My Grandmother had a jar that she kept in her kitchen, and she kept mints in it. Grandmother's do this a lot, it's a typical grandparent thing, I think. But it wasn't a simple tupperware container or plain glass jar that she chose to house the mints. It was a white ceramic jar with a dark wooden lid. On the outside was a pattern, like onions and weird diamonds. It wasn't particularly pretty and I never gave it any thought - it was just so familiar because it was the jar with the mints in. And there were ALWAYS mints in there. I loved them so much - they were so nice to suck on for 25 minutes out of every day, and so sweet - but very bad for your teeth and for that reason Grandma said that my brother and I could have 3 mints a day while we stayed with her. Looking back, even that amount seemed far too much but to a kid who only wanted the sweets inside the jar, it was a cruel punishment. I used to sneak mints - sometimes by the hour. I definitely always had many more than I was supposed to.
My Grandma died when I was 17 and my Mum inherited the pot, along with a lot of other things that she couldn't bear to throw away because they were just so 'Grandma'. At first she thought she might keep mints in it, but that plan never came to fruition and besides, my brother and I had grown out of eating sweets out of jars by then. So the jar sat empty, apart from a solitary mint that had fallen out of it's wrapper and become welded to the bottom of the jar. There it was to stay for many years, becoming even more sticky and disgusting as time passed. None of us could bear to get rid of it.
From Jar to Skin...
I can't remember how or when I decided that I should have the pattern from the jar tattooed on me. It just became something that I felt HAD to happen. It was such an iconic pattern to me that to have it tattooed on me seemed natural (I already had so many tattoos, and I have always liked having iconic patterns from my childhood surroundings as tattoos - patterns on cushion covers and on pictures hanging on the wall etc). My oldest friend was learning to tattoo and she had known my Grandma. It felt natural that she should do the tattoo and so it all fell into place, just like that, and everything worked out perfectly. She came to my house and brought all her tattoo kit, and we set up in my conservatory one September day, 10 years after my Grandma died, and we chatted and listened to music, and the autumn light flooded in through the windows and she tattooed the pattern onto the back of my left forearm and it was just right - it looked like it had always been there. As any good tattoo should. A near perfect afternoon, a wonderful memory, and something lasting to show for it.
A Trip Up North...
A year later, I was walking through the centre of Lancaster with two of my friends - Catriona and Emmy. Catriona lives in Lancaster and we had gone to stay with her. It was my first time there - I was in the process of falling in love with the cobbled streets and hidden coffee shops. We happened to walk past a charity shop and suddenly Catriona let out a shriek (I thought something awful had happened) and pointed towards the window. Sitting on display, as if someone had placed it there for me and me alone, was a pot with the EXACT SAME PATTERN AS THE GRANDMA JAR (and my tattoo) on it. The pot was a different colour and a different shape - like a butter dish but deeper (or a casserole dish, but smaller) and the lid was ceramic and not wooden like the Grandma Jar, but the pattern was just the same. It was unmistakable. Not a coincidence. Not a similar design. The same.
Wherever this pot had come from, it was the same place the Grandma Jar had come from.
I had never given any thought to the origin of the Grandma Jar. It had obviously come from somewhere and had a story behind it, but to me it was always just...the Grandma Jar. It had started with her and ended on my arm. To me, it was unique. But now I could see that of course it wasn't.
I went in to the shop and bought the pot immediately. It cost £5, which was a small price to pay for something that had such a strong link to my past (and my present - I showed the shop owners my tattoo and they evidently thought I was very strange). It was (and is) absolutely beautiful. I use it now as a jewelry box.
Aside from the shape and colour of the pot, there was another difference between this and the Grandma Jar that set it apart and opened up a whole new chapter in this bizarre little story.
It had a stamp on the bottom. Something the Grandma Jar never had - perhaps it had rubbed off.
The stamp read 'Egersund' Norway'. And there was a picture of a viking ship.
Now I had something to go on! For ages, people had been spotting my tattoo and coming up with their own theory about what the strange, onion-like symbols meant. Someone swore up and down that they were African tribal symbols. I realised I had no idea as to the true origins of the pattern. It only existed on my arm in relation to it's personal significance to me, which bore no relation to Africa or anywhere else - just my memory of my Grandma, her house and the familiar things that surrounded me there.
However, now that I had seen this stamp, I had to Google it to find out what it meant. And this is what I discovered.
Egersund is a small coastal town on the south west tip of Norway. It has one of the best natural harbours in the country. It has a population of 9,500 and has one of the oldest placenames in all of Norway. People have been living in the area since the Stone Age. I had never heard of it. Why would I have? I have never been to Norway. I have no connections with the country and neither do my family. And yet a piece of pottery sat in my Grandmother's house for decades that came from this region. I have no evidence to suggest that she ever went there (I suspect not as she wasn't one for going abroad and I know she never really travelled. She was a Nurse during WW2 and lived in Lincolnshire, moving to Warwickshire later on in life). I wish I could ask her where it came from. Maybe a gift from someone who had been on holiday in Scandinavia? And why pottery? What is the significance? I did a bit more digging.
This is where I discovered the existence of Egersunds Fayancefabriks Co. - a pottery factory that opened in the town in 1847 (founded by Johan Feyer, an Industrial Pioneer, who himself trained in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England). It proceeded to become the town's principle employer until it closed down in 1979. The pottery that was produced there has since become valuable - there are collectors out there, it seems - people who love it for it's history and maybe also it's quirks. Just like I do. Click here for a more comprehensive history of the Egersund pottery, written by a collector. It's a fascinating read.
I wondered exactly how much pottery exists out there (wherever 'out there' is) that resembles the Grandma Jar and my now beloved jewelry pot.
Quite a lot, it turns out.
Click the link and just look at it all! So much pottery, some of it that looks just like mine! It's quite overwhelming, just seeing it all - scattered across the world. And of course, I want to own it all! Especially this one:
The items that most resemble the Grandma Jar and my pot are often labelled with '1960's' - so now I have a better idea of the era from which they came.
I do not know how a remarkable piece of pottery from Egersund, Norway ended up in my Grandmother's kitchen. There is no living person who can tell me why. But I'm very glad it did end up there. Because it's created a new adventure for me, and hopefully one day I'll get to go there, and if not complete the puzzle, then at least freak some Norwegian people out with my tattoo!