One of the most common conversations in my house starts with the click of an electric kettle, and the soft bubble of the water inside as it boils. More often than not, wherever you are in the house, you can hear my dad call out, “Are you making a cup of tea?” There will be a long-suffering sigh, and my brother’s laughter, and eventual, “Why, yes I am, actually! Would you like one?” “Now that you mention it…!” And another groan will ring out, followed by more laughter. It’s an unspoken rule that if you put the kettle on, you’re not just making one cup of tea, but enough for the household, and you’ll do it with a smile because everyone else would do it for you, too.
Now because we’re always making tea, and I, of course, refer to proper English builder’s tea, we need proper tea mugs. Our cabinets are practically overflowing with them. Little mugs for my mother’s cappuccinos, huge mugs for soup and morning oatmeal, tall mugs and short, skinny and fat, mugs with big handles and little heart-shaped curves; our mug collection has something for every occasion. Of these, we each have our own designated mugs. Sometimes they’re ones we bought for ourselves, sometimes we just use them so often they become ours by association, and frequently, they’re gifts. My favorite, of all the myriad vessels lining our shelves, is what we have come to call my “London mug”.
It’s something that wouldn’t be out of place in one of the little tourist-trap souvenir shops on a street corner in London, among the little stuffed beefeater bears and tiny Union Jacks. It’s simple and white-based (though now the inside is stained a patchy sepia from years of use), only four or five inches tall and a little more than three inches in diameter. It has a sturdy white handle on one side and various famous English scenes in vibrant faux watercolors sprawling around the outside in a strange tableau. A beefeater standing outside of Number 10 Downing Street’s door fades into a panoramic shot of Buckingham Palace, with its golden statue and red rose gardens in full bloom. Under that are the imposing Tower of London’s white columns and walls, the Themes flowing below it and across to Big Ben as seen from the street below. If you continue to turn the mug, you’ll find Tower Bridge and Westminster Abbey, a royal guard, and the London Eye, which rolls back into the beefeater standing outside Number 10 to create a very stereotypical British scene. Around the top rim of the mug, there’s a navy band with white, Times New Roman text spelling out LONDON over and over again.
To anyone else, this mug is a silly souvenir, something cliché and obvious that you’d bring home specifically so that when you have visitors, they can point to where it hangs on a hook in your kitchen and ask you where you picked it up. To me, though, it’s memories. It’s my nana, coming back from one of her visits to my aunt still living in Watford, handing me the mug with a smile. It’s getting on a plane at nine years old, and flying to a brand-new country for the very first time in my life, with my dad in the next row back, even more, excited than my six-year-old brother in the seat beside him. It’s standing on Tower Bridge on New Year’s Eve, hearing Big Ben chime noon, loud and jarring and unforgettable. It’s standing in the very same spot, in the summer ten years later, listening to it chime noon again, alone this time as I explored the city on a graduation trip.
This plain, boring little mug, with all of its stains and scratches and chinks, it’s cliché symbols of Anglican culture, has become a testament to my family’s heritage. It’s a symbol of family and history and the silly things we see as important, and of the adventures I’ve had in places far from my home. This mug is a reminder of the amazing things I’ve been blessed with in my life, and I think it’s amazing that it can bring me so much joy every time the kettle clicks. It’s nice to have something so small to make you smile and dream of better days.