Of flowers and pressure-cookers

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The British Actress Dinah Sheridan with a Hawkins Pressure Cooker, from the pages of Silver Linings: The Magazine of the Hawkins-Universal Pressure Cooker Users’ Club

At first, I was alarmed by the news that Williams-Sonoma, a swishy cookware chain in the US, were pulling pressure-cookers from the shelves in their Boston shops; I was visited by visions of semi-automatic rifles becoming more easily available than kitchen utensils. Or perhaps the NRA would now start defending the right to own retro kitchen ware? (I have always thought that the skill required to operate a pressure-cooker properly falls squarely in the nostalgic dream-kitchen

But for once, I was missing the point. The display change evidently reflected neither a crazy governmental re-classification of vapour as a WMD (scary thought–espresso machines will be next!) nor a corporate commentary on the now-viral question of bombs (bad) vs. guns (o.k., evidently) as items for a mass murderer’s back-pack. It was actually a gesture made by actual human store managers, who got to thinking how people affected by the tragedy might feel on seeing the equipment if they happened to wander into the shop.

So on second thought, I think the gesture actually reflects a profound human impulse. It is natural to look for a connection to the tragedy and then to try to find an action that will give expression to that feeling of connectedness. It is the basic impulse behind all human ritual–behind pilgrimage, for example, or the flowers that get left at places where something sad happened.

So I think there is actually something quite endearing about the pressure-cooker gesture. Re-shelving as a kind of ritual – it has to be said, we live in strange times.

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