Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Notes on a Table


A friend sent me this piece today, which I wrote way back in 2000 when I was living in a group house - well before kids had entered the picture. I had forgotten about it, but, reading through, it seems nothing much has changed. So I've blown off the dust and present it here, a message from the archives.


Our house has the happy combination of a large dining room opening off the kitchen and a pleasant dining room table.

The dining room is the brain of the household. It contains the telephone, the household diary, the newspapers, and the message pad. Most conversations take place in the dining room, and most decisions are made within the walls.

But the wooden table is our household's heart. Like all good hearts, it has been scratched, scorched and scarred by careless users, but is still large and serviceable. It stands in the centre of the dining room. As one housemate moves around the kitchen, another sits at the table and reads or puzzles or doodles. Conversations float between the rooms.

The table is the setting for glorious Saturday breakfasts. Housemates and guests come together to feast. We load the table with croissants and rolls, fruit and cereal, butter and jam. Sections of the newspaper litter the floor. By coffee time we have solved the general knowledge crossword and we can start to unravel the cryptic. Conversations fly as we catch up and gossip and tell stories. Our household is sanctified by our Saturday morning breakfasts.

We have held countless dinners around it. Candles light the room, red wine flows, conversation bounds along. One of us jumps up to consult a dictionary; another wanders to the kitchen and, still talking, brews coffee or reaches into the oven for a pudding.

I have a Scrabble friend who lives in Hobart. When he is in town we play fierce matches. The table stands placidly through the squalls.

Flowers adorn it; papers litter it; magazines clutter it. A cat sleeps under it and is outraged when unsuspecting visitors inadvertently kick her.

In the late afternoon the sun slants across its surface. We drink endless cups of tea and chat about cats and community, and we place our hands where the wood glows with warmth. Our heads propped on our hands, we lament over lost loves. We tell ridiculous stories and laughter bubbles up from deep within. The table is steeped in these moments, and every meal taken at it, every game played on it, every conversation held over it is infused with traces of this joy.

I have lived in houses with eating areas far from the kitchen; houses where the dining rooms are dark and poky; and a house with a fiendish table whose legs tripped the unwary. Never again. I have been converted. My church is a well-used kitchen, and a large and serviceable table.

Originally published in Patmos, 2003.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The scent of violets

The daffodils are blooming; the scent of violets drifts through the air. Late winter, my favourite time, when everything is full of promise. I've planted a yellow gage to replace the ancient rotting plum; I've put in grape vines to clamber up a pergola and shade the back of the house. Tiny buds are forming, once dormant roots are sending out exploratory shoots, the soil is moist and crumbly, there is a hint of warmth in the air. The almond has finished blossoming – as always, impossibly early – and is covered by soft new growth.

This year I long for shady vines and the silhouette of fig leaves against a red brick wall. I'll look for pink peach blossom and sweet ripe fruit; for the lemon tree to rally and grow; for the creepers to haul themselves up and cover fences with flower and leaf. The ruby chard is thickening, the rosemary is covered with soft shoots, and I sense possibility.

Like a sower with seed, I am casting round handfuls of rich manure and watering it in. I am clipping back scrawny growth so new shoots can grow. I am plotting, planning, piecing together a dreamy little landscape: a place of refuge, of gentleness, of love. You will know it by its lush growth and tangled vines; its fruits exploding with juice; its tantalising scents floating through the air and teasing at your nostrils; its flirty little flowers just around the path, bobbing in and out of sight.

At least, that's what I tell myself. Really, it's a mess. Weeds are knee-high; the pear's full of codlin moth; and a child stepped on my Correa and snapped it near the base. For all my plans we'll never get round to them – every weekend is a whirlwind of birthday parties and veggie shopping and piano lessons and minor illnesses and guests and cooking and laundry. Sure, I'll do what I can. I'll shut my eyes to the weeds, to the gaps left by smashed plants, to the beds that need restoration. I'll try to forget that in six months' time, the garden will be whipped by the harsh north wind and baked by the sun. I'll pretend I never cursed the day my ancestors left rainy Cornwall – and that I won't curse all those jobs that I don't do this spring.

And yet, and yet. Despite all this, and against all reason, I hold fast to my vision of being surrounded by growth, of being enfolded by a garden, of sitting and sharing a drink in the evening while friends talk and children play. The voice of despondency mutters away, but I will look for the hope which is drifting past, as elusive and energizing as the scent of violets. And because of that hope, that vision of loveliness, I will work, and watch, and wait.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Small healings

JS Bach's Cello Suites.
Sipping beer, putting up my feet.
Starting to write. Learning to knit.
Taking time to stop and sit
on sunny step with tea and friend.
Managing to tend
the garden. Unexpected fun.
The gentle light of winter sun.
The warmth of it upon my hair.
The hug of grandpa's velvet chair.
Watching laundry dance and flap.
Singing loud. Women's chat.
Emptying the well of tears.
Ten years.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...