The Ordinary Moments 16, #1 – The Kitchen Table

A few years ago at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I saw Nathan Englander and Etgar Keret in conversation. Snippets of their conversation came back to me as I fell asleep the other evening. They were speaking primarily about translation, and Englander made the point that all linguistic comprehension is a process of translation. He used the example of the phrase ‘childhood kitchen’ to explain his point, this is such an emotive phrase, one that evokes memories of time and place and pinpoints a place in time. One that for some is almost magical, and for others can be filled with pain. It’s a matter of how the receiver translates this.

It got me thinking about our kitchen table. Growing up we didn’t have a kitchen table. My memories of the kitchen are steam covered windows, the dark outside, drying the dishes and hearing my sister wallow around in the bath above. They aren’t great memories. The kitchen was a place to cook, not eat, that was done in the dining room, which implies a certain degree of formality.

I wanted a kitchen table. My Mum’s friend had a big kitchen up in the city, it was the centre of the home, everyone gathered in there to talk, to drink, to eat, to laugh, to celebrate. I loved that kitchen, loved the swivel basket chair by the window, loved the giant plates of Spaghetti Bolognese and the wine I wasn’t allowed to drink yet.  That was the sort of kitchen I wanted, but more than that, I wanted the table everyone gathered around.

Fast forward years later, to a fussy design conscious adult looking for the right table to base the kitchen around. Like all the best things in life, I didn’t find it, it found me. We had a little antique dealer at the top of our street, I asked if he had a table, which he didn’t, I told him the dimensions I was looking for, and he shook his head, you won’t find one that narrow he said, and as he said it, he rested his hands on the trestle table carrying all sorts of sparkly tat. Unless, he said, and we both looked at the table together. It was perfect, he shoved in on the top of his old Volvo, drove it down the road to me and I paid him £35 in total for it.

Five houses, one MA and two babies later and the table is indented with parts of my work. It’s the centre of my day, I work at it, am sitting at it now, escape to it with a coffee in the early hours, we all sit round it to play with dough and sand and paint, we eat at it, all our elbows out each leaning over the other to reach the food, we argue at it, laugh at it, I’ve sat and cried my heart out at it. It’s ours, and is part of us. It’s not fancy, you won’t see it in magazines, but as the wood weathers and ages, as I wax it, I think of how it will always be with us. We will squeeze the fourth baby round it and make sure it’s always ours. This is the way furniture holds stories, tells stories, keeps secrets for the next generation. These are precisely the reasons I love old furniture, old things, they feel rich in stories and a past they cannot tell. Our kitchen table makes our kitchen, makes our house, it might not be perfect, but it’s ours, and that’s the way we like it.

In honour of the table and to celebrate gathering, small daily ones, I’m going to do a weekly post called around the kitchen table, listing at least one meal we’ve eaten and enjoyed. I love to cook, and try whenever possible to make the best use of economical and seasonal ingredients, there are lots of mouths to feed in this family – I’ve got pretty good at making food stretch!


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Carie says:

    My grandparents had a dining table made for them and their five children. It was just after the second world war so the wood hadn’t dried properly so it warped a bit and split, and one end was definitely sloping downwards because my uncles used to perch on the end of it. It was handed down to my mother and it was my childhood table too – so it makes perfect sense to me that your table is the key to your kitchen 🙂


    1. Ali Millar says:

      That sounds like an amazing table! It’s so lovely to have something that symbolises family stories.


  2. mummydaddyme says:

    What a lovely idea for a weekly post and I found the first paragraph really interesting, it is so true that a phrase as simple as ‘childhood kitchen’ can invoke such a different range of emotions for different people.


    1. Ali Millar says:

      It’s partly to motivate me to remember to cook and not just feed the kids beans as often as I do! I hadn’t thought of it before either and then thinking about such a simple phrase was really interesting.


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