All washed up

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Mrs Wrayburn, Edwardian wife of a Cambridge academic, considers her life at the kitchen sink

She looked at the sink, loaded down with all that was necessary when a husband had his daily meals in the house. Like most of her friends, she had prayed not to marry a clergyman, a general practitioner, or a university lecturer without a fellowship. All these (unlike the Army or the Bar) were professions that meant luncheon at home, so that every day (in addition to cups, plates and dishes) demanded toast-racks, egg-cups, egg-cosies, hot water jugs, hot milk strainers, tea-strainers, coffee-strainers, bone egg-spoons, sugar-tongs, mustard-pots manufactured of blue glass inside, metal outside, silver fruit knives (as steel in contact with fruit juice was known to be poisonous), napkins with differently coloured rings for each person at table, vegetable dishes with handles in the shape of artichokes, gravy boats, dish covers, fish-forks with which it was difficult to eat fish (but fish-knives were only for vulgarians), muffin-dishes which had to be filled with boiling water to keep the muffins at their correct temperature, soup-plates into which the soup was poured from an earthenware container with a lid, cut-glass blancmange dishes, knife-rests for knives, fork-rests for forks, cheese dishes with lids the shape of a piece of cheese, compotiers, ramekins, pipkins, cruets, pots. All of these were not too much (on a clean cloth, too, with the centre fold forming a straight line the whole length of the table) for Mr Wrayburn to expect – Mrs Wrayburn did not think it unreasonable – and most of them were in the sink at the moment, waiting, in mute reproach, to be washed and dried.


Taken from The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald, 1990