My Clarice Cliff Cup

My mother and I had little in common. Still, I occasionally deigned to accompany her to an antique and collectible fair on a Sunday afternoon. She was a pretty creature whose style model was probably Grace Kelly circa 1955. My mother delighted in dainty ornaments, china dogs, plates decorated with trailing wisteria, and art nouveau egg cups. I embraced an alternative kind of aesthetic – minimalist possibly, nihilist.  Black stretchy skirts, black tights, doc martens, and a sullen expression were my uniform. I preferred to rummage through piles of Victorian frock coats and gaze longingly at cases full of heavy silver jewellery.

Of course, I didn’t show it, but I loved the thrill of entering a rural church hall or the reception room of a local hotel and seeing the pile of clutter before me. Somewhere in that riot of ceramics, old leather, and lace, I would surely find the perfect silver skull ring?  One Sunday, we came upon a solitary cup and saucer that was twee enough in shape but, oh, the colours! The orange, blue and purple crocus flowers sang to us from a confusion of crockery.  For once united in our delight, we bought the pair.

Never used, of course, the cup and saucer duo sat on a shelf in the dining room, one of the despised ornaments but still a thing of beauty. Discovering a swirly signature under the cup, I was fascinated to read about the woman who chose these vibrant colours, Clarice Cliff. Clarice was a woman in the male world of ceramic design in the 1920s. She created the Crocus pattern in Stoke in 1928, one of a range of ceramic designs featuring gorgeous colours and shapes that were popular between the wars.

Once, trying to be helpful, I washed the cup, and the invisible repair in the handle fell apart. Over the years, the saucer disappeared, and the forlorn amputee cup was finally given to me. Still allergic to ornaments, I tried to find a use for it. It became a ring holder by the kitchen sink and then a tiny nursery pot for my baby Pilea Peperomioides. It has been in my home serving one purpose or another for twenty years now, and gradually its colours have begun to seep into my life. For so long a slave to the dull palette of scandi chic, I found myself choosing vivid shades that brightened my day. A couple of deep orange le Creuset casseroles appeared. I chose a new sofa in squishy bright blue velvet. My skull rings were replaced by resin jewellery in shades of amber and cobalt. I began to grow huge pots of marigolds, lavender, and cornflower by my back door. One day a friend bought me a silk scarf covered in swirls of tangerine and ultramarine. ‘I thought of you immediately!’ It seems that my transformation from a black-obsessed teen is complete! Thank you, Clarice Cliff, for showing me the light and bringing colour to my life.

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