May was a good month for reminiscences and, interestingly, many of my reflections were in keeping with a recent change. One might have predicted that with age, one’s thoughts of recent forebears might diminish, however, they are now on the increase.
My thoughts last month were dominated by images of my father and my maternal grandfather. Objects or events often trigger images but these rarely last more than minutes; now they demand, and get, more attention. The triggers on this occasion were my grandfather’s leather case containing four silver-topped bottles, and a dwindling set of my father’s antique wine glasses.
I was given my grandfather’s case over forty years ago and it has been hidden away in various cupboards in various houses ever since. This spring it reappeared at the back of a filing cabinet and this time it felt special ; his initials, PR (Paul Ritcher), printed in black on the lid, flicked a switch. I never met my mother’s father and haven’t thought about him for years but now memories about him, his personality and his last hours came welling back. He was a well-to-do banker with a trenchant and often hurtful repartee, who died suddenly of a heart attack at a gambling table. Sadly, he had just wagered all his wealth on the wrong number of a roulette wheel – a tragedy for his family and a catastrophe for their finances. I could picture my hand-me-down drinks case at his side in the casino. But after years in my ‘care’, its handle was broken and its hinge frayed. In his memory both have now been mended and in May the renovated case came home.
Memories of my father, who I knew well, where rekindled about a year ago by a set of cobalt-blue, hand-blown goblets which he gave us in the 1970s. They were, he told us, antiques from Italy, from the town of San Gimignano to be precise. We have used them whenever we have guests and this has taken its toll. Another breakage last summer brought the numbers down to six, which we saw as critical, and plans were made to find replacements. Why not go back to the factory in San Gimignano?
We have always loved Tuscany so a trip doubly appealed.
Ideas of an Italian holiday were soon quashed when no local factories were found on the net. Then, after enquiring at several antique shops in Richmond, checking through the Amazon and eBay websites, and searching the web more generally, we discovered that a factory shop in Bristol was blowing ‘Bristol Blue’ glass ; part of a local tradition going back two hundred years. Moreover, on their website there were goblets essentially identical in colour, size and shape to ours – as they are handmade the shapes do vary a little. In a round about way Bristol must have been the source of my father’s original Italian purchase. We ordered five goblets and made arrangements to collect them.
On a sunny morning in May, almost a year after deciding to buy the replacements, we arrived at the Bristol factory and shop. We were shown, and marvelled at, our five new goblets and were then ushered into the workshop. We were directed to a row of wooden chairs in front of Aaron – our ‘guide’ for the day. He was perched on a stool, stripped to the waist, tattooed, sweating and making a paperweight. Behind him was a set of furnaces, several containing molten glass at over 1000 degrees centigrade. Aaron had been blowing glass for twenty years and watching an artisan at work was a joy.
Demonstration over, Aaron put on his shirt and accompanied us back to the shop. There, he checked carefully through our five goblets, identified the one he had made (the others had been blown by Dave), signed its base and then went back to his furnaces.
The repaired case and the new, matching goblets certainly give great pleasure. But, I suspect, it will be my new memories that will endure the longer.