I’m sitting working at the dining table instead of my desk because I’m keeping the dog company. She doesn’t care. She is asleep.
The big problem with having an old antique pedestal dining table is that it wobbles. It’s bad enough eating soup off it but typing on a laptop sometimes feels like I’m bobbing around on the ocean. I’d get rid of it if I could, but I can’t because it was my mother’s and she wanted me to have it.
It’s never felt stable and so it fitted perfectly in the house where I grew up. Even as children, when we used the largely unoccupied chilly dining room and white linen tablecloth with the best silver cutlery every Christmas we were told, “Don’t lean on the table, you’ll break it.”
Surely a table’s primary purpose is to hold steady while things are placed on it, cutlery or elbows. Or maybe there are things as important as functionality.
After mum died I tried to have it repaired. A man came and told me it was going to cost more to fix than a new stable table and a set of chairs would have cost. As I helped him separate the pedestal from the top I noticed a bit of wood which had been picked away during a boring conversation my mother was having with the vicar the night the IRA bombed the Hare & Hounds pub. I remember retreating under the table that night hoping the bombers wouldn’t come to our house. It wouldn’t have protected me, but it felt like it somehow would.
In the two weeks that the table was gone from the house where we lived with our two small children we replaced it with a spare, a rectangular piece made from cherrywood which extended out impressively to accommodate guests. It was unfussy and unromantic but you could sprawl all over it without fear of ending up in a heap on the floor covered in custard.
Walking the dogs with my sister she tells me that, while she has been clearing her sitting room to get ready for decorating, she came across an old box of photos. Sifting through them she is reminded of the year the river flooded so badly that the toy shop closed where mum had promised to buy me a model of “The Yellow Submarine”, and of our parents Ruby wedding anniversary dinner, and the big red lollipop I bought my dad with “Smile” written on it, evidence of my developing eye for irony. They are all happy memories, but, I suspect, mainly because they live in the past.
I say to her, “It’s the only time we ever look at photos isn’t it? When we come across them sorting through clutter.”
“Yes” she says, “But I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. Someone else will have to do that after I’ve gone.”
I think of all the boxes I have with photos, and the transparencies which sit on shelves in the garage just underneath the cases of unsold CD’s of an album I made more than a decade ago.
I collect my daughter from town after she has walked from school for the last time.
“Was it emotional?” I ask.
“I wasn’t really.” she says, looking for confirmation from a friend who has hitched a lift.
“The end of an era”. I say, under my breath.
At home she gets her books out along with a huge fistful of revision cards.
“I have to study education systems this evening.” she says, dumping a huge file on the table and hauling her elbows up and onto it too.
I say, “Don’t put that heavy file on the table, and don’t lean on it either. You’ll break it.”