Tuesday, 23 March 2021

730 things — Day 12 of 365

 What I want to move on today caused me to think hard. It took me a while to find my way to the decision to part with this. I found the process of considering it very helpful, because it helped me identify the importance of balancing my criteria. Let me explain.

Marie Kondo, that wise and delightful guru of tidying, who has transformed for the better the lives of so many people — at more profound levels than they ever expected — taught us to ask of every item in our home, "Does it spark joy?" Release it into the wild if it does not, is her sound advice.

The Arts & Crafts era designer William Morris said, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful," which many have found another sterling principle when evaluating what to keep in our travelling collection. That very slightly grates with me, because I want him to have said it the other way round — "that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful", because I think an object's usefulness is more easily objectively established, while its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, I find our plastic bathroom jug and our plastic washing up bowl beautiful, but I suspect William Morris might not. They are, however, unarguably useful.

Pondering on these things brought me to today's items I am donating to the charity shop (Shelter, the organisation that helps homeless people).

It all started with having the chimney repointed. We live in a tall Victorian house with a gabled roof that has solar panels on it. Yesterday a team of scaffolders came to put up the structure necessary for the safety of the men who will be working on the masonry. There were three men in the team of scaffolders, but they couldn't quite finish the job because they need further colleagues to enable them to work on the section that travels from the upright part across the solar panels to the chimney.

As I'm sure you know, part of the unwritten social contract between householders and tradespeople is that the homeowner should keep the worker well supplied with coffee and cookies to make the working day cheerful. And coffee, as you know, goes in mugs.

Now, the thing is, we have four people in our household. We have an Irish dresser that holds a set of beautiful, delicate antique porcelain tea-things belonging to Hebe and Alice, and we won't be serving the scaffolders tea in those.

Tony has three mugs, one ginormous one that he uses most of the time, and two regular ones for more occasional use. Tony doesn't mind sharing his mugs. Alice and Hebe are artists and their mugs are specially chosen studio pottery pieces, works of art in themselves. They have two mugs each, plus a small collection of other pieces made by Judith Rowe (a Hastings potter). They don't even share these with each other. Hebe's is Hebe's, Alice's is Alice's, they are kept quite distinct and they don't want anyone else drinking out of them, and they'd be highly upset if any of these pieces got broken. A brief period of mourning is observed if this ever happens, and they mend things meticulously where possible. So we won't be offering the scaffolders tea in their mugs.

I have one mug, that I don't mind sharing. Fiona, whose home this is though she lives here only part-time, is elsewhere at present but also has a mug here that I'm sure she won't mind sharing.

So, provided we have only 4 workmen at a time, we're okay: there's my mug, Fiona's mug, and Tony's two sensibly sized mugs. If more than 4 accrue on the team of tradesmen, we'll be in trouble, come time for elevenses.

But I have some other cups. These ones, make by the British potter Keith Brymer Jones (the judge from The Great Pottery Throw Down).

I love these cups. Do they spark joy? Indubitably (as Mary Poppins famously said). I think they are absolutely beautiful, and I drink from one or another of them most of the time. They hold only a little less than a regular mug, and they are both lovely and hard-wearing. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well, as you probably know, cups can have a summer shape or a winter shape. The summer shape is open like a buttercup, while the winter shape closes in toward the top like a barrel, the point being that the barrel shape helps the liquid retain heat longer while the open shape makes it cool quicker. Some mugs are just straight-sided, of course (mine is), and those also retain heat pretty well. My Keith Brymer Jones cups are, as you'll have observed, the summer shape.

Right now as I'm writing, there's a cup of nettle tea to hand, that Tony has kindly brought me, which I'm not ready to drink until I've finished this. There's an outside chance it'll still be pleasantly hot because it's in my straight-sided mug. If it had been in one of the Keith Brymer Jones cups it would have gone cold for sure by the time I get to it. So that's one problem.

The second thing is, there are six of these lovely cups taking up space in the kitchen, no one drinks out of them except me (and our very, very occasional guests) because we all drink from our own personal mugs — and they aren't suitable to offer tradesmen, because the drink goes cold too quick and the shape makes it easy to spill the liquid. You wouldn't be handing these up a scaffold.

Thinking this through, I realised that what we need is perhaps three or four more mugs suitable to offer our builders their coffee, nice enough for all our guests (that includes builders), and enjoyable for daily use for any of us who live here.

So I have concluded that even though they spark joy on a daily basis, I am moving on my six lovely Keith Brymer Jones mugs that he made at the special commission of The National Trust to raise money for their funds, and I will be replacing them with four also beautiful mugs but of a more versatile style and shape. So that will be six things going out but four replaced — so two items leaving in total.

Reaching simplicity is a complex process, is it not, and sometimes it takes several goes to get it right — and even then everything can change, necessitating a re-think.

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