The hierarchy of mugs

We have a mug cupboard. Everyone in the UK has a mug cupboard.

None of them match. Mugs that match are creepy. Those sets of six mugs that come dangling on a stupid stand that unbalances and falls over if you don’t take them off alternative sides? Don’t trust anyone who has one of those.

Anyone who drinks tea or coffee in a normal, British way does so about five times a day AT LEAST. So mugs get used a lot, and washed a lot, and left on the side of the work surface or the arm of the settee or the side of the chair so they get knocked off and kicked and bashed against the taps or crammed into cupboards on top of other mugs and chipped.

Nice blue mug

Nice mug. No idea where it came from

Lots of matching mugs means they haven’t been broken, and so the owner doesn’t have a tea habit, but is pretending they do. They are just going through the mug motions. And therefore not to be trusted.

That aside, there is a definite heirachy of mugs, with favourites used time and again while others are destined to be shoved to the back of the cupboard, only to be pulled out when you haven’t washed up and are desperate, or need something to put a spare egg yolk in.

The qualities that make a good mug are impossible to define. It isn’t down to design, good gods no. It much more intangible than that. But there are rules:

China for tea

My monarchist mother keeps me supplied with royal-themed china mugs, gifting me a new one every time the royal family do anything, and thank the lord for it. Tea has to be drunk out of china, and you get more in a mug than a cup, and don’t have to faff with a saucer (because only a brutal-minded heathen would drink from a cup WITH NO SAUCER **clutches pearls**).

China royal mugs

Two royal commemorative china mugs, boxed and waiting ready for tea action

But never for coffee

Coffee out of china mug is disgusting and not to be tolerated. We will never speak of it again.

Not too small

I have many cute little mugs, including a dear blue spotty Cath Kidson one from a dear friend. But there are few things that can leave you with such a feeling of desolation as coming to the end of a cup of tea or coffee before you are ready. The sense of loss stays with you all day. So these mugs are used for various other purposes, like whipping up an egg, making a tiny amount of glace icing or scooping out pasta water to add to the sauce (as recommended by Nigella).

Not too big

Coffee is a life-saving beverage and tea is the curer of all ills, so you would think the bigger the mug the better. But no. Too heavy, too clumsy, the drink goes tepid, it dribbles down your chin. And you look stupid.

A big Sports Direct mug

The poor unwanted Sports Direct mug, proof that bigger is not always better

Unless it’s hot chocolate

You can never go too big when you are making hot chocolate, as you need the extra inches for cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, a dessert spoon etc. The only exception is the massive Sports Direct mug (and every other house has one, even though no-one has ever, ever paid money for one). This isĀ far too big and stupid to be any good as an actual mug. Ours is in the garage, filled with odd screws (there’s a metaphor there for the company itself if I could come up with it).

Not too thick

Hard to describe, but some mugs feel as if they have been made by a six-year-old at a drop-in craft workshop. They are really thick and heavy and fill your mouth up with clay instead of coffee. Without even knowing you do, you always reach past this mug.

It doesn’t matter what’s on the front

You buy a mug (or get it bought for you) because it matches your kettle, or has a witty slogan or is tea-snortingly rude or it is a souvenir. “Oh ha ha,” you say, when your workmates at the presbytery give you a mug with a winking nun on the outside whose clothes fade away once hot water is poured inside. And then no-one ever comments on it again. When it comes to mugs, it is how it feels that counts.

(This post was inspired by a tweet from Jen Williams, author of the superb Copper Cat trilogy and the EVEN BETTER Winnowing Flame series. Giant bats, drone armies, alien (or are they??) invasions, green fire witches. There’s nothing not to like there.)


Four small mugs

The egg yolk mugs – all lovely but far too titchy for tea

Things I Watch When I am Ironing #14: The Shannara Chronicles (Series 1)

The Shannara Chronicles series 1 is on Netflix

I read the Terry Brooks Shannara books way, way back in the dark and misty age of my teenage years.

I can remember little about them apart from a lingering preference for carrying marbles in my pocket and clutching them in times of strife hoping for elfstone-like powers.

So, out of all the fine fantasy that is out there, I think dramatising this was an odd choice.

Shannara always was little more than Tolkein fan fiction, and while there is nothing wrong with that, why not just watch The Lord Of The Rings on repeat?

The producers would have been much better served launching into Scott Lynch’s genius Gentleman Bastards series or Joe Abercrombie’s definitive grimdark First Law world (please please please).

Not enough magic in them for the special effects fans? Then how about VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic series – all those other Londons would be mindblowing.

The bad guy. You can tell by the piercings

But they didn’t, ‘they’ went for tired and tested tropes – elves, magic swords, an ingenue farmboy who is actually the son of a great magician, some sort of tricky quest, demons plotting to take over the world because, y’know, they are angry and evil and it’s something to do while they wait for the piercing shop to open.

This could have worked, if it wasn’t for the similarly tired and tested script and staging and costumes and… everything really.

The demons had voice changing machines so they all sounded like something off the Exorcist. Human baddies could be sussed by their bad hair decisions – pink stripes, unlikely up-dos, random scalp shavings.

Female characters had figure hugging outfits, long loose hair and bare arms, no matter how much fighting they were doing or how many scratchy forests they had to battle through. And they all look the same. I never managed to tell the difference between the two leading women, apart from when I could see the pointy ears on one of them (elf princess).

And the elf blokes all seemed to be princes and all looked the same. I can’t even say how many princes there were, and I watched the whole damned series. At least three of them got killed, none of them had hair that moved an inch and all of them wore super-tight elven t-shirts to show off what buff elves they were.

The elf princess one and the one who isn’t an elf princess. Can you tell them apart?

You know what it was like? A 1960’s American serial, when the Yanks did it all so much better and more slickly than we did (apart from The Avengers, obvs. And Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). And The Prisoner) Think Rawhide or Batman or Lost on Space or Bonanza or Gilligan’s Island – cliffhanger endings, reprobate reoccurring characters, unsmudged make-up and terrible dialogue. Really terrible dialogue, like ‘Let’s go save a tree!’ ‘Are you hurt?’ ‘It’s just a scratch’. ‘So-and-so – Wait!’ ‘Why should we trust you?’ ‘What choice do you have?’ ‘We’re gonna make it’ and ‘Er, guys…’.

This was distracting, amusing TV but an opportunity wasted. If you want a compelling, original story involving a giant, dying tree, then read The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams – I’m devouring it right now and have started rationing my reading time as I don’t want it to finish.

It has blood-drinking elf-types, green-fire blasting witches, beetles that eat you from the inside out, weird and hideous monsters, well-rounded female characters and giant bats. Imagine that on screen.

Things I think about when I press open seams

Read this instead. It’s good

  • When they say ‘trole’ they mean troll. Took me two episodes to realise this.
  • If it is thousands of years since a nuclear holocaust wiped out our world, how come there is still air in the balloons the elf and the other one stumble across in that ballroom?
  • Why doesn’t the blond half-elf whistle for that elf he saved (Pluck?) and his big bird when he gets in a jam?
  • What was with the hoe-down party and the big hats? I really lost the thread of it all in that episode.
  • The horses. They appear and disappear every time someone has to hide in a secret cave or underground tunnel. Who feeds them? Are they ok?
  • Is Eritrea a country or a person?
  • The San Francisco sign turning into ‘Safehold’. I quite liked that. It was all a bit Planet of the Apesy but I liked it.