I was sitting around the other day trying to think of business opportunities I could pursue, in the event that this journalism thing doesn't work out. About 19 cans of Diet Pepsi and three migraines into my brainstorming session, I had an idea: antiques. If there's one aspect of the UAE retail landscape that's been unexplored, this is surely it. I figure that with my extensive background watching Bargain Hunt reruns, along with my ability to throw phrases such as "retail landscape" into a conversation, I should be able to get a venture capitalist or two on my side.
What I won't be telling my investors, though, is that I've tried my hand at antique dealing before, and I was absolutely deplorable at it. Actually, this isn't entirely accurate. The term "antique dealing" implies that there was some dealing going on. I was more of an antique hoarder. For the year or so that I spent in the industry, I probably sold no more than a dozen items, and most of these for less than I paid for them. With hindsight, I can see that my problem was very simple: I'm an idiot.
For example, had I spent 30 seconds researching the business I was sinking my life savings into, I'd have learned that the market for brass was at its lowest ebb since the Bronze Age. Accordingly, I wouldn't have gone out and snapped up every brass candlestick I could find. This was nearly 20 years ago, and I'll warrant that the auction houses of London still ring with talk of the Mad Bidder of Bow.
Oh, but what a bidder I was. Once I'd fixed my eye on an unsaleable item, there was no stopping me. It's a mystery how I didn't get a repetitive strain injury - buyer's wrist. I recall a particularly vicious bidding war over a pair of grape-festooned wall sconces. It occurs to me now that my rival may have been bidding for the amusement of our fellow dealers. To be fair, I did eventually twig that the brass wasn't selling. I lived in a sixth-floor walk-up at the time, and it was hard to miss the fact that, after a day at market, the boxes seemed heavier on the way up than they'd been on the way down. So I branched out, mostly into carriage clocks, mostly of the non-running variety.
I used to cart my antiques around in an orange Fiat van, which remains the most reliable vehicle I've ever owned: on a journey of more than 20 kilometres, you could say with absolute certainty that it would break down. I'd trudge off down the B27953 in Aberystwyth, in search of a telephone box, worrying that someone might come and steal my inventory. I realise now that this was an absurd proposition. I realise a lot of things. If I do open my Dubai antique shop, I'll call it House of Oak, just to emphasise the fact that you won't find any brass in there. Also, you don't see many dark-wood credenzas around these days, particularly in this part of the world. People must be crying out for them.