Mad Dealers #6

Portobello Road market began in the late 60s for the antiques trade. The vegetable market was further down the famous historic road after Talbot Road. Then, at the end of the fruit and vegetables, was the West way flyover, known in the trade as  'under the bridge.' Most of us dealers began there and worked our way up to the numerous arcades at the 'posh' top end of the road. I was one of those dealers.  I began in 1977 by accident when I had an epiphany 'under the bridge!'

Westbourne Grove, another long road extending from W11 to W2, intersected Portobello Road. Approaching the market from the top end, there were antique arcades to the left mainly owned by the wealthy antiques dealer the irritable Polish Mr Lipka. I had a stand for years in the basement of one of his arcades, known as 'The Collectors Arcade.'  Only serious collectors would venture below ground, the other punters were the public at large. wandering on a Saturday morning into the early afternoon as Portobello Road was and still is a 'must see' world famous tourist destination when in London.

To the right of the intersection with a pub on the corner, were council flats and a petrol station but beyond were several 'real' antique shops and art galleries dotted along on the left hand side of Westbourne Grove. Oxfam opened a high end charity shop on the corner of Ledbury Road. On the right which sometimes had vintage bric-a-brac bought by those dealers in the 'know.' Ledbury Road had four shops where my colleague and friend Chris Moore originally began with his textile shop specialising in period Toile de Jouy prints. Next door to him was my antique print colleague Norman Blackburn who specialised in high end old trade engravings and Colin Lacy who had the frame shop supplying the trade and let us not forget the repair clock and barometer shop.  Further down on Westbourne Grove was the fascinating eclectic 'Dodo' shop owned by the formidable Liz Farrow, the number one pioneer in Nostalgia and Memorabilia.

However, In between 'Dodo' and Oxfam was a permanently closed 'trade only' shop with upmarket French furniture and interesting unique foreign looking objects in the window. No sign or name over the door or dirty window, nor any indication as to business hours. I often walked past on my way to visit Liz when one fine day I saw THE most beautiful pink satin glass oil lamp. My personal taste was French Napoleon 111, although I sold Mickey Mouse! I had to have this object at any price!

I had bought a traditional flat in a small 3 storey reddish brick Edwardian Mansion block at 5 Hamston House in Kensington W8 which I had filled with antiques and my taste in furnishings and furniture a la francaise! It was like stepping back in time and I desperately wanted that sophisticated oil lamp in my 'Aladdin's cave.'

I went home and wrote a letter giving the single name of Jilliana and my stall number at Lipka's saying, bien sur, I was in the trade. I licked the envelope but my red lipstick, unknown to me, must have left, what a man would have interpreted the imprint of a kiss. S.W.A.L.K. - sealed with a loving kiss. I walked back to the shop and slid the cum-hither envelope under the door.

Saturday dawned early for the regular dealers. I arrived a little later than the usual suspects because I was not into making a quick turnover like my tin specialist colleague John Emmett. His regulars queued up waiting to see what came out of his bags without fail every Saturday morning. I only supplied collectors not the trade unless it was foreign trade. 

Suddenly lo and behold a handsome foreign looking genie appeared from nowhere looking for Jilliana. He passed her stall not believing his eyes that the owner (moi) could possibly be selling such junk when she (moi) was enquiringly about a French antique in 'good' taste. He introduced himself as Sammy Kamal from Cairo, dealer of French and international antiques. We made an appointment that very afternoon at 4.00 at his shop to 'discuss' the price. He had me at a disadvantage because he knew I wanted it desperately.

Sammy was infuriating. Having gone back to his shop, he would not say the price which he had doubtless not even thought of preferring to bring it to my flat so I could see it in situe. I am sure he had other plans at the back of his conniving mind but I played along. He was charming, attractive, knowledgeable and so handsome!

At 6.00 on the dot, the genie appeared with the magic lamp! It seemed the dealer's price included a French kiss into the bargain. I didn't mind as I wanted it.  The lamp I mean! After a few French 'thrusts', the price was agreed plus dinner at the Ritz Casino was suggested and accepted. All included in the bargain personal 'touch' price!

Another woman had also been invited so we were ménage a trois across the dining table. Then Sammy disappeared to indulge in his passionate whims leaving us to have a laugh about our adorable generous host. After the gambling that Saturday night in the cold of January, we began a brief affair.

Sammy lived in a very small bachelor flat in smart Cumberland Place, near Marble Arch, London W1, a Mecca for Arablandia and close to gambling and night clubs in the West End. I was often invited for dinner as he loved to show off his culinary skills. Yes, Sammy was a good host and did not talk 'shop' as most dealers did in our exciting lucrative profession.   

I had just re met the man who would later become my husband. We had first met via my major conjuring client, the treasurer of the Magic Circle,  Leslie Cole, another mad collector in early December 1980. Martin Breese was to become one of the leading magic dealers in the U.K. However, he was committed to taking the aunt of his best American friend, Paul Bonwit of the famous Bonwit Teller family, to Hawaii.  How he got manipulated into inviting this LA Medusa, i know not but off he went on 3rd January 1981, sending me a card to say he had arrived in LA but reading between the lines, I gather he was none too happy about going on to exotic Honolulu with the wrong woman especially as Hawaii was on my bucket list.

I recall lying in bed with handsome Sammy, stroking his smooth dark silky skin, when he asked me what I was thinking about. I confided in him I had just met a delightful magical man called Martin Breese and was eagerly awaiting his return!  In early February Martin came into my life before Valentine's Day and Sammy exited from it. He told me that should I be in Mayfair late at night, to drop into his club off Bond Street and gave me the card with his name inscribed as the director. 

One evening Martin and I happened to be in Mayfair after the cinema and so I suggested visiting Sammy in his club. I had never been a night owl but thought it could be fun to go to a posh nightclub even though the exciting West End night club scene had long disappeared.

We climbed the stars to wonderland and found ourselves in an intimate comfortable lounge surrounded by deep plush velvet burgundy and gold tasseled chairs and sofas. Alone, except for a member of staff, Arablandia woke up after midnight sleeping all morning.  I asked for the owner, Sammy Kamal and was told to wait as he was busy in his office. We waited and waited and waited. No Sammy appeared. After about 30 minutes I began to get irritated and called the waitress over to complain. As an apology a platter of beautifully prepared sliced tropical fruits magically appeared together with fresh mint tea served in golden encrusted enamelled glasses but no still Sammy!

It was the witching hour when a stranger appeared from the gold door introducing himself as the owner, Sammy Kamal, who welcomed us, apologising profusely for keeping us waiting.  I felt embarrassed and told him about 'my' imposter owner Sammy. We all had a good laugh but even with my detailed description, this Egyptian Sammy, from Alexandria, had no idea who my ex-lover was. On hearing Martin was in the world of magic, Sammy asked for a few demonstrations and, satisfied with the off the cuff card tricks, promptly offered Martin a job performing in the early hours of the morning table hopping. Martin, of course, tactfully declined the offer.

Time to go just as his regular Saturday night/Sunday morning clients from Arablandia were arriving. We beat a hasty retreat never to return but wondering who 'my' mysterious vanished genie Sammy Kamal really was! 


25 years later, when I got divorced from Martin, most of the contents of our beautiful historic Georgian house at 10 Hanover Crescent, Brighton along with the house had to be sold. My French oil lamp was amongst its contents, never having once been lit. The buyer of the house and contents, with exactly the same taste as Sammy, was another genie from Alexandria with a similar Aladdin's cave, Abdul Ahmed Hafiz, the handsome Egyptian owner of Alexandra Antiques, my old neighbour! History had repeated itself.

Written at the Villa Perla, Kaleici, Antalya, Turkey on 19/3/17. 
Link with the vignette entitled 'Ephifany under the bridge.'

(timing 12 minutes)


Wikipedia - Westbourne Grove
Wikipedia  - Portobello Road market - Liz Farrow
Google - Alexandra Antiques Brighton
Google - 10 Hanover Crescent, Brighton
Wikipedia - S.W.A.L.K.
Google - Chris Moore textiles Turkey
Wikipedia - Horace Smith - poet