Sunday, 27 October 2013

China Snobbery

Whose parents had these plates thirty years ago?

If they did, it was likely that they only ever came out on special occasions, and that you were threatened with certain death if should happen to break one.  This design was called Eternal Beau (I only know this because the proud voice of my friend's mum announcing "lets get the Eternal Beau out" will forever sound in my head whenever I see a plate like this one) and was the only-comes-out-at-Christmas-or-when-the-inlaws-visit china of choice of the 80s.

We did not have Eternal Beau in our house.  My parents shunned Eternal Beau.  Eternal Beau was the obvious choice and therefore a bit crass (was the never vocalized feeling that was somehow made abundantly clear).  We, instead, had these plates:

This collection was called Ashberry and was from M&S, and therefore slightly superior (in 80s north London commuter-belt, at least).  Again, it only ever came out at Christmas and on vicar pleasing occasions, and was generally accompanied by a fishwifely cry of "WATCH THE ASHBERRY" when anyone approached the table.  

The rest of the time, we ate off of this Pyrex stuff, which the world and his wife had in various different colourways and nobody liked, but it never ever broke so everyone was stuck with it.

We also had some craptastic Kelloggs cereal bowls like these ones, which some relative or other had procured by collecting tokens off the cereal boxes:

I always wondered what the point was in having a set of china 'for best'.  And in using it when in polite company, were we showing our visitors who we really were via our posh crockery, or were we actually hiding a less desirable side to ourselves by keeping the dodgy 70s stuff in the cupboard?

Whatever the true purpose was, to my worldly wise teenage self, it seemed a bit provincial and 'Abigail's Party' to do such a thing, and I resolved never to have a special set of china 'for best' when I was a grown up.  I would use the good stuff all the time, because life is too short and all that and OMG I am just soooo subversive.

Cut to my wedding many years later. Nothing announces that you intend to be a proper adult and live a grown up life like having a wedding list, and nothing negates this statement entirely like picking your crockery to go on said wedding list by flicking through all the available options in a bored fashion, beer in hand, failing to dredge up any enthusiasm for plate picking and finally going "oooh, that one's got stars on it. Lets have plates with stars on".

Here is our wedding china:

Yes, that Emma Bridgewater stuff with the hefty price tag resides in our cupboard, and no we didn't 'save it for best'.  We've used it all the time (the novelty of having stars on your plates takes approximately two years to wear off, if you were wondering), and I have never once shrieked the words "watch the Emma Bridgewater", because they're just our normal plates - not for special occasions.  Got that?  Did you see how cool we are with our no-best-china and devil may care attitude to our £18.95 per piece bowls?

Good.  Now lets have a look and see what's left in the cupboard after 6.5 years of marriage.

We have:

1 Emma Bridgewater teapot (used twice. I don't drink tea).
1 Emma Bridgewater milk jug (used twice. Seriously, who actually needs a jug for milk? The milk is perfectly happy in its bottle)
6 large Emma Bridgewater dinner plates (success!)
3 small Emma Bridgewater side plates (other 3 lost, broken or otherwise AWOL)
3 Emma Bridgewater pasta dishes (other 3 broken etc etc, and one of the remaining ones looks like it's been repeatedly thrown at a wall and glued back together)
2 Emma Bridgewater bowls (both with several chips, other 4 disappeared)
6 Emma Bridgewater mugs, 1 with massive, unhygienic crack running through it but neither of us willing to give in and chuck it away because that's £20.00 worth of mug there).

2 small Winnie the Pooh plates of dubious origin, 1 with crack.

2 of these babies (told you the buggers never broke).

6 crappy Ikea plates - whatever the cheapest ones were when I was a student.  They cost about 50p each and none of them have ever broken. Hmmmm.

Some slightly stained melamine jobbies that I think were sitting in my parent's garage for 20 years under mouse droppings and crumply newspaper, possibly they even belonged to the previous owner of one of their houses.

2 disgusting blue plastic plates that my mum bought for picnics in the 80s from Woolworths in a fit of bargain hunting and quickly cast aside as they got scratched and grubby looking straight away.  They've been thrown in the bin and taken out again several times in plate related emergencies.

Basically, the Emma Bridgewater ones cracked, chipped, fell off things and got lost (cough, STOLEN) like you would not believe, leaving us with the pathetic remainder of our parents combined china cupboards of the 70s, 80s and 90s.  It's like crockery Russian roulette coming for lunch at our house.  Who knows what you'll eat your sandwich off?  We had a tricky moment the other day when I forgot that we only have two bowls and made soup when my in-laws came for lunch.  Awkward.  In the end, as they were our esteemed guests, I gave them the bowls (MIL got the least chipped one as she would Notice These Things) and the rest of us had to eat our soup out of an assortment of mugs and mixing bowls.  It's like bloody Steptoe and Son around here.  This is not the life that I was promised when I produced a wedding list filled with Emma chuffing Bridgewater.

We keep meaning to replace everything, but it's 20 quid per plate.  One might as well burn money.  Also, it turns out that you can go off stars.  The other week, I voluntarily bought a pie dish from a charity shop that matches the rubbish 70s Pyrex plates that won't die.  At least I know it won't break, and I actually kind of like the comfortingly kitsch pattern around the side.  And then I found myself hankering after a set of 1980s Kelloggs cereal bowls on Ebay.  Perhaps the trick is never to buy the good stuff anyway; then you're not only saved from having to have a set of china 'for best', you're also guaranteed not to break a fortune worth of plates in the process.  So...Ikea plates all the way.  Or vintage Pyrex.  Or bowls that came free with a cereal box.

Conclusion:  China snobbery is the most pointless form of snobbery of all.  And you can eat soup out of a pasta bake dish at a push.  I'll fight you for the Pyrex.


  1. My parents bought a Villeroy & Boch crockery set many many years ago. It was pretty timeless, no crazy prints on them. But it just sat in a cupboard and yes, only really came out for Christmas. And I doubt it will have been used in recent history. She then decided enough was enough and sold it. As it was timeless, she made a fair bob on ebay. She now just uses IKEA plates, that hardly break, and even survive my dad's cack-handedness (he managed to break expensive crystal whisky glasses I bought him for Christmas when I was student and had NO money).

    Also, we were rebels, and didn't have any china or any crockery of any variety on our wedding list.

  2. I was very fortunate in my china. Up until last year we've been using odds-and-ends: oval plates that the pub manager gave us when they updated (our old boss, in case anyone wonders why), half of a Denby set that had been left behind when our landlady left us the house, and other bits from when we both left home years ago.

    I picked ours up in a charity shop for 30 quid - a 94-piece set of Indian Tree. We use it all the time. True, there are about 16 berry bowls but it's beautiful, and robust, and reminds me of home as my mum has the remains of a tea set from a different company but with the same pattern. Hers was from her mum as a wedding present nearly 50 years ago. I love the continuity and makes me feel closer. Much like your Pyrex plates I think!

    No crockery on our suggestion list either. ;)

  3. My mum still has 3 of the Kelloggs bowls, and MIL has a couple of the Pyrex plates.

    We always said that one day we'd have Emma Bridgewater stuff, but 5 years down the line, we're on our second set of £18 IKEA stuff, in slate blue, after the white stuff proved itself to not be up to being handwashed by MIL when she visited, as shes washes up as if she has a personal grudge against the dirt and smashes things.

  4. We bought a set of that Eternal Beau stuff for the patient assessment kitchen in my last job. My mum has loads of that pyrex stuff with the stripes on the edges and I think she inherited some of it from her dad and my dad's mum. It's indestructible. I am trying to find images of my parents' wedding china. It was a sort of medium-dark speckled coffee brown, and all around the edges were geometric patterns in squares and circles. Every hospital accommodation and student flat I ever lived in had at least one piece of it donated by someone else's parents.

  5. Found it!

  6. hahaha! My mum only just got rid of her eternal beau a few months ago when she moved...worst of all though... she only started collecting it about 6 years ago when she started volunteering in a charity shop and it all came into the shop in massive sets!! She had three gravy boats, about 50 dinner plates, millions of tea cups and saucers and 2 teapots (she doesnt drink tea!) and about 20 placemats and coasters!! Thank god she decided to change it all when she downsized (into a bigger house - go figure!?!?)

  7. We don't have 'good stuff', just every day white plates/dishes from Habitat and Ikea. I do envy my Mum having my Grandma's china though. It's gorgeous, but then, it would probably get broken in our house. : / I'm a new follower by the way!

    Louisa @ My Family & Abruzzo

  8. We have crap cheap plates that the other half owned before I moved in that I really don't like much - of course, in 6 years not one of them has broken.... but my one pretty plate did.