Tuesday, 28 May 2013

My grandmother’s tea set

Today's  guest post comes from Rachel Tripp of  Corner by Corner. Finding a purpose and bringing to life every area of her home...


My Grandmother's Teaset
“And no one wants an old tea set now, do they? I asked if someone wanted Nanny’s old set, and they didn’t. Shame, really.”

I confess that as I was chatting away with my grandfather, I had perhaps very slightly lost concentration, but this pulled me right back into the present.

“Nanny’s old tea set?”

“Yes.” He said, sadly. “It’s all packed up in a box. But no one wants it.”

I frowned. “Grandad, I would like it. Please. I would love to have it.”

He visibly perked up. “Oh. Wouldya?”

“Yes. I really would.” My head swam with images of a huge dresser, displaying an old tea set, in a big family living space littered with children and toys and the detritus of family life. Quickly, the reality of my tiny London terrace, and our lack of children, interceded. “I mean, I don’t really have space at the moment. But one day, if – when – we have a bigger house, I would love to display it.”

“Great!”

I can’t honestly remember how long ago that conversation took place. It must have been at least six years ago. At the time, the idea that we would ever afford to move into a bigger house seemed hilariously unlikely. But Grandad was as good as his word. He gave me, via my Mum, the carefully packaged and wrapped-in-newspaper teaset, all snug in a cardboard box with ‘this way up’ and ‘fragile’ written across it in rambling marker-pen letters. I took it carefully, and put it up in the attic of my tiny terraced house, and dreamt of having the space to get it down again.

Time passed. We had a baby. We moved. We moved to exactly the road I’d dreamt of living on, in fact. We carried on with our family. Pieces of the jigsaw fell into place. Then I started looking with dis-satisfied eyes at the alcove at the side of our chimney breast, and tapping into ebay search terms like ‘welsh dresser’, and walking around purposefully with a tape measure. When the dresser was delivered, I got the tea set out practically the same day, and arranged it on the shelves.

There is something comforting about old things. Something homely and right about collections of items, some with sentimental value, some expensive, some cheap, all loved. Through blogging about trying to improve our house, I have started to conclude that ‘jolly eclecticism’ might be my guiding design principle, however ludicrous or unstylish that sounds.

I set some of the teacups and saucers out on the shelves with a few other items that I wanted to see every day: some coasters I bought Oli with our initials on them, scrabble-style. A photo of our eldest being a flower girl. A ‘crystal ball’ that I bought once just for the hell of it, because I liked how it looked.

I have long been suspicious of beige pack-a-flats, full of bland furniture from high street stores and unmemorable items of homeware. The mushroom wall. The abstract triptych in teal. The leather sofa. The tall cream vase full of twigs. Nothing wrong with any of those things in themselves (in fact, several grace my home) but all together, with no happy patchwork of picture frames accumulated over several years, with no pleasant mishmash of kitchenware that’s been baked with and loved, with no smattering of souvenirs from holidays, in a room that is entirely beige with no colour discord whatsoever…. Well, where’s the pleasure and the comfort in living like that?

I love my grandmother’s teaset. I love it because I loved her, and because I miss her. It was a practical item for her; I imagine her saving for it, pouring out the tea carefully, and washing it lovingly by hand. It is decorative for me. I sometimes put small items in the cups if I need to keep them safe: a pound coin, a small wooden animal, a single curtain ring. I may one day make some teacup candles in some of the cups, melt in soy wax and essential oils, and light them in the evenings.

The design is just old-fashioned enough to be decidedly out of fashion, and thereby somehow to be coolly fashion-less and above such things. It sniffs, not unpleasantly, at the johnny-come-lately mug fashions which come and go: the pantone mugs, the Emma Bridgewaters, the tiny black espresso cups. It knows it will outlive them.

I like the elegant shape of the cups. I love the gold trim along the edges. I was in my late teens when my grandmother died; I gave my second daughter her name in tribute, but I know she will always be theoretical to all my children, despite how much she would have loved to meet them. So I like to have those cups, sitting quietly on my dresser in the front room whilst the carnage of preschoolers plays out around them. They look both backwards and forwards: back to a childhood sitting on my grandmother’s knee, and forward to my children growing up, and the uncertainty of what around us will remain, what will prove transient, and which of the things we choose and love we might pass on to our own grandchildren one day, for them to use in new ways, and perhaps even, if we are lucky, to cherish as I do this teaset.