I am not a materialistic person. As a glance at the barely-there contents of my wardrobe would tell you, the accumulation of stuff holds no interest. But there are a handful of objects in our house that I really, really love.
One of those is our dining table.
It is a beast of a thing. Seven feet by five. Six sturdy planks of unidentified tropical hardwood, some of which are starting to separate so far that I can fit a whole hand down the resulting gap. The top is covered in scars, scrapes and gashes — each one a story. It holds secrets, this table — layers and layers of history.
It was originally a chef’s table at Donaldson’s in Edinburgh — a gothic-style building, built in the mid 1800s, which over the last 150 years has served as a school for orphans, a school for deaf children, and a World War II prison camp for Italian and German soldiers. When the building was sold about ten years ago, much of the furniture made its way into antique shops around the city, and it was there that we found our table, under a layer of dust in a shop at the end of an alley.
We sanded it down. Added three inches to each leg so that our taller friends could sit comfortably. And then, with some considerable grunt work, we hauled the thing into the middle of our dining room.
So many of my Edinburgh memories are associated with that table. It’s where I sat up late into the night, burning candles and listening to my husband play harmonica. It’s where I last drank coffee with a much-loved friend, now much-missed. It’s where I set up my computer, and started a blog. In the throes of labour, I clutched one corner and hoped to absorb some of that table’s stoic strength. A year later we pinned bunting along the edges and spilled cake crumbs in the grooves as we wished our son a happy first birthday. With our tears and laughter, our arguments and celebrations, we kept adding to our table’s history, day after day after day.
But then we moved. From bonnie Scotland to middle England, and the table wouldn’t fit into the new place. It sat, sad in the garage for a fortnight, until the removal truck returned and it was taken into storage. We bought another table — smaller, lighter, and free of chefs’ cleaver marks. A fine wooden table. It did the job, for eighteen months, but it was not the same at all.
But then we moved again, so that big old table was taken out of storage, and loaded into the shipping container, along with everything else we owned. Onto a truck in Dartford, down the motorway, then onto a boat. From Felixstowe to Singapore, with a short layover in Port Said… through the Suez Canal, then Fremantle, Melbourne, and finally to Hobart, Tasmania. Hopefully its final resting place.
We have the beating heart of our house back again.
After all that time apart, I am taking a little more care of our table now. It still ends up covered with piles of paper, and suffers the occasional splodge of yoghurt or Bolognese sauce, but now it also gets a weekly buff with some beeswax polish and a soft cloth.
Things often have to be extracted subtly from the gaps, like spinach from between your teeth. I like to imagine dropping a seed down there one day, and coming back a week later to find a small green shoot. But there is no need, really. The table has enough life in it without me adding any organic matter.
This lovely table draws people to it. Just as I sat here and typed the first words of my blog, Tom now sits at his place and grasps a pen, tracing letters over and over in his notebook until they start to make sense. It is where books are read, where breakfast is eaten, and where big conversations take place. It is the place where, once again, my husband and I sit up late into the night, burning logs on the fire, listening to the radio, sipping wine.
Our table is back in our home, and all is good.