With so many charity shops on our high streets it’s hard to walk past them without peering in the windows, and, in my case, without being lured inside. I ignore the clothing and shoes; it’s the furniture and bric-a-brac that attracts me.
It’s apparent that a lot of the content comes from house clearances; relatives are disposing of someone’s life, probably after their death and what hits the charity shops is what family and friends don’t want.
In among the three piece suites and chipboard furniture are some gems: solid oak tables, walnut dressing tables, his and hers wardrobe sets. So much of it dates from the 1950s and 60s and some of this furniture has been in the same family for all this time. You can bag a bargain, upcycle it and enjoy furniture from a bygone era – with a twist.
But it’s the tea sets that really make me sad. Fine, white bone china, delicate flower patterns, sometimes roses, autumn leaves, occasionally lily of the valley, these tea sets are immaculate because they’ve been cherished. Brought out only on special occasions (usually Sundays), their gilded edges have never seen the inside of a dishwasher – the gold would not survive the temperature or the detergent.
Whenever I see a complete set: six cups, six saucers, six tea plates, one large plate (for the salmon sandwiches with their crusts cut off) a sugar bowl and a milk jug, I swallow a lump in my throat. I imagine the 1950s bride who received this set as a wedding present and spent decades ensuring it survived intact, immaculate. It was probably kept in a glass cabinet, on show but safe from dust and inquisitive little fingers.
What was she saving it for?
And now it sits in a charity shop waiting for someone else to love it. If you buy one, treat it nicely; remember the hopes and aspirations invested in it, and the care.
But use it, because after you’ve gone, if it survives intact it will be back in that charity shop – making me sad.