Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fine china

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!

10 comments:

  1. I'm on my way! Yes and amen to eating at the table. This is something we always do as a family. I loved having candle-lit dinners in the winter time, even when the kids were small. It made them feel special, and they loved it. When my children would invite friends over for dinner, they would express appreciation for eating together because that was something they had never experienced in their own homes. It's funny what you take for granted.

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    1. I've put the kettle on and the scones in the oven!

      I've always known your family was like mine - you can tell table folk from tv dinner folk! My mother always told us "The family that prays together stays together." I agree with that but I would add, "The family that eats together meets together." because I'm very close to my brother and sister still, even though many miles separate us, and my children and my children are regular visitors here. In fact, my son and his little family are on their way here right now.

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  2. I wish I could sit down to tea with you and use that lovely Edwardian heirloom china! A weakness of mine is cucumber sandwiches. I am surprised that your china was so undervalued. I'm not sure if it is in the U.S., not when I see the prices at replacement companies. If you hold onto it your granddaughter might love it someday. Those colors are lovely, the green and is it coral?

    It was so good to see the picture of your family at the table set with pretty linens, stemware and the candle lit. (I also love the blue rimmed plates in your cupboard or dresser.) I know that it helped the dinner conversation to be lively and interesting. Did you ever see a film called Avalon? At the beginning of it the big family enjoys laughter and conversation around the table. There are many plot lines running through the movie but the impression I was left with at the end was how this same family ended up sitting on t.v. trays, staring at the set, not looking at each other and not talking. So sad.

    That was so sweet of you to link to my blog and I am an admitted dish lover, and I'm fortunate to have generous cupboards for the dishes although I don't have the dish pantries that would make it so much easier to see what I have at a glance. I don't buy much anymore and what I do buy comes from thrift stores mostly. I did do one thing that helped. I moved my wedding china into a kitchen cupboard so it would be handy to use regularly.

    I wish you much happiness in your retirement enjoying those things that bring you so much joy! Well deserved! And sign me up for your campaign to bring back the dining table and the family gathered around it!

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    1. Dewena, I've replied directly to your comment via email. I'm not sure how that works but it obviously doesn't appear here on the blog. I hope you've had it.

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  3. I couldn't agree more, where I come from parents and children will seat at table to have their meals together and the table is always laid out properly. It's also a great way for families to get together at some point of the day and talk.

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    1. It is good to know that we are not a dying breed, Paula!

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  4. your china is beautiful!
    I would simply use it every single evening. you already are making each meal special just by all being present at the table as you say! just think of the memories you'll be leaving those two beautiful children of how you do things. came here by way of dewena.:)

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    1. Welcome, Tammy, and thank you for leaving a comment here. I think lovely hina is only appreciated in US at present; everyone in UK is putting theirs into charity shops but I will keep mine and use it whenever I can.

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  5. I agree, meals should be served and eaten at the dinner table. Good conversation, and the occasional argument. It's what family life is all about. Sad to hear that your teaset isn't valued any higher than a measly £20. Maybe that's your cue to enjoy it while you can.

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    1. I've just read your post on decluttering and simplifying; that's what I ought to do, isn't it? Then, I would have space to display the china and it would be easier to get it out and use it. I'll try! Thanks for leaving your comment.

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