The clocks went forward and the blossom looks lush, pink and heavy on the trees. Spring brings eagerly anticipated light and those ephemeral tiny-petalled flowers which have burst from their buds almost look relieved after all the effort they have made. The vital and vigorous business of being out in the open somehow washes into each aspect of city life. Missing that hour of sleep is absolutely no loss as we enjoy the days which merge into longer, lighter-hearted evenings.
At 7 o'clock on Wednesday, Crafted opened at the Royal Academy. It was not dark as I tried to enter by the wrong entrance; my Spring enthusiasm hastened me round to the correct entrance at the back with a smile rather than a scowl. This year, the show is sponsored by the watchmakers Vacheron Constantin and several rooms on Burlington Gardens are filled with earnest weavers and potters standing alongside young art student types, who hope they may turn out to have created the next big thing in design. Everyone is keen, but there is a bit of a conflict between the creators and crafters, the polished steel versus the knitted jumpers from remote northern Scotland. My attention is drawn to the Vacheron engraver, who is beavering away at a desk; his skill is extraordinary and captivating as he fashions swirls and other patterns with a deft confidence and fluency which renders his genius all the more beguiling. I don't speak to him or engage in any way, I just hover like a schoolboy watching someone older play a video game in an arcade. I just watch and admire. I also quaff a couple of glasses of Nyetimber English sparkling wine. It is a bit brittle and lacks the subtlety of the proper stuff, but it is remarkably good all the same. Given time I think it will become a worthy alternative. Whilst hovering, I run into my dear friend Ben the lapidarist. He has just returned from the extraordinary Baselworld watch, jewellery and luxury fair. I have never visited this annual event but am told it is mind-blowingly decadent in the extravagance of the display. Ben confirms this.
He is an amazing looking man, 6ft 5 and entirely vertical, not a horizontal dimension to him at all. His thin, swept back hair accentuates his sharp darting eyes and an impressive hooked nose. He moves with a feverish intensity and is unsettlingly unpredictable in direction. We decide to repair to my new favourite bar in the Oval, the Cable Cafe. Half an hour later we enter the domain of Hamish, the master mixologist with the intellectual beard. I introduce Ben, the neophyte, and Hamish instantly announces that he has the perfect cocktail for him - the Corpse Reviver! I have a Beefeater Gin martini, which is perfection, and Ben graciously accepts the Corpse option. Debating the art and craft of Hamish and that of the Vacheron engraver makes for an entertaining end to the day.
With the onrush of Spring and the hour-change, so the gears shift for Masterpiece. Now we move from filling the fair to perfecting it. The exhibitors are undoubtedly the strongest group of international players we have yet had and we are all excited to see what they will bring. Now the PR team will go into overdrive and we need to make sure that the visitor experience is as seamless and sybaritic as possible. The vetting also begins to take up time as exhibitors send in images of items and the relevant chairmen need to assess as far as they can the legitimacy of the objects presented. It is a task that calls for both rigour and tact as the dealers have invested their money, their pride and their emotion in these pieces. If the vetter has doubts - and often they are just doubts - the dealer has to be handled with great care and diplomacy. But it is a time of increasing excitement and the buzz is growing as calls and emails are start flooding rather than trickling in.
On Saturday I cycled over to Portobello. I have not been for a while. Often as I lie in bed on a Saturday morning the urge to cycle over fades away. Friday night is often suffused with enthusiasm for getting up early in order to blow away the week's cobwebs with a good long cycle ride and a steady walk down the hill ducking and diving around the tourists. But as the light begins to creep through the curtains, so the lazy slug in me persuades me to stay underneath the duvet a bit longer. But this week I had another incentive: I was meeting Joost for breakfast at the Electric House, so I could not allow myself to laze about.
I sometimes avoid going to Portobello because I know I will buy something and though shopping is my purpose in life, not spending money can be a rest and a relief. I did consider going straight to the Electric, but Spring beckoned, so I pointed my trusty bicycle towards Notting Hill and off I went. After what seemed an eternity of gruesome booths of stuff, I found myself in front of an irresistible set of 19th-century brass measures and I knew I was bound to conform to the pattern. Breakfast was restoring too. Poached eggs with deep orange yolks, fatty thick bacon, a massive grilled half tomato, all mopped up with thick white country bread. And washed down of course with short little intense double espressos.
Joost is a dealer in Indian and Islamic art, but he has a passion for Japanese 20th-century bronzes. He has sucked me into this wonderful area of collecting and I now have a small group. We are meeting for fun, but also because he has a desk that he thinks I might be able to sell. With Joost is his little daughter Soraya, who is 5. She immediately charms all around by showing us her ballet medal. She has her school class bear with her that she must look after for a week. Soraya and the bear consume one croissant with jam and butter, and then another. She explores the world under the table and with tremendous concentration plays a game on my telephone, her little fingers, sticky with butter, croissant and jam (not to mention bits of fluff from the floor) press heavily on the keys. My children are 17 and 20, so long past this stage, and it is very charming both observing and reminiscing. After breakfast, I cycle off to see the desk. On the way I pass the Globe bar. Back before there were any children, we used to end many an evening here. It was a late-night/early-morning drinking place, full of representatives from all sections of society, linked by the desire for booze at 2 in the morning. It was entirely decorated in red plastic and the music was powerfully loud and deliberately cacophonous. The management definitely did not seem to want to encourage us to stay. But we all did, stay and stay. At the end of the night they used to play answering machine messages to a drum and bass background to finally drive us away. Today I see builders gutting it; another nail in the coffin of the old, all but lost, Portobello. I cycle on slightly saddened. The globe was not a nice place but it was special in its own way and now it's gone. Sadly the desk did not work out but it was in a lovely apartment in Portland Place and it is always fun looking around people's houses - especially such grand ones!