Jet From Gladiators

I hold the teacup gently, rotating it slowly with my fingers to learn its secrets. The low winter sun streaming into the study gives away the translucence of fine porcelain, but only after I use a soft cloth to wipe away a decade of dust. It had sat neglected on the shelf above my desk ever since the day that we cleared mum’s house. I don’t know why it caught my eye today, or why I felt the urge to take it down from the shelf.

Clearing the house after mum left had been a sobering task for all of us, and very few of the bizarre array of artefacts that she had collected in her final years escaped the skip. The stupid cup had only escaped the cull due to a pang of emotion, dredged up from the far recesses of my mind. Bloody idiot. I distinctly remember how proud mum had been when dad bought the tea set home. I was only six years old, but the excitement emanating from the pair of them was palpable. Chinese porcelain! In our pantry! My word, what a time to be alive. In the intervening forty two years I’ve learned that it’s not normal to whip one’s self into a frenzy over kitchen goods, but for mum it was quite the status symbol. I never did find out where dad got it from, but with dad it was sometimes better not to ask.

Over the years the tea set dwindled, cups and saucers falling victim to clumsy hands, excitable dogs and children acting out Buck Rodgers fantasies. The day that dad dropped the teapot was particularly harrowing, although I learned three new swears that have stood me in good stead throughout my adult life.

The fragile piece of bone china in my hands is all that survives, an anchor for so many bittersweet memories. A hairline crack, barely perceptible, runs perpendicular to the ornate handle, and a small chip at the edge is stained brown where the bare clay has soaked up years of piss-weak tea. The rich blue cloisonné glaze has started to fade, but the carefully rendered figures of dragons are still visible, brilliant and red.

A glance at the base of the cup provides a small surprise – Armitage Shanks isn’t the first thing you expect to see printed on period Chinese ceramics – but it doesn’t matter. It was real to mum, and dad never let on otherwise. An authentic piece of Tang Dynasty earthenware couldn’t mean more to me than that tiny cup. I place it gently back on the shelf above my desk, giving it pride of place next to the signed photograph of Jet from Gladiators.

I don’t think about them often these days, but I miss them both.

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