Leaving the warmth of Aqaba in the south of Jordan and driving up Highway 15 for three and a half hours towards Amman in a minibus piloted by a fresh-faced boy wearing a scarf, a beanie and sunglasses, provided a surreal new version of the expectation which New Year's Eve usually engenders. He spoke very little English but had a recurring mantra - You need toilet?' These potential stops coincided with the periodic appearance of a warehouse offering Dead Sea beauty products, mosaic-decorated objects or miscellaneous stuff with Jordan logos. We declined to his increasing chagrin - obviously his commission or just a break from our chatter being denied him. Arriving at the Le Meridien back in Amman we were swept through the security scanners. Every hotel has an airport-like scanner and accompanying conveyor belt which you have to pass through each time you enter and place your treasures on the belt. Smuggling booze into the hotel and having it security checked is an exquisite embarrassment. There is also the Kafkesque Tourist Police, ever-present, sporting their military uniforms and pistols. I have often wondered at the absence of Tourist Police elsewhere as travellers often misbehave, or say annoying or stupid things loudly about the art they are in front of, and an arrest and a few days in a tourist jail might well be remedial. But apparently that's not their particular role.
After security, we were offered the New Year's Eve entertainment opportunity of yet another buffet followed by belly dancing. All of this was available at two prices, one without alcohol and the other with 'limited' alcohol. The word 'limited' put off the younger members of our party, and our group enthusiasm for buffets had waned considerably over the past 10 days, so we decided to make our own party later by repairing, after dinner, to one of our rooms. In the interim, we dined at an International chain in the hotel, a Benihana - we had loved all our grilled meats, salads and hummus but the mood was for variety. The theme of the restaurant is Japanese and the chef comes to the table and larks about with sharp knives as he prepares your grilled meats and salads. Though fun to watch and eat as the chef crashed about, we were all struck by the fact that we had swapped like for like. No hummus though. At our impromptu house party we sang songs, told jokes and drank hideous, overpriced and warm sparkling wine purchased from the liquor store outside the hotel. We welcomed in the year via a laptop countdown which was slightly messed up as we logged on to UK time forgetting that it was only 10pm there, whilst we were two hours ahead in Jordan.
The New Year brought a delayed, painful, squashed, and bumpy flight back to London at the very back of the plane, and it was as weary travellers that we arrived at home. London was awash and icy winds cut through us; we shivered as we unpacked in our warm, centrally-heated, but emphatically not Jordanian, home. Our suitcases were full of sand and dirty clothes, our minds far from revelry. In fact, baths and early to bed seemed the order of the day.
A short working week of only a couple of days, and what was more, most offices still seemed closed with staff taking a full fortnight for the holiday. Masterpiece was like the Marie Celeste. Various computers were flickering with activity but this was taking place from elsewhere. Those who had work to do were performing it from home and so the ship was being successfully steered, but remotely, apparently by ghosts.
I had two important tasks to carry out: one was to find an exhibitor's missing book, and the other was to overcome yet another iphone issue. I failed in both as, one way or another, domestic house-keeping, took up all my time. But cycling fruitlessly around London gave me an opportunity to reflect on the year to come.
For those of us in the art fair world, the first event is BRAFA in Brussels, which has become one of most important European fairs apart from TEFAF. After that, there is the NY Winter Show, and then events in Miami and Palm Beach race on, back to back. Suddenly we are half way through February and preparations begin for TEFAF itself. The first 3 months of the year are frantically busy as, at Masterpiece, we are allocating the last few stands and balancing the aisles so as to keep the versatility and eclecticism that is our trademark. The next stage can then begin - the process of coaxing designs and novel promotional material out of our exhibitors. With all the noise this generates, it is often hard to find time to consider how we could do all of this better, or even differently. On my bike I did not discover anything or invent a new strategy, but I did have a chance to ruminate.
Mainly, I thought about resolutions for this New Year. The usual round of things: more exercise, less booze, eating in greater moderation, more early nights - all those things that you might call the 'usual suspects'- raised their ugly predictable heads. But I tried to be a bit more creative. It is an amazing thing that the New Year manages to bring on this rash of thoughts. It is mid-winter, it is cold and miserable - and yet it is the moment when people look to review themselves. It feels as though it should be in the spring that these thoughts emerge - as fresh buds appear and the days extend, then we should be creative. I would like to learn more, to get myself some deeper knowledge about something. Our exhibitors are such a rich panoply of types who bring an extraordinary and indefinable mix of personalities into one space for a week in summer. I really should know them all better, but at the moment stand C22 occupies my mind. I think I will postpone creativity for a while.