The Heart of Our House

Dining Table

I am not a materialistic person. As a glance at the barely-there contents of my wardrobe would tell you, the accumulation of stuff holds no interest. But there a handful of objects in our house that I really, really love.

One of those is our dining table.

It is a beast of a thing. Seven feet by five. Six sturdy planks of unidentified tropical hardwood, some of which are starting to separate so far that I can fit a whole hand down the resulting gap. The top is covered in scars, scrapes and gashes – each one a story. It holds secrets, this table – layers and layers of history.

It was originally a chef’s table at Donaldson’s in Edinburgh – a gothic style building built in the mid 1800s – which over the last 150 years has served as a school for orphans, a school for deaf children, and a World War 2 prison camp for Italian and German soldiers. When the building was sold about ten years ago, much of the furniture made its way into antique shops around Edinburgh, and it was there that we found our table – under a layer of dust down an alleyway in Causewayside.

We sanded it down. Added three inches to each leg so that our taller friends could sit comfortably. And then, with some considerable grunt work, we hauled the thing into the middle of our dining room.

So many of my Edinburgh memories are associated with that table. It’s where I sat up late into the night, burning candles and listening to DorkyDad play harmonica. It’s where I last drank coffee with a much-loved friend, now much missed. It’s where I set up my computer, and started a blog. In the throes of labour, I clutched one corner and hoped to absorb some of that table’s stoic strength. A year later we pinned bunting along the edges and spilled cake crumbs in the grooves as we wished DorkySon a happy first birthday. With our tears and our laughter, our arguments and celebrations, we kept adding to our table’s history, day after day after day.

But then we moved. From up north to down south, and the table wouldn’t fit into the new place. It sat, sad in the garage for a fortnight, until the removal truck returned and it was taken into storage. We bought another – smaller, lighter, and free of chefs’ cleaver marks. A fine wooden table. It did the job, for eighteen months, but it was not the same at all.

But then we moved again!

So that big old table was taken out of storage, and loaded into the shipping container, along with everything else we owned. Onto a truck in Dartford, down the motorway, then onto a boat. From Felixstowe to Singapore, with a short layover in Port Said… through the Suez Canal, then Fremantle, Melbourne, and finally to Hobart.


We have the beating heart of our house back again.

We had forgotten how heavy it is. When DorkyDad and I moved it a few feet and back, to straighten a carpet, we both had bruises on our forearms for a week.

After all that time apart, I am taking a little more care of our table now. It still ends up covered with piles of paper, and suffers the occasional splodge of yoghurt or bolognaise sauce, but now it also gets a weekly buff with some beeswax polish and a soft cloth.

Things often have to be extracted subtly from the gaps, like spinach from between your teeth. I like to imagine dropping a seed down there one day, and coming back a week later to find a small green shoot. But there is no need, really. The table has enough life in it without me adding any organic matter.

We use the property section of the paper for protection when DorkySon gets his paints out. But he likes to investigate the crevices, poking small pieces of Lego or crayon in to see how far they’ll go. I sometimes find little neon pink smears of Playdoh that have escaped their container and attached themselves to a leg. The first night we left DorkySon with his Tassie babysitter, we came back to find the two of them, red faced and giggling, hiding underneath.

This lovely table draws people to it. Just as I sat here and typed the first words of my blog, DorkySon now sits at his place and grasps a pen, tracing letters over and over in his notebook until they start to make sense. It is where books are read, where breakfast is eaten, and where big conversations take place. It is the place where, once again, DorkyDad and I sit up late into the night, burning logs on the fire, listening to the radio, sipping wine.

Our table is back, and all is good.

20 responses

  1. Where’s the Love button?
    Honestly Ruth this is such a beautiful description – I can’t believe I read to the end of a long piece about a table, but I couldn’t stop. But then it’s not really about the table, is it? What a wonderful story, and I’m so glad it didn’t sink the ship!

  2. Hey I’m jelous! Suggestion. For love of your table and hygiene. Get a recommendation for a sympathetic (to wood) carpenter / cabinet maker. Ask him to find a near matching wood, route a channel over the bigger cracks and insert clean wood.

    Optional (I would). Bit of TLC for the table, restore its self respect. Ask him to belt sand, then orbital sand, the provide (trust his judgement if you life has spoiled the surface and it won’t take oil) a food safe oil coating, to soak in, not stand on, just to make it look good again.

    Final check on all the joints and his bill should give you another couple of generations of use.

    Enjoy lovely furniture!

  3. I completely get this as I sit at my great grandmothers table that was made by hand in her hometown in Hungary, I too am a huge table fan and mine holds a lot of secrets, most I will never know.

  4. It must have been so exciting to get your things. I hope you are going to add lots of lovely memories as you sit around the table for years to come.

  5. I wonder if the craftsman who made your table all those decades ago ever imagined that it would still be going strong, on the other side of the planet no less? I doubt it somehow, but you’ve certainly made the effort it took to create the table worth it. Gorgeous post, as usual.

  6. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be interested in reading a blog entry about a table but reading this brought back memories of my Nan’s table. Big (virtually filled the kitchen), hard, proper wood (unlike the cheap plastic coated tat we bought from Ikea) and so full of memories. I was too young to call dibs on it when she died and I have no idea where that table is now. One day I’ll have a dining room / kitchen big enough for a proper table too!

  7. A beautiful post. I quite agree, dining tables should be – and often are – at the heart of our homes. When decking out the flat we now live in, we had all sorts of conflicting ideas on what sort of sofas, chairs, lamps, carpets… etcetera we should have, but the one thing we were united on was the need for a large, welcoming dining table.

  8. Oh now this is what I love – objects that feel part of the family, that have a history that draws you to them. We eat round the table at every meal but our table at the moment is one that we were given, that we don’t particularly like let alone love – but now we are preparing for our house extension I’m looking about for tables, furniture and ideas and I’m loving the hunt!
    Beautifully written x

  9. I am so glad someone else in the world has a table that isn’t so practical but is loaded with memories, ours was the pastry table in a Victorian kitchen in Brixton, I have to use the hoover to clean rice crispies out of the cracks. Glad you are reunited!

  10. What a lovely post- and to think it was about a table! I look forward to reading your posts- simply love your writing style- I am so glad you were freshly pressed because I may never have found you otherwise!

  11. The table is the heart of the house. Yours. Ours. We have three places we gather… Three tables all made by my brother. The table in our living room where we share with friends for apps and stories. The table in our study – made just the perfect height for us to sit and have supper watching a silly romantic movie… (our favorit date nights!)… And then the big one – not huge – where we share meals with out family – whether that is just us two, our dear friends & family of choice, or our actual blood family. My thing has always been that food brings us all together. And it is around the table. I am glad your heart is back beating in your home.

  12. This made me feel all warm. It reminded of an amazing poem I read recently in a book I was working on. It’s killing me as I can’t remember the title! If I remember I’ll let you know …

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