By Paul Draper – previously published in Fairlight News
“It’s fun – enjoy it”. If I never hear that expression again I will be very happy!
A few months ago we learned that the Antiques Roadshow would be coming to Battle on the 9th July 2019. We had not been able to attend the show when it visited Bexhill, the last time they came anywhere near Fairlight, so we thought we could not miss this opportunity to have a nose. So, we started to plan. What could we take, where could we park in Battle, how long would we be prepared to queue, how much would it cost and could we go just to look at the spectacle? Additionally, we had been examining the painting from Fairlight Village Hall by Spencer Roberts, entitled ‘Mute Swans at Pett Level’. Could we, with the necessary permissions, take the painting for an assessment? We decided it would be too big and cumbersome to cart about all day, with the real possibility of damaging it, so we said no.
Most of the above questions were answered – let’s take a watch and a couple of rings – parking was in the large fields off Powdermill Lane, south of the Abbey, and was free – we made arrangements for our dog to be looked after, so we could stay – the whole event, including parking is free – yes anyone can visit the show as a spectator, with no objects.
So, Karen and I decided to give it a go and take our neighbours Steve and Liz. We set out just before 9am and arrived at the parking area in the fields and that’s when the queuing started! Although you could walk to the event, an approximate time of twenty minutes, minibuses were running a shuttle service from the car parking field to the front of the Abbey. We queued and duly arrived at the entrance with lots of other people and wandered through the main gates where we were met by two Norman soldiers! Once inside it was a question of what do we do, where do we go and where are the experts?
We were greeted by the sight of a sea of people clutching bags, pulling suitcases and boxes on wheels and all looking somewhat lost. The system involved queuing at a small marquee located in the first field, headed ‘Reception’ where an initial assessment was made by a handful of staff. However, before joining these queues, this was where we all had to make a very important decision – do you have one item or more? There was a separate queue for each. The queue for one item was relatively short but the other one was already very long and starting to snake around the field! Volunteers from English Heritage were keeping a watchful eye on things. Steve and I decided to consolidate and go for the one item option, whereas Karen and Liz made the fateful decision to join the multiple items queue.
Steve and I were both seen at Reception within ten minutes whereas Karen and Liz ultimately took two hours twenty minutes to reach the Reception desk!! We will come back to that. My object, a watch, was looked at and I was given a small card, headed ‘Clocks and Watches’ and Steve, who took a small painting, was given a similar card, headed ‘Prints and paintings’.
We were told to leave the first field and ‘go behind the hedge’ into the second field where the experts were waiting for us. We decided to tell the girls and head off behind the hedge to find the experts!
We walked into the second field and surveyed the scene before us. Scattered all around the field were tables shaded by red umbrellas, with signs announcing each specialist subject. Each table had its own medium length queue so we went to our respective table and shuffled forwards. I was seen after about twenty minutes, by an expert I did not recognise. After a cursory look, he told me it was not the best period for Garrard watches, “it’s fun – enjoy it!” Suitably underwhelmed I went off to find Steve and he was at the front of his queue. He received a similar short appraisal and was told “it’s fun – enjoy it”.
We decided to buy some drinks and some cake from the catering marquee and sat down in the field to review matters. First however, I walked off back to the first field to find the girls, give them each a drink and look at the lie of the land. They were nowhere near Reception! Soul searching was required but Liz wanted her collection of family papers and artefacts to be seen so it was decided to see it through. Ultimately they reached the head of the their queue and were handed their pieces of paper for the respective tables in the next field. By this time the ‘more than one item queue was probably three times as long and the snake filled the entire field.
Liz split her cards with Steve and went off to join another long queue for ‘collectables’, whilst Steve and Karen lined up together for ‘jewellery’. It all took a long time and once again the expression was used…. “it’s fun – enjoy it”.
The whole process took so long that I was able to leave the others, take the shuttle back to the car, drive back to Fairlight, feed and walk our dog and then return to Battle Abbey in time to meet up again.
All in all it was a very long day and we were away from Fairlight for nearly seven hours. Was it worth it? – in retrospect it was an interesting experience and it was all free (apart from the drinks and cakes). Would we do it again? – probably not. Are there ways to beat the system? – yes, do one item at a time and go back and queue for a second, single item. Additionally, it occurred to us afterwards that not one of us had actually been asked for our ticket or card at any time, even when we reached our respective expert. It seemed that we could have all gone behind the hedge straight away and simply queued for the right expert. Anyway, we didn’t.
We saw most of the familiar faces from our TV screens, including Fiona performing her ‘Basic, better, best’ piece in the middle and certain items being filmed in front of a hastily assembled section of the crowd. It was fun – we enjoyed it!
By Paul Draper.