Everything breaks eventually — even my favourite mug
My bone china mug with teddy bears on it had been my faithful tea mug for thirty years. Now it lies in pieces on the kitchen floor.
Those bears, pictured having a picnic, have taken me through all my adult life. The mug was purchased in September 1987, on a shopping trip with my Mum to the nearby cathedral town of St Albans. It was the weekend before I moved to London to start my accounting job at Deloittes. A few days later, off I went to the big city with my bone china mug, my suits and my shoulder pads, ready to start my grown-up working life.
Over the years, the mug has witnessed much. I started off my London life in a single room in a squalid shared house in Finchley. The young woman who owned it didn’t believe in housework, only in coming home late with a crowd of people and having a party. The house was disgusting especially the kitchen and God knows what dirty cultures had taken root in the stair carpet.
Two years later, I could no longer stand the filth, nor the long walk to the tube, and so with one of my fellow tenants we looked for a flat closer to the centre of town. We found a sublet council flat (shh- don’t tell the council) in Lambeth, close to where all the trains from Waterloo station passed by the window. As a student, I had regularly passed those flats on the train and thought what a dump the area looked. However, that snobbery soon turned to delight when we realised that we were walking distance to both the West End and the City of London.
Today, the area is trendy and gentrified. High rise hotels seem to be springing up everywhere. Back then, there were only dirty old London boozers, no restaurants, no nice cafés and few shops.
For the first few months we really revelled being so close to the action in central London and we didn’t celebrate alone. I can safely say that every weekend one of us three girls would arrive home from a night club accompanied by a male specimen. Those teddies on my mug witnessed many a young man walking around in his boxer shorts as we made them tea and toast the next morning. The bears never judged.
I left that flat in the 1991 to go on a Raleigh International expedition to Guyana in South America. I was there for ten weeks, yomping round the jungle, eating army rations and drinking from a tin cup. Many a time, as we divided up the tinned or dried food into our mess tins, we fantasised about what we would really love to be eating. For me it was always “I can’t wait to get home and drink a nice cup of earl grey tea from my bone china mug and eat a Hobnob biscuit.”
What was it that was so lovely about that mug? It was smaller and slightly narrower than a regular mug, and because it was bone china it was gentle to hold and delicate to the lip. The fine texture gave the maximum opportunity to enjoy the taste of the tea, particularly the subtle tones of Earl Grey.
After a bit more travelling I came back to London, got a job in investment banking and eventually bought my own flat in Lambeth North, just a stone’s throw from the one we sublet. The mug witnessed me working 60 hour weeks eventually crashing out of work because I was too stressed, my spirit crushed. In the mid 90s I worked part-time and played jazz flute and piano on the side. Those teddies heard my practise sessions, perched on a coaster upon my beautiful Bechstein grand piano that I was now fortunate enough to own.
As the decade wore on, I went back into full-time work and globe-trotted as an IT consultant. I spent my time in Zurich, New York and Hong Kong. I have to confess that I didn’t really miss the bears then. I was too busy having too much fun.
And then came the Bridget Jones years. By now I’m in my 30s and I’m single. The world is getting married around me but it turns out that I have an inability to pick a suitable man. I’m still out on the town, working hard, playing hard. Occasionally my life resembles an episode of Sex and the City. Again, the bears don’t judge.
The bears are there to comfort me when my depression sets in. With my biological clock ticking ever louder, my ‘fabulous’ façade cracking and still no man in sight I decide to get therapy. The bears accompany me on my journey into the dark messy corners of my life and, thankfully, out the other side.
During this time I started writing. I write before work, always accompanied by a cup of tea. I get bold in my creativity, give up my well-paying IT job and train to become a life coach. Three years later, having had an exciting time but having made very little money, I go back to the day job, my tail between my legs. The bears don’t care. They are at the front of the cupboard every day, ready to serve.
At last, as I turn forty I am no longer alone. My now husband is in my life. Hurrah! He gets introduced to my favourite mug, but he hates tea and coffee, so the mug remains devoted only to me.
The time comes to sell my London flat, cease my City girl lifestyle and buy a house in the Shires. I become a married, country lady.
During this process, my husband—fantasizing about a potential lottery win— said we could chuck out all our old possessions and buy everything sparkly new. I told him that I didn’t care how many millions we might win, I love my dear old teddy mug, bought all those years ago from St Albans market, and I couldn’t imagine anything new giving me so much pleasure as I drink my daily tea.
More recently, as I realised those bears were approaching their thirtieth birthday, I started calling them my old faithfuls. I tended to use them more in the evening, seeking comfort as I wound down from the day.
For a while I’ve had this nagging feeling that they were on borrowed time, thinking that perhaps that the handle might come off or the mug would simply crack from old age and too much love. Over time the glaze has faded slightly and there are a couple of tannin marks on the inside. When our dishwasher worked the insides came out gleaming but now we are back to manual mode and the tea stains can collect. Recently, as we approach winter and I’ve had my first seasonal lurgy, drinking hot lemon water has cleaned up the inside a treat.
It was a Sunday, the morning after the clocks went back for winter. I had delighted in the extra hour in bed, having had a lie-in but, thanks to the hour change, a substantial portion of the morning still remained. I nearly didn’t choose the bears for my morning tea, for I do have other mugs.
But I did choose them. As ever, they made me smile. I made a quip to my husband about how I loved my thirty year old teddies. After breakfast I placed them into the washing up bowl that was on the counter, empty of water, waiting for a suitable quota of dirty crocks.
A few minutes later I heard a crashing sound. I rushed out to the kitchen.
The bowl was lying on the floor.
And the teddies were no more.
Hi. I’m Cali Bird and I help people find the time and courage to be creative alongside other things that you have to do (like work or take care of your family!). I think that every creative person should believe that they can express their truth. Find out more here.