After the fandango of Masterpiece you might think that I would avoid any sort of tented show. But I found myself inextricably drawn into the web of the Wambrook Flower Show. It was celebrating its 100th anniversary. Masterpiece is only 5 years old. So I embarked on this visit with a sense of respect for their history. But immediate adjustments were necessary. At our show we sell 'stands' (though what our American dealers buy are 'booths'); I am used to this terminology and inadvertently, almost on autopilot, I focus in on the 'stand' as I walked in: the 'guess how many logs are in this huge sack for £1' was the first thing I saw. However, the large man sitting in a folding aluminium chair beside the huge sack was guarding the 'stall'. There is a status issue here - the stall is the humble country cousin of the other two. Here is a chalk board and a folding chair and the worrying possibility that if I correctly guessed how many logs were in the sack I would have to find a way of getting them all home. There is almost no comparison to the luxurious offerings in London and yet there it is - the juxtaposition is there. I paid my pound and offered 137 as a random option. It turned out that the correct answer was 342, thank goodness! On past the logs and through an arch into a courtyard with a barn at one end. The lady organisers of the Flower Show were controlling the tea and cakes - no coffee. Or rather a spoonful of 'instant' with tepid water from the samovar was an option, but not one to be taken seriously. Tea and cakes successfully accomplished I moved into the body of the show. In my mind I saw echoes of our sponsors and partners corridor before the glamorous shock of entering the the main arena. Here a folk and country band was playing before a horseshoe of stalls offering a panoply of country and local options. Advice on soil quality - or Wambrook Flower Show tea towels. There was a jovial fellow in a floppy white hat offering for £1 the option of writing my name on a card and putting it in his bucket. At the end of the day a card would be drawn and the name would win half the money. Sounded like fun so he got a £1 too. Then the raffle and the tombola got their dues from me. Walking between the two sides of the horseshoe I was reminded of the Charge of the Light Brigade facing the Turkish guns in the Crimea. I did not stand a chance either, but leaping the cannons at the end I did make it into the barn to admire the flowers, vegetables and handicrafts.
Here the arrangements of 'gardens on a plate or tray' caught my attention as they were either perfunctory or intensely detailed. One even had a miniature tarpaulin covered with miniature tyres in a lego farmyard; no doubt there is one behind the farm on which the young artist lives. Certain exhibits were impressive, others were not. I was very impressed by the number of entrants to the bucket of compost category. I was unimpressed by the fathers and sons baking competition. You have rarely seen a larger collection of almost flat, brick-like, unappetising loaves. The courgettes and green bean displays were oddly compelling as were the rows of eggs, each one with an egg broken onto a saucer to show the limpid white and pert yolk. One egg had a small white blemish on the yolk and was completely out of the prizes, almost a pariah. But almost everyone seemed to be a prize winner of one sort or another. At the end of the day there was a lengthy prize giving ceremony where the locals whooped or wept over the results. What was new to me was the discovery that if you win several prizes in any given category you qualify for a cup. So there were winners and furthermore cup winners. Many children won prizes for drawings or for finding stinging nettles of unfeasible size. They all received little brown prize envelopes heavy with 50p pieces. As they walked up beaming with pride and local celebrity they glowed with excitement. It was lovely to watch. Having thankfully won nothing but now being the proud owner of various chutneys, jams and a ceremonial tea towel I left Wambrook a wiser man.
Back in London I spent invigorating 15 hours at 'Little House' by Curzon St. I was there for more than 'all day', beginning at breakfast time and finally leaving around midnight. The staff were amused to see me shift around during the day. The place consists only two main rooms and these fashion three spaces. There is a sitting area, a bar and a restaurant. Breakfast - really several double espressos - was taken in the company of my friend Jordi, a hugely enthusiastic and ambitious sculpture and paintings dealer. He wants to create a brand and we were strategising about how I might help him achieve that. It is invigorating talking to people who have so much energy and optimism. He is fashionably bearded and does not sit still, at only 35 years old I would be amazed if he does not become the 'brand' he wants to be. It will certainly not be for want of effort. There follows a short pause and I move to the restaurant for lunch. Here I am joined by Philip who is also full of ideas and creativity about how to inject more cash into the art world. He wants to build a fund to help dealers buy collections. This sort of financial service could provide a genuine alternative to those wishing to selling groups of pieces, the dealer can compete with an auction house. He is a keen competitive sailor and that acts as a indicator of his attitude to risk, he is not reckless but he wants and needs risk. We eat sensibly and drink modestly but I notice that the Butterscotch Delight is back on the menu and I try the test out on him. He is thin and energetic and though he can resist the temptation of the carafe of delicious Gavi de Gavi he cannot resist sharing the nostalgic pudding with its bitter sweet crunchy caramel biscuit topping its lush foamy brownness. Again, there is the chance that we might work on a project together. He leaves and I take a walk around the block for fresh air, and to admire the summer around Berkeley Square. Returning, I ensconce myself in my favourite corner at a round table close to an open window and pass an hour or so playing with my ipad, ostensibly sending and answering a few emails, but actually trying to look busy before my friends Jane and Philip arrive. Jane is head of Christie's education and Philip is in charge of a business called the Map House - no need to explain what they sell. I have known these two for just shy of 30 years: we used to meet on Monday nights at Christies South Ken, where we would view the sales before gathering at the now defunct Luigi Malone's next door. We would drink and gossip, and Luigi himself would on occasion bring round grilled chipolatas or a tray of Potcheen shots fresh from the potato field. Occasionally we would discuss business. This evening our families and holidays are discussed and we manage to consume a few strong drinks - a bracing Aperol Spritz followed by more sensible but equally delicious Picpoul de Pinet. The sun sets and we are feeling quite mellow as my sons Vladimir and Inigo arrive. They are both in holiday mode as school and university terms have been over for a while and they are now in the full swing of summer. We finish the evening and my day at Little House with succulent grilled meat accompanied by salty, oily chips and warm spinach doused in lemon juice and olive oil. I have had a day of planning and adventure; I have met with my past, andI end with hope and expectation for a future outside of my control - my children!