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/

DUNDUFF FARM

I last visited our family farm, Dunduff, in the De Kaap Valley near Barberton about thirty-four years ago. This was a sad visit for my father had died some years earlier and my mother, having sold the farm, had already made great progress with sorting and packing in order to move into town. The memories of that farm remain with me still – and even more pleasingly, it is remembered by my children too. I have written before that the house burned down long after we’d left and of my sadness that the entire farm has been turned into an orchard of nut trees that have obliterated all the roads, buildings and trees that meant so much to us. Clearly, I have nothing to go back to.

This Google map shows the dirt road that we used to drive along, having turned off the tarred road at the Caledonian station and passed several other farms before reaching that curve in the road you can see so clearly. The farm gate was not far from there and our house was more or less where the red pointer is on the map.

The original farm house – which had been added onto over many years – was constructed in 1910, mainly of wood and iron. Some of these materials – I imagine especially the corrugated iron – had been brought in by ox wagon from Delagoa Bay, which is on the south-east coast of Mozambique.

This undated photograph shows one of the most pleasing features of the house, the cool, cement-floored veranda that ran along three sides of the house. This is a perfect architectural feature that wards off the main heat of the Lowveld summers. It kept the bedrooms cool and proved to be a wonderful place to sit to catch the breezes and from where one could look over the farmlands, across the De Kaap Valley towards the town of Barberton nestling in the foothills of the Makhonjwa Mountains.

The water tank on the right was essential as we relied on both rain water and borehole water for our needs. Two tanks were perched on very high tank stands in the back garden. These were filled from a borehole behind the house and sported clear markers so that my father could keep an eye on the water levels and know which tank required filling. We learned from a very early age not to waste water – a good lesson, given that where I live now we only get water every second day!

It was on those steps leading up to the veranda that late one afternoon we came home to wonder who had left the garden hosepipe there – on closer inspection this proved to be a black mamba which my father got rid of once he had made sure the rest of us were well out of the way.

The windows on the right is where the lounge was – also commanding a beautiful view across the valley. The wooden walls consisted of tongue-in-groove panelling as was the floor and ceiling. It was a lovely room to sit in – the original sash windows were replaced by metal framed ones. The single window on the left is where one of the bedrooms was. This particular one had two sash windows while the one next to it only had one. The back section had been added on with bricks and all of those windows (bedroom, bathroom, dining room, scullery and kitchen) had metal framed-windows.

An enormous white mulberry tree provided shade on the left-hand side of the house. The leaves of an African tulip tree are in the foreground of this photograph. Silky oaks dominated the rondavel outside the kitchen; there were also syringas and an elm tree in the garden. One side of the driveway was lined with poinsettia trees and on the other was a coffee tree, an oak tree and even some pawpaw trees. A very productive vegetable garden was behind the house.

BELL GAUGE

I was paging through a tattered volume of a very old, undated, household encyclopaedia [part of my ‘sorting’ you understand] when this sketch caught my eye:

The shape looked familiar and sent me scratching through the boxes of needlework items I set aside some time ago to donate to someone who will make better use of them. There it was: a bell gauge. How many of you have such an item tucked away? I must have inherited it from my grandmother via my mother. I wonder how old it is.

This bell gauge is nickel-plated and is used for measuring knitting needles and crochet hooks. As I rely on the numbers clearly marked on knitting needles and have never learned to crochet, it has remained an unused curiosity.

According to the encyclopaedia, the crochet hooks should pass through easily and never be forced. For sizes 1 to 5 use the holes, but for sizes 6 to 24 inclusive use the slits leading into the holes, the holes in these particular sizes being intended to release the pins when gauged.

There you have it. Someone in my family must have found it a useful tool. Thinking back to my mother knitting socks, she might have used it for those grey steel needles had points at both ends so would have needed their sizes checked before use.

Knitting socks? Not me!

MY PRETTIEST TEA POT

My mother loved pretty things yet seldom spent money on them – there was always something more practical or more necessary that took precedence. I tend to be the same and so, finding I still had a few pounds in cash while waiting for my flight home from the UK, I wandered into a Whittard’s tea shop at Heathrow. Regular readers will be familiar with my love of tea and that is what I thought I would buy. Instead, my attention was drawn to a display of beautiful teapots. When I saw this fine bone china one, my dear mother sprang to mind. Not only is it pretty, but it was the right size for her and I could clearly see her using it as she enjoyed her morning tea in the sunshine of her veranda.

The size and shape of this botanically-themed tea pot, and especially the elegance of the spout drew me towards it, as did the design of pretty flowers against the white background – I knew Mom would like them.

The flowers on the lid match the flowers on the pot, including the one on the handle.

I also like the Chatsford Strainer System that is perfect for the loose tea leaves we both enjoyed.

What is more, the tea pot can hold at least two cups, which is good for sharing. This one is manufactured by the St. George potteries in England.

This is definitely the prettiest tea pot in my collection and is a beautiful reminder of my mother and our shared enjoyment of tea!

BACK THEN

A chance conversation brought to mind the typical reminiscences that arise when a group of people within a certain age range come together. I have mentioned the binding factor of Springbok Radio before: mention that beloved radio station in the company of my age cohort and a host of fondly remembered favourite programmes will come to the fore!

Our everyday lives were quite different then. Of course time provides a certain lustre or patina to the memories of our childhood experiences. We tend to forget the tough times – or laugh at them now – and to gloss over the difficulties we might have faced, or even the loneliness we might have had to overcome.

My companion reminded me that if one lived in a small town or out in the countryside, “we spent most of the daylight hours outside.” I remember spending much of my early childhood playing outdoors sans supervision. We climbed trees, walked in the veld, played in the mud, made small fires, swam, played ball games and marbles, caught tiny frogs, tried to find ant lions, pushed each other on the swing until we had learned to propel ourselves, built outdoor shelters … I also played tennis regularly when I was a little older, played kennetjie, and even read outdoors.

We would come indoors for lunch and, in our family, were expected to be home by the time my father got home from work. During the evenings we played cards, listened to the radio, or read. We were happy.

Not all things were ‘good’ about those times. Before passing judgement though, we must bear in mind the common knowledge that was available. Expectant mothers, for example, continued to smoke and/or to consume alcohol; and, cots and certain toys were painted with lead-based paints. These are verboten now – and rightly so!

As children, we would drink water straight from the hosepipe if we were thirsty and, on the rare occasions we had them, shared sips of cold drinks with friends without a second thought. Vehicles were not yet fitted with seat belts and children rode bicycles without wearing helmets. Among my fondest memories is riding in the back of my father’s bakkie; the wind blowing through my hair; our faces getting covered with dust; and the fun we had making hollow whistling sounds by opening our mouths against the wind.

“Do you remember all the grazes, cut and bruises” My companion laughed comfortably. “We were barefoot for much of the time too!” I loved being sans shoes – and still do. My father was a champion at removing deeply embedded thorns. Stubbed toes were the norm then.

Dispensed medicines had no tamper-proof or child-proof lids on them. Whenever we complained of a headache, my mother would encourage us to drink water. If we really felt under the weather, we might be given an aspirin, I treated my own children in much the same way.

Yes, those were ‘the good old days’, but each generation will have their own version. I often think how much my father would have enjoyed using the Internet and how thrilled my mother would have been to access so much interesting reading material.

She and I wrote to each other and phoned each other every week from the time I went to boarding school until she died. I lived so far away that I couldn’t visit her nearly as often as I would have liked to. What a boon modern technology has been to us with our scattered families: there are so many forms of communication available to us now!

So, when you hear us ‘oldies’ reminiscing about ‘back then’, be aware of how grateful we are for what we can enjoy in the present.