I recently posted photos on an Instagram Story of a couple of mugs I bought for myself over Christmas. I’d spotted the first one, white and printed with two illustrations of cameras, in a local garden centre, and I knew I had to buy it. Despite already having a cupboard full of mugs at home, there was still room for one more!
The second, bought in yet another garden centre, featured Brilliant Birds. I also got one for Chris – Gentle German Shepherds in honour of Bamber.
And I had comments from people loving the mugs and telling me stories of their favourites. One had even made an enchanting stop motion animation of her new mug.
As with fountain pens, I’ve been a long time collector of mugs. While some have come and gone over the years, I still have many old favourites and a mug tree for my everyday mugs.
I use Christmas mugs all year round, just because I love their cosy shape. Some mugs are for tea only, others are for coffee. Some mugs are for serious work, others for reading a book. Some are breakfast mugs, others for elevenses.
I use different mugs according to my mood, whether I want to feel inspired or have the comfort of a pleasingly curved mug in my hand. My Joy mug reminds me of a previous word of the year and nudges me to follow my bliss.
Mugs have a story to tell. They connect me back to the place where I bought them, and the memories of that moment. The mug on the right in the photo above comes from one of our favourite places, Biggin Hall. We’ve had two very happy visits there and every time I drink my tea from it I’m transported back to the deeply relaxing stay we had, the delicious food, the roaring fire, the sculpture trail, and a big reason why we’re moving to Derbyshire.
Others have more emotional memories. It’s only recently that I’ve added my own mugs to the mug tree. For a long time it just held my Mum and Dad’s mugs. It was a fixture in their kitchen and the one thing I was massively sentimental about after, first, my Mum died, and then my Dad. It had to display the same everyday mugs that my parents used. Except I’ve never used them! I just washed them all every now and again before replacing them in the same configuration.
It was more than just a mug tree. It was symbolic of all those Saturday mornings when I would pop round to see my Mum and Dad. It was a running joke that my Dad would ask, almost as soon as I got there, if I wanted a drink, and I would say, I thought you’d never ask! He would make me a perfect weak black tea in whatever was my favourite mug at the time (usually my PG Tips Monkey mug). We would sit and chat, my Mum would do the crossword and I’d pitch in. Sometimes my Dad would be gardening and we would all sit outside for a while.
Every now and again I’d ask my Dad for a latte and he would make one for all of us in the glass mugs that were designated as latte mugs. I still have those. Now it’s Chris who makes me frothy coffees.
The mug tree is like a point of reference. I only have to see it in situ in my mind and my Mum and Dad’s kitchen materialises around it, as though I’m transported back through a wormhole. A magic key that can reconnect me.
Not that long after my Mum had died I went to a meeting and the mug I was given was the same design as the one my Mum always used (the one with the flowers). It completely floored me.
The blue mug reminds me of a trip my Mum and I made to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool for an Alma Tadema exhibition. Chesters was one of our regular haunts and favourite place to have lunch on our trips to the Lake District and I was overjoyed when they started selling the ‘I’d rather be …’ mugs. Their cakes were always epic. Whilst Chesters has evolved over the years, I still remember the cafe in the early days with its sofas and white chairs. Because I used to photograph anything and everything, I have countless shots of mugs and teapots, cakes and table decorations. I love it now when these pop up on Timehop.
Apart from trees, mugs are probably my most often photographed subject. I have mug shots(!) from a whole host of cafes. All the usual suspects like Starbucks, Costa, Caffe Nero. Plus a variety of independents. Also visible will be my notebooks and pens, and it’s fun trying to remember what I was doing that day and why I was in the cafe. Mugs have punctuated my life!
I’ve been trying to define what it is about mugs that make them so appealing to buy and collect. They can evoke so much – people or places we love, memories of things past. They represent quiet moments reading alone, visits with a friend, both happy and sad times, family.
I’ve no doubt that the number of mugs I own will continue to grow, especially as I’ll probably never be able to part with those mugs that symbolise the chapters of my life with my Mum and Dad, and because I can never resist a nice mug!
I hope that the mugs in your kitchen cupboard or on your mug tree evoke as many happy memories as my little collection!