The art and antiques business is as unpredictable as an English summer. And it is not only the works of art that confound market rules and crystal balls. The fairs that serve as the dealers' collective showcase similarly defy expectations. Who would have thought, for instance, that fair entrepreneur David Lester could put up a tent on a forlorn intersection in West Palm Beach - not only on the wrong side of the tracks but just feet away from them - and find himself with one of the most glamorous and successful art fairs in America? Or that a charmless convention centre on the ring-road around Maastricht - a town no one had heard of until the eponymous treaty - could become the venue for quite simply the best art and antiques fair in the world?
This year's European Fine Art Fair - or TEFAF Maastricht as its organisers now insist on calling it - has just opened its oversized doors (they close on Sunday 23 March).
Lady Elizabeth Anson 'numbers President William Jefferson Clinton, Hans Heinrich Thyssen Bornemisza, Mrs Henry John Heinz, the late Mr Alfred Heineken, Princess Esra Jah, Mrs Basil Hersov, Mr John Paul Getty II, Mr Galen Weston, the then Mr and Mrs Tom Cruise, Mr Donald Trump and Mrs Ivana Trump and the University of Boston among her international clientele'. It is a glorious list, matched by an almost equally exotic list of British clients, ranging from nearly every member of the royal family to Sir Clive Sinclair and the late Mr Derek Nimmo.
A dingy community hall in the back streets of Bethnal Green on a cold and miserable winter's evening. We're all here waiting for the weird, hook-handed fundamentalist cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al Misri, the most loathed man in Britain, who is about to hold a public meeting.
When I say 'we're all here', I mean the infidel scum from the Daily Mail, a bunch of whores from the BBC, a cockroach from the Standard and a lower-than-cattle news agency chap.
I keep meeting people with a dilemma. On the one hand, they want to see a swift, successful outcome of President Bush's crusade against Iraq. On the other, if the war goes horribly wrong, they perceive a chance to get rid of Tony Blair.
The vision fills them with an ecstasy normally reserved for winning the lottery, catching a salmon of more than 30lb, or seeing a financial services adviser suspended on a spit over a crackling fire.
The West might be superficially divided between hawks and doves, but there is a deeper division: between foxes and hedgehogs. In a famous essay on Tolstoy, Isaiah Berlin said the division was 'one of the deepest' among human beings. The distinction applies just as well to politicians and governments.
Foxes, said Berlin, are sophisticated, pluralist, usually atheist, and distrustful of absolutes. Hedgehogs are anti-intellectual, single-minded, often religious, and comfortable with certainties, chief among which are 'good' and 'evil'.