I hate ‘word clouds’

Because: * They look like something has gone terribly wrong with the website. * They do not demonstrate linear thought patterns. *They are confused and confusing. * They are a typical, pretentious Web 2.0 gimmick. * My eyes and head hurt when straining to read the smallest fonts. * Half the population don’t know what they are. * Clouds are gaseous, nebulous, amorphous, opaque, and lack substance – hardly attributes that good content should take.

Okay, rant over.

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Having seen so many prehistoric, neolithic and paleolithic designs on modern ceramics and glass, I’ve often wondered how much these were inspired and driven by the discovery of some caves. In Summer 1940, four French teenagers out walking their dog in the Dordogne discovered a cave, the walls of which were covered with prehistoric cave paintings of animals and hunting scenes. Archaeologists soon found that this was just the start – there was a whole network of caves, all with perfectly preserved prehistoric art. The sleepy French village of Lascaux became world famous instantly. In fact, by 1955, over 1,200 visitors arrived every day to see this ancient wonder, dating back some 16,000 years. The caves were closed in 1963, with a replica opening nearby in 1983. Much local pottery is decorated with similar motifs, and mades great souvenirs. But I think the inspiration spread further than tourist wares. Consider Eric Hoglund’s designs for Boda, some Vallauris patterns, and particularly this 1960s-70s West German Scheurich ‘Montignac’ range vase, which really does resemble the original cave art. And to …

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Antiques & Retro in Berlin

Last weekend was spent in Berlin, visiting friends, but also indulging in more than a little hunting around the flea markets and vintage shops of this trendy city. First stop was Deco Arts in Motzstrasse, in the Schoneberg district. I had passed this shop many a time, and each time it was closed. Thankfully, this fourth (or maybe fifth!) time round, I was lucky, and the door was open. Charming interior decorator Marie-Pascale certainly has an eye for mid-century modern, and her smart shop is packed with treasures from around Europe, including furniture, lighting, ceramics and glass. One reason why I was so keen to look around was the price point there’s plenty to buy at well under 100 euros, and prices in general are very sensible and excrutiatingly affordable. I was tempted by a rather lovely Ceramano vase at a bargainous 25 euros, but as the weekend was still young and hand baggage was tight, I grudgingly left it behind. I really do recommend a visit to this Modern, and Modernist, palace – I’ll be back for sure. …

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Filmed during the first ever retrospective celebration of the life and works of Frank Thrower in Summer 2006, the documentary film of Frank’s life, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”, will be shown on the the Sky 2 Arts channel on Sunday 9th August at 7pm. This fascinating documentary was filmed and produced by Nigel Edwards of InHouse Productions, and was co-directed by Graham Cooley, the foremost collector of 20th century decorative arts in the UK. Graham also acts as the focal point during the film, which also includes interviews with members of Frank’s family, many of his colleagues at Dartington Glass, glass experts including Charles Hajdamach, and I. You can also see exclusive footage of the legendary FT15 ‘Ship’s Decanter’ being made, which are nothing less than spectacular. If you love glass and 20thC design, you’ll love this film, which draws to a truly tear-jerking end. Tune in to see what I mean. Copies of the film on DVD can be bought at £12 + P&P by emailing the Glass Association, who funded it, at crystal-edge@hotmail.co.uk. If …

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…and Wales made three

July has been a busy month for me. In addition to my usual jobs, this month I enjoyed three Antiques Roadshows in nearly as many weeks. I wrote about Melrose below, and that was followed up a few days later by an event at Bletchley Park, just outside Milton Keynes. If you think you recognise the name, you probably do. Bletchley was home to the talented team led by Alan Turing who broke the code used by Hitler’s ‘Enigma’ machines. Without this breakthrough, the course of World War II would have gone very differently, and our home computers may not be where they are today. Over 3,500 people attended the event on a sunny Sunday – not quite a record, but up there with the busiest Roadshows, so I was told. The image above shows the house as all the specialists arrived at 8am, and the image here shows the queue as it began to build shortly afterwards. It stretched across the entire lawn, round …

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I saw Sawbridgeworth

It’s rare that I find myself at a loose end, with a day to myself. Even then, when I do, I find myself strangely drawn to the idea of going ‘antiquing’, as they call it in the US. A couple of friends had mentioned that Sawbridgeworth in Essex was well worth visit, so I decided to take the advice and take myself off there for a day. Only 40 minutes by train out of London, I discovered a real treasure trove at the Maltings. Literally next to the station, not one, nor two, but FIVE antiques and collectables centres can be found, each crammed to the gunnels with all manner of goodies. For the real bargain hunter with time on their hands, I can really recommend the first two nearest the road; Herts & Essex Antiques Centre and Riverside. You’ll find something to suit every pocket from £1 to over £1,000. I was particularly tempted by a 1930s Webb vase, containing a network of bubbles and a gentle lilac tint. At £20, it …

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West German Pottery at a charity auction

I’ve just got back from a charity auction held to benefit the Prince’s Trust at the Guildhall in London. Alas, I am empty handed. Eric Knowles, my friend and colleague on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, is taking part in another series of ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ for the BBC. Here, two well-known antiques experts are pitted against each other, buying antiques and collectables, and then selling them at a profit later. They use their own money, so the stakes are high! Eric knows I’m partial to a bit of West German pottery, and had bought a large early 1960s vase (shown here) that he thought I might like to add to my collection. Designed by Hans Siery for Scheurich in 1958, “Yes, please!”, I said. At over 20inches (50cm) in height, and estimated at a punchy £150-200, my chequebook and bidding arm were ready, and Eric was enthusing on the rostrum. But I didn’t prepare myself for a room full of 20-40-something design fans, and I was soon outbid, with the vase selling for a …

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Michael Jackson 1958-2009

The grateful guest of a law firm to see Madonna perform at the 02 arena in London on Saturday night, I came across this poignant tribute to the undisputed ‘King of Pop’. Scheduled to perform some 50 concerts at the arena during July and August, it’s possible that the mental and physical strain these caused contributed to his untimely and tragic death. Over the past few days, a fair number of people have asked me, or made comments, about the value of Jackson memorabilia and merchandise. A little ghoulish maybe, but I guess the interest is understandable. Every case needs to be treated differently, particularly as values are likely to be falsely inflated for a few months by (arguably even more ghoulish) speculators. As such, I’d be inclined to wait for a few months before buying that must-have piece of memorabilia, as you may find it more affordable after some of the media hype has died down. I also think that, as ever, the same core rules to collecting rock & pop memorabilia apply. Mass-produced, …

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Antiques Roadshow in the Scottish Borders

And I bought a hat specially too! Having experienced the blazing Summer heat the UK is experiencing on past Roadshows, I thought I’d come prepared this time. You can imagine my annoyance when both the Met Office and BBC weather both predicted rain and thundery showers. Well I should have trusted my instincts – not a single drop fell from the blue and sun drenched skies. I was told by one of Judith Miller’s relatives that it’s all a fix – the sun always shines in bonny Scotland, and all those rainy soaked shots are just a myth intended to keep everyone out! That may be stretching things just ever so slightly, I think……but the idea is nice. Our location this time was Abbotsford, the Victorian castle built by poet Walter Scott in the 1820s. The event kicked off with drinks on the lawn and a private tour of the castle and its contents before dinner was served indoors. The library, one of the best in private …

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