Bryan’s Table: an Heirloom in the Making

Nearly forty years ago, we lived in Sheffield, next-door-but-one to Bryan.  He was and is a carpenter. His wood never came from the woodyard though.  It was always scavenged. You’d find him investigating skips or nosing through derelict buildings.  Not for him IKEA generation pine and MDF. No, Bryan looked for weathered oak, warm-toned cedar, maple, cherry, iroko.  He’d pick up a walnut floorboard or a broken mahogany cupboard door. He’d squirrel away a fragment of marquetry or a shard of polished ebony.  Who knew when they’d come in handy? Everything was carefully organised next to his workshop: it might wait years and months for its moment of glory, but every piece of wood would find a use … one day.

He wanted projects he could put his personal stamp on – no identical sets of anything for him.  And he liked to try things out and experiment. So he made a deal with us. We’d get the dining table we wanted if he could try a few techniques that might or might not work.  No money would change hands. In exchange for being guinea pigs, we would get a table – for free – that might fall apart within the year.

This table was horribly difficult to photograph. Standing unsteadily on chairs hardly seemed to help.

Forty years on, we’re still using it.  We still enjoy the almost-game-of-chess to be played on its surface.  We fondle the dome of wood rising gently along one side. We smile as we remember the small marquetry lines that punctuate one of the legs: they show the knee heights of Thomas, then four, and Ellie, then two.  We invent tales about the stick-man water carrier and enjoy the pretty mother-of-pearl buttons embossed into the surface. Look at the legs. Each is different – one made from pillars of the checker-board assembly scattered on the surface.

Crawl underneath.  The table is dedicated to everyone in the family.  There’s a further notice: this one.

We’ve called in one 10,000 meal service, as promised on the dedication notice. Sadly, Bryan now lives in Wales, and we have moved north from the Sheffield street where we once all lived.  Bryan and I each have a different partner now, and we’ve rather lost touch. But that table ensures that he’s never forgotten.  And when I go, will it have to be chopped in three? Each of my children wants it. Perhaps it’ll be a Judgement of Solomon moment for them.

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Three Books. Three Good Reads

Considering that reading is such an important part of my life, it’s perhaps strange that I rarely blog about books.  Thanks to Sandra, writing from A Corner of Cornwall, I’m going to put that right this week.  She in her turn responds to Sam, at Taking on a World of Words.  Every week, she poses this question:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I can answer that.

I’m reading Benjamin Myers’ The Offing.  I first met this writer  Under the Rock, his poetically written book about his home patch in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire, and which simply defies categorisation – autobiography, geology, true crime, edgelands, poetry … it’s all here.

The setting for ‘The Offing’: the coast near Robin Hood’s Bay.

The Offing though, is fiction.  It tells the story of Robert, the sixteen year old son of a Durham coal miner, on the cusp of adulthood, as he foot-slogs slowly southwards just after the Second World War.  His simple hand-to-mouth existence changes when he meets Dulcie, who’s older, eccentric, from a very different world, and who opens her home to him. I won’t tell you more, because you may like to join the long queue of would-be-borrowers at your local library.  Here you will find an involving story, lyrically told, by an author who’s immersed in the sights, scents and images of the northern countryside he knows and loves, and who paints his characters well.

It follows on well from the book I’ve not long finished:  Julian Hoffman’s Irreplaceable.  I was led to this book by Bookish Beck.  It’s her book of the year.  It may be mine too.  Its subject matter is urgent:  the destruction of our planet.  Hoffman visits marshland in Kent that’s been under frequent threat of becoming another London airport.  He visits Indonesian islands whose unique coral habitats have been partially destroyed through mining.  He visits allotments outside London; a Macedonian National Park; Kansas prairie land … and so many more.  Such variety, and all so threatened in different ways.  Some of these stories end well, others badly, and yet others … who knows?  This is though, a call to arms. Hoffman makes it clear that our future lies not only in the hands of ‘experts’, but in indefatigable ordinary people battling for their own communities, their own treasured landscape.  And it’s not simply a battle between Progress and Tradition.  Life is more nuanced than that.  Sometimes, compromises may be needed.  But what kind of compromises?

Now. Why have I chosen a photo of a toucan to accompany my thoughts on Irreplaceable? You’ll have to read the book to find out. (Photo from Nick Karvounis , Unsplash)

Though a fairly long book, this is an accessible one.  The prose is evocative and to be lingered over and savoured.  It’s an excellent, beautiful read as well as an important one.

And the next one to read?  This time, that’s easy.  Book Group is coming up: best get this month’s choice under my belt.  An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones.  If Barak Obama describes it as ‘moving’, one of his favourite summer reads of 2018, that’s good enough for me.  I wonder what Donald Trump’s favourite book is?

Barak Obama – street art in Montmartre (Lubo Minar: Unsplash)

 

Pull up a seat…..

In the spirit of continuing to try to cheer us all up as Britain swirls inexorably down the plughole, here’s a photo I took exactly three years ago in Gyeryongsang, South Korea.  At least you might as well be comfy while waiting for a bus.

 

An entry for the Pull up a Seat Photo Challenge#38

The Pyrenees and their biggest fan.

We’ve been invited this week, in the Lens-Artists Challenge #65 to pick a place that’s captured our hearts.  I barely had to stop and think.  The Pyrenees has the power, even more than my beloved Yorkshire Dales, to stir my soul, to inspire and awe, to soothe and quieten me.

Le Cap du Carmil.

These mountains formed the backdrop to our lives in France.  We were in the foothills, but even a twenty minute drive had us steadily climbing to the higher peaks.  Here was where we spent our Sundays with our walking friends, getting our heartbeats up with stoical climbs in the morning, before a leisurely picnic with those slopes all around us: craggy, alive with butterflies, bugs and beetles  and sturdy yet delicate wildflowers: then an afternoon dropping down once more to the valley.

Here was where, for much of the year, we could see snow-covered peaks in the distance, while nearby were meadows with gentians, impossible numbers of orchids, poppies, and early in the spring, wild daffodils.

A drive over to see Emily in Barcelona meant crossing the very highest peaks: dizzying climbs, vertiginous descents.  Our own ‘patch’ was less demanding, more homely, with sheep, cattle and donkeys grazing the meadows among beech and oak wooded slopes.

There was history here: the revivalist Christian Cathars flourished.  There was industry – talc mining, textiles, now all gone.  Farming and tourism are what remains.  And the Pyrenees always provided a barrier and a stronghold in times of conflict.  For us though, for more than six years, it was simply … home.

 

The midsummer solstice: sunrise from Montsegur.

An entry for Lens-Artists Challenge #65: Pick a place

And also for Fan of …# 35