What is to be done with inherited silverware? Does one polish it religiously and use it on Sundays? Does one keep it in its green baize bags and drag it out, slightly tarnished, in December in readiness for its annual buffing so that when it graces the Christmas feast, one may experience a glow of quiet satisfaction? It really does look lovely when polished: candlesticks, cutlery, coffee pot, sugar bowl and milk jug, serving platters, sauce boats, all gleaming and reflecting the soft lights of a convivial dinner party.
But in today’s world is silverware worth the effort? Storing, polishing, washing, using, washing, and storing again, and, by the way, no dishwasher please.
Years ago, my maternal grandmother lived with us, and each morning one of us children would take her breakfast tray up to her bedroom. She had a small silver teapot, with a matching milk jug and sugar bowl, and a silver dome with a black bakelite knob that sat over her plate of cooked breakfast. There was toast in the
small silver toast rack and accompanying butter and marmalade.
I inherited the tea set, although I cannot for the life of me find the teapot, and the toast rack, plus sundry dishes and quite a lot of cutlery. I have used these items with great pleasure over the years, but now I can’t help feeling that some of it must go. I don’t entertain often enough to warrant the effort. You know the standard excuses. I’ve got better things to do than polish silver!
The upshot of that mood was a firm decision to take most of the collection down to town to an auction house which would sell it for me. Prior to the journey, I took photos of everything and then packed it up carefully. There were several errands that day and we were running a bit late when we arrived at the auction rooms, so I left the boxes there with my partner and tootled off to my 3 o’clock appointment in the adjacent suburb. In my absence, the valuer inspected my treasures and wrote up a general receipt.
When I returned I was a bit miffed to find that all these beautiful things were likely to attract very modest bids, so I decided to retrieve one or two of them, namely the sugar sifting spoon with a lovely intricate design of holes in the bowl, (my partner teases me about all the different cutlery the English have - spoons for jam, knives for butter, forks for spearing olives, tongs for sugar cubes, ladles for sauces and so on) and the toast rack.
Toast rack? Er, no toast rack, sorry.
Oh? Really? Well, perhaps I decided to keep it after all and didn’t pack it. I’ll keep the fish knives and forks instead.
Fine. Auction date is January 6.
Home we trundled, and unpacked the shopping and then I looked in the ‘silver’ cupboard for the toast rack. Not there! I searched and pondered my actions, retraced steps, searched again and finally sat down to write to the auction house. I sent them the photograph that depicted the six silver teaspoons in their box and the toast rack.
Some emails later, the phone rang. This is Simeon the auctioneer. We do not have your toast rack. Adrian, the young man who unpacked your items says there was no toast rack. Sorry.
Hmm So what is to be done now? The toast rack has not materialised.
Perhaps it was a magic toast rack and has gone to join my granny rather than be sold to a stranger. In Terry Pratchett’s world that would be perfectly sensible and normal. Perhaps the young man had harboured lascivious thoughts about silver toast racks all his life and couldn’t resist trousering mine while professing ignorance of its very existence.
I shall never know.