by Kim Kelly




I’ve never gathered much in the way of stuff around me. Nice roof over head, nice frocks and nice bed linen, what more does one need? Apart from a laptop, phone, a stupid number of books, novelty socks and decorative pillows… Ahem.

Yes, I buy far too much crap. I’m not wealthy by Australian standards, but I am very conscious of my privilege: I’m white, well-educated and well-loved. I am my parents’ and my grandparents’ hopes and dreams made manifest. I am the living proof that sunshine, schooling and safety wipe the slate clean of any trace of poverty or dislocation.

But I think the simple living of my forebears must remain somehow in my DNA, so that as much as I buy too much crap, I’m also constantly giving it away. From handbags to lounge suites, I can always find someone to pass things on to, because they might need them, or because they might like them. Because one or several of my sons’ lovely lady pals are in need of a party frock. Or a fruit bowl.

My husband thinks this is a pathological compulsion, and worries that one day he’ll come home and I’ll have given away the cats, the chooks and all the family photographs. Not true!

It is true that having too many things around me, too much clutter of stuff, can make me feel overwhelmed – too greedy perhaps, wracked with remnant Catholic guilt – but there is one thing, one little clutter of things, I could never part with: my grandmother’s teacups.

An eclectic mix of Royal Albert, Wedgwood and Noritake, I’ve carted them around with me since I left home, and I’ve collected teacups of my own to keep them company wherever we go.

Looking at them brings me more than happiness; they bring me back my grandmother, and my mother too. They connect me to them through the stories I hold in my heart, bright and diverse as these hand-painted blooms on porcelain, though neither of them lived to see me write stories of my own. They return me to long, lazy school-holiday afternoons when I nagged them to get out all the good china for me to dream over.

Munching Arnott’s Lemon Crisp biscuits, I’d imagine my grown-up life, all the tea parties I’d throw. I couldn’t have imagined where these teacups would find themselves over the years that followed: mad places, wild places, sometimes frightening, sometimes beautiful. Wonderful. And not a chip or crack among them for all that, I hold them so dear.

Of course I do. My grandmother – Nin as we called her – never owned much. She never bought a house or a car; she never saw Paris or London or Rome. But she owned fabulous teacups. She owned fabulous stories, too. I can only imagine the look on her face – and Mum’s – at my telling them that Nin’s favourite actress, Helen Morse, is the narrator of my latest novel. We’d get out the teacups for that!

There’s one little green, gilt-edged cup that’s always been my absolute favourite, though. It has no great name, and no grand style, only a Chinese stamp under the base, blurry and bright gold.

I would ask my Nin on school-holiday loop: ‘And where did you get this one?’ Always wanting the tale, wondering if this little cup came from ancient Greece, or maybe from the table of an Egyptian queen.

And I remember Nin replying with some faraway quizzical frown, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’

As if it had come to her by some magic.

Perhaps it did.