Fifteen years ago my boyfriend and I moved to France. That winter I bought a large oak kitchen table, and two years later we were married.
These facts are not necessarily linked, although the number of times we prepared and ate meals together at that table probably have something to do with it. Food is a kind of love glue in our house. It is not surprising, then, that we are a round-the-table sort of family. In the years that followed, high chairs came and went and countless breakfasts, lunches and dinners have been eaten together around this table.
Badly spelled letters have been written to Father Christmas and left on this table with a slice of Christmas cake and a carrot and a sprinkle of magic every Christmas eve for twelve years. Friends, neighbours, parents and grandparents have sat around this table with us and talked and laughed. It has been laid and cleared and wiped down thousands and thousands of times.
This table has not been treated preciously. It has been smeared with chocolate, spilled with wine, and decorated with greasy cat footprints following a roast chicken larceny.
I have sat at this table with bankers and lawyers and bereaved friends. Tax returns have been prepared here, the children’s dictée grudgingly practiced and it has regularly been covered in the paint and glitter and glue of creativity. Short stories and novels have been written at this table, and it also has a cameo in the opening scene of TheNight Rainbow, covered in an oilcloth.
If this table could speak it would tell you that it has heard arguments ranging from who gets a chair and who sits on the bench to the kind of words that break up families. But on balance, it is mostly kind words that have been spoken in its presence. This table has fifteen years of stories in it and every time we sit at it, whispers of those stories are there.
And that is why we brought this big, wine stained, glitter encrusted lump of wood over to England with us when we moved back here last year even though we knew our new house was really too small to accommodate it. It felt at the time as though by bringing it we were holding on to something that symbolised the heart of our family life in France. A kind of anchor.
I read this article recently where Elizabeth Luard talks about bringing her table back from Spain to London – she describes it as ‘the only thing that matters to me in my new kitchen’. I understand her sentiment exactly, which is why we have spent five seasons trying to ignore the fact it doesn’t fit in our house. We have edged around it, bumped into it’s solid corners, hefted it up against walls and back out again but the fact is, it just doesn’t fit.
So next week the table will be rehomed. It’s as solid as the day we got it, and will hopefully go on for another fifteen years at least. I’m sad to be parted with it – it’s funny how inanimate objects can come to be so invested with emotion – and I hope that it quickly becomes more than just a piece of wood to its next family.