Everything today seems to be high speed, top volume and low maintenance. I admit that I was glad of many modern conveniences when I was a busy, working mother. Retirement means I have time to make real bread, real coffee, real porridge, to hang the washing on the line instead of putting it in the tumble dryer, to pick flowers for the house and generally surround myself with lovely tastes and smells. It really is worth the time and effort!
However busy I used to be, I would always lay the dining room table properly for our evening meal. Sitting down to eat together has always been an essential feature of our family life, a time to catch up on news, to sort out problems and to add to the repertoire of family jokes. The children have left home but they come to visit and the table has had to grow to accommodate the new family members but we can't imagine life without it.
My work used to take me into the homes of many young parents and I was at first surprised and then saddened to find that few of them owned a table. Lots of modern first-time houses are too small to have a separate dining room or even a kitchen/diner. People seem to eat from trays in front of the television - not a good scenario for encouraging language development in the deaf children I worked with! Deaf or hearing, children learn an enormous amount from the interaction of families and sitting in a row in front of a TV does not provide that. My husband, a maths teacher, wants a campaign to bring back multiplication tables; I want a campaign to bring back dinner tables!
My online friend, Dewena, takes great care over her table settings. Go over and see the lovely china and table linen she uses. We both think that it is worth the effort, even when we are left with only two at the table. I haven't asked, but I imagine she must have lots of cupboards to store all her china, something that I am sadly lacking. Our house is crammed with books and bookshelves and a china collection would be difficult to accommodate.
I inherited an Edwardian teaset from my mother-in-law and it is still in a box, almost two years on. Inspired by Dewena, I took it out and washed it a few days ago. It is fine bone china, hand painted and heavily decorated:
There are 34 pieces altogether: 12 teaplates, 9 cups and saucers, 2 cake plates, a milk jug and a bowl. Mother-in-law, who inherited the set from her mother, kept it in a display cabinet and never used it. Afternoon tea parties went out of fashion in the 1940s and I don't have a display cabinet to show off that Edwardian splendour; what to do with it? I took the photographs to the local antique shop, which specialises in fine china, to get some idea of the value. I thought I might sell it and buy something I would like to use instead. I am glad that I took photos and not the box of china as I might have dropped it when I heard the valuation! £20 is the current value of this 110 year old set. There is no market for fine china.
What will I do? I will establish a new fashion for afternoon tea. I'll bake cakes and scones and make dainty cucumber sandwiches and lay the table with my best cloth and napkins and my fine china. You're invited!