|Myf and Tim Wonnacott in the 'Good Room' episode of Nice.|
I feel a bit cheated. We never had a good room. Our house wasn't big enough. When you only have 2 and a half bedrooms, a lounge, an eat-in kitchen, one bathroom and an outside rumpus room, every single room was well and truly lived in. And we didn't have good stuff either. I guess Mum probably had one good crockery set packed away for special occasions when they first got married and some precious things my older siblings couldn't touch for fear of the wooden spoon, but by the time I came along 18 years after their nuptials, every piece of mismatched crockery had a crack or chip out of it, and every ornament had been broken and re-glued several times.
I think Mum's attitude to not bothering with buying and putting away 'good stuff' was vindicated, in her mind, when Dad's cousin (niece? my cousin? second cousin? I don't know, one of those relatives you hear about but are never quite sure exactly how they are related to you), lost everything in the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in Darwin in 1974. I continually heard stories of the loss of her good dinner set she had never used, some expensive pieces of china which were sitting in cupboards, pretty glasses received as wedding presents but never drunk from; all the 'good stuff'. The cousin(?) became a preacher of the "Don't save it for best, get it out and use it" ministry. My Mum kneeled at the altar of these teachings and took it even further; she stopped buying anything good.
If Mum had $50 to spend, she would buy 25 crappy things at the $2 shop, instead of one or two nice items from a classier department store. When she went on shopping holidays in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore, she would come home with her cases full of stuff; none of it particularly good. She once bought 50 hideous touristy gimmicky key rings.
"Look, I got fifty of these!"
"Because they were cheap!"
"But... why fifty?"
"I got a good deal! The box of fifty for $2!"
"But... what are you going to do with fifty keyrings?"
"Give them away. Want one?"
Poor thing, she was so proud of her bargain hunting. I think we threw away forty of the keyrings when they moved 25 years later.
In an attempt to totally NOT be my mother (to be the anti-mother, if you like), I went a bit the other way. I developed a taste for nice, quality things. Some were expensive, some not, but I did become a bit of a collector. I had a good dinner set for special dinner parties, I had another for less formal occasions, another for casual but nice outside dining, and another for everyday living. Ridiculous. I bought some pretty pieces. I took a bit of a liking to Royal Albert dinnerware. Yeah, that was the expensive stuff. I even had a 'Good Room' of a sort, for a while. At least until it became a bedroom for child number 2.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all top dollar. I also collect jugs, teapots, antiques, rusty and rustic items; often from garage sales and second-hand shops. But I was a bit precious about the 'good stuff'. It stayed in a cupboard, wrapped in tissue, rarely seeing the light of day. I had learned nothing from Cousin Whatever's teachings.
And then came the equivalent of Cyclone Tracy. In January 2003, the friend who had been my bridesmaid 15 years earlier lost everything in the Canberra bushfires. She, her husband, and two young boys were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the car she managed to escape in at the last minute. It makes you think. Reassess. Prioritise.
I don't know that it was as a direct result (probably not, maybe something that was stewing in us for a while?), but we worked out what we really wanted in a home. Number of rooms didn't matter. Comfort and character did. We wanted to renovate. Make our own mark. Get our hands dirty. Sweat and toil. That same year we moved. Downsized. Decluttered. Simplified. Started afresh.
I made sure I designed a kitchen with a plate rack and as much open shelving as possible, so things could be seen, touched and used. No chance of forgetting I have a couple of fantastic, old, enormous mixing bowls if they are staring me in the face every time I use the microwave. No chance of missing Nanna's sweet little gravy boat if it's at eye level whenever I reach for a cereal bowl. I have now used it at various times for cranberry sauce, apple sauce and relish, but funnily enough, never gravy. It's not quite big enough. The Royal Albert is on display and even used. The teapots mock me and my lazy teabags, but at least they do it openly now, not from behind a cupboard door. And the jugs, even the expensive ones, are not just 'stuff'; they have a purpose for which a freshly picked bunch of jonquils from my garden is very suited. Everything is loved and treasured, but not revered; they are utilised and enjoyed.
I have a theory that today in 'middle class' Australia (for want of a better term) our 'good stuff' now comes in the form of gadgets and technology; we collect smartphones, remote controls and flat screens on a far greater level than dinnerware, and our 'Good Room' has been replaced by the office or study. It's now where Mum goes to socialise with the 21st Century version of the Ladies Auxiliary; her blog, Twitter and Facebook friends.
And probably where she keeps the Gin and Prozacs.
Did you have a Good Room and 'good stuff'?
Do you have a Good Room now?
Do you have any Gin left?