The Chinese Tea Ceremony

National Tea Museum, Hangzhou

National Tea Museum, Hangzhou

Little cups pass between us.

Wait, don’t wait, cleanse, now go.

Pause. Pause again. Don’t raise an eyebrow.

A terrible pun, but you feel like a mug. Really I do too.

The Party paid for this marble room, the fixed grin of our server, the mimic garden courtyard, the words on the wall, the endless plush fields, the sun in the sky…?

Hangzhou and nanjing 137Somewhere in Beijing, a report stamped ‘success’ is filed.

Hangzhou and nanjing 110

 

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The Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Heritage for Society (Faro Convention 2005) identifies cultural heritage as a ‘resource’, but often it has a less utilitarian emphasis when met on an emotional level and touches upon the intangible aspects of heritage that feature more and more in academic and professional discourse.

“To them Howards End was a house: they could not know that to her it had been a spirit, for which she sought a spiritual heir.” Chapter 11, Howards End, E.M.Forster

Taken from https://i1.wp.com/209.114.45.49/bookimages/9780141183350.jpg

A wily estate agent might well promote a ‘character property’. What does this mean? Simply that it is old? That it is unique?

There is a house for me that has a character, a personality, much like E.M. Forster’s Howards End. My Grandmother’s house.

It is a straightforward case on paper. Grade II* listed, multi-period, original features.

For me? It is a story teller (tales of where priests hid), a trickster (a symphony of nocturnal creaks and groans enough to send even a teenager scuttling to her grandmother’s bed), a secret keeper (mis-spelt faxes folded inside Catherine Cooksons) and more than anything a teacher.

Taken from https://sarahpips.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/e9cb3-img_3539.jpg

I learnt that:

a. 1960s flower power and golden velvet are perfectly matched;

b. Glen Miller and Shirley Bassey accompanied by wild knees, twirling arms and kicking ankles = “the girl who danced through the war”;

c. smoking is an individual art form (clipped bird-like, long sucks. hollow cheeks, sideways mid-speech).

“Houses have their own ways of dying, falling as variously as the generations of men, some with a tragic roar, some quietly but to an afterlife in the city of ghosts, while from others the spirit slips before the body perishes”. Chapter 31, Howards End, E.M. Forster

My Grandmother died in 2006. I saw the house for sale online the other day. – No lumpy horse-hair chairs. No flower power. No orange crayon graffiti by a child twenty years long gone. – Faux fur rugs. Neutral walls. Candles in the hearth where once settled fag ash, twisted chocolate liqueur wrappers, and embers. I’m mourning.

We leave our mark, officially.

At a recent university workshop, ‘Whose Business is Heritage?’, the word “authenticity” reared its ugly head. I say this because of the reactions it drew from the panel of speakers – exasperation and weariness. It is one of those terms that has been batted back and forth between academics of late and is now thrown into conversations like a comfortable elephant in the room, or at least one whose presence is grudgingly accepted.

I’ll take a simplified view, that the desire for “authenticity” is made up by a myriad of motives (be it quality, monetary value, or nostalgia), and of course depends of each person. That aside, I’d like to bring forth the wonderful case of the Wedgwood pottery backstamp.

A grafter and firm believer in experiments (a good white glaze!), the first Josiah Wedgwood was dismayed to hear that his nephew had once confused a rival’s work for a piece of his own company’s pottery. To avoid such mistakes, and ever the astute business man, Jos devised the system of stamping the backs of products with his mark. A modern man, I wonder what he would have made of the collectors, centuries later, relying on these marks, a safe and sure sign of “authenticity”.

Courtesy of https://i1.wp.com/www.emmabiggsmosaic.net/00_images/03_work/00_made_in_england/02_made_in_england_detail.jpg

How this is crashed and muddled by the Made in England mosaic project for the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (pictured above). The project received pottery donations from members of the public, the backstamps of these were then used to create a mosaic to decorate the museum’s entrance. Minton with Burleigh with Aynsley with Spode. From the mud to the stars. Watch a short interview with creator Emma Biggs here.