Can it be that time of year again? Already? Really? Yes, astonishingly time has sped through the seasons and it is TEFAF time again. The Gander and White shipping trucks are blocking Dover St and the drivers are hooting their horns in the traditional fashion for the season. At Mallett the showrooms are in upheaval as the worker bees buzz around gathering pieces for the forthcoming festivities in Holland. I picture in my mind how many dealers streets are in the same throb of chaos around Europe and the world. TEFAF has over 250 exhibitors; each one of them has quite a large booth. Just imagine for yourself how many disgruntled normal street users there are. Let us say that each dealer manages to disrupt 100 people directly or indirectly, whilst packing. There could well be more. But it is an exciting time and wherever I go the air is rich with Maastricht TEFAF. Dealers and clients ponder whether it will be a vintage year or not; the economy is improving, but events in Russia and Syria cloud one's enthusiasm. Inevitably, some dealers will triumph, some will fail, but most will be 'fine'.
Easyjet delivered me safely to Barcelona on Wednesday. I had not been to this city for some time and it was an unalloyed joy to leave the gloom and rain of London for this bright, sunny, energetic business city. I have been called in to look at a collection that may be for sale. It is in an apartment and we drive straight there. I have no time to roam the thoroughfares and it is strangely disconcerting to not get ones bearings. Our host welcomes us and we sit on his balcony and discuss life. I don't fully understand this function of getting to know people but it was apparently important to swap tales of the past and discuss areas of London that might or might not have had a good restaurant in them once. The owner/host is dressed traditionally and formally, wearing a business suit and a tie. He is tall, grey haired and distinguished looking. He and the others smoke relentlessly and his voice has the distinctive gravely tone of a regular smoker, especially a Spanish one. As the day progresses his jacket and tie go by the wayside and he substitutes cigarettes for stubby aromatic cigars, I wonder if being more relaxed means he reaches for the hard core tobacco.
We pause for a sandwich lunch. Everyone is feeling smug that we are having a working lunch and make amused remarks about how hard working the Barcelonans are as compared to the 'slackers' in Madrid who take endless long lunches. The sandwiches come from Mauri. This bakery dates back to the 1920's and there is something redolent of a bye-gone age about the elegance and delicacy with which it is all presented. Lovely wax paper packages, all branded and exquisitely folded, each item is laid out on a gold backed crinkle edge cardboard tray. There is a gutsy quality to the offering, typically Spanish; but it is done with such elegance that it becomes very refined. We have a tray of mini bread rolls and wrapped crustless sandwiches containing ham or beef with wafer thin slices of tomato. We have before us: a tray of croquettes and a tray of differently flavoured miniature doughnuts. Each tray takes a serious beating but the doughnuts are wiped out completely, each mouthful accompanied by a guilty apology from the consumer.
I spend the rest of the afternoon completing my survey of what could be available. I photograph and measure like a man possessed. It is a great collection of very English taste pieces. Chinese porcelain sits alongside Chinese lacquer accompanied by English furniture and chinoiserie. He bought in the 80's so these pieces were acquired near the height of the market. He may not be able to cope with the drop in values that we have observed since 2008 (it had begun before but the crash exacerbated it). However I do not want to dampen my own spirits. It is good for the soul to see great things, and even if we do not buy much, or anything, it is very restoring to share this man's enthusiasm for the style and the objects that have been all our careers.
Back in London I repair at about 10.30 at night to a place near the Oval called the Cable Cafe. This simple and simply decorated bar has one man running it. He is of medium height and is distinguished by have a rather ragged beard, that outlines his chin rather than covering his face. He sits low behind the bar reading a thick book. I suspect it is something complex or Russian. They offer only a few beers and a modest selection of wines; their main thing is cocktails. Hamish is our bearded hero. He can mix like a master. We had espresso Martinis and classic Martinis mixed with Beefeater Gin, which apparently has citrus 'notes' and therefore picks up the lemon twist. Then we had them again. Both times they were immaculate, as good as anything I have had in the states. Perfect balance and perfect temperature, they floated down after a hard day measuring and flying.
I looked at my diary on Thursday and I realised everything in it was described as a "meeting". I think I am becoming fed up with meetings. I am even fed up with writing the word 'meeting'. How can ones life be crowded with meetings? Do we not just 'see' people? Office life should provide an environment where meetings do not need to happen. We are all already in an all day 'meeting' called 'work'. But the viral affliction of meetings infects us at work too. My colleagues are always saying 'lets have a meeting in ten minutes'. I suppose it is a necessary evil as it allows us to focus on one issue or one topic and then move on, but I feel like having a bit of a quiet scream in a dark corner about the relentlessness of 'meetings'.
Masterpiece is at a fulcrum moment and it is always the case that TEFAF comes at that crucial moment, the last few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of exhibitors are falling into place and we are ready to move from the plan stage to the build stage. It is very exciting, even though the fair is still months away, it feels imminent. Dealers who do both fairs plan what to hold back for our fair or what to prepare. The publicity is starting to build up and journalists start calling to ask what might be the 'new' and the 'different' this year. Masterpiece has established for itself the onerous expectation that we will continue to improve and innovate every year. It is a pressure but one we welcome.
I end my week packing my trusty Saab and pointing it East towards Maastricht. See you there.