Thursday, 23 December 2010

New home for old pieces

This little tableau of furniture has found it’s place in my study on the south side of our house where sun can warm and illuminate. None of it is is new, each piece is redolent of the women of my family.

In the very foreground is the leg of my grandmother’s chair, always known as The Bergére Chair. I believe my grandfather Gerald bought it for her, though it may have been in the family longer. She was a contemplative woman, a Christian Scientist of very deep and sincere faith, who spent many hours sitting in this chair in her bedroom, thinking. It was here that we found her after she had the stroke that killed her. I find no morbidity in that thought, rather I wonder if some frail remnant of her molecules lingers in the grain of the wood, touching mine as my hands smooth it when I too sit there. It once had a very worn donkey brown brocade velvet seat cushion, Mum had a new cover made for it as a birthday present for me one year, the seat cushion fits precisely round the arms of the chair so was a complex piece of upholstery.

Next in the image is a little black wood, fold out table. This was also hers, the repository of her pen, often lost or rather, “taken by the fairies”; whatever book she was currently reading; her glasses and her table lamp. This little table sat in our sitting room, by the chimney breast where she could warm her twiglety legs at the stove, a great shiny glass doored anthracite burner, with dark iridescent metal finish. This had a convoluted looking gas lighter with a flex that attached it to the gas tap by the hearth. It looked rather like a short sword with holes down the side and had to be lit, at which point it roared into life with blue flame glowing down it’s length. This was then thrust into the coals and not removed until they were glowing red and orange. Behind this great metal heart was the boiler, which provided us with our hot water downstairs.

Beside this table is a little wooden chair. This has a cane seat, but is quite plain otherwise. It came from my mother’s flat, but probably belonged originally to my great grandmother, Nanya.

Behind that is a little kneehole desk, very simple, with one lockable drawer and three more below it. This was my mother’s home typing desk, bought with the wages of her first secretarial job, just after the war in London. She saved up shillings here and there from a very small wage until she had enough, then bought it from a shop in Cheam where she and her parents lived. The handle and keyhole in the top drawer are worn by her hands. She typed a myriad of cheerful letters to friends here: one of the enduring themes from letters of condolence this year was people’s delight in receiving her chatty, funny, thoughtful hand typed letters, an art that is perhaps dying, or at least being replaced by differing forms of communication.

None of these pieces of furniture would feature in Cash in the Attic, or a Kevin McCloud Grand Design, though perhaps Kirstie Allsopp might flutter over them if she found them in a furniture warehouse. None have been bought to "go" with our new home because we fancy a restyle. They are quiet, personal, cherished bits of domestic history and beyond price to me, imbued as they are with lives that I knew and loved dearly.

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