Lynda Hal­li­nan

Lynda Hal­li­nan cel­e­brates the change of sea­son by dust­ing off her crys­tal col­lec­tion for a gar­den party filled with spring bling.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

up­cy­cles her crys­tal col­lec­tion

Here’s a word I’ve never be­fore heard: scry­ing. Nostradamus was ap­par­ently pretty adept at it, although these days scry­ing – bet­ter known as crys­tal ball gaz­ing – is a skill more com­monly as­so­ci­ated with fair­ground gyp­sies telling teenagers their for­tunes be­hind crushed vel­vet cur­tains.

I don’t own a crys­tal ball, un­less you count the ex­trav­a­gant Lee Broom hand-cut crys­tal pen­dant light I splashed out on a few years ago. Broom, a clever young thing once de­scribed by The Guardian as “to fur­ni­ture what Marc Ja­cobs or Tom Ford are to fash­ion”, was named Bri­tish De­signer of the Year in 2012, the year he started man­u­fac­tur­ing be­spoke lead crys­tal lights in­spired by the whiskey de­canters of old. (His award-win­ning prove­nance, I have to say, cut lit­tle sway with my hus­band when I con­fessed to blow­ing close to $300 on a sin­gle blingy light bulb.)

Some women covet di­a­monds; I have a weak­ness for the glit­ter­ing lead glass gob­lets and candy com­potes our grand­moth­ers kept un­der lock and key in their side­boards. Like their finest china teasets and their Sun­day best, the crys­tal was only brought out when guests of a higher so­cial stand­ing were en route for sup­per.

Though lead ox­ide has been found in glass frag­ments dat­ing back to Me­sopotamia in 1400BC, and in faux jade fig­urines from the Han pe­riod in

Some women covet di­a­monds; I have a weak­ness for glit­ter­ing lead glass gob­lets and candy com­potes.”

There’s ev­ery chance they weren’t ec­cen­tric at all, but rather suf­fer­ing from lead poi­son­ing via their plonk.”

China, it wasn’t un­til 1674 that English man­u­fac­turer Ge­orge Raven­scroft started adding lead ox­ide to do­mes­tic glass­ware on an in­dus­trial scale. Not only did this lead make it eas­ier to melt and ma­nip­u­late molten glass in coal fur­naces, it had the un­in­tended ef­fect of in­creas­ing its re­frac­tive in­dex so that, when the sur­face was deeply faceted, rain­bows danced.

For those who had well-stocked liquor cab­i­nets, gout, de­pres­sion and de­men­tia were less wel­come side ef­fects, as lead leached into stored spir­its. Stud­ies have shown that lead lev­els in wine can dou­ble within an hour after be­ing poured into a crys­tal de­canter, which could ex­plain all those dip­so­ma­niac sherry-sip­ping un­cles and doolally old ladies of English lit­er­a­ture. There’s ev­ery chance they weren’t ec­cen­tric at all, but rather suf­fer­ing from lead poi­son­ing via their plonk.

When my ma­ter­nal grand­mother died, my mother in­her­ited a sil­ver mus­tard pot, a mono­grammed gravy spoon, a pewter teapot and a pair of match­ing cut crys­tal pickle jars in a nickel-plated sil­ver stand. Mum can’t re­call a sin­gle oc­ca­sion from her youth when any of Grandma Clarice’s prized sil­ver­ware was ever fetched from the lounge cup­board and ac­tu­ally used to serve any­one, but once a year it was all hauled out for Mum and her sis­ters to du­ti­fully pol­ish.

Grandma Clarice also owned a grandiose lead glass punch bowl with dec­o­ra­tive dip­pers, but that came a crop­per dur­ing one of my mother’s child­hood tea par­ties. I’m ashamed to ad­mit that a sim­i­lar fate be­fell one of Grandma’s pickle jars the first time my sis­ter and I laid hands on it.

Not to worry. Lead crys­tal’s cheap as chips – and even cheaper if it ac­tu­ally is chipped – to col­lect these days be­cause, un­like Crown Lynn swans or mid-cen­tury Bake­lite pic­nic sets, all that glit­ters is not gold. Granny’s crys­tal, to put it plainly, is still wholly un­fash­ion­able.

My crys­tal col­lec­tion be­gan with a match­ing pair of dec­o­ra­tive bud vases in their orig­i­nal silk-lined box. These scaled-down vases, the per­fect size for a twig of scented daphne, a sin­gle full-petalled David Austin rose bloom or a tiny hand-tied herbal tussiemussie, rarely go for more than a cou­ple of dol­lars in op shops. When I buy them on TradeMe, the postage of­ten costs as much as the pur­chase.

If you’re host­ing a spring din­ner party, lead glass bud vases make de­light­ful place­hold­ers, or fill a dozen with sprigs of blos­som for a lovely ar­range­ment on a crys­tal cake stand. I’m also a fan of float­ing camel­lias and helle­bores in crys­tal fruit bowls, but my favourite crys­tal col­lectible is the os­ten­ta­tious tri­fle bowl.

Whereas Grandma Clarice’s duck-egg sponges were fa­mous in her farm­ing cir­cle, in our fam­ily I am the self-ap­pointed Tri­fle Queen. It’s my sig­na­ture dessert – the free-range, four-egg sponge spread gen­er­ously with home­made plum jam and soaked with Dam­son gin and a jar of bot­tled Black­boy peaches from our or­chard be­fore be­ing smoth­ered un­der lay­ers of cus­tard and whipped cream.

Tri­fle is my pud­ding of choice but that doesn’t jus­tify the 14 an­tique bowls gath­er­ing dust in my crys­tal cabi­net. Each is im­pres­sively pat­terned but ut­terly im­prac­ti­cal; clearly tri­fle bowls were in­vented be­fore fridges, be­cause I have to take the mid­dle shelf out of ours ev­ery Christ­mas to ac­com­mo­date all those calo­ries.

I’ll never have need to use all of my tri­fle bowls at once, so this spring I filled them, not with lash­ings of cus­tard and cream, but with pot­ting mix and el­e­gant pha­laenop­sis or­chids, in­door be­go­nias, or­na­men­tal kale, prim­roses and sweetly scented hy­acinths un­der­planted with baby maid­en­hair ferns and the white-veined mo­saic plant, Fit­to­nia al­bive­nis, which looks like it has un­der­gone an x-ray.

Lined up along tres­tle ta­bles with a mis­matched col­lec­tion of op shop china, tar­nished cut­lery (life’s too short to pol­ish an­other fam­ily’s sil­ver), dainty but­ton­holes and bud vases filled with fra­grant early nar­cis­sus, these sim­ple but sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive cen­tre­pieces set the scene to send win­ter pack­ing… and wel­come the of­fi­cial start of spring.


Tie tiny spring blooms onto a fern frond with gar­den string to make a pretty dec­o­ra­tion for each place set­ting.

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