We once saw in the window of an antique shop tucked away in a little village in England the most beautiful refectory table...very long and quite narrow as tables were in the Elizabethan times, and of oak, burnished to what can only be described as a glow...and I wanted that table...really wanted it. I'd have laid it with pewter platters and had a bowl of old roses in the centre and rubbed it gently with a soft cloth.
I daresay the original owner didn't much mind if his guests spilt their ale or left greasy bones lying about on the top...perhaps he didn't care, if some Knight with too much ale taken, clambered up onto the table and did a bit of a song and a dance to entertain the guests...scattering bits of vension and honey coated sweetmeats to the waiting hounds in the process...
Some pieces of furniture speak to you of the old days and have almost a soul or spirit about them that hovers constantly lest you may forget where they came from and who it was who used them...
When Teresa and Reuben were here last year we went to an antique shop on the Sligo coast...it isn't attractively laid out at all...all higgedly-piggedly with chairs heaped on top of dressing tables and oil paintings stacked against the walls and bits of china perilously close to the edges of tables so I was walking behind Himself telling him to keep his feckin' arms down for crying out loud....the owner wasn't very nice either...he watched us constantly as though he expected Reuben and I to walk out with a hefty gate-leg table tucked under each arm.
But...there was a rather odd carved cupboard in a corner. It probably has a proper name for it's type but it looks like the kind of cupboard that would have at least one secret drawer somewhere stuffed with ancient love letters tied up in fading pink ribbon. It's awfully elaborate...carved all over with twisting vines and leaves and looks like a buggar to dust...the top half is little drawers opening on squeaky hinges...the bottom is a couple of bigger doors leading to decent sized spaces...we all four of us stood in front of it and said...more or less in unison...I Want! I swear that cupboard wants a proper home where it'll be loved and cared for and have its crevices cleaned out with cotton buds, 'cos it was actually filthy dirty, but so wantable. It virtually seethed with history...we did find an exceedingly small price tag and blenched when we saw the price...
I wrote recently about an old navigational map we had...I bought it for fifty pence and then it cost a small fortune to have it framed. It was of the West coast of Africa and stated, in a careful hand, that this landing place was safe because the natives were welcoming and friendly...this spot needs to be avoided because the natives are armed and have killed some White men who have landed there in the past...and one cove, the writer said, 'had a multitude of edible fruit growing there'...
We hung the map up and looked at it sometimes and I found more and more little additions written by different people at different times and it fell off the wall. We re-hung it and a couple of weeks later it fell off the wall again and this time broke the glass...so I had the glass replaced...it was non-reflective so was quite expensive and we re-hung the old map and the following week it was lying face down on the floor having fallen off the wall again...
We brought that map to Ireland with us and hung it in the sitting room where it promptly fell off the wall the following day...in the end...tired of finding it lying on the floor...I gave it to a friend who wanted it for a 'pub in Dublin.
Now the map was tatty from being constantly rolled and un- rolled and the edges were badly worn and the writing faded and when I bought it silverfish darted for cover when I unrolled it and most of it was ocean with lines showing the depths and other essentials for a sailing ship...only about a half was of the African coastline with the little bits of info about the native peoples...
Where the map once hung is now a photograph of Michael Collins and other people involved in the War of Independence in Ireland. That is in a cheap frame and the photo itself is pockmarked with age and all the men look grim and are unsmiling. That has never fallen off the wall.
Did that old map not much want to be hung in an Irish cottage...did it not care for its new place on the stairwell of a Georgian home in England...I hasten to add we rented that house...just in case you might think us rich...!
Would it rather have been left as it was...tightly rolled up with dozens of other sea-faring maps stuffed into a small cupboard on board an old wooden sailing ship...
No-one is ever going to look at my new kitchen cupboard and want it...no-one will ever feel the need to care for it other than wiping it over with a damp cloth and that'll be more of a chore than a pleasure...it is plain and functionable. But then so was the table we saw...and the fancy sort of cupboard whose little drawers probably once held bills which needed to be paid and thick expensive writing paper and sealing wax and visiting cards...
Of course the old map was certainly functional and absolutely essential should you be planning a voyage to Africa in the year of Our Lord 1821...
I'm wondering if it has to do with the materials used to build that table and that cupboard which give off a real sense of 'place'...not sure whether the word 'place' is right...perhaps 'belonging' instead...almost as though one is drawn towards an item without knowing why. The map was drawn on thick parchment...did that have the same kind of 'belonging' which ancient wood has....? If that were so, we were not the 'right' people to own it. That map needed to be somewhere else.
Rather odd when you think.