Quality

My grandmother believed in buying quality: the best you could afford. The idea of buying an item simply for the status of the label would have been completely foreign to her. What she would have said about buying an item simply for the status of the faked label, I don’t know, but it would have been short, sharp and unflattering.

Not a woman to be trifled with (6171317215)

Buying good quality is, to my mind, very sensible, and probably the reason why a lot of what the Caped Gooseberry and I own comes from our ancestors. Not just big things like furniture, but the sorts of things which these days are subject to obsolescence and its more evil twin, planned obsolescence.

We still use my grandmother’s VCR for watching videos. We still use my grandfather’s heater. They’ve been gone for ten and twenty-one years, respectively, but they bought quality, and it shows.

I still wear their dressing-gowns, too. Admittedly, the cord on my grandpa’s wool dressing-gown needed replacing this year, but that’s not bad after more than two decades of wear.

Ladies clothing section, Bell and McCauley's Store, Drouin, Victoria (6173559063)

It’s the same on the Caped Gooseberry’s side. He regularly wears some of his grandfather’s clothes (his grandfather’s been gone more than thirty years now); and I use his granny’s teapot (made in the early ’20s) on a regular basis, pouring tea into my gran’s teacups.

We are still using my gran’s everyday crockery set – despite years of wear it was in much better condition than the set I bought new (and cheap). The same goes for her oven dishes, and my grandfather’s china jugs.

One of my favourite winter hats (très chic) originally belonged to the Caped Gooseberry’s granny. I also have one of her summer hats, which she wore to meet Prince Charles back when he still had hair. Dark hair.

I wrote the entire first draft of my WIP (158k words) with a fountain pen dredged up from somewhere in my husband’s ancestry. I still use it every day. It just keeps working.

The Woodside's cottage, Aylmer, Quebec, May 24, 1909 / Le chalet des Woodside à Aylmer (Québec), le 24 mai 1909

We still use my gran’s lawnmower (with my grandpa’s WWII petrol tin). It wasn’t working so wonderfully well lately, so I took it for a shamefully overdue maintenance visit to the mower man. The blades were not only blunt but actually broken. (I shudder to think what my gran would have said.)

Mercifully, maintenance and spare parts are still available for mowers. The same cannot be said of everything. Time was, you could pop down to the local stationers to have your fountain pen nib sharpened. These days, most of them don’t even sell real fountain pens, just fountain-looking pens with disposable insides (which do not count).

I do worry about what we are going to do when these practical heirlooms eventually wear out or break down. It’s very hard to get things repaired or mended these days – you’re just expected to buy a new one. Where will we find another such heater? Where such a perfectly dripless teapot?

A Customer Can Use the Ration Books of the Whole Family. But the First Thing She Will Want to Know When She Buys Pork Chops, Pound of Butter or a Half Pound of Cheese Is - "How Many Points Will It Take?" 1941 - 1945 (4545457453)

Time was, if you were prepared to pay, good quality was available. These days it is perfectly possible to pay a high price for something which is still of inferior quality, and which will not last. Gran would not be pleased.

I’ve reached the stage in my life where I’d rather pay more for something I know will last – though as things stand in the world today, it’s not looking good for the grand-kids.

Zero-Based Budgeting

Not to be confused with zero budgeting, which is not a good thing, whether it’s because you simply don’t have a budget, or because you have a lack of anything to budget.

Injured Piggy Bank WIth Crutches

Zero-based budgeting – a concept I recently encountered – is the idea that each year’s budget starts from zero, and everything has to be justified. This is different to the usual sort of budgeting where you get as much as you got last year, whether you needed it or not (which explains a lot about government departments and their spending habits).

Jack Lew said “The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.” The same could be said of our belongings: they reveal a lot about who we are, who we think we are, who we would like other people to think we are, and who we would like to be.

What if we applied the concept of zero-budgeting to our stuff? Imagine emptying everything out of your house – including the furniture – and only carrying back in what you felt was worth the effort. Of course, many of us have so much stuff that this would be impractical, as we wouldn’t get through moving it out, sorting it out, and moving things back in before the day’s end.

The Big Wet Couch

Although now I think about it, the looming realization that anything you don’t move back in before bedtime will be prey to anyone who wants it might perhaps focus the mind in a wonderful way.

I admit, I’m not planning to do this myself. For one thing, the weather is hardly conducive to having everything outside. Yesterday it rained ice off and on all day. But I do sometimes sit down and wonder to myself what I would take and what I would leave, if I had to move to the other side of the world.

Moving house is basically the same as taking out all your stuff and putting it back, it’s just putting it back in a different house, and generally with an expensive interlude. It is remarkable how your enthusiasm for something can wane when it’s actually going to cost you something.

I stare at my possessions, drawing fine distinctions of worth and value. This teapot, perhaps, but not this one. These books, but not those. Looking at life this way has made me realize that I could actually do without a lot of the stuff that I have. Quite happily. So why not start now, avoid the rush?

Project 365 #23: 230110 Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed!?!

Take bedding, for example. When the poet spoke of “only half a bed,” I’m fairly certain he didn’t mean the rest to be covered with pillows, cushions, bolsters, and whatever other unnatural forms of padding have snuck in there.

Last month I went through the linen cupboard. We now have two sets of winter sheets and two sets of summer sheets for our bed and one set of each for the guest bed. Two blankets and a duvet (with a cover or two) for each bed as well. A sufficiency of pillowcases, allowing 1-2 pillows per head. What more could one need?

The June-prune list is therefore rather linen-heavy:
one queen-size duvet cover with matching pillowcases
three sheets
two pillowcases
a tablecloth
five CDs
one bath cushion shaped like a duck (alas, poor ducky, he grew mildewed)
and two mismatched glasses.

pruning-shears-24437_640

I also (and not without a pang) pruned out the Historical Sew Monthly – a paring of time, not space.

After all, 2015 was to be my Year of Finishing Things, not starting them. I haven’t finished many of the projects I had underway at the start of the year, but I have certainly made progress toward that goal, and the year is far from over.

One thing I did finish was the extending rewrite of Dead Man Talking, a stage comedy/farce which was originally a 20-30 minute bibelot and is now what I believe the Germans call “abendfüllend” i.e. evening-filling. I was able to put back in all the complexities of plot I had to leave out when it was a short play, and I think I am justified in saying that the plot is now a dastardly and cunning one.

Villainc

Of course, it still wants some rewrites before I send it on its way, but I am fairly pleased with where it is at present. I shall put it aside to simmer gently while I return to the speculative fiction work I first-drafted last year. Speculative fiction is a much better name for it than fantasy, I think – fantasy suggests that everything goes exactly the way you want it to, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

But first, I am rearranging the study/library/writing room – yes, I know, I’m spoiled – and doing a bit of pruning in there while I’m at it. Mostly rubbish and recycling, so unlikely to find its way onto the July List.

What’s up with you? Pruning? Budgeting? Finishing things, or starting over? Always happy to hear from you!

Teapots and Tarnish

There’s something very community-oriented about a teapot. I have a friend who’s considering a teapot tattoo for this very reason. By virtue of its capacity, the teapot suggests the inclusion of more than one person, and by virtue of its contents it promotes communal relaxation, recreation and refreshment.

Tea Party (1905) by Louis Moeller

I decided to have a tea-party this weekend, and I had already issued the invitations when I came to a sudden and somewhat dreadful realization. While being amply supplied with loose-leaf tea (Ceylon; Earl Grey; rooibos with manuka; green with jasmine), I had only one teapot, and that a small one. There was only one possible solution: mount a raid on the second-hand shops. I heroically volunteered.

Too much choice is stressful, so I made the selection process simpler by rejecting out of hand any which were one-cup, cracked, or lacking a built-in strainer. This reduced the pool of possibles to three, which I duly bought.
So, in addition to my original teapot, a wicker-handled blue with Chinese characters, I now have a round little green pot, a larger honey-brown pot, and a 1 1/2 pint silver pot, which is rather reminiscent of a watering can. (Please do not embarrass the management by suggesting the concept of a matching set.)

The problem with the silver pot was that it wasn’t silver. I mean, it was EPNS (electro-plated nickel silver) but in colour it was more like the sheen on a car-park puddle. Not the sort of look that encourages one to drink the contents. I bought it in the hope that it was just tarnished, and behold, my hope was rewarded.

A George III silver teapot by Alexander Field. Fellows-1443-106-1

Not being a fan of the reek of silver-polish, I used a handy little trick passed on to me by the Caped Gooseberry’s mother. She has a history of providing handy tips: when I was eight, she demonstrated how to break an assailant’s nose (without assistant assailant) – a great first memory to have of one’s mother-in-law.

The silver-polishing trick requires hot water, tin foil and washing soda – still available at the shops in this day and age! The tin foil lines the sink or bowl; the hot water is added and the washing soda dissolved in it. In goes the tarnished silver and off goes the tarnish. Remove, rinse, dry. Voilà.

According to the back of my washing soda packet, the soda and tin foil react to produce hydrogen, which removes the silver oxide, aka tarnish. That’s the science, anyway. Frankly, I’m not too fussed as long as it works and doesn’t asphyxiate me. Plus there are bubbles and fizzy noises!

Teaparty

What are your household tips and tricks? And do you have any hints for tea-partying?