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.