When I arrived in London in 1991 after art college via Paris and Scotland, my friend Katie and I rented a small, tall terraced house in South East London. No heating and no carpets...just gaps in the floorboards and wonderful coal fires in most rooms. (We'd take a taxi to the coal merchants with polythene sheeting to lie in the taxi driver's boot on the return journey).
In the basement we had a workroom where we'd stay up late listening to the radio and making papier mache pots, painted boxes and furniture, mono printed and hand bound albums and notebooks. I'd done my thesis at art college on the Bloomsbury group and inspired by the Omega workshop we'd come to London to make and sell!
Over that first cold winter we'd get up early on a Sunday and stagger to the station loaded down with those big cheap checked laundry bags and head for a stall at Camden or Greenwich Markets. The money we'd make mostly went on cosy lunches and hot chocolates with marshmallows to keep us warm. We had business cards printed and that was our promotion done! It's strange now in this land of Etsy, websites, twitter and blogs to think how different things were just not that long ago. I remember whilst still in Scotland writing a letter to a ceramicist in London who I'd read about in a magazine asking politely for some business advice....I never had a reply. I always think of that unanswered letter when contacted by students. Nowadays it seems as if there is much more a culture of sharing and supporting amongst artists/makers - all made easier by the internet. Most of our planning for the move to London and our "business plan" was done over the phone - me in Scotland, Katie in Guernsey. My Dad wouldn't allowed me to chat on the phone so I'd go to the phone box across the road with a bundle of ten pence pieces and a notebook and pen. Pre mobile phones and pre internet days. I wonder where we found the contact details for the market organisers...and I guess we read printed timetables to know which train to catch!
Anyway after a few winter Sundays Katie got a real job and I got a full time job working in a friend's shop (where mostly I spent my days drawing and writing stories on the back of the shop's fliers, occasionally there would be a customer - often lovely, lonely women who would return, after pouring their hearts out to me, with a box of chocolates or once an amber necklace!) and later I started a Post Grad Art History course. And our dream for the "Worldbackwards" emporium quietly died away.
After a round trip of fifteen years to North London I'm back living in South East London and two weekends ago I found myself up early and trundling along the road to the station with a wheely suitcase and a bundle of bags....helped by my boyfriend...regretting the death of our car in the springtime and on a train to Caterham Vintage and Art Fair
. I caught myself thinking here I go again....still doing the same old thing "carrying my wares around" has nothing changed!
Later in the day Katie turned up to keep me company in the beautiful Edwardian Soper Hall and we enjoyed delicious cup cakes from Bake
plus more yummy cake and coffee from A Grand Affair served in old china cups. With a sound backdrop of 40s and 50s music we chatted to customers and other stall holders and I ended up spending some of my takings - on vintage children's books and a 60s pale blue Finnish enamel kettle - not a good business model!
By the return journey in the evening I found myself reflecting how lovely it is to meet the people who've bought the things you've made and to be around other people who are selling things that they've made or gathered with love or care.
It didn't feel any longer like a step backward - just looping back around on a beautiful walk!