I like old things. I like new things too, but there's something special about holding an item that had a purpose long before you were even born. I've been thinking for some time that I'd like to start collecting something. Nothing expensive, just something pretty that I'd get some simple pleasure from owning. But what to collect?
I am more than mildly obsessed with tea and the ritual that drinking it creates. There are very few foods or drinks that I could not imagine living without, but tea is one of them. I consume it every day without fail. When I don't drink it, I actually feel unwell. This is most likely a caffeine withdrawal symptom rather than a physical desire to drink tea. But withdrawal symptoms aren’t very romantic sounding, are they?
Despite this need to drink the steeping juices of an ancient Chinese leaf , I never partake in the ceremony of taking tea. I've spent a lot of time in the US and I think I genuinely upset one American lady when informed her that the British do not 'take afternoon tea' daily. I should add Myth Buster to my business card. (I don't have a business card.)
Anyway, with this in mind I decided to buy my first vintage teacup and saucer from eBay, the plan being to use it and add a dash of posh to my tea drinking maybe once a week. They don't need to be antique, they just need to have some age, be beautiful and make me feel special when I place my lips on the edge to drink from on them. This was my first purchase:
Apparently it's 1930s-1940s and I love it dearly. The day it arrived in a tightly taped box, I was stupidly excited. I should have been working, but I spent my time jamming blunt scissors through the creases of the cardboard box and trying desperately not to jab the delicate china with the end of the scissors. Drinking from a porcelain teacup may be elegant, but I have quite a penchant for clumsiness. Once it was out of the box I paraded the cup (trembling and rattling on top of the saucer) around the office as if I was presenting my first-born child. People smiled sweetly and cooed, but none of them loved it like I did.
It sat in front of me on my desk for the rest of the day and, for some inexplicable reason, I constantly felt the need to pick the cup up and hold it in my hands.
Once home, I set it down in a safe place and left it there until Saturday. Come Saturday I made myself some tea, poured it gently into my dainty cup, slid a disgustingly cream-filled choux bun onto a side place and sat down in the living room to âtake afternoon teaâ. I had a slight fear that the hairline crack in the glaze might have laddered its way through to the edge, but then I reminded myself that it had survived some 70 years in the world without falling to pieces. Five days in my possession should not cause it to shatter. I may be clumsy, but I cannot rival the Second World War.
Admittedly, this wasnât the most dignified of afternoon teas. I could at least have sat at a table. But it made me smile throughout nonetheless. I even felt an involuntary compulsion to stick my little finger out. Itâs true; tea really does taste better from a porcelain cup. My next mission, if collecting these delicate vessels is going to be a passion, is to research this curious Western ritual and learn its history. I will then execute an authentic afternoon tea and share it with you.