April 6, 2017
Posted in View from the table
If the kitchen is the centre of the home, then the table is its beating heart.
I read something recently about your habitat, your home, how it should be an extension of you, ‘like the clothes you choose to wear, a reflection of your personality’, I like that. My mum and sister routinely make fun of me for waiting and searching for the ‘right’ things to furnish my house – this can be anything from what goes on the walls to tea towels to the bed I spend half my living life in. It’s all the same to me. I use a pestle and mortar to grind my pepper because I don’t have the pepper grinder I want, I can’t find it. I don’t have oven gloves either because I haven’t found any I like. I met a friend in TK Maxx recently on one such hunt, he just could not get me and my struggle to find a washing basket for my bathroom (friends, the struggle is real) “but all you do is chuck your pants in it! Weirdo.” I left him staring at me, shaking his head. But I know I’ll look at that basket every single day, it has to be nice, and cool – to my eyes at least. I should stress that this is not about things costing more for them to be acceptable – far from it, my house is a mix of work-my-ass-off and save for it stuff and cheaper than a Costa coffee. I get a huge thrill finding stuff in charity and thrift shops, eBay and car boot sales. No, this is just about them being ‘right’, pleasing my eye only, in my haven. My house has to make me feel like me, it’s where I walk around in just the pants that will end up in the (very nice, thanks for asking, I found it on the internet) laundry basket. It’s the only place in the world that I have control over and I want to feel happy when I walk through the door, which I do. I won’t tell you how long it took me to find a shower curtain. Or a rack for drying the dishes.
I’m not as fussy as I may sound, in fact I had very few deal breaking requirements while I waited for my cottage, other than enough bedrooms for us all there had to be room for a kitchen table. That was a make or break situation.
If your home is an extension of your personality then the kitchen table (for me anyway) is another limb. An integral part of my home. We eat around it, not every night, often we sit with plates perched on our knees watching something, but it’s a gathering spot in the morning as sleepy heads come to life over cereal, toast and sister banter. It’s the general dumping ground for all manner of crap as the day goes on. I’ve said it before but my kitchen table is a pretty good barometer of my head on any given day. If the week is calm and organised then the table is too, if it’s fraught and too busy then the table is in a state of chaos until I can take it no more. Nothing fixes my immediate outlook than it transformed from landfill site to desirable place to perch your ass.
In the quiet of the morning when only I am awake I sit still at the table. In the gloom of winter I lit candles each morning, there’s an old brass tray with a jumble of holders on there at the moment, some made by me and Lil, some gifts, some bought, they look beautiful all lit together – whatever time of day it is. I’ve learned that you should not save these little moments of beauty for ‘special’ occasions. Me, alone, on a Wednesday morning is occasion enough. Coffee pot hissing and bubbling on the stove, filling the cottage with the best smell ever, watching a blackbird pulling apart the rose bush by the window, for his own interior design purposes. Yes, that’s occasion enough to light the candles and sit quietly, gathering my thoughts before the morning chaos ensues.
The table itself is 12 years old, I know this because I recall the kitchen it was first bought for. It was a temporary purchase, cheap but sturdy from Ikea, until we could afford a table I really wanted. It’s moved and been used in a total of eight houses and flats from here up to Edinburgh, down to London and back here again since then. When I said I had nomadic tendencies, I meant it. It spent a lot of time with those little rubber corner guards on its sharp edges to stop Lil walking into it, putting corner of the table shaped bruises onto her soft little head. She and Amber sit on it now, making a mess of the table runner, shoving the bowl or candles I’ve fussed over out the way, me wondering when their legs got so long, dangling there towards the floor. I must have turned away for a moment and missed that one.
There are four chairs, two match, two don’t. That’s fine. A look around and that’s indicative of the whole cottage. Like the table, all these mis-matched things have a story. Again, I like it that way. I have an endless capacity for hunting out this stuff. Apparently, I have ‘an eye’. ‘My’ chair is the one in the corner, it’s falling apart but it’s fixable, one day. There’s a sheepskin draped on it. it’s old, soft and worn, it feels as good against your bare legs in long shirts in the morning as it does through layers of clothes in the winter. The table has two hearts graffitied on to it. One in blue pen, pressed on so hard it’s scored into the wood, the other in pink, much lighter – drawn with less conviction. Nobody admitted to the crime. It wasn’t me – petty vandalism of my own furniture not really being my thing, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Amber, too low-key for her rebellion of choice. That leaves the little one. I don’t mind the hearts, I like them, I could scrub the pink one away but I don’t really want to. Backwards, in indelible green ink, are also the words ‘chana masala’, transferred onto the table top from a takeaway Indian lid from a long, long time ago. That’s there for keeps too, even bleach wouldn’t get rid of that, but it makes me laugh, and really want a curry, so that’s fine too.
When I did find the table of my dreams, 8ft long, from a school in Norfolk, painted white and scuffed to hell, the little table became my desk. I wrote my first magazine column on it and I did so for the next four years. I earned myself a living at this table, writing day and night. But it’s back to being the kitchen table again now, back to its original purpose in life.
Two weeks ago I woke up on the sheepskin chair, head on the table, laptop buzzing, The street silent, my deadline achieved and a stumble up the stairs to bed. Last week, with no girls at home, little Picardie glasses of wine and bourbon were banged down on it, too late on a school night than was wise, dirty dinner dishes pushed to one side, music up loud, laughing so much at banter and nonsense you have to run to the loo to pee before you pee. This weekend there were piles of paperwork; plans, drawings, notes and research for a future dream that I’m stoney-eyed determined to make my reality, my life. I’ve already started working my ass off to make it happen. All the best dreams and plans begin their life around the kitchen table, this one is no different. Today there were pale pink anemones from the garden in an old gin bottle, bills to be sorted, two tawny owl feathers found on a walk in the woods and a mermaid’s purse – seaweed discovered by my mum on a Welsh beach, a gift for Lil, a sketching project for us. She’s away this week but the drawing paraphernalia is still there, it reminds me that she and her sister will be home soon. I’ll tidy it tomorrow, or the next day.
All life happens here, I’m typing this on it right now. Food is prepped for dinner while the radio plays, pastry is rolled, secrets are told, stern mum talks are administered, arguments and reconciliations play out, cuddles and kisses leaning over it are (thankfully) frequent, funny YouTube videos are shared, ditto Lil’s Instagram posts of cool skateboarding girls, cats in jumpers and cupboards that sound like Chewbacca when they’re opened – I’ve removed myself from most social media* so this is quite an event for me. Homework is nailed, TV programmes are watched on iPads propped up on the fruit bowl or cake stand. Gossip is blown, there are tears, there is laughter, there is the whole gamut of emotion that lies between. Mini and major epiphanies are realised, nails are painted, make-up’s applied (there’s a good light) hair is (reluctantly) brushed and plaited for school. It’s been the stage for much drunken dancing – though sadly not in this cottage, these ceilings are too low even for 5’1 me. Food is wolfed down, or hours are spent over it. If you sit and eat with me here, then you know I love you.
‘I’ll look for a new table’ I thought, as I was putting this home together. ‘I’ll replace this old scratched one with something more interesting, something with more character.’ But I know now that I won’t, and I don’t even want to.
* I’ve deactivated my Twitter account, my old handle is now used by someone else who posts videos about removing stains from carpets, it’s not me, honest. I think Instagram is in hibernation, though I may have deactivated that too? I’ll check soon. Facebook remains to share my blog, apologies if I don’t reply or get involved in banter, I’m not being rude, I’ve just taken it off my mobile devices.