Synchronicity at work…

Wikipedia’s definition of synchronicity:

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time.”

Well…

I often get asked, “Wherever do you get all these treasures? You must spend all your weekends at car boots & jumble sales!” Which I would love to be able to do, but alas, life doesn’t always work out like that; I have lots of other calls on my time, though I do have two jumbles on my “hit list” this weekend. So in order to maintain some kind of flow, some continuity on the stall, from time to time I resort to buying stuff in from the wholesalers. It doesn’t necessarily work out cheaper, and I’m always aware that they will have cherry-picked the really good stuff for their own “headline” stores, so although they are reliably good value, I’m not getting the very best bargains, and am thus not able to pass them on. However sometimes I strike lucky… this little lot arrived today, from the wholesale arm of a well-known charity:

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50 magnificent vintage hats, which should keep my stall buzzing all summer long! Provided, that is, that not too many of them end up on my daughters or my trainee-daughter-in-law… This elegant confection has already made its debut on Facebook:

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and they are clearly going to provide us with days of entertainment!

I’d already decided to make some major alterations to the layout of the stall at Molly’s Den; books are selling steadily down there, but aren’t very visible from the aisles. And the kitchenalia on the shelves at the back might as well be in Outer Mongolia; despite being clearly visible, things just stay put there, but usually sell within days when I move them forwards towards the aisle. So I thought I’d find some bookshelves, put them along the back with some interesting vintage titles & reasonable prices clearly visible, and possibly some of the more dramatic hats too, and see if that tempts people further in. But no inexpensive bookcases turned up, for weeks on end, on Ebay, Gumtree or Freegle/Freecycle. Reluctantly, I decided to invest a whole £30 in a pair of cheap & cheerful bookcases from that well-known Scandinavian emporium, which I happened to be virtually driving past yesterday. They had 16 in stock when I checked online a couple of days beforehand, but by the time I got there, they were all gone, and they’re not going to have any more in for weeks! So, back to the drawing board… 

Luckily, last night, there was a small pine bookcase, just the right height, for £10 on Gumtree, which I was able to pick up this morning. It was close to Molly’s Den so has gone straight onto the stall, although it’s not yet in its final position and won’t be filled up until after the weekend. And an hour or so later, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I found the following Scandinavian item, marginally damaged but perfectly safe & sturdy, in the wood skip at the Recycling Centre – and look what else was there, too!

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Cat not included!

More hats! And all for less than I’d have paid for one new bookcase. If that’s not synchronicity at work, I don’t know what is.

Ooops, I may have committed sacrilege…

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I was hurtling round our local market yesterday hunting for something to supplement a handmade birthday present, when I happened to pass a house-clearance stall we’ve bought from many times. I asked after the stallholder’s wife, who I know is unwell, and we were chatting away when I spotted something in one of his boxes; an old and very tatty paper fan. Being a  bit of a magpie, I couldn’t resist the bright colours, and couldn’t help asking how much. “Just take it!” came the reply; one end was literally hanging off. Delighted, I thanked him & scurried off clutching my “treasure”, completed my errand and went off to the party.

It was dark by the time we got home, and I knew I’d need to wait until daylight until I could see whether I stood any chance of repairing it. Then a family health-related issue gobbled up most of my day, so it was late afternoon by the time I was able to sit down & look at my fan, though I should have been elsewhere by then, but had had to cancel. Anyway, it seemed as if it would be repairable; it’s a pretty thing and I could see that it wasn’t a mass-produced item. There was a huge rip, crossing several staves, at one end and a smaller rip at the other, but just about all of the paper was still present & the staves unbroken.

I’ve hunted before now for information on repairing fans online, as I have a bit of a fascination for them (not to mention a small collection) but without much success, so I just set to and did my best. I used cigarette paper as I know it’s good strong stuff but almost invisible, with Gum Arabic glue edges, which is pretty natural stuff and probably not far removed from the glues originally used in the fan’s construction. It looks to me as if someone had attempted a previous repair to the big rip, using a glue which had discoloured & left a brownish stain, and clearly hadn’t worked for very long as there’s a lot more rip there now, and I soon found that Gum Arabic didn’t seem to stick very well; there’s some kind of finish on the paper. So I used careful smears of Mod Podge to stick the cigarette paper down. I’m quite pleased with the result; I now have a fan which looks reasonably complete, still folds easily and works, and would otherwise have ended up in a bin.

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BUT soon afterwards, having got the bit between my teeth & looking for some information to help me repair another fan, I finally managed to stumble across the International Fan Circle’s website… which advises using a starch-based glue with no additives. Mod Podge, I’m pretty sure, is posh but very effective PVA. Oh dear! And reading their history pages, the fan might well be rather older than I’d originally thought; it’s clearly not a mass-produced item from the time of the People’s Republic or the days of heavy industrialisation since, but hand-painted, with delightful little birds & rounded mountains painted on the 30-odd staves and drawn in ink up the guards. (And oddly, “6¾” written in pencil on the top of one guard.) It seems to me Chinese rather than Japanese, though I don’t know why; the mountains don’t look like Mt. Fuji is the best reason I can think of! So I hope I haven’t ruined something of real interest & value, but in my defence, I did rescue it from an almost certain doom. And I will know better next time, and hopefully do a proper job…

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Please, do actually look…

Several times lately, I’ve been restocking my stall at Molly’s Den when ladies of roughly my own age have drifted in & rummaged through the clothing, looking wistfully at the floaty 70s maxi-dresses, comfortable kaftans and cheesecloth tops. Then they usually sigh deeply and say to me,

“Oh, I’d so love to be able to wear things like these again! It’s such a shame I’ve put on so much weight; we were so much smaller in those days, and vintage clothes are all so tiny!”

Erm, no, actually. NOT all vintage clothes are tiny. Quite a lot of mine aren’t; they have come from America & Germany, two countries where people have traditionally not been built like pixies. And I’m in great danger of clearing my rails of all the larger sizes and chopping them up to make bags with the fabrics; I thought people would be delighted to find vintage clothes in normal sizes, but actually, they’re not even looking! Now it may be that people are just being nice, and they don’t really want to revisit their youth and float out of the door in psychedelic glory or swathed in cheesecloth, but there are plenty of ordinary-sized vintage clothes out there; maybe not with the nipped-in waists and tulip skirts that we did wear back then, but you’d find plenty to fit & suit you on the rails if you actually looked.

Undoubtedly the sizings have changed several times over the span of years that my clothing covers, and from country to country too. I have clothes & dressmaking patterns ranging from the 1940s to the 1980s. (In case you’re surprised at that, to an 18 year-old fashion undergraduate, which a number of my customers are, the 80s are pretty much pre-historic & certainly count as vintage. They do love a batwing sleeve…) In the 40s a 36″ bust meant you were a size 18, now you’d be a 10. Or so it is in the UK, but not in the US; you’d be a size 6 there, and something else altogether in Europe, where inches are not overly popular anyway.  So I don’t bother with size tags, especially not as a fair number of the garments are handmade; I provide a tape measure & a mirror and there’s a changing room elsewhere.

Quite a few of the top-quality, pristine-looking vintage clothes are in fact tiny. This is because they were bought back then, quite probably in the sales, by people thinking, if I lose half a stone, I’ll be able to get into it. But they never did, so the item has languished unworn at the back of the wardrobe for 50-odd years. However, if you don’t mind that something isn’t completely unworn – and if you did, you probably wouldn’t be looking in a vintage shop anyway – most evening/Sunday best/party clothes will only have been worn a few times, and hence they have survived, when the everyday items were worn & mended until they disintegrated, and may well have been cut up & used for rags or patchwork after that. So yes, the things you see in the windows of the coolest “Retro” shops in the high-rent locations may well be tiny, as well as horrendously expensive, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find anything to both fit & suit you.

So, get yourself down to a vintage shop like Molly’s Den or market near you – there’s one in Boscombe this Saturday, as it happens – and have a good hunt around; you will almost certainly find something to fit you, provided the stallholder hasn’t given up stocking them! And you may well save a vintage treasure from being chopped up & turned into a bag, if it’s been on the rails for 6 months because the customers the right size to wear it have assumed there won’t be anything there for them, and haven’t even looked…

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Catching the moment…

It’s halfway through Sunday afternoon & I’m about to drift off upstairs to my new “sewing station” & try my hand at free-motion quilting. On one of my trusty old Berninas, rather than on the beautiful new-to-me Pfaff computer-that-sews, because I don’t have a darning/free motion foot for that yet! So far today, my feet haven’t touched the ground, so I’m due some down-time, although Sunday is a day most people associate with rest. But sometimes you have to make the best of what comes your way, and catch the moment… make hay while the sun shines, sort of!

We’re just back from an invigorating walk in the sunshine down at the riverbank. As we turned for home, we could see the storm clouds piling up once again on the western horizon, but we were ready for anything it could throw at us, wearing wellies & waterproofs. First thing I did this morning on seeing the sun was to whack the washing into the machine & set it off; the clean stuff went out on the line before 10am and came back in at 2pm, dry as a bone in the stiff breeze and early Spring sunshine. Not that it’s at all warm down here! But the bulbs are up & the flower buds are forming, my chickens are laying fit to bust, the garden birds are pairing up and pottering off with twigs and straw, and although there’ll undoubtedly be some icy bits to get through yet, as well as yet more rain, it’s increasingly obvious that the year has turned once again. I’ve cooked a big roast dinner, which will reappear under various easy-cook leftover-dish guises throughout the week, and trotted round to the local market to hoover up £4.50-worth of last-minute-bargain fruit & vegetables to make soups & puddings with, or to dehydrate & use at another time if I don’t have an immediate use for them. There was even a bag of 18 limes for £1; I can feel some Lime Curd coming on, which will use up some of the egg glut, and maybe I’ll also chuck a few limes into the marmalade I’ll be making in the next couple of days with my pristine little vintage Spong marmalade cutter (£5 at the car boot yesterday, works beautifully) and the two boxes of on-their-sell-by organic Seville oranges I found at the supermarket for £1 the other day.

There is a point to all this rambling on, and it’s this: I could easily have justified having a bit of a lie-in this morning, and thought, well, I’ll do the washing tomorrow. I could equally well not have bothered with the market; we have enough F&V in to see us through the next few days. We could have stayed indoors in the warm, rather than hare off down a sodden pathway in the stiff cold breeze. BUT then I’d most likely have ended up drying the washing indoors, possibly even with electrical help, so it didn’t end up going smelly. I’d have had to pay full price for top-ups of fruit & veg later in the week, and I’d have felt very guilty on the exercise front, as well as stir-crazy. And I’d have missed a bargain sewing box full of intriguing vintage sewing, knitting & crochet patterns, not to mention the sparkle of the sunshine on the racing water and glimmering through the golden skeleton reeds. And that’s exactly what I would have done, without even thinking about it, just a few years ago; just stayed indoors, in the warm. My family will tell you I’ve always been a world-class procrastinator & day-dreamer. But somehow I seem to be learning, at this late juncture, to get up & get going

I know I’m very lucky to be able to seize the ideal moment to do some things now – like I’m carving out 5 minutes to write this – and believe me, it doesn’t always work out this way. But it certainly does feel good to think you’re on top of at least some of the tasks in your life, possibly even a little ahead of the game! And it frees me up, in my head, to go & do something now that I actually want to do…

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like – a frugal Christmas!

Once again that certain date is racing up towards us and the bank account is groaning under the strain of buying for a big family. We don’t go over  the top with presents or food, and never have done, but the sheer quantities involved mean there will always be a distinct bulge in the budget at the end of December. And I’ve been sad to read people panicking online this week that they can’t afford to give their loved ones a “real” Christmas, which they seem to imagine looks like the one you see on the adverts, with lots of plastic toys, plastic decorations, plastic-looking food & a plastic-looking family. So a few ideas to cut the cost (and the plastic – horrible stuff!) whilst retaining the joy and good cheer might be timely.

The catering itself isn’t very much different to an average Sunday dinner round here; a few more faces, a few more trimmings and a few more hours with the cooker blasting away, perhaps, but plenty of willing hands to help, too. Good solid food & plenty of it, followed by treats like nuts and a well-chosen cheese board, but no dubious “gourmet” delights that no-one will actually eat, only stuff that can be eaten cold with salad, made into leftover dishes or frozen for later reference. I rarely have to do much shopping after Christmas until well into January, apart from fresh fruit, bread & dairy stuff.

But the setting does need a bit of adjusting, we can’t fit 11 round the kitchen table… however, we can run two market tables end-to-end down our conservatory and use the folding wooden chairs we use for doing the markets. This year’s festive board will be dressed in 5½ yards of pure vintage silk – an elderly & slightly damaged sari, before you panic that I’m about to ruin something priceless – and I’m really rather proud of my planned centrepiece. I came across a handful of mismatched tall crystal glasses at the Tip yesterday, and some old floral decorations; I can just see the glasses lined up down the centre of the table, with tea-lights glowing & twinkling inside, and pale silvery, slightly glittery hellebores laced around the bottom of the stems. Something like the picture below, in fact, but with sparklier glasses & less OTT greenery, when it’s all cleaned up.The china will be my parents’ old China Tree set, I found a set of 12 matching glasses at the Tip recently, and I don’t suppose anyone will even notice if the cutlery doesn’t match; hopefully they’ll be too busy eating, chattering & laughing.

We’ll be using our “fake” tree, acquired at vast expense – part of £1, if I remember correctly – at the Tip some years ago, in about May. It’s a perfectly nice one, even if it doesn’t smell like a real one; then again, it doesn’t make me come out in a rash like a real one does. I’m not quite sure why people find it necessary to buy a new fake tree in the latest “fashionable” colours every year; seems somewhat wasteful to me, but I know they do. And I’m not really happy with the idea of real trees being sacrificed for such trivial reasons, even if they’d never have been grown otherwise, and I’m certainly not happy to pay £35-40 for one. Decorations will be much-loved old favourites, home-made or foraged from the garden & the riverbank; the hallway is always adorned with big star sequins dangling on cotton pinned to the ceiling, which sway & glitter in the breeze whenever anyone walks down there. They cost 50p for a large tub, many years ago; I’d meant to use them for card making, but never did. In amongst them is the odd bigger star, bought for pennies in sales after previous Christmasses, never before. I’m afraid I buy my cards that way too, from charity shops; it’d be nice to give them the full price, but I know they still make a small profit on them half-price & I get to feed my family too!

We’ll be making paper chains for the living room. It’s a small space and big brash tinselly things are far too dominating; chains made from wallpaper samples or free printables from the Web are just right. There’ll also be a garland of evergreens over the fireplace; branches & ivy from the garden & riverbank woven into a tube of old chickenwire & decorated with fir cones, cinnamon sticks and berries from the berberis and cotoneaster bushes. We’re lucky enough to have a female holly tree too so springs of holly will be poked behind all our pictures & mirrors. If I’m organised enough, we may even have home-made crackers; I can do a LOT better for cracker surprises with the cash that one box of bought crackers would cost, never mind two. Paper hats are easy, but sadly the home-made jokes will probably be even worse than usual. I might try decorating the tree with broken bits of junk jewellery this year; single dangly ear-rings & broken glittery & pearly necklaces I have a-plenty & I’ve always thought that might look rather nice. I’ll report back, maybe with a picture. Or not…

For many years we’ve had a strict upper limit on what we can spend on each other in the wider family, and we all stick to it. It’s just plain sensible; Christmas presents are meant to be a token, not to beggar us all. And some of us have agreed not to exchange anything at all now; it doesn’t mean we don’t love & respect each other, but that we all have enough stuff & don’t need or want any more. If money must be spent, let it go to a good cause like Oxfam Unwrapped or Sightsavers, not to buy more stuff to further clutter my home with. Unless, of course, it’s a timeless vintage treasure you simply know I’ll love…

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Interesting!

Earlier this week, I did a Ebay listing for a spinning wheel that was being sold for charity. Which sold, within two hours, for a price the previous owners didn’t dare dream of, to a lady who has got a great bargain. And as you do (well, I do) I thought I’d have a little peek at what else was around locally; something I don’t normally do any more, in order to avoid temptation. I was amazed to find the next closest listing was for a wheel that I myself had had for sale down in Molly’s Den, which had still been there that very afternoon. Normally I’d have been delighted to think I’d sold it on, but it had been listed at a very high price with what I felt was a very misleading description; it was described “very old” and made of “oak or walnut” when in fact it’s from the 1980s and whilst bits of it may be oak and/or walnut, the base is MDF. The problem with that was that it was pictured on my stall… I really didn’t want any of my regular, knowledgeable customers associating such a misleading description with me! So I messaged the seller to point this out & asked them to change the picture. Nothing doing; no reply…

Next morning I trotted down to Molly’s with some new stock, and was amazed & appalled to find the wheel still there, unsold. The blighter had listed MY wheel for sale, without my knowledge or consent.  I have no problem with a) people selling things on behalf of other people, I do it myself sometimes, or b) people buying items from me, then selling them on at a profit; that’s what we’re all doing and it’s fair enough. If they can get a higher price than I can, no problem. But I do have a problem with someone selling on something of mine that doesn’t yet belong to them, at a huge profit & with a misleading description; apart from the element of fraud, to me it’s completely unethical for a number of reasons. Eventually I did get a fairly incoherent response from them, telling me to “get a grip(!), you get your money & I get mine, where’s the problem?” The problem is, mate, you are selling something that’s not yours to sell, with a misleading description & without the owner’s knowledge or consent, and if you can’t see what’s wrong with that, the problem is with you. Anyway, I’ve physically removed the wheel and he has “removed” the listing (eventually, under pressure, and by dropping the price drastically & presumably getting a friend to “buy” it) but the story’s not over yet as far as I’m concerned.

But I’ve found it rather interesting to see & hear other people’s reaction to this. Half of them have understood instantly why I’m outraged, but the other half have been unsurprised & basically said, “Erm, what’s wrong with that? It’s what our bankers do all the time! And if he can get more for it than you can, well…” And it’s not the split I would have expected, with other traders being unsurprised and everyone else being appalled; most of the traders have been horrified (and rushed off to see whether he’s listed anything of theirs) but some of my perfectly-nice friends have failed to see why I’d have a problem with this. I’m still trying to get my head around this; not sure whether they just haven’t taken on board the implications, or whether my entire worldview is hopelessly old-fashioned & innocent. But at the very least, it has huge implications for anyone who regularly buys from Ebay; no wonder some sellers are so vague & unhelpful! And – why is it so hard to report a genuine problem to Ebay?

Would be interested to hear what my regular readers (OK, any readers, really) think of this conundrum: is it morally OK to offer for sale goods that aren’t yet yours, without the owner’s knowledge or consent?

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig…

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Well, sort of. The problem with a wonderful holiday is that sometimes, you’re not quite ready to leave it in your head & get back to reality. It doesn’t help that it’s cold & grey here, and there’s tons of stuff that really needs doing, preferably right now, or before. Usually at the end of a holiday I’m looking forward to getting back to all the things I’d miss about our beautiful & quirky little part of the world, but now I’ve found somewhere equally beautiful & quirky. And warmer… Say no more!

It was very interesting to see how people have lived, and to some extent still live, in a landscape that’s equally as benign as our own, if not more so. I live in a smallish medieval market town just inland from the mild & beautiful South Coast of England, and we stayed in something very much equivalent in the south of France, just where the Pyrenees are sloping down towards the sea. Like here, there are still markets; the bigger ones are partly what we would call “grockle-traps” though we found (and bought!) some excellent, inexpensive regional specialities too. But there’s a tiny weekly market in the village we stayed in, too; just four food stalls selling absolutely top-notch, mouthwatering local produce, that you were encouraged to try before committing yourself to buy. The leftovers are in my fridge or my garlic pot even as I write.

I don’t think I have ever been in such an abundant & beautiful landscape. On closer examination, what looked like acres of verdant wilderness clearly was no such thing. Just about every tree was edible or otherwise useful; down in the villages, fruit trees predominated, with olives, figs, grapes, citrus & cherries everywhere – the area is famous for its cherries, in particular, but the tiny black figs were melt-in-the-mouth, honey-sweet gorgeous too – but higher up the slopes, nuts predominated, with chestnuts, hazels & walnuts dotted amongst the cork oaks. The villages consisted of tall terraced houses (with wooden shutters, all painted in beautiful colours – I do love shutters!) clustered tightly around their town squares, Mairies, little forts or priories, usually with mountain streams running in channels down both sides of the roads. Presumably these were once their main water supplies.

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Outside the villages, usually a little upslope & almost indistinguishable from the forested surroundings, were areas of gardens, possibly allotments, though they seemed much more permanent & not all of them were used just for produce; we saw one which was clearly a family relaxation area, with outdoor oven, swings & an above-ground pool as well as tomatoes, sweetcorn, beans, olives & berry & currant bushes. The water channels ran through these first, with little pipes going into each garden & channels leading the water though to each bed going downwards, all fed by gravity from the river. In the villages, there were lots of little independent shops, which do seem to be well-used by the locals, though there are hypermarkets & estates of villas with pools & sterile gravel gardens springing up nearer the main roads down on the plain. There are ice-pits upslope, where ice was stored (and still could be) each winter, and thermal springs, which the French take very seriously for their health. In short, a landscape that is or has been used to the full, in a beneficial & light-handed way; there seemed to be plenty of wildlife too. It’s a bird & butterfly heaven!

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The coastal towns were delightful; each had its own distinct character and most still seem to have reasons for existing other than as holiday havens or yachtie stopovers. Anchovy warehouses & big local wine domain “outlets” sit alongside the leather goods shops & the soap & candle emporiums; the soaps are a genuine local speciality & our suitcases smelt fantastic on the return trip. I also stocked up on spices as we get through them in much larger quantities than most households, and things like culinary lavender & juniper berries are much cheaper out there.

Needless to say, Elder Daughter & I couldn’t resist a trip to the vide-greniers & marché-aux-puces of Perpignan, the nearest city. And although we couldn’t bring back a lot, as we were flying Ryanair, we did find some irresistible vintage treasures and had a lot of fun, although it almost hurt to leave that beautiful old Kohler industrial treadle unexamined…

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One day, we will drive down & come back with a loaded car… but it’d be touch & go whether it’d be loaded with lovely vintage stock for our stalls, or with edible & potable delights to see us through a grey & dismal British winter! And if ever I persuade my doctor to say that I need to go & live in a warmer climate for the sake of my health, you’ll know where to find me…

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What happened next…?

Just a quick post to let you all know I’m still here! Just busy looking after my young PGs, my stall at Molly’s Den, and planning a little holiday in France at the start of September. I’m beginning to see the point of package holidays… by the time you have sorted out transport there & back, transport whilst you’re there, insurance, somewhere to stay, whilst trying to please as many of the people as much of the time as possible, you can quite see that travel agents really do earn their keep.

But what’s on my mind today is stories. One of the things I love about doing a stall at Boscombe Vintage Market is the sense I share with my elder daughter that all the things that pass through our hands have stories of their own, or play a part in other people’s stories. And when they come to us, we play a little part in those stories, whether we mend them, clean them up, re-purpose them somehow, or just find new homes for them, albeit usually at a profit, or that’s the idea. When you sell something to someone face to face, you usually have some sense of where the story is going; part of the fun of it all is chatting to your customers & getting to know their likes & dislikes. But when I leave an object on my stall down at Molly’s, I don’t know what happens next. Sometimes I almost feel a pang of guilt when I place things on the shelf; it’s as if I am leaving them to their fate, which may just be to be an on-trend ornament for a few months, then thrown out without a second thought when the “vintage” fad passes. I have no doubt that many people will value & look after their carefully-chosen treasures, but not everyone thinks like me! Which is probably a good thing, or no-one would ever throw anything out, in case it could be mended or the parts come in useful somehow… I know I have regular customers down there, but I don’t know who they are or what they’re looking for.

I might just put some cards on my stall asking anyone who’s interested to leave a comment here about their purchases and what they intend to do with them. I wonder if anyone would respond? It would be good to hear, sometimes, what happens next…

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What stories has this little 1950s tin tea set played a part in?

Wayyyyy cool!

You may have guessed that I’ve been a bit busy lately, firstly preparing for, then at the Larmer Tree Festival as part of Boscombe Vintage Market. It was the first time we’ve done anything like this & I don’t think any of us knew what to expect, and by all reports most of us were pretty anxious as well as busy leading up towards it. But it was great, really good fun and well worthwhile. There were some magical moments which I can’t resist sharing with you all, and the whole thing sparked some interesting trains of thought & ideas for next year.

We were in a marquee opposite one of the big “venues” and got to hear some great music. I joined in with a couple of workshops over there, which were huge fun, but spent most of my time on my stall. And so I was there when a couple of early-teenage boys ran into the marquee, probably by accident. They skidded to a halt and looked round in utter amazement, and I mentally braced for trouble. But one gasped, “This place is waayyyyy coooool! Look! Harry Potter Luggage!” at the cabin trunk beside my stall. And off they trotted, admiring our ramshackle treasures quite happily. Then there were the group of bronzed late teenage boys who wandered past, looking somewhat supercilious & uninterested. Until they spotted the bookcase… “Ooooh, books!” And the next ten minutes resembled nothing quite so much as a meeting of the Literary Society as they leafed through the various vintage volumes, made their choices and queued up patiently with their pound coins. The bored husbands-being-towed-behind who suddenly spotted the vinyl records, the young lady who needed a slip to wear beneath her diaphanous Indian draperies, the people doing up vintage caravans who found just the right fabric or trim for their curtains or cushions – I do love making people happy!

Needless to say, there were people – a small minority, luckily – who just came in to sneer. But they weren’t just sneering at us & our vintage bargains, but also at the acts, the beautiful gardens, the peacocks and the other festivalgoers, especially those who were joining in with things. But to my mind, joining in is what it’s all about; festivals are as old as mankind, and aren’t something that can just be consumed, like a film or TV programme, they’re something you have to participate in to get the most out of. There’s always something new to see, a new skill to try, something different to taste, and if you’re too busy looking superior to join in, you’re missing out. It’s not all about buying stuff, although it’s nice when when people do; it’s about celebrating life in all its infinite & glorious variety, and adhering strictly to a narrow view of how people should look & behave doesn’t half get in the way of that!

I loved seeing people express their individuality, both in their clothes (I may have to become a steampunk, if I’m not too old & round) and by spontaneously breaking into dance with total strangers. There’s somehow both something very real & fundamental about festivals, and also something deeply unreal; those of us who went home every night (we didn’t, we camped) spoke of it as going back into the “real” world and there’s undeniably something fantastical, in the truest sense, about the whole festival thing. Life isn’t &  never can be all bubbles & flags, lace, glitter, music & dance, but are shopping malls, traffic jams, utility bills and the 9-5 any more “real” actually? The paradox is that I suspect people can somehow be more their real selves when they are dressing up, and that our brick & mortar habitats, our mobile metal shells & our serious workaday personas are no more real than our festive selves. And I know which I prefer…

One customer told me about her daughter, who was awarded a first-class degree in psychology several years ago. But after two years in a well-paid recruitment job, she retrained as a henna tattooist & nail artist and “works” the summer at festivals, living in a well-insulated van, and picks up whatever work she can in winter; far from worrying about her, her mother was proud of her independence and free spirit & I can understand that.

Anyway, now I have a much better idea of what kind of stock to take along next year, and how much; approximately half of what I took this year! But none of us were to know what would work, and it’s probably different for each one of us, and each year will be different too; the weather was glorious this year, but might not be so good another time. And more ideas on how to lay it out, and how to create & maintain an attractive display. All I need now is a sensible way of keeping track of all these ideas – I may have to sit down & make a book or folder of some kind, after I’ve updated my paperwork… now, that’s a good idea!

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For anyone who doubts…

… that we earn our keep; for all those who think that any fool could buy stuff in & just sell it on at a profit…

There’s knowledge, and judgement, and flair, time and sheer bl**dy elbow grease involved too. In the words of the art critic, I know what I like, and I know the kind of thing my customers are looking for too. I know where best to look for it, and how to spot the things that others have overlooked. I usually have a good idea of when things are worth investing a bit of time & effort in, and also when they really are past reclaiming, although of course, they may now have a use other than what they were originally intended for. I’ll give you an example of something that I picked up this morning in our local market’s car boot section. It had been a small vanity case, originally made in Spain, probably in the 1950s, possibly early 60s, by the styling and by the fact that it had a very brittle & decayed plastic lining. It was utterly filthy, but visibly sturdily made, with a stylish, if dirty, brass handle, hinges & catch, but seemingly forever open now as the catch really didn’t want to engage. What I could see, if I could clean it up a bit, is a jewellery display for my stall, even if the lock never works again. So home it came, as part of a 3-for-£1 job lot, along with a child’s Anna Karenina-style sheepskin hat & some rather decayed War Office flying maps. 33.3p is not a lot to risk, if it all goes wrong.

So, here’s the top after an first experimental swab:

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Evidently this method is going to work – it might have dissolved the covering, or not shifted any of the dirt – but it did. Back & side before:

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And after:

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A bit of WD40, a bit of Brasso, a tweak with some aircraft engineer’s cranked needlenose pliers and hey presto! The outside of my new jewellery display box is clean and the catch is working once more. It’s not pristine, it’s clearly seen a lot of use over the years; I could easily go down to The Range & buy something “vintage-style” that’s never been used, but that’s not authentic, or very interesting, and would probably cost a lot more. The next project is to make a suitable lining, so I need to find a fabric that’s right for the age & style of the box, that will also show off glittery & shiny things to good effect. Not to mention a mirror to fit inside the lid. Give me a few days & see what I come up with!

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Editing to add: on re-reading, I can’t help noticing the tone of sheer indignation in the first paragraph! I should explain; it’s in response to a conversation with a dear friend who I know will never read this. Bless her, it’s apparent that she thinks that it’s a “nice little hobby” she could take up when she retires, and maybe she could, but it’s not quite as simple as trotting round the charity shops, picking up “old things that no-one else would notice” & selling them on Ebay at your leisure, any more!