enthusiasm of a young Labrador, Charlotte rushed ahead with her plans for the very first Stately Home Vintage to be held in Russetshire.

Her vision of a pastoral setting, with a fluttering vintage marquee housing oodles of pretty stalls, dozens of genial customers, a pack of  friendly stallholders and enthusiastic locals was perhaps a touch optimistic.  Charlotte however, was not a girl to be daunted by any sensible advice given by well-meaning friends.

Her greatest friend, Amanda, another vintage fanatic was roped in to provide help, support and lots of cups of coffee during the planning process.  Post school-run, both ladies would convene at Charlotte's kitchen table for yet another planning meeting.  This was perhaps a generous description of what usually turned into a marathon bitchfest about the other school mummies fuelled by Tassino coffees a-plenty.  However, progress was made and the grounds of Dandridge Towers in the ancient village of Lower Bogsborough secured as the venue for the first Stately Home Vintage fair.

Dandridge Towers was a monument to the Victorian Gothic, with its lavishly turreted facade, lancet windows and excessive crenallations.  The fair was to be located in the vast gardens which had almost been lost due to post-war neglect and decay, becoming overgrown to the point of wildnerness.  Lord Jasper Dandridge's millions, the result of a stratospheric career in the City and clever investment into hedge funds, had been poured into their restoration.  The Guinea Pig Lawn was to be the site of the main event, with the "pop-up tea shoppe" sited in the old Gardener's Bothy and parking on the old tennis courts and pony paddocks.  Visitors to the fair would also be able to visit the famous Blue Garden (Gertrude Jekyll) and the recently refurbished Sunken Garden, complete with its Italianate Singing Fountains.  This was to be the vintage event of the summer.

Lady Dandridge, who had been Lord D's PA, was quite thrilled to have a vintage fair in her very own grounds.  She had never quite fitted into the County Set with their obsession with shooting, dogs and horses.  She had already began to "shabby chic" some of the rooms in Dandridge Towers, much to the disgust of her very traditional mother-in-law.  It was expected that her address book would be plundered for potential customers.

Charlotte was keen to invite only the creme de la creme of the vintage circuit traders and immediately set to work issuing invitations to those that had made the grade.  Unfortunately, this led to some ill-feeling amongst the local vintage dealers who were not invited.  Certain smart vintage businesses were "must-haves" if the fair was to have any credibility - this elite group would be given premier stalls at the front of the vast marquee.  After much haggling and negotiations on a par with the Middle East Peace Talks, a final list of 30 favoured stalls and traders was in place.  Meantime, Charlotte and any friend she could rope in, were littering the countryside with fliers and posters for the event. No corner store, bus shelter or antique centre was left untouched.  Endless Facebook posting and Tweets reminded everyone in Charlotte's social circle of the event.

Come the day, Charlotte's nerves were in shreds.  A key stallholder had cancelled at the last minute, leaving a prime space empty involving a major re-think on the site plan.  The parish council in Lower Bogsborough had taken offence at the multitude of signs posted all over verges and fences and an over-zealous councillor had removed them to a location unknown.  The operators of the "pop up" tea room were not answering any phone calls or emails, due to their involvement in a major society wedding the week before.  Her phone was red hot with endless calls from anxious stallholders "now you will put me next to Hetty, won't you" and visitors "are there any coaches laid on from the railway station".  Charlotte was ready to explode but luckily, Amanda her stalwart lieutenant was able to shield her from some of the more irritating individuals.

Despite issuing strict instructions on set-up times - "no-one before eight am please" - many stallholders were sitting in the car park before Charlotte was ready.  A manic two hours was to follow, with worker ants carrying their loads to the marquee and other worker ants unpacking as fast as they could.  Gradually, calm was restored and amazingly, elegant and tempting displays emerged from the clouds of tissue paper and bubble wrap.

Charlotte was thrilled when a queue started to build at the entrance point, champing at the bit to race one another to the bargains and hidden gems they felt sure were to be found.  No-one baulked at the £5 entry fee, to include a voucher for a tour of the gardens and a complimentary cup of tea. Once started, the buzz of excitement was evident with stallholders doing brisk business with their customers.  The slightly boggy ground and the freezing gusts of wind were soon forgotten as traders subtly counted their takings.

There were a few hiccups, of course.  The Portaloos were blocked and a massive queue formed for the only working loo available.  The tea rooms ran out of scones and sausage rolls, to the disappointment of many husbands looking forward to their special treat.  Charlotte was on her knees with exhaustion, her face stiff with a rictus smile adopted for the day.  As numbers dwindled, traders were stealthily packing away their wares, despite the anxious entreaties to remain in place until the closing time of 5 pm.

Once closed to the public, the scene was one of chaos and confusion as all 30 traders attempted to bring their vans and cars as close to the marquee as possible.  Grumpy husbands, roped in to help, were found staggering under the weight of furniture or piles of packing crates.  Stock was jammed into car boots willy nilly in the great rush to depart.  Finally, all were gone leaving only some shreds of of paper and bubble wrap wafting around in the breeze.  Charlotte and Amanda were last seen sitting in Lady Ds kitchen, knocking back large glasses of Sauvignon and already planning their next event.  After all, it had been "such fun".

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The "new girls on the block" or the vintage shopkeepers

Annabelle and Emily just love, love, love vintage.  Their lives are dedicated to “sourcing” items for their artfully “curated” shabby chic homes.  Both are mummies, with adorable little girls who are dressed in beautifully ironed Victorian christening gowns worn over stripy leggings.  Luckily, their husbands are quite content to let their wives dash around the countryside spending piles of cash on distressed lumpy armchairs, scruffily painted dressers and reams of grubby textiles.  The girls enjoy nothing more than visiting an early morning boot sale together, prising bargains from the bowels of old Volvo estates and ancient white vans.  They are blissfully unaware that the canny old dealers double their prices when they approach, cooing over chipped enamel.

Their dearest ambition is to have their homes featured in Vintique Interiors & Gardens STYLE ! – the almanac of all that is best in vintage design.  Having filled their homes with exquisite finds (which their husbands refer to as “old junk”), they have turned their attention to helping their friends create the same look.  Their interior design business and shop is “such an exciting project”, which they can fit around the children.  The clever things have found a tiny shop in the ancient village of Billingswood Green. Once an old  pig sty, the newly converted shop is now dressed in Annie Sloan chalk paints, yards of bunting and fairy lights and is “so, so pretty”.

They can’t wait to open their doors for business, having bombarded all their friends on Facebook about their plans.  Their husbands, Ollie and Guy, refer to the business as OldPigVintage, a reference to Emily’s childhood nickname, Piggy.  The joke has worn thin as the girls struggle to find a name that represents their recherché  mix of vintage finds and French style, and they can’t agree on “Kitten and Dove Vintage” or “Faded Romance”.

At last, the opening day arrives and the shop will finally open.  Annabelle and Emily, clad from head to toe in Cauliflower & Posies linen accessorised with expensive jewellery, shriek with joy at the sight of a queue of eager customers.  As their mummy friends crowd the shop, the snarl of off-road baby buggies make it impossible for anyone to get in or out of the door. 

Champagne is served from vintage tea cups, as shoppers struggle to eat their over-iced and lavishly sprinkled cup cakes.  Tiny children are crushed as their mothers vie to grab the last scented-candle-in-a-teacup – “what a clever idea!”.  The shop showpiece, a cavernous French Armoire painted in Barrow & Fall’s Hare’s Scut eggshell paint, is much admired.  Envious glances are cast when Caroline, the richest mummy, buys it for her spare bedroom.  Along with a galvanised bucket, a set of rickety ladders, three strings of bunting, a child’s creaky rocking chair and a tiny handmade felt rabbit.   

After a busy month’s trading, the girls work out they have made a princely sum of £25 profit after rent, rates, utilities, insurance and stock is accounted for.  Undeterred, they head for yet another boot sale, ignoring the demands of their husbands to keep proper accounts......”so, so boring”.