Several rounds with the demons

December 17, 2014 § 3 Comments

It has been an exhausting few months. Productive, definitely, but physically and emotionally draining. I recently submitted two key proposals; one academic and one literary. It has been thoroughly draining but something interesting happened when I finally sent off the submissions.

Kernels of ideas

Getting to the submit button involves work of course, a lot of work. Some of it is visible and obviously industrious but much is invisible, occurring only in the neurological passages of the senses and the cogs of the mind.

The first phase barely looks like work at all. There are the months of conscious living, senses permanently alert, the observing, registering and reading, the filing away of shards of information and impressions… Notebooks and archiving software come into play to some extent but mostly snippets just disappear into the complex circuitry of my mind. With time, continuous feeding and patience the data is processed. Hints of a hypothesis and hazy concepts emerge. Yes, they will require further research and refining but ideas firmly set up camp in my mind and, with them, the certainty they are worth exploring further.

At this point the conscious research starts and before long I’m surrounded by articles, newspaper snippets, book chapters… with key thoughts highlighted and ideas scribbled in the margins. Notebooks fill up with a few lines of a thought, penned hastily before it evaporates like a will-o’-the-whisp. A file appears on my hard drive with pages of disconnected passages and paragraphs that capture half-moulded opinions and hunches.

The demons circle

Before long these fragments morph into unwritten theories or ideas. At this point it is essential I start writing, not the finished product, but paragraphs that capture the essence of the idea and where it might take me. These paragraphs, which start the process of turning mental meanderings into a piece of work and form the basis of a proposal, are however some of the toughest to get down. Even if the data has percolated into a robust idea, even if I am determined to turn it into something substantial, even though I love the act of writing, fear of the blank page pops up. I know full well that once I have written the first few paragraphs, I will be away but I procrastinate by reading yet another article or checking another source.

Procrastination is completely normal. New students to published authors and almost everyone in between seem to experience it in some form. Suddenly anything and everything is more appealing than tackling that blank page: ironing Mr M’s shirts, scrubbing the bathroom, doing my tax return…

Driven by the determined idea that has implanted itself in my brain (and often an external deadline too), I finally write the first lines. The opening paragraphs of my proposal gradually take shape. Before long the sentences are flowing out and I hit the recommended word or page count in the submission guidelines, which brings me to the next big hurdle: editing the first draft.

Squaring up to the demons

If fear keeps me from the blank page, dread stalls the read-through of the rough first draft. Dread that I have written complete and utter rubbish. Dread that ideas that seemed worthy and cogent in my head have fizzled into insignificance on the page. I know from experience, from all the press releases and contracts to the blog posts and academic essays I have ever drafted, that once I start editing, I will thoroughly enjoy the process. It is one of the most annoying contradictions. Mrs M the wordsmith loves the métier of using words and syntax to refine and clarify thoughts; Mrs M the originator of ideas is petrified of revisiting the first draft!

After much cajoling and procrastination the wordsmith wins but not before the demons have landed a few punches. The second, third and however many more re-drafts are not nearly as painful. The wordsmith in me is in full flow by then but therein lies a danger too.

Revising and editing can be a tactic to avoid the next hurdle: handing the work over to somebody else. Just as I am satisfied that the draft is as good as it will ever be and I open the email or electronic form to submit it, the enemy within truly rears its ugly head. Bruised from the previous rounds but determined, it throws out all the insinuations it has been held back; it taunts me with old insecurities; and it pounces on past ghosts, memories of which still have the power to unsettle.

At this point the only thing to do is give the demons a resounding punch in the stomach and hit ‘submit’ but it takes energy and self-belief and leaves me feeling drained. However, stunned by my own boldness, I also feel oddly invigorated and am aware of a small but important window. Staring out those measly bastards gives me a shot in the arm. The pesky sods will be back before long but whilst they are still wondering what hit them, I can use the adrenaline surge to get to work on the next project, to tackle my next blank page…

Since hitting the submit button, I have started work on a few more projects that have been in the pipeline for some time. There will be some changes around here, some new ventures in 2015… and hopefully a slightly smaller, slightly weaker cohort of demons to pester me.

 

Further reflections on needs and wants

December 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

Wartime Wardrobe Challenge

I’ve written before about how rationing forces me to distinguish between needs and wants but as the second year of my clothes rationing experiment draws to a close, I am gaining new perspectives on both.

Waning wants

I have not bought a skirt (or pair of trousers for that matter) in over four years. I could quite easily justify a new one. As I’ve been wearing my two staples pretty much continuously for the last few years, they will probably need replacing before too long. The denim skirt may struggle on for another year before the seams perish; my black corduroy one will hopefully last two more (if I get it relined).

Why have I not modestly splashed out on a new skirt or pair of trousers for so long? Is it due to the rationing? In a way, yes, but not in the coupon counting sense. I have not bought a new one of either as I simply haven’t seen anything that I liked enough to tempt me, so why waste coupons?

Mulling it over, I’ve realised that rationing has not necessarily dissolved the desire for certain garments but it has certainly eroded my longing for most of the currently available incarnations. In many ways, this clothing experiment has changed my baseline. Much like I have lost the taste for nuts and ice cream due to lethal allergy and a mild intolerance, the desire for many colours, shapes, fabric… has evaporated entirely.

Rethinking needs

If wants are fading, where do I stand on needs? Obviously, in its narrowest meaning, needs cover the clothes on my back and a change of clothes in the wardrobe but that extreme was never the intention of wartime rationing and neither is it mine. I’m thinking of needs in terms of enough to be pleasantly comfortable.

So how am I getting on with balancing my needs with rationing, particularly as stock starts to wear out. This year, quite a few undergarments, socks and stockings have given up the ghost as elastic has perished or darns have worn through again. More items are threatening to go the same way. The leather on my long winter boots is perilously thin; there’s the denim skirt that’s on its last legs; and my black trousers are clinging on thanks to some strategically placed iron-on fabric.

On that basis, I can definitely justify some new undies, a skirt or pair of trousers and new boots. Despite this list of ‘needs’ I have actually struggled to spend all my coupons this year, not least of all because I can’t find any staples that I like enough to consider, let alone that pass muster in terms of quality, environmental and ethical considerations.

I suspect my wartime peers did not have the luxury of being this picky about style and colour due the level of shortages and the likelihood of the coupon allowance being slashed in subsequent years – by 1945 resources were so short that it had shrunk to a paltry 24 coupons! With such constraints, I imagine people thought of all purchases as essential stock (rather than in terms of needs or wants), stocking up when they could and making do with colours and shapes that may not have been their first choice before the war.

Although I am still fussy about the shape and colours of my outerwear (even though it really should not be a problem to find a classic pair of side-zipped wide legged black trousers!), I too increasingly regard clothes shopping as sensible acts of stock replenishment, with a bit of frivolity once in a blue moon. Quite a healthy view and a very satisfactory outcome from two years of rationing!

This ‘information’ film is unconnected to this post but I’m quite amused at the lengths wartime ladies could go to make the most of one dress. I suspect the tailored cut helps!

###

Coupon update

So what have I actually spent coupons on in recent months? Restocking accounted for most of my remaining purchases: undies (4 coupons), leggings that function as tights (2 coupons), cosy homemade socks (1 coupon), a sensible, dark, warm cardigan (still on my knitting needles but accounting for 5 coupons).

A new scarf/shawl accounts for a further two. This is unashamedly an indulgence as I have several already but due to my chilly disposition and its warmth and ability to transform wardrobe staples, it is one I have no qualms about allowing myself.

Total coupons spent in 2014: 56.5 coupons

So with only a few more weeks of the year left, I still have 9.5 coupons, enough for a pair of trousers – should I spot those elusive classics – and a bra or a pair of boots – if I find any that I like and are comfortable -, a bra and another pair of socks.

I also managed to avoid purchases by my ongoing make do and mend efforts – or make, do and mend, as Jackie, a fellow ‘rationee’, has redubbed it. Darning the darns on two pairs of socks saved two coupons and a T-shirt from a charity shop a further five. I’m also working on a pair of multi-coloured stripey fingertip-less gloves, using up odds and ends of skeins (2 coupons). They’ll hardly be the height of elegance but they’re only intended for use around the house to keep my hands warm whilst I work on the computer.

Total coupons saved by making, doing and mending: 22.5 coupons

 

Make Something Month revisited

November 28, 2014 § 7 Comments

Today is Black Friday… an American retail term that has in recent years arrived in Britain. From what I understand, US retailers typically offer discounts on the day after Thanksgiving to encourage a flurry of spending and many British shops have started to follow suit. This time last year Make Something Month was launched as an antidote to mindless buying and as a way of encouraging us to fall in love with things in a more meaningful way.

As a seasoned maker I embraced the idea wholeheartedly, even after Christmas had been and gone.

The experience & know-how armoury

Making things, whether it’s growing vegetables, preserving fruit, baking bread, knitting woollies, throwing pots or just turning scavenged woods into a cold frame is inherently satisfying. Yes, it may involve a little effort and dexterity but it plays to my curiosity, creativity and the very human desire to understand our world.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, when we garden, bake, mould or construct…, we are more actively engaged with biology, chemistry, physics, maths or engineering than we ever were at school. Baking a cake or loaf may not seem to have much in common with the test tube experiments of my schooldays but it is a very real form of reorganising chemical elements. Nurturing the soil and plants in a few pots on the patio involves a closer observation of chemistry and biology than I was probably capable of as a teenager. And regular readers know that I consider hand-knitted socks to be a fascinating piece of engineering.

Although I may not be able to articulate what I’m experiencing in scientific formulae, the more I make, the more I understand the world, or rather the more bits of half-forgotten information suddenly make sense. I recognise patterns and discover the characteristics of different materials. Like many who regularly bake bread, hands-on experience (literally) has taught me how to tweak the ratio of water depending on the type of flour I’m using. As a gardener with a few seasons under my belt, I can tell by looking, feeling or smelling the soil or compost what types of materials I need to add to achieve a healthier, more nutritious balance. And with a little practice, even an occasional dressmaker like me knows how to adapt a pattern for different types of fabrics, much as an engineer or architect knows which materials can support which structures.

Does this type of knowledge actually matter? Arguably not in days when we can buy pretty much anything we need. However, the more insight I have into everyday processes and materials, the more capable I am of recognising quality products and avoiding wholly unnecessary goods and services. Thanks to a little hands-on experience and curiosity about how things work, I can spot when builders or plumbers are over-specifying; when marketers try to sell me three products where one, or none, would do; or where supermarkets try to scare me into disposing of produce because of random “best before” or “display until” dates.

Making skills and hands-on experience save me pennies at the very least and in many cases bring a lot of personal satisfaction, especially when I stumble upon a skill that, to my amazement, I’m better at than I could ever have imagined.

Making pots & rediscovering chemistry and geology

Pots or a window on chemistry and geology?

Making and generosity

Making not only makes us more savvy. It makes us more generous, a sentiment that Make Something Month plays on most beautifully. It urges us to make something for ourselves, something for a relative, something for a friend and something for a stranger or somebody we’ve never met. This last suggestion is a particularly delightful twist as it extends the generosity that is common to many makers.

Like many other bakers, growers and makers of things, I’m forever sharing weekend baking and home-made preserves with family, friends and visitors. Surplus homegrown produce, even something as simple as a bouquet of herbs, is regularly left on my neighbours’ doorsteps. And hand-knitted items are routinely bestowed on family and friends.

An edible made gift

A tasty home-made gift for friends’ children

A cosy hand-knitted gift

A cosy hand-knitted gift for a distant relative who feels the cold

A practical handmade gift

A practical hand-made gift for a tea loving stranger

I enjoy both making and giving and believe that both the item given and the act of receiving touch family, friends and relations. It therefore stands to reason that making something for a stranger or somebody I’ve never or barely met, can generate this double delight too. In my experience, however, it does so much more.

It starts conversations, whether it’s a conversation between me and the recipient or a conversation between the recipient and a third party. In many cases I’ll never know the details of those conversations but I know they will ripple out and on. This type of giving also sows seeds. In a society with structures and institutions that try to reduce us to cogs in a GDP-generating machine, it suggests we might be more than consumers. In an ever-faster paced world, a handmade gift from a (near) stranger suggests we have been noticed, that we have, however fleetingly and simply, touched somebody’s life. Most importantly, it reminds us that generosity is incredibly precious and powerful.

For all these reasons making things, including something for a stranger or someone I hardly know, is a regular feature of my life and, if you haven’t tried it yet, I would encourage you to… You would be amazed at what it can unlock!

***

In the last few years I’ve seen lots of references to ‘gift economy’. Whilst commentators who use it have the best of intentions, the term makes me cringe and I avoid it at all cost. I am a big fan of barter as an alternative means of exchange, a different type of negotiated currency. But “gift”, like hospitality, is a much wider concept. Gifts and hospitality are the foundations of a reciprocal culture, which is much wider than a simple quid pro quo or another form of debit or credit logged in those parts of our life that are scrutinised by double-entry bookkeeping accountants. The real worth of gifts lives off the page. They build value by being spontaneous and random and taking on a momentum of their own!

On trust, patterns and breakthroughs

November 24, 2014 § 10 Comments

A couple of months ago I made a major breakthrough with my music learning. The progress was barely discernible at the time. If anything, the turning point felt excruciatingly frustrating but a turning point it most definitely was.

I have been learning the violin on and off for years but it’s only in the last two that I really committed the time and practice I needed to tackle this challenging instrument properly. (Trust me to pick an instrument that was both keyless and fretless!) A recurring shoulder injury didn’t help matters. Neither did changing tutors several time to find one who was a good fit. The biggest blockage, however, was me.

It was not that I was reluctant to practice. If anything, I practiced too much for the snail-paced progress I was making. I grasped the physics of how to get a certain tone out of a particular finger position; I understood how I was supposed to hold the bow; and, apparently, my left wrist was unusually good for a beginner… yet something still wasn’t working.

When tutors went over music theory I was fine. My mathematical brain understood the different lengths of notes, helped by having learnt their names in a language that refers to them as fractions rather than by random names. Between my schoolgirl recorder classes and choir days I had learnt enough key signatures to know those in a beginner’s repertoire; and I could read dots on the stave well enough to know where my fingers had to go. But for all this technical understanding and theoretical knowledge I was still making painstakingly slow process.

Then one afternoon, rather despondent with how it was going, I tried something new. I took a 16-bar tune that I had been practicing for some time. I turned my back to the music stand and tried to play it from memory. It was painful and I felt… ancient! As I child I would absorb songs and poems like a sponge and regurgitate them with ease after only a couple of readings. Three and a bit decades on, with a short-term memory shot to bits from chronic sleep deprivation, it was all I could do to string two bars together. But after some frustrating bowing and finger movements, two bars became four and four became eight…

Finally making progress with Vernon, my long-suffering fiddle

Finally making progress with Vernon, my long-suffering fiddle

The next time I returned to the tune, my fingers sort of knew where they were going. Okay, I had to remind myself here and there but many segments had stuck. And without the brain having to process the data flow between my eyes and fingers, there seem to be more computing power to direct to relaxing my bowing hand and focus on the rhythm. Suddenly, the latter was no longer just a time signature and dots of different length but it was alive in the tune. My brain, or was it my fingers or even my body, were internalising beats and pulses.

Having noticed an improvement in this one short tune, I tried to learn another in the same way, and another and yet another… It seemed to work. Letting go of my analytical side, the one that clung to the music score for dear life, was terrifying and initially frustrating but it seemed to unlock something. It allowed me to discover patterns in another way, by hearing and feeling them.

Once I relinquished the safety blanket of sheet music a little, I started to enjoy my fiddle classes a lot more. I am getting better at learning by ear; am more able to pick up a tune again when I get lost in class; and my timing and tone have improved vastly. With my fingers internalising the patterns of the music rather than slavishly following the page, I have found I can actually reproduce songs learnt on the violin on other instruments without too much thought. I have even found myself playing short pieces in a different key so I can practice them in a way that is less offensive to the neighbours.

In trusting myself to learn the way children pick up music (or languages for that matter), I have made more progress in a couple of months than in years. And best of all, I’m enjoying playing the violin so much more now, especially in group, which is of course why I took up the instrument in the first place!

 

The allure of the written word

November 17, 2014 § 5 Comments

For as long as I can remember, I have loved words. As I child I lapped up books and was, apparently, desperate to learnt to write once I had mastered reading. My mother taught me the basics but what I really wanted was to emulate her pretty, old fashioned hand.

I loved the writing classes in my first years of primary school, in which we were taught joined-up writing from the word go, first in pencil and soon thereafter in fountain pen. (I went to a very old fashioned school!) Over the years my hand improved only to deteriorate rapidly when I went to university and then on to work. Madly scribbling down what people said, whether whilst interviewing them or negotiating contracts, eroded my previously elegant handwriting. However, I still like to get out a bottle of ink and pen a note in a more careful hand. And it would seem, I am not alone.

For all our addiction to the digital world, with messages exchanged by email and SMS, many of us still long for beautiful, tangible forms of words. Much in the same way that vinyl records and analogue photography have been rediscovered, so have more traditional ways of committing words to paper, like the elegant art of calligraphy.

A couple of weeks ago my bookish friend D and I attended a workshop organised by Quill* to learn the basics of this art. In the back room of the wonderfully named pub, The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker, our tutor Imogen Owen guided us with a mixture of enthusiasm and calm reassurance into the world of modern calligraphy.

Quill - Modern Calligraphy

Ready to get started

This style of is a far cry from the austere Gothic script of the late Middle Ages, painstakingly written with a square nib, and a lot easier than the rule heavy elegance of Copperplate. It embraces the ‘swirliness’ of traditional Copperplate but is much more free with scope to vary the slant and size of letters to suit personal preference and style.

We spent the first twenty minutes or so practicing lines, U shapes and circles, dipping our old school nibs in indelible ink and trying to relax the hand whilst simultaneously varying the pressure. Then we moved on to writing out the alphabet in upper and lower case, which definitely triggered flash backs to those first days of primary school.

Quill - Modern calligraphy

Basic shapes and letters

As the afternoon light faded, we turned our attention to joining up letters into words, titles and short phrases. As the shapes of many letters in modern calligraphy closely resemble those of my handwriting, the trickiest part was to avoid just producing my normal script with a calligraphy pen. Instead, I had to slow myself down to emphasise the thick and thin strokes so typical of this stylised decorative writing.

As with any skill, it will take practice to achieve a relaxed, even style but within three days of the workshop I had worked my way through the stash of practice paper contained in our starter kit and had ordered some more. I am completely hooked by this slower, more considered way of writing. Family and friends can definitely expect future gifts and cards to come with more elegant labels and notes!

Quill - Modern Calligraphy

A little something, winging its way to one of my friends very soon

***

* If you are in London and fancy trying this workshop, do regularly check out Quill’s website as it often offers an early bird discount.

 

Magic or engineering? The alchemy of socks

November 11, 2014 § 7 Comments

Mr M has been watching my latest knitting project with more interest than usual. He is always fascinated by the four double pointed needles I use to knit socks, which strike him as a cross between ancient torture implements and some type of divination tool. As the socks I’m currently working on involve a cable pattern, I’m using a fifth needle, which thoroughly intrigues him.

All joking aside, Mr M is genuinely fascinated to see a sock take form, just as I am. No matter how often I knit them, I never stop marvelling at how it’s possible to transform one-dimensional yarn into a complicated three-dimensional object, without cutting the yarn or seaming various pieces together. And to think that for many years I put off knitting socks.

I didn’t start until about four years ago. I was wary of the tiny needles (typically a 2 or 2.5 mm set), the fine yarn (usually a 4-ply/fingering), instructions that look as if they’re from a book of spells, but most of all the fear that it was too difficult. Although I had years of knitting under my belt, knitting socks seemed like magic that was beyond all but the most advanced knitter. How wrong was I!

Finally, sick of shop bought socks that were neither warm nor durable, I turned my hand to making some and discovered that knitting socks actually is magic. Not in the sense of witchcraft but rather in terms of alchemy. The process taps into my childlike curiosity. It stirs my desire to understand what I see around me even if I lack the jargon to describe the concepts or the formulae to articulate the mathematical or scientific principles. When you stop to think about it, turning the heel of a sock (i.e. the process that takes you from the leg section into the foot) is pure engineering, akin to tunnelling around a corner. Without understanding the mathematics, you watch the stitches combine to achieve all kinds of complex trigonometry. And binding off in Kitchener stitch to close the sock at the tip of the toes is to wool what brazing is to copper: a way of seamlessly bonding two planes of material.

Knitting socks

Creating the heel flap

Knitting socks

Turning the heel

Knitting socks

On to the foot of the sock

So if you fancy warm toes and want socks that will last (and even when they wear thin are actually worth darning), don’t procrastinate as long as I did! And to help you along, here are some tips and suggestions to bear in mind when you decide to tackle your first pair.

  • Pick a simple pattern to start with. Ones that are ribbed as far as the ankle and then stocking stitch/stockinette for the remainder are ideal. There are plenty of free patterns on Ravelry, including very simple ones.
  • Although the needles look complicated, remember that you only use two at any one time, as with any other knitting project. You can use a set of double pointed needles (DPNs) or two circular needles. There’s also a technique using one long circular needle, known as the magic loop technique, which some people love and others avoid like the plague.
  • Short ladies’ socks typically require about 350 to 400 metres of 4-ply yarn. Remember that socks are hardwearing so don’t go for anything too delicate. And if you want to use up various skeins of 4-ply left over from other projects, go ahead! It is only convention that dictates that socks should match and by knitting your own, you’re already flouting conventions!
  • Follow the pattern to the letter. At times you may wonder at it and be convinced that it contains errors or is missing something but stick with it. These sections usually tee up the point where the alchemy begins.
  • If you’re unsure about any techniques, check on YouTube for advice. There is a fair chance that somebody has asked the same question and another knitter has obligingly posted a demonstration.

Most of all, just give it a go and have fun with it, and before long you too may be participating in a most constructive little act of rebellion!

A finished sock and the next one on the go

A finished Collinwood* sock and the next one on the go

***

*I used the Collinwood sock pattern by Rachel Coopey for these socks. I picked the wrong yarn as the self-striping wool does not show off the lovely design particularly well, but I love the pattern and will be using it again. It is a bit involved so not really suitable for a novice. However, Rachel’s patterns are very precise and easy to follow so I would definitely recommend looking out for her designs if you’re bitten by the sock knitting bug.

 (This recommendation is based purely on my experience and has not been paid for, sponsored or induced in any other way.)

Tea: reflections – take 2

November 8, 2014 § 6 Comments

It’s a couple of months now since I radically changed my intake of tea, and new habits, routines and tastes have definitely replaced old ones.

Drastically cutting my tea consumption has certainly improved my sleeping patterns as I’m no longer tossing and turning until the early hours. And after decades of being a night owl, I’m increasingly crawling into bed before midnight and waking up feeling more refreshed. My mother was right (again): an hour before midnight really is worth two after midnight!

Besides feeling better rested, I also enjoy tea much more these days. I now really look forward to each cup and experience them as markers in the day. Elevenses mean I have broken the back of the writing and my afternoon cup of tea means I’ve almost finished my research for the day. There is also something really lovely about the ritual of making a proper brew rather than robotically popping a teabag in a mug. The few extra seconds it takes to warm the pot and decant tea leaves turn a quick cup of tea into a proper break from hours in front of the computer screen.

Flavour or convenience?

The biggest revelation, however, relates to flavour. Now I have depleted my supply of English Breakfast tea bags and have switched to tea leaves, I realise how much better loose leaf tastes. There was nothing wrong with the teabags I previously used but, in hindsight, they were just a little… bland. My new Fairtrade® English Breakfast tea leaves are nothing out of the ordinary but do produce a richer, more interesting brew.

Intrigued by the difference a humble tea leaf could make, I compared loose leaf tea to the tea from my remaining Earl Grey teabags. Even discounting the different shades of these distinct blends, the difference between loose leaf tea and that from a tea bag is instantly apparent. Loose leaf tea really looks like it has come from a shredded, dried leaf. By contrast, tea from a perfectly respectable brand of tea bags looks like shavings or dust. The finer consistency is intended to infuse faster but definitely does not produce as interesting a taste. By shifting to loose leaf tea I have realised, yet again, how easily we are seduced into sacrificing flavour for perceived convenience.

Loose leaf tea

Loose tea leaves -v- tea bag shavings

For in reality, tea leaves really aren’t an inconvenience! I still use an old fashioned mesh strainer but I also own a little red teapot with a removable metal infuser, which some may find more convenient. Pouring tea leaves out of either of these pots into my little recycling tub is less inconvenient than sieving plastic teabags out of well rotted compost. And for those who prefer tea in a mug rather than a pot, there are mesh or pierced loose leaf tea holders that are easy to fill and clean.

Brewing tea with leaves has another unexpected benefit. As loose leaf provides a more robust cuppa, it’s entirely possible to brew a second pot from used tea leaves. The result is a little weaker but perfectly fine in the afternoon, and a welcome lower caffeine option.

Informal hospitality

In a related tea development, I’ve also been pondering the use of teapots, and especially pots of tea offered to impromptu guests.

As I shared my father’s aesthetics – think Regency and Art Deco – I was the only siblings who was interested in my parents’ bone china. On his recent visit to the UK my brother kindly brought over two boxes of plates, terrines and yes, teapots. As a result, I know own five teapots (as well as an elegant china coffee pot). This is obviously more than anybody needs but three were gifts from Mr M and the others belonged to my parents and I am loathed to part with any of them!

I use the small ones that Mr M gave me regularly: the red one-person pot for English Breakfast, another little one for the distinct flavour of Earl Grey and a traditional bulbous brown one at the weekend when my husband and I share a pot of tea. My parents’ old teapots outshine these little ones in style but as they serve four to six people, they don’t see much action in our home.

One weekend as I served Mr M tea from one of these larger than necessary teapots, it occurred to me that during my childhood we often shared tea and cake with friends, whether it was chums coming over after school or my mother’s friends popping by at the weekend. Maybe it’s due to the size of London, with local friends dotted over miles of this sprawling city; or busy schedules; or catch-ups being scheduled in the evening over wine rather than on a weekend afternoon… Whatever the reason, I really miss having a good chat over a cup of tea and some homemade biscuits or cake. In my book, it’s a pleasant tradition that is due a comeback!

Teapot

There’s always time for tea, biscuit or cake and conversation here

 

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