Bone China

Author: Patricia O'Reilly

Bone China / Patricia O’Reilly My awareness of bone china dates back to when I was about eight. And to our neighbour Miss Corbett who had clutters of china ornaments, plates, bowls, cups and saucers in every shape, size and colour. And unlike our house, nothing matching which, for me, only added to their mystiqu

My awareness of bone china dates back to when I was about eight. And to our neighbour Miss Corbett who had clutters of china ornaments, plates, bowls, cups and saucers in every shape, size and colour. And unlike our house, nothing matching which, for me, only added to their mystique.

My favourite piece was round and black. Shaped rather like a soup plate. With a riot of palest pink verging to cyclamen-coloured flowers on thick brown stems nestling between soft green leaves. This particular plate stood exotically alone propped up on the dresser among the jumble of Miss Corbett’s collection.

Everyone knew Miss Corbett wasn’t well and so the neighbours including my mother, made sure she’d ‘proper’ food. My day was made on the occasions when I was delivery girl.

My sense of importance mighty I went down our pathway, out our gate along the road for two houses. In her gate and up the driveway. Standing in my tippy toes, I banged her brass knocker – which was a clenched fist. After a while, Miss Corbett would open the door. She was small and round. With a smiling face and her hair in a roll.

She showed her delight in the food by sniffing. Which we weren’t allowed do. Opening the paper bag of queen buns she breathed in their warm-baking smell. Peeping under the tea towel at the enamel-plated, sugar-dusted tart she beamed at the aroma of cinnamon apples. And when she lifted the lid off the blue and white striped bowl, the fragrance of brown stew had her rolling her eyes in anticipation of taste.

Next came the transference of our offerings to her dishes. An operation which she treated with the gravest of importance. Looking at this bowl. Dismissing that plate. Shrugging at another.

As well as her keenly honed sense of smell, I now know she had an innate understanding of the visuals. The buns were perfect piled on a cake stand supported by romping golden cherubs. What matter that it was a bit dusty. The carefully sliced wedges of tart complimented the fluted deep green platter. From which she had removed pens and stubs of pencils. And as for the stew, after excavating reels of sewing cotton from the deep cream crock pot with the curlicue handles and matching scoop, it looked wonderful.

Then it was time for my treat. A brown paper bag of pink and white marshmallows which she took out of a drawer and ceremoniously tipped a generous amount onto THE PLATE – my favourite – the black one, with the pink flowers. Take the lot she would urge and I never needed to be asked a second time.

One day while my mouth was full, she told me that plate was more than a hundred years old. A precious part of her family heritage. Bone china. My grandmother’s, she said. I can still see her standing there with the sun streaming in through the french windows, holding my mother’s tea towel-covered plate as what she was saying dawned on me.

Bone china. A plate made from bones. Her grandmother’s bones. I felt sick. Thinking of all the marshmallows I’d eaten off Miss Corbett’s grandmother’s leg or perhaps her arm.

I’ve never fancied marshmallows since.