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!


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

What’s On Your Desk?

Whether we like it or not, people make judgements about others based on appearances – including the appearance of their work space. Too messy and you’re condemned as disorganized and inefficient; but on the other hand, as Albert Einstein said, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” But then, one person’s neat is another’s messy.
Many of us are drawn to the ascetic simplicity of a desk like this:

Shaker student desk

but unless that book is about the only thing you use while sitting at that desk – or possibly the only thing you own – chances are it’s not going to stay that neat for long. Exquisite, but simply impractical for a ‘working’ desk, unless you have lots of time and an iron discipline when it comes to Putting Things Away.

Actually, one of the things I like best about my desk is that I don’t have to put everything away for meals – unlike when I used a corner of the dining table. I can just put down my pen and go off for lunch, then pick up the pen and carry on where I left off when I get back.

On the other hand, I’d like to think that my desk isn’t (and hopefully never will be) as bad as this one (I’m not even sure that there is a desk under all that):

Mattheus van Hellemont The Alchemist

Happily, my desk has quite a large surface area, so takes a lot before it looks cluttered. I have a bit over one square metre (that’s just over 11 square feet for the imperialists) and that’s before I pull out the two flat boards housed above the drawers and cupboard. (Anyone know what those are called?)

At any given time, my desk top will likely have the following sitting on it:

  • the current WIP exercise book (Tsifira vol. 4)
  • my favourite fountain pen (filled with purple ink)
  • notebook (tracking page count, ink refills etc)
  • chess board (mapping the WIP plot)
  • a picture of a young Amelia Earhart (how I imagine Tsifira looks)
  • notes (of various sorts, on assorted scraps of paper)
  • tea paraphernalia (teapot, strainer, cup & saucer)


  • my skeleton-case mechanical watch (or I’d lose track of time)
  • a wooden box with a perpetual calendar on the lid (ditto date)
  • a Royal Worcester porcelain treasure box (an engagement gift)
  • a teapot-shaped china box (a farewell gift from a former colleague at the DDJ) filled with mints
  • a box of matches (I’m not a smoker, I swear!)
  • the old candle lamp (I told you I wasn’t a smoker)
  • a glass vase (amber like the candle lampshade) with an arrangement of foliage (it’s autumn)
  • a tiny Hun from a Kinder Surprise egg (why not?)
  • a small painting of Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery (a 21st gift)

But not a computer. Not until the rewrite, at least.

What’s on your desk? What does your desk say about you? And dare I ask, what do you think my desk says about me?

Great* Wizards of Literature

This week, I thought I’d make you a list of great wizards in literature.

Smoke 1

You’re a list of great wizards in literature!

More seriously (but still not completely), and in approximate order of ancientry:

1) Merlin

First appearance in (written) literature: 1136, i.e. Before English, courtesy of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who turned him from Welsh into Latin. Best known for his connection with King Arthur.

My favourite incarnation is in T.H. White‘s The Sword in the Stone (1938). Enchanted tea-things that wash up after themselves? That’s my kind of wizard. “Let’s dunk the teapot!” Also sound on tiggies.

2) Gandalf

First revealed to the reading public in 1937, in Tolkein’s The Hobbit.
The very epitome of the wise elder, with his robes, his shabby hat, his staff, and his contributions in the area of entertaining explosions.


3) Tim the Enchanter

“I – am an enchanter…. There are some who call me – Tim.”
Literature might be stretching the point slightly in the case of Monty Python‘s 1975 creation, but movies are stories too – let us not be snobbish.
He also is skilled in the area of explosions (if not so decorative as Gandalf’s) and warns the Holy Grail-hunters of the perils of the killer rabbit. “Death awaits you all with nasty big pointy teeth.” Indeed.

4) The Librarian

The Librarian has been part of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld since the beginning: The Colour of Magic in 1983. It was not until 1986 (The Light Fantastic) that he took on his present form: that of an orangutan.
Devoted to his books and his bananas, he has a strong sense of justice, particularly when it comes to people who refer to orangutans as ‘monkeys’. You Have Been Warned.

5) Questor Thews
The court wizard of the Magic Kingdom for Sale by Terry Brooks, he has been in circulation since 1986.
Questor is a very relatable wizard: like so many of us, he tries his best in some tough situations, and sometimes his best isn’t good enough. The court scribe is a Wheaten Terrier for this very reason.

6) The Bursar aka Professor A.A. Dinwiddie, colleague of the Librarian. First introduced in Sir Terry’s Faust Eric, published 1990, he is a mild and harmless fellow who has lost his sanity in the dog-eat-dog world of wizardly politicking. Fortunately, a precisely calibrated dose of dried frog pills (for recipe see here) causes him to hallucinate that he is sane. And occasionally that he can fly.

Hallucinogenic Frog in Outer Space

7) Professor Dumbledore first saw the light of day in J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997).
Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the books and I do not know all his tale. But this was enough to make me like him: “I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Brilliant.

8) Derk
Here is the example par excellence of how a talented writer can parody the clichés of a genre without alienating readers who enjoy that genre: Diana Wynne JonesThe Dark Lord of Derkholm, published 1998.
Personally, I love the sequel, The Year of the Griffin just as much, if not more. Derk specialises in genetics, which is why he and his wife have seven biological children, five of whom are griffins.

"Griff" Statue in the forecourt of the Farkasréti Cemetery Budapest

9) Woodward**
Woodward came into existence sometime in the early 21st century – darned if I can remember precisely when – and is currently pulling strings in my WIP, Tsifira.
In appearance he is much like a dandelion – raggedy green with a fluffy white head – but he has spent the last 15 years disguised as a gardener who only ever says “Eh.”
In this disguise he keeps an eye on the growing princess and tends the ensorcelled privet hedge he planted to protect her. But he knows he can’t keep her safe behind the hedge forever.

Is It Still Europe's Tallest Yew Hedge?

So there you have it! It was going to be The Top Ten but I could only think of nine and it seems like a more wizardy number in any case.

It may be that this list of ‘Greats’ is more a list of my favourites – so who did I miss? Who are your favourites, and by whose hand?
All comments welcomed; only spammers will be turned into frogs.

Your obedient servant,
Sinistra Inksteynehand250

* for a given value of “great,” i.e. obtaining and retaining my affection and/or interest

** formerly known as Wentworth; he underwent a name-change between drafts.