Some treasure hunters, perhaps those blessed with the gift of practicality and heads less inclined to hover upwards amidst the clouds, may visit an antiques market and simply see an opportunity to grab a bargain or possibly to snare themselves a useful chair. Not I. Oh no, I see a chance for reinvention and the thrill of new adventure. Perhaps Antiquing should be placed among our list of hobbies along with those meant-to-impress activities such as Rock Climbing, Hiking, and Skydiving. Adrenaline junkies may scoff at the brazen comparison to their perilous pursuits whilst they dangle dangerously by a thread on a vertiginous cliff face. They would dismiss us as a leisurely gaggle of sticky-beaks who like to peruse through other people’s battered knick-knacks.
Clearly those who dice with death have never felt the tension as I have when gripped by the discovery of a hidden treasure. The gleaming time-worn handle of some desired object lays buried beneath an indiscriminate stack of faded monogrammed linens like a crisp blanket of fallen leaves obscuring spring’s jewel-like bulbs. What is it? I must know! Sheer panic sets in as I spy another eagle-eyed hunter swiftly closing in on my prize. Quickening my step, I sashay swiftly towards the treasure, as does my adversary, weaving my way politely yet briskly passed nattering ladies, their arms laden with French sheets whilst utterly oblivious to the object of my increased desire. My opponent, thwarted by a rather large gentleman sporting an unusually wide brimmed hat, is temporarily blockaded and must at once admit defeat. To the victor come the spoils.
Of course, not all encounters at the market are quite as dramatic. Mostly the atmosphere is one of calm composure as rugged-up antique loving foragers ribbon between odd and often bizarre assortments with their four-legged friends in tow. Clutching our take-away coffee cups, as much for warmth as for the life-affirming elixir they contain, my market buddy Tomoko and I make our way inside. The Sunbury market is a huge permanent event held every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at Kempton Park Racecourse southwest of the city centre on the very edge of Greater London. Every corner of the space is packed tightly with plastic folding tables heaving with a glorious array of old bits and bobs, many of which I have no use for, yet fascinate me all the same. However, there is no time to dilly-dally indoors, the real treasures for us are to be found outside. We must brave the elements. Spurred on by coffee we adjust our woollen hats and forge on – there are wondrous discoveries to be made!
There are no gaudy colours out here. The market landscape is like an old tapestry; everything is muted, toned down, faded, washed out and weathered. How perfectly glorious it all is. You see, outdoors is where the furniture is displayed; rustic French credenzas plucked discriminately by discerning dealers from provincial brocante sit effortlessly at ease beside towering wooden orchard ladders, their rungs worn down with decades of daily wear. Shrouded in a golden glow of early morning autumnal sunshine the scene feels almost hyper-real – I want to pull up a well-worn chair and languish for a while, breathing in the entire tantalising scene. Every aspect, every tiny detail, no matter how insignificant, is integrated, harmonious and spurs a glorious connection to the next delight.
Sharp shards of flickering light seize my attention and I turn obediently towards the source. Hundreds of glass bottles of varying shapes and sizes glisten in the sunlight, their translucent green colour catching the sun’s warmth and shimmering in unison like a vast crystalline sea. I spy Tomoko, face mesmerised by the light, watching with quiet contemplation as one does when standing on the sandy shore gazing out towards a tranquil sea. We look toward each other with little need for words, and I wonder: does everyone stand here before these everyday objects, stupefied as we are? Likely not.
Spellbound we wander on, unable or unwilling to pause for too long. The acronym FOMO springs to mind – perhaps it is here, at Sunbury, where that now familiar abbreviation had first appeared. Ceased by a wave of hurried uncertainty I promptly shuffle on. As with markets of any kind some stalls are of more interest than others, and of course this is purely objective – one woman’s trash is another’s treasure, or so they say. Tomoko and I have frequented Sunbury on more than one occasion, and we have amassed a handful of vendors whose names we are yet to learn, yet whose wares we have come eagerly to see.
However, finding your favourites amongst a hodge-podge of wooden stools and chipped enamelware is like rediscovering that quaint little Italian alleyway you stumbled upon during your distant honeymoon – you know it must be here somewhere, yet so much has changed since you were last here. Lost within a sea of faces it is astonishingly easy to feel abandoned within the rabbit-warren of wares. And why is it that every male dealer at every market around the world seems to sport a bushy beard? Is a face obscured by hair a prerequisite to adhere?
Admittedly, an antiques market is a glorious place to become adrift. Both my friend and I have a few special things we would like to find, although there is always something equally enticing to acquire. During her last visit Tomoko unearthed a beautiful collection of old wooden spools still wound tight with their original wool boucle in varying shades of blues and greens, similar to the exquisite threads used to create those quintessentially French Chanel jackets. She is on a mission to buy some more. I ask her what the dealer looked like, and she replies, “I can’t remember exactly, but I think he had a beard”.