My grandmothers’ under arms swung with the effort of scrubbing the kitchen table. She used a big wooden brush with big bristles dipped in boiling hot water, back and forth she worked until the wooden table looked clean enough to eat off – which we did.
After a long walk I took the fruit bowl, my laptop, the candelabra, and endless paper lists off the kitchen table and using an old bone-handled cake knife I scraped off all the candle wax. I turned into my grandmother. My under arms swinging just like hers. The old git offered to sand the table top but I like the burn rings and ink stains. I like the blonde pine looking a little worse for wear.
I work on a very big table in the attic. It belonged to a celebrity couple; when their marriage crumbled we bought it off them. I’ve written about this before so if it all sounds familiar it’s because you’ve read the saga of the table.
The table, made out of railway sleepers, lived in the piano room. The dawter did her homework on it, we had endless dinners round it, endless guests spilling the beans and their wine. We had a chenille table cover, bought in Amsterdam, laid over it in the winter months, and we have an album of pictures of my mother, the dawter, the old git and our extended family sitting round it. If you bend down and look really closely, on an angle, you can see the indentations of handwriting from the dawters homework.
When we had the flat in Battersea we moved that monstrous piece of furniture to the flat. The old git and a fit young actor lugged it up two floors and guided it into the living room, the Thames quietly drifting past; it served as a desk, a centrepiece and a shiny table that people sat on and ate off. And then when that part of my life came to an end – the telly, radio and busting a gut to make the rent to keep that Battersea pad up and running – we moved me and the table back to the cottage.
Too big for the piano room I decided to sell it. Where the music shop now is, next to the spice shop, there used to be a pine showroom. The shop owner loved the old sleeper table and exchanged it for a pot bellied stove an authentic Danish piece from Odense, the kitchen table I’m now typing on, and a really unusual hat stand which lives in the cellar. Old outside broadcasting anoraks, new bomber jackets and leather handbags, and now second hand stuff ready to be sold on ‘Vinted’, all hang off its hooks.
Without the sleeping table the cottage felt lighter but I was bereft. For ten days and nights I bemoaned the loss of my lovely table, covered as it had been, with years of memories.
In the scheme of losses it’s nothing compared to Afghanis’ who have lost their homeland, or Californians who have lost their homes, or Volcanic victims who have lost their everything in La Palma. But back then, when the losses seemed milder, the absence of my big table really broke me.
I talked to our friend the therapist. I talked to our Swedish chums who had spent more time getting drunk round that table then they had eaten open beef smörbrö. I talked to my girlfriends. I even considered talking to the local vicar who I met one Christmas at Midnight Mass, but in the end I talked to nobody I just went back to the pine shop and bought it back for £500. The shop owner confessed he couldn’t understand why I had got rid of such a wonderful piece in the first place.
So back it came into our lives. I hired two men with big muscles and sturdy legs who carried it up 26 stairs to the attic, roll-ups dangling from their mouths, as they carefully put it down on our ancient wooden floor. That was nearly fifteen years ago!
My slab of wooden sleepers now lives happily in the top of the cottage. I write on it, have a selection of crystals on it, and when insomnia kicks in, it’s where I sit to watch ‘Grace and Frankie’ and various other American bingeries.
I never know when I’m going to scrub the kitchen table, or polish the table in the attic, but it often happens after a walk.
The orchard walk this morning was pleasantly damp. The pears hanging off the trees like huge teardrops. The apples clustered in red bundles. The field grass covered in dew. The stream wound its way through forests of Himalayan Balsam, as the crows cawed. I swear they were warning each other that those two human arseholes were stamping their way through the undergrowth. As we picked our way through the roots of old gnarled trees covered in burrs, they cawed even louder. The ‘oosbind told me they make veneer out of the big bulging burr on the tee trunks, it gives furniture a fancy finish.
We walked up a field, heading for the little wooden bench that has been there for years. Twenty years ago the orchard walk was a quick whip round the fields and back home to carry on living. Now it’s a 70 year old trudge. Breathing and letting go. Making it to that little bench is like an oasis in a desert. The old git and I sit there listening to each other grabbing at breath. Then one of us says.”Alright?” If the other wheezes an audible “Yeeees,” then we know we’re good to go.
Each foot fall measured, each crunch a reminder that autumn is now upon us, the wizened blackberries, the shiny new holly leaves, and the side stepping of stinging nettles, all abundant this year. The last leg of the walk, up a steep lane, over the big road and back to the cottage. Today it took us over an hour. At least we can still manage it.
I think we’re living in Covid time – which is unlike any other time I’ve lived through – I don’t know what day, time or month it is. I know what year it is because 2020 didn’t count. All locked up and down. This year has sped by like Einstein’s theory of somethingorother. October at the end of next week and then it’s that Christmas slalom of dodging advent chocolate and re-runs of ‘Top of The Pops 1987’.
Queues outside the BP garage; high cost vegetables; inordinately expensive cups of coffee and the possibility of a trip to a foggy seaside town for a bag of winkles; all of it a gamble now with masks/no masks and Covidian crowds.
I’m not complaining, I’m just aware that my life is speeding along and before you can say, ‘internet shopping’, I’ll be putting all those unwanted Christmas gifts in the ‘Weald of Kent’s’ charity doorway. Like most of my friends we’ll ask for donations to charity since at our age we dont need any more things, or bits or thingummyjigs.
Once Upon a Time autumn was my most favourite of seasons. The smell of new leather school shoes, the smell of tangy hedgerows, spiders webs and the swirls of smoke coming out of chimney pots. That was then, this is now. Smoke and hedgerows are going the way of crab apples. The property developers are interfering with bees and our peace of mind. 2021 has barely begun and it’s already done with.
Still my kitchen table is as clean as a whistle and my attic table is as shiny as a conker.
Season of mists and mellow howsyourfathers, close bosom friend to the maturing whatsits. I wonder whether that John Keats knew he had a hit on his hands? He was only twenty five when he popped his clogs, poor sod – we come and go. ‘Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too’.
Big up Autumn.