Sunday, March 09, 2008

Nick: the Antiques Roadshow special edition

I suppose we ought to be relieved that Nick has decided to write about something different! I hadn't noticed antique prices falling much though. I think it rather depends on what you're into. If Nick had been looking at Arts and Crafts furniture or turn of the century art pottery, he'd have seen a different picture. Anyway, Nick writes:

About a mile away from The Observer's London offices is Camden Passage. It was the home for 60 or so antique shops selling everything from expensive Art Deco jewellery to battered books. They are closing almost monthly. In their place come the stores and restaurants for the modern moneyed classes: gastropubs, delicatessens and a FrostFrench boutique. The dealers talk of a plot to force them out. But if their antiques were selling they wouldn't be in trouble. They're not making enough money because of a decisive global shift in favour of the modern style in the early Nineties.

Nick hasn't heard of eBay? Didn't he think that many dealers, noticing that their shops are expensive and account for a small proportion of their sales, prefer not to shell out for rents in expensive locations? Has he thought that the weakness of the dollar might have hit demand from Americans?

No, these rather obvious points seem to have passed him by.


Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I don't remember that much respect for the past in the 70s. Some of the bright future enthusiasm of the 50s and 60s had cooled, but there was still a suspicion that we'd all be wearing silver spacesuits and living on protein pills before the end of the century. If Britain was so green, why were we building unsustainable tower blocks? And Sloanes used to drive Range Rovers, ffs.

The reason aspirant Sloanes 'furnished their homes with heirlooms and portraits' was because either they were in the minority who inherited such things or because they bought them - and the market was an opportunist invention, the exploitation of Denis Healey's taxing the rich 'til the pips squeak' policy along with the selling off of country houses and the increasing conversion of three and four storey town houses into flats. There was a supply of antique fireplaces, and if you were really smart you could get money for taking them out of houses pre-conversion and then selling them to the new owners of flats at some ridiculous fee.

"Further down the ladder, the middle classes demonstrated their sophistication by watching The Jewel in the Crown or Brideshead Revisited ..."

What about the Borgias? I still remember a John Peel line that he discovered that the cricket jumpers of Jeremy Irons were in fashion after he'd kitted himself out as Cesare Borgia. Ah, tv in the old days: it nevercomes back does it?

"At the time, intellectuals worried that the 'heritage industry' was reactionary and provided the cultural background to Margaret Thatcher's long rule."

Apart from those intellectuals who thought 'reactionary' and Margaret Thatcher were good things. Hasn't Nick heard of Roger Scruton? I believe he also writes for the Staggers these days. But seriously, they were right to. That position was a reaction to Thatcher's "Victorian values" (something anyone even vaguely aware of Engels or George Gissing or Dickens or Hardy would have had doubts about). What was so cool about workhouses and children up chimneys anyway?

Also, I believe that the hippy era and ethos is nothing like as concrete as Nick suggests. It goes back through various names (many of which St Orwell was scathing about) at least as far as William Morris.

"Antiques don't leave a carbon footprint" - they do if "container-loads" are "packed off" "to America and Japan".

I think Harry Mount got a much better dig at the modern in Friday's Torygraph:

But who cares what it's like to live there? Lord Rogers says Robin Hood Gardens is as beautiful as a Georgian terrace house. And he of all people should know. He bought himself not one, but two, Georgian terrace houses, knocked into one, in Chelsea.

3/09/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for furniture, customers were no more prepared to bid for wrecks and do them up than cook meat and two veg every night. They would sooner buy flat-packed furniture and ready-cooked meals.

Since a central point of the article is that the middle classes eat organic, it seems odd that he talks here about the 'vogue for ready meals', which are almost never organic. The point abouyt not buying organic when you're on the dole is a fairly good one, but nobody's forcing anyone to do it.

Equally, the cheapness of Ikea has been a liberation for many people who don't have to spend years accumulating bits of dangerously falling-apart bric-a-brac to fill up their new houses (which themselves are harder and harder to afford). In my mind the real problem area for this kind of issue is electrical goods, which are now, and only very recently, cheaper to replace than mend. And which used to be mended by... Nick and Andrew's favourite people, the working classes, more often than not the white working classes.

shop at FrostFrench if they can afford to rather than wear second-hand clothes.

I don't think many people ever wore second hand underwear, which is the only thing FrostFrench sells. But hasn't Nick heard about the spear of interest in vintage fashion, led by Sadie Frost's mate Kate Moss?

I'm also not really sure that buying antiques was ever associated with 'thrift'. inheriting tables from family, yes, but buying vintage sideboards? When you read some of the writing about William Morris and his crew that came out at the time it's fairly clear that people were equally scathing about Morris's essential aesthetic of new, very expensive, things being made to look as old as possible.

And were antiques really ever associated with the green movement? i know Nick hates the greens but this seems a fairly massive leap. hand-me-downs yes, but pointlessly expensive antique furniture? And how does this all square with the myriad 'cash in the attic' programmes on TV at the moment? The Camden Passage closure is about the demographic of both antique-buyers and indeed Islington residents changing, isn't it?

3/09/2008 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made a mistake there, FrostFrench do sell clothes as well as underwear now.

3/09/2008 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick doesn't seem to have heard about globalisation either, which has reduced the price of furniture. Nor does he watch those execrable DFS adverts on TV, offering instant gratification without the need for payment, for cheap crap that will fall apart before the buyer forgets to pay the first instalment and the penal interest rates kick in.

Today's high-class style is the taste of the global elite. ... There's no place for the old in the homes of the new rich and the look is as clinical as a City office.

Isn't this just a retread of the old money versus new money story, that had been around since the Industrial Revolution?

3/09/2008 10:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other point is that sideboards and dining-tables take up a lot of room - my parents had one of each, but none of us had the space for them.

But although the argument was all over the place, I did think the conclusion had something to it. Our local wholefood shop does a range of hessian bags with improving messages; one of their latest was "Make do and mend". A message in the comment book complained that they'd left out the comma. Another commenter then explained that "Make do and mend" was a 'wartime saying' - to which a third commenter replied that the improved version with the comma would still be better as it would be more contemporary, less passive (I don't think they actually used the word 'proactive', but it was in that area). What can you say?

3/09/2008 11:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the rise of TV shows like "flog it" would seem to suggest there remains some kind of market for the old -- by which i mean buyers as well as sellers -- tho in style and manner (compared to the venerable and brittle old "antiques roadshow" for example) it maybe also indicate there's been a shake-up in cultural tastes class-wise (or micro-class wise maybe)

where would you go for a genuine study of how markets -- in the sense of ebay AND camden market AND car-boot sales AND the stock exchange and [any other kind] -- have changed, socially and geographically and over time, in terms of who variously participates in them, and what kinds of things are to be found for sale?

you can't get a watch mended easily any more :(

3/09/2008 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Well, speaking of hippies and WWII slogans, "Grow your own" was a WWII slogan, and I've a mug from the Imperial War Museum to prove it. :)

We must have been middle class; my parents had a sideboard and a dining room table too. Yet I used to love American thrillers - Kojak, Harry O, Starsky and Hutch, Rockford.

Historical programmes still get made. There are the cheap documentary-lites like 'Time Team' and those two blokes who went round battlefields. There's 'Rome' (two series so far, critically applauded and commercially successful). 'Band of Brothers' took the Second World War a lot more seriously than "'Allo, 'Allo" or "Dad's Army" did. Nick may hate the British film industry, but 'Atonement' seemed to go down well.

Phil, what you can say is that people who worry about commas in Health Food store comment books are nutters.

3/09/2008 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

people who worry about commas in Health Food store comment books are nutters

If the phrase in question could actually have a comma in ("beg borrow or steal", say) I'd agree. What made my jaw drop was that anyone frequenting that shop was so unfamiliar with the well-known phrase or saying "make do and mend" that [s]he would assume it was some sort of misprint for "make, do and mend", a kind of vacuous exhortation to do... well... stuff. And that somebody who did know what it meant assumed it was a linguistic relic like "Dig for Victory" or "Guinness is Good For You". Not to mention a third person actually preferring the vacuous exhortation to the w.-k. p. or s., apparently on the grounds that the Make Poverty History generation is so much more active than that bunch of unenlightened dead-legs who did nothing more useful with their lives than, er, defeat Fascism.

I must be getting old.

3/09/2008 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if they meant "make do, and mend" that would be OK -- the comma isn't strictly necessary but it's not wrong either, and once there it adds a touch of stern paternal instruction ("make do: in other words, mend!") (and also the feeling of a pause for breath gives a very short sentence an element of temporal advance, as in "go forth, and multiply", where the second can't happen before the first)

i like them all better without but my dayjob is largely improving the bad comma-work of others, and i veer towards ruthless paring these days (also i am a nutter) (and getting old)

3/09/2008 02:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where would you go for a genuine study of how markets -- in the sense of ebay AND camden market AND car-boot sales AND the stock exchange and [any other kind] -- have changed, socially and geographically and over time, in terms of who variously participates in them, and what kinds of things are to be found for sale?

certainly not to nick cohen. Second hand books is another very interesting marketplace, in many ways the 'death' of second hand bookshops has revitalised the entire process - you can actually find out of print stuff now, without trailing endlessly round smelly, normally badly-stocked shops; for me this is a real liberation.

Behind all this lurks Nick's central idea about green issues - that nobody actually cares and when people start losing their jobs then buying organic won't be a high priority. Which is probably true, but it won't mean that their desire to buy organic will be less sincere, will it? I mean I'm sure there are lots of green things people would like to do but they don't have the cash. Not sure that berating the middle classes for doing what are largely good things with their extra money is all that useful a way of being a campaigning journalist. Obviously giving £100 to Decentiya is a much better way to waste your cash.

There is also a nagging sense (combined with his wretched OFM piece) that Cohen really hates the idea of middle class people who claim to be left-wing eating out at restaurants. That, coupled with this unreasonably bitter approach to the green movement, seems more like part of a series of prejudices than reasoned opinions.

3/09/2008 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about this

'At a recent meeting in London Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer, elegantly calibrated attitudes to the US.'
Reuel Marc Gerecht is the director of the Project for the New American Century's Middle East Initiative. He is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Middle East specialist at the CIA.

He holds a neoconservative position on Iran[1] and in an interview with PBS Frontline has said "The Iranians [...] have terrorism in their DNA."[2] Simultaneously however, Gerecht has also advocated the re-establishment of diplomatic relationships with Tehran before any military action is taken.[3]

3/09/2008 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean I'm sure there are lots of green things people would like to do but they don't have the cash.

This is right on the money. The conspicuous policy of successive governments is that they are prepared to talk-the-talk, but completely unable to walk-the-walk. If you contrast this, for example, with the German feed-in tariff, you can see that there is a huge untapped desire do to something, but which will go nowhere unless the government primes some pumps.

In this context, people sniping from the sidelines, like Nick, are just the equivalent of saloon bar bores.

3/09/2008 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Were there Sloanes in the Seventies?

3/09/2008 07:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Belle - no, the commenter actually didn't understand the phrase 'make do' & thought there should have been a comma after 'make'.

3/09/2008 08:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ejh - I first heard the term from my sister (who was in publishing), when I told her about a girl I'd met briefly in my first term at college; that was 1979.

3/09/2008 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Were there Sloanes in the Seventies?

The OED has this...

*** 1975 P. YORK in Harpers & Queen Oct. 190/3 The Sloane Rangers..are the nicest British Girl. Ibid. 191/2 The Sloane Rangers always add tone. They never put on prole accents, like self-conscious Oxford boys in the sixties. Ibid. 191/3 Once a Sloane marries and moves to Kennington and starts learning sociology through the Open University, she is off the rails. Ibid., Sloaneness, some people would say, is a track to be liberated from. Ibid. 192/3 Sloane Ranger pet hates..incense, Norman Mailer. 1978 Evening Standard 21 Aug. 13/2 A way of life neither Mayfair, nor West End nor Sloane Ranger, but which is summed up in the words Cafe Society. 1978 D. MACKENZIE Deep, Dark & Dangerous i. 55 Emma..was a hell of a lot different to the succession of Sloane Rangers who had been her predecessors, harpies bent on getting far more than they gave. 1980 S. ALLAN Dead Giveaway xv. 154 She wore a cashmere sweater..a Sloane ranger type. 1981 J. MANN Funeral Sites xviii. 111 The all-English Phoebe with her Sloane Ranger voice and manners. 1982 BARR & YORK Official Sloane Ranger Handbk. 10/1 Sloane Rangers hesitate to use the term ‘breeding’ now (of people, not animals) but that's what background means. 1983 Times 16 Apr. 3/7 (headline) Bogus Sloane Ranger lived like a lord. Ibid. 3/8 He even emulated the voice of those known as Sloane Rangers and men about town. ***

3/09/2008 08:57:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Sir, due to your efforts I am better informed than I was hitherto. God bless you.

3/09/2008 09:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In this context, people sniping from the sidelines, like Nick, are just the equivalent of saloon bar bores.

I do think that's what he is on the green issue in particular. There are so many other things that people wouldn't spend their money on if they were on the dole - charity for one - but that doesn't make the desire to give to charity insincere, does it? These are the worst kind of 'well since you wouldn't spend literally your last 10p on organic food it proves that you don't actually care' arguments, linked to the same kind of 'why do you care about Israel/Palestine so much' Decent ranting. But at least there you can sort of understand that the ranters want to appear holier than thou. In this Nick seems to want to seem unholier than thou - but more sincere in his attitude to the issue.

oh and just as a note on the actual article. He claims that people want their houses to look like city offices now, but they did in his glory days of the 80s too - for all its faults the bit in Wall Street where Charlie Sheen's character decorates his apartment is a case in point. The relationship between the 'high' decorative arts and Thatcherism is explored in some depth in Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty and it's a bit more complicated than people back then caring more about antiques... but since it isn't a cut out and keep, decent-approved approach to the subject it's no wonder Nick doesn't mention it.

3/10/2008 08:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not his worse column, to be sure -- but it does show that many journalists are no better than their sources. Nick has ditched all his old left wing sources (which, if you look back to 1998-2001, made his columns very lively - PFI, Enron, Lobbyists, corporate influence) . His new sources - the decents , can give him variations on one story , and he did get a whole book out of it. But if he wants to write about something other than the Islamofascist-left-craven-sellout etc, he has to just pull it out of his arse - like this column, based on a vague set of prejudices and shallow observations - ie he went down to Camden passage, a short hop from his Islington home, felt "all this green business is crap - look at the antiques shops " . If you think about how the pre-Decent nick might have spoken to greeny -lefty activist types, he may well have said "all this middle class green is just cosnumerism", but he would also have gone into eg the Heathrow lobby, or the power firms (like the Sunday Times did on their front page) or some other big political-corporate issue about the environment, and brought in some actual story to this

3/10/2008 09:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick's Pajama's Media column is a dandy

Firstly, it has the doozy

" Bush’s keenness to spread democracy to undeserving Arabs as much as the disasters of the second Iraq War shocked many Conservatives as greatly as it appalled many on the left" - Nick must be the last person in the world to really believe Bush-the -democracy-promoter , even the craziest decents are no longer sure of that one (Egypt ? Saudi ? Palestine ?)

Secondly, Nick as usual relies on things-that-aren't-true, with his

"German has the useful word Tantenverführer: “a young man of excessively good manners you suspect of devious motives (literally, an aunt seducer).” - except they don't, this word is not in general use in Germany

and , as the commenter above says, look at Nick's CIA sources - and why for gods sake is he writing in Pajamasmedia - did they pay him ? I hope he didn't write this crap for free

3/10/2008 09:16:00 AM  

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