This week my house hasn’t known what’s hit it. Never one to do today whatever housework can be put off till tomorrow, I’ve been decluttering like a demon, filling bags and boxes with stuff to eject, and turning out drawers with the exactitude and application of someone training for an Olympic medal in tidiness. Continue reading “The Perfect Tidying Storm”→
In the April edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, I’ve been praising local technology experts for their patience with my stone-age husband.
This month, my technology-averse husband finally agrees to invest in a new PC for his study. Our cottage is not large, but by sacrificing the dining room and third bedroom, we have engineered to each have our own study. This strategy has helped preserve our marriage and my sanity. It spares me from his one-way conversations with his laptop and his pathological untidiness. Continue reading “Sock Drawer Technology”→
You can tell a holiday is looming in our household when the place starts to look unusually tidy. As if the effort of planning and packing for a trip away is not enough, I pile on the pressure by insisting that the house is spick and span before we go. It never looks tidier than the day we go away.
“Who are you tidying it for, burglars?” asked a friend, curious as to why I was in such a frenzy one morning.
Actually, it’s for me – so that when I walk back into the house on our return, I think “Ooh, how lovely – I’d forgotten how nice our house is!” rather than “Oh god, what a mess”.
Until now, I’d always assumed that when our cat Dorothy regards us with suspicion as we prepare for our holidays, it is because she equates the act of packing with being abandoned her for a fortnight, and she’s anxious as to whether she’ll get her daily biscuit ration. But as I cleared a longstanding collection of my husband’s shoes from the bottom of the stairs this afternoon, it occurred to me that she’s probably just bewildered by so much sudden change to her territory.
I also hit upon a simple way to keep a tidy house all year round: I just need to go on holiday more often.
(This post was originally written for the August issue of Hawkesbury Parish News.)
(A post in praise of my two late grandmothers and their different attitudes to matching china tea-sets, crockery and cutlery)
Now here’s a little-known antidote to stress: take a few moments to admire matching crockery, as displayed on the Welsh dresser in my kitchen.
There are many reasons why the sight of this dresser gives me great pleasure:
a folksy look that goes well with our country cottage
light and cheerful colours
vintage design from the 1920s (it often pops on tea-tables in period TV dramas)
sentimental value, the first pieces being a wedding present from a special friend
low cost, thanks to a factory shop that sold cheap seconds (sadly now closed)
ease of replacement via Chinasearch
But most important of all is that it reminds me of tea with my grandmothers, though their attitudes to china were polar opposites.
Grandma’s Matching China Tea-Service
My paternal Grandma favoured matching crockery. She had a classic set of pale sage green utility china which was brought out every Saturday when we went to tea.
For my brother, sister and me were reserved three melamine cups and saucers, long after the age when we couldn’t be trusted with breakables. My brother’s was chocolate brown, there was deep rose pink for my sister and tangerine for me.
Toning tastefully with the china, a stylish set of tiered plates sporting a 1950s fern pattern always graced the centre of the tea-table. The bottom tier was reserved for thinly sliced, fresh-cut bread and butter, with cakes and biscuits of gradually reducing size on the top two tiers. Viennese whirls, Swiss creams and chocolate covered marshmallows still make me think of tea at Grandma’s, served from those elegant plates, and eaten politely all sitting well-behaved around the table, me perched on a stool brought in especially from the kitchen because there were more people than chairs.
The orderliness of the tea-table was as dependable as the bananas offered to the three of us as a treat after tea. Unlike us, Grandma remembered rationing and regretted the prolonged absence of such fruit from her own children’s diet during the war. I didn’t always want one, but I knew instinctively to pretend that I did, and accepted with gratitude.
My siblings and I were born in the same order as her children – my father sandwiched between my two aunts – and it must sometimes have felt like an action replay to have the three of us there, particularly as my brother was the image of my father as a boy.
Equally reliable was her pressing a shilling (equivalent to the modern 5p) into our hands as we left – our weekly pocket money. Our other, wealthier grandparents gave us each a halfcrown (12½p), but I was always careful to show equal gratitude to Grandma and Grandpa.
Mam’s Mad Medley of China & Cutlery
While I loved this orderly tea-time ritual, I also adored my other grandmother’s more anarchic approach to crockery. At Mam’s, we didn’t even have to sit up to the table, balancing our tea plates on cushions on our laps while we watched television. On my grandather’s salary as an accountant, they could certainly have afforded matching china, but it never occurred to Mam to buy it. Every plate in her cupboard bore a different design, and although some cups had a matching saucer, no two came from the same set.
The same was true of the cutlery, some of which was cheap and ancient, imparting like a condiment an odd metallic flavour to each forkful. One year my parents replaced our cutlery and presented Mam with their old, still serviceable stainless steel set. She regarded it with undisguised suspicion.
Having noticed that some of Mam’s china was chipped, I bought her a beautiful bone china cup and saucer one birthday, splashing out more than I should from my student budget. The set was adorned with a delicate lily-of-the-valley designed – Mam loved lilies – and the word “August”, because her birthday fell on August 1st. I thought this personal touch would ensure that only she would ever use it, and I hoped it would enhance the pot of tea with which she fuelled herself each morning before anyone else in the household was awake. She admired it enthusiastically before tucking it carefully away for safekeeping.
Like Grandma, she could not shake off the memories of the Great Depression, followed by wartime rationing. When she died not long after that birthday, not only was the August cup and saucer still in its box, but in her airing cupboard we discovered unopened packets of tea and sugar, carefully stashed away against any future risk of shortages.
Decades have passed now since both my grandmothers died, but I still sometimes have such vivid encounters with them in my dreams that it comes as a shock when on waking I realise they’re no longer with us. And what usually happens in those dreams? Well, of course, I’m visiting their houses for tea.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like other articles about my grandparents: