WILLOW PATTERN CROCKERY

I am feeling a little nostalgic today so found myself thinking about my long association with Willow Pattern china. My first encounter with the legend relating to the pattern must have come from a children’s encyclopaedia. I was enthralled both by the story and the attractiveness of the design and have always been determined to own something decorated with such a pattern.

First the story, which will be familiar to most of my readers: it basically involves a beautiful girl who was the promised bride of an old, yet wealthy, merchant. Her father was a Chinese Mandarin who lived with his family in a magnificent pagoda with a lovely fenced garden containing both a willow and an apple tree.  The daughter, Kwang-se, had the misfortune to fall in love with her father’s clerk. The young couple decided to elope across the sea to the cottage on the island. Naturally enough they were pursued and caught. As the father was about to have them both killed, the gods transformed them into a pair of turtle doves. Some versions have them escaping and living in harmony for some years before their home was torched and they were turned into doves. What does that matter? It is a romantic story that captured my very young heart.

At last, when I was already ‘too old’ to play with toy tea sets, I found a china tea set in our local toy shop in Barberton. It remained in its box for years until my parents moved to live on the farm permanently. My mother then set out my little tea set on her Welsh dresser – how lovely the pieces looked against that dark wood!

Some years later, she purchased a willow pattern dinner service which was railed down to her from Johannesburg. She too had a great fondness for the willow pattern and was pleased that I could share her joy.

We were camping in the Tsitsikamma area many years ago when we had to go to the supermarket in George to purchase supplies. My eye was caught by a willow patterned dinner service displayed on a shelf. Camping or not, I simply had to have it! Fortunately each set of four servings was packed in a sturdy square plastic container – the two of which remained packed in the back of our truck until the end of our camping trip.

Since the death of my mother, the remains of her set has mingled with mine. I use the pieces only for special occasions, such on those now all too rare times when some of our extended family can sit around the dining room table.

My mother’s set is a darker blue than mine, which reminds me that although all willow patterns may look alike, small details may differ according to the various manufacturers in terms of the colour, the number of apples, the figures on the bridge and the design of the crooked fence. Ours seem to differ only in colour.

https://nationalmuseumpublications.co.za/the-willow-pattern/

THERE IS GREEN – EVEN IN A DROUGHT

I sometimes look at photographs from bloggers in other parts of the world and marvel at the bright colours and beautiful greenery – which I haven’t been able to reciprocate with even during our summers. So, here are some glimpses of green in this drought-stricken part of the country. First up are the freesia buds growing in a pot so that they could be nurtured:

The flowers are over now, but for a few weeks I could enjoy their pretty white blossoms as well as a few pink ones. One of the hardiest plants I have is this asparagus fern growing next to our front steps. It appears to need very little in the way of water.

We live on the side of a hill overlooking our town. This is a view half way up.

A little further afield is this view of the Rietberg on the opposite side from the view we get of these hills from town.

And lastly, a view of the Lothian area – my regular country drives usually follow the road that runs along the escarpment of this valley.

So, our world is not all brown, dry and dusty. The greens in the veld are hardy and delight the eye. Once the rain comes the wild grasses will green – as will our lawn – and soften the landscape once more.

A THRILLING THRUSH

If you give any bird more than a passing glance you will be able to achieve more than merely identifying it. This Olive Thrush provided me with several minutes of amusement.

Ever curious to see what’s on the menu.

There might be something tasty among these leaves.

That was a bit difficult to swallow!

I’ll practise my ballet moves.

Looking for a well-balanced meal.

Preparing for lift-off.

MUGS TELL A STORY

The mystery of these mugs from my archives is why they were photographed in the first place. I suspect that because drinking tea or coffee can be a sociable activity, I wished to share with my scattered family what I was doing at the time. I grew up using a cup and saucer for hot drinks, but soon found that mugs were a lot easier to use and so now only tend to bring out the cups for special occasions. [Note from the pandemic: what are those?].

The first mug holds my morning coffee enjoyed early in the morning in our garden. I like thin mugs and this particular one is rather special as it reminds me of my granddaughters. The giraffe is beautifully depicted – they count among my favourite animals in the wild. Almost out of the frame is a tiny block of cheese put on the tray for the pleasure of Meneer, the friendly Common Fiscal.

Another thin mug is this plain one which I have used to enjoy afternoon tea in the lounge. The round table used to belong to my grandparents; I lent it to friends for a while, who sanded it down and varnished it before returning it. Two of my favourite activities are blurred in the background: a book to read and a newspaper folded to the crossword – hence the presence of a ballpoint pen. I am seldom without pen and paper.

Everyone knows I am still a fan of Elvis Presley and so I was happy to receive this mug as a gift from my family. It is large and not too thick and heavy and so is ideal for a late night mug of tea while I am at my computer.

The significance of this thicker plain mug is that I was having tea in my hotel room during the last conference I attended before the pandemic caused an enormous upheaval in our lives. It was at this conference that we heard of the first case of COVID-19 in the country … little did we know then what was to follow.

I am very fond of blue and white. This striped mug reminds me of a large milk jug my mother used to have. When I left home, I too bought a blue-and-white striped milk jug – sadly it has not survived the rough and tumble of growing children. When I drink tea out of it though I find it easy to conjure up all sorts of wonderful memories that reach back much further than when this mug was manufactured.

Here is another blue and white mug, the pattern of which I liked so much that I purchased more mugs like this as gifts for people dear to me. It too carries happy memories for me – along with the Mazawattee tea tin which I use for storing loose leaf tea.

ROBIN-THE-READY

This Cape Robin-chat was in an unusually co-operative mood and was happy to pose.

Arriving on the scene.

Are you looking at me?

Still a little damp after a quick dip in the bird bath.

Singing at full throttle.

Posing on an aloe leaf.

On a rock ready for anything!