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.
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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