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The Good China

I was sitting down to my tea the other day (a revered ritual) when the doorbell rang. I went to answer it and found my frazzled neighbour at the door. She had a couple of hours without her daughters, and was spending it doing her homeowners association work. (See why I shun the homeowners association? I confess; it scares me.) I invited her in for a cup of tea, and she gratefully accepted. We walked downstairs to my kitchen and she sank thankfully into a chair as I went to get another cup and saucer. When I returned, she was looking thoughtfully at my table. I asked her politely if she liked the tea I was having (Assam) or if she would prefer something else from my vast tea stores. She said she would love a cup of Assam tea, and so, I poured.

When I settle down to my teatime ritual, the world slows down. It becomes measured and civilised. I relax into my ritual without even thinking about it, little knowing or caring how it must appear to someone else. For a while L said nothing, and nor did I. Then I asked her how her day was going.

She snapped out of her reverie (or so it appeared) and complimented me on my china. I was surprised, but I thanked her politely. Then she mildly inquired if I’d been expecting her.

I shook my head. No, I hadn’t been expecting her. Now it was her turn to look surprised.

I asked her if something was the matter. She responded by asking me if I treated myself to this (she waved her hand at my table) everyday. I didn’t think there was something amazing about a pot of tea and a Victoria Sponge, and I told her so. She looked pained. It wasn’t the tea and cake she was referring to, she told me, but the china, the cutlery, and even the tablecloth.

This revelation, in turn, pained me.

I have heard this all before. Why, people ask me, do I treat myself to the good china everyday? Why do I insist on drinking my tea out of a cup? Won’t a mug do? Why don’t I preserve the good china? Why do I insist on using the silver cutlery? Aren’t I afraid that something will be broken, or the crystal cut glass will be chipped, or the silver will lose its veneer? Isn’t it terrifying to me that something may spill on my lovely vintage tablecloth that was embroidered by hand by my grandmother before she got married? Do I not fear all of these things?

The simple answer is: No. I don’t.

I believe we own nice things in order to use them. It seems a massive waste to me that the beautiful good china, or the vintage tablecloth, or the family silver rots in drawers and cupboards and closets. It’s something that frustrates me endlessly. When my grandfather died I helped clean out his closets. I felt such intense sadness when I found some new shirts he’d never worn, a brand new silk dhoti that was still in its protective tissue wrapping, and even a box of new handkerchiefs that he’d never opened. He never got to use any of it, and he died. Why did he save it? He spent money on those things — or was given them — and he never knew what it felt like to use them. That, to me, is a bigger tragedy than the risk of a cup breaking or a spill spoiling my precious tablecloth.

I don’t love my special things less because I use them everyday. I look at it differently. I believe I deserve to use the beautiful things I own. I don’t want to preserve them. I believe that the act of my using them makes them, if at all possible, even more special.

10 Comments

  • Martin 16th April 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Things gain value when you use them. They grow on you. Locking them up as if they were secrets is simply a waste. As I will break down slowly with age, so will the things I use. There’s no shame in that.

    Reply
    • Awanthi Vardaraj 17th April 2012 at 11:38 am

      None whatsoever. In fact, I put it to you that it’s the way it ought to be. I remember shopping at a flea market once. I ended up buying an antique chest, but before I bought it I asked for its history. It was fascinating. The chest had been used almost non-stop for one hundred years. I was so grateful to have an opportunity to be a part of ITS history.

      Reply
  • Strangebee 16th April 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I’m such a klutz sometimes it’s probably a good thing I don’t own any good china. At the same time, if I had some, I would probably only bring it out to use for special occasions to make them more fancy. Now quilts, which would go along with your tablecloth, are meant to be used so I can’t see the point of people making these big, arty quilts to just display them/

    Reply
    • Awanthi Vardaraj 17th April 2012 at 11:39 am

      I do have a quilt I have hanging up as art, but only after it got so old that I decided I would rather preserve it and hang it up. It’s a beautiful old quilt and is turning one hundred this year. It’s been made out of ribbons and strips of unwanted material, so it’s very striking. 🙂

      Reply
  • niff0me 16th April 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Well said! that’s how life to be, use it! there’s no point in cluttering your home with things for “special occasions” when every day can be a special occasion 😉

    Reply
  • lundunlass 16th April 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Beautiful post xD I agree with you (not that I have good china or family silver at the moment but someday I hope to collect). xD

    Reply
    • Awanthi Vardaraj 17th April 2012 at 11:42 am

      Thank you! I am sure you will collect — I look forward to flea market shopping with you in London! 🙂

      Reply
  • kst 17th April 2012 at 12:53 am

    When we were registering for wedding gifts, my husband wanted to know why I wanted to bother with “formal china.” “No one ever uses it, it just sits and collects dust!” he complained. I looked at him in shock, “In MY family, we use it! It comes out for every holiday and adds an additional celebration to it.” He has now come along to my way of thinking and enjoys using it as well! The fancy crystal champagne flutes with platinum edging get used REGULARLY to add extra sparkle and panache to drinking a bottle of bubbly which I also believe in drinking because I want to and it’s delicious, not just because it’s a special event. Some evenings, making it through the day is worth the special event! I look forward to continuing the slow process of organizing our home so that my beautiful teapots and tea cups will have a safe place to live…so that I can pull them out for my cups of tea just like you!

    Reply
    • Awanthi Vardaraj 17th April 2012 at 11:44 am

      You have a beautiful place to call home now and I am sure that over time it will absorb all of your (and Jeff’s and Ivan’s) character. I completely approve of using your lovely flute glasses for bubbly. I believe that being alive is a special celebration. 🙂 Some day we shall enjoy a cup of tea together, in my house or yours, and we will use the good china! 🙂

      Reply

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