I'm sitting at my home desk, enjoying tea from a mug branded 'IWA Ware Boat Festival 2007'.
It's not mine; I stole it. Well, I 'salvaged' it. And I've always felt a little bit guilty about this.
The last time I was on the Stort, in early December 2008, I was passing down
Sawbridgeworth Sheering Mill Lock at Sawbridgeworth when I stopped to photograph Granny beyond the lock beam - and spotted the mug on the ground, in the far right corner (below).
I picked it up and put it on the lock beam, to give a sense of 'place' to the picture. The 'Ware' reference spoke of 'Lee & Stort'.
The morning was frosty, and the mug had clearly been out all night. I thought it unlikely the owner was coming back.
What the heck, who'll be looking for it? If you'd left a cup behind, would you bother to come back for it - or expect to find it if you did? (Even if you were a local boater; and it was likely this was a local boater, since Ware is only a day's cruising away.)
So I stole it.
In the last three years it's been perhaps my favourite cup, and has been on Granny Buttons three times longer than the original owner ever had it - surely it's mine now?
It led me to thinking about all the other things I have which I've borrowed and never returned. Things I daren't admit to having - and yet the very fact that I love and treasure them is perhaps reason enough to keep them.
There's the staple gun, which I borrowed from an old girlfriend 25 years years ago, and it's the only tangible (albeit prosaically unromantic) item left from our relationship. One of my most treasured possessions.
There's the Casio calculator a builder friend left behind when he was doing some decorating in my house in 1998. He's dead now, so I can't return it. But he, in turn, borrowed an old clockwork photography darkroom timer of mine, and it became his wife's favourite kitchen timer so I never asked for it back.
There are other items too. These are my 'madeleines' - the guilt I have about them is enough to trigger a wave of memories each time I use them.
I thought about all this when a chap at Streethay Wharf, where I've been for the last four months, came up to ask me if I'd write about the Ware Boat Festival. He gave me a little poster, which of course I quickly lost. But not before I took it back to the boat and 'connected' it to my mug and felt guilty all over again.
Last week at the Little Venice Canal Cavalcade I saw the poster again, and the guilt came flooding back.
It would be nice to know if anyone remembers losing this Ware Boat Festival mug at Sawbridgeworth Lock, although I don't know if I'd give it back.
These customised mugs are jolly good PR value. The memory carries on. Whenever I'm drinking from my 'great mug of Ware' I think of the town, if not the annual boat festival.
My grandfather was born in Ware. He liked to say to me "Ask me where I was born", and I'd asked him "Grandpa, where were you born?", and he'd say "Yes, that's right", and then he'd wheeze with laughter.
So whenever I see 'Ware', I think of my mug. My tableware.
By the way, is there a website for the Ware Boat Festival? Waterscape & one or two other sites give it a cursory nod, but little more. It must be bigger than that to justify a celebratory IWA mug, surely?