Teapots and Talismans

Teapot Lamp, by The Owl and the Pussycat

Teapot Lamp, by The Owl and the Pussycat

Towards the beginning of the book I’m currently writing, there’s a scene where my protagonist, Aly is sitting out in the back court of her tenement. She’s sorting through the metal that she and her Paw have collected (well, stolen, to be honest) from a West End rooftop the night before.

She finishes up her sorting, and picks up a small silver teapot. She turns it in her hands, then takes up a small hammer, and gently tries to work out some of the bumps in its surface. She’s careful not to damage the pattern on the surface of the teapot.

When I wrote this scene, early in the book, I hadn’t really thought about what the teapot was, and if it had a role other than as an object for Aly to be playing with, while her Paw comes out to have a slightly difficult conversation with her. Later, though, the teapot – which they never use to make tea, but keep as decoration – becomes an important place in which some objects (I won’t reveal which) are stored.

After writing a first draft of the book, I went on a craft workshop. The company that led the workshop, The Owl and the Pussycat, beautifully upcyles old objects. At the workshop, I’d had my eye on a sweet little copper teapot which had been made into a lamp, but didn’t buy it. When I got home, I emailed the company, who kindly said they’d put it to one side for me until I could pick it up.

Over a month later, I went to another fair where The Owl and the Pussycat were exhibiting to pick up my teapot. As I neared the stand, though, I saw another lamp. This one was silver nickel, with a pattern of flowers sprayed across its side. I stopped still. It wasn’t quite how I’d imagined the teapot when I was first writing about it, but this teapot was how it should look.

I said hello, and that I’d like the silver nickel teapot instead of the copper one which had been patiently waiting for me. My explanation was, no doubt, rather garbled, but The Owl and the Pussycat understood. ‘That makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up,’ she said.

And now it stands on top of a beautiful writing desk I’m looking after for a friend. I switch it on when I’m writing in the winter, or at night. A talisman.

26 Winters is Open

26WintersChocolatesI wrote a while ago about being asked to be part of the 26 Winters exhibition, which is being held this autumn and winter at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh.

The exhibition itself now open, with the online advent calendar revealing our objects from the collection from the 1 December onwards. My ‘object’ was in fact several – sugary, Christmassy treats from times past (indeed, some with white bloom, as my visit to the Museum over the summer to visit my objects revealed).

My blog about writing my sestude (a work of 62 words) is on the Museum’s website, and here:

I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. So when I found about my objects – Christmas chocolates and other sugary treats – my first reaction was to laugh out loud.

I followed that first reaction in trying to come up with my idea. I thought of over-indulgence and consumption. Eating too much, expressing love and gratitude through sugar.

Bah humbug.

Then I started to think about where all the ingredients for Christmas treats travel from. The Three Kings, and their journey to Bethlehem, bearing rich gifts from the east. That line from T S Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi’ about the ‘silken girls bringing sherbet’. The long and sometimes very unpleasant colonial history of sugar and cocoa, the pathways of the goods, and the slaves.

Again, not terribly cheery.

So one light summer evening, I put on some Christmas music, and remembered lines from a different poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’:

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.

Straightaway, a different vision: a frothy, chocolatey Strictly Come Dancing. The sweets swirling merrily across the dance floor, light-hearted and fun.

But still, a little South American darkness crept in…