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The Chinese plate

My mum’s finally finished clearing out my grandparents’ house, and she’s brought back a few boxes of things: books, pieces of jewellery, notes. Nothing valuable, just mementoes. It was a long process, partly as they lived out in the western Highlands near Oban. But it got done eventually, after a lot of trips to the local dump and Oxfam. We accumulate so much stuff.

She had brought down a box of crockery. I was at my parents’ today, so she asked me and my sister if we wanted anything from it. I opened the box, totally confident that I wouldn’t. Old plates and cups, who cares?

And then, the first thing out of the protective paper, there it was! The Chinese plate! Part of the set me and my sister ate our jammy dodgers and slices of cake off decades before, weekend afternoons at grandma’s house in Osterley. We even talked about them as we ate. Under the influence of ‘The Blue Lotus’ and ‘Tintin in Tibet’, maybe. We knew our grandparents had travelled, maybe she picked it up while she was out there? Maybe we were eating off… priceless oriental artefacts.

Turning them over in my hands - so much smaller than I remembered! it’s me that grew bigger - and there’s a stamp. “Churchill England WILLOW Dishwasher & Microwave safe.” The furthest journey this plate took was from the factory in Stoke to the western outskirts of London and my grandma’s kitchen. And, obviously, it wasn’t priceless: a quick Google suggests this line of china was often sold in supermarket promotions. Probably picked up with the massive weekly shop my grandma did, 11 children to feed, in the 70s. And then packed up again when she moved back home, to Scotland, 20 years later. And now back to London again, to be packed away in another home: mine.

I haven’t spent a second’s thought on this little plate for 25 years. But what a pleasure to have it in my hands again! The power of objects to trigger memories. I’m glad I have that memory again, now. I won’t forget.