I promise I will not normally post EVERY day, but this week is an exception.
Quillan is a town haunted by the loss of major industry – and amongst those in recent memory is Formica. Many people remember this particular product with horror, but one local lady is leading a crusade to collate memories of Formica from local people, and she was one of the lovely characters we met this weekend. When I told her that our kitchen table was made of Formica she asked me to send her some jottings, and I was surprised by how happy it made me to remember, and how clearly and easily it all came back. Indulge me:
Late 1960s in Southgate, London. Our kitchen table had a pale red Formica top with white flecks in it. It had a metal trim around the edge with various dents and scratches. We ate all our meals together around it unless we had guests, when we would be in the dining room next door. My mum sat at the end to my left and my place was next to my dad, opposite my brother. It was quite snug. My favourite meal was Sunday lunch, when I would help my mother to make sauces and desserts and she would serve up a plate of meat and dishes of vegetables along with my favourite part – roast potatoes. I was the youngest and I had my own smaller plate and set of cutlery but I had a huge appetite. My dad and I would share the last of the potatoes after everyone else was full and as a ritual after dessert I would sit on his lap, squeezing his arm muscles and practising joke-telling.
It was my favourite time of the week. The table top is etched on my subconscious as clearly as any other element of my childhood. Whenever I see a similar table it takes me back to this time, when I could cuddle up to my father whenever I wanted and when eating a big meal was something to be congratulated.
My dad worked at the London meat market and we would always wait for him to get home before we had dinner during the week. He would bring the cold into the kitchen with him after walking a mile and a half from the station, carrying bacon, lamb or gammon in a cardboard box tied with string for the next night’s meal. As soon as he had taken off his coat and kissed my mum I would call my brother and sister down for dinner and they would thunder down the stairs, starving. After dinner it was my job to clear the plates and push the chairs under the table.
My parents remodelled the house in the early 1970s, my older siblings became teenagers and mealtimes became less rigid. The table may have been used later by my brother in his bedroom, where he dismantled car and motorbike engines at weekends. I think he possibly took it with him when my parents moved away soon after 1980 and we all moved apart. I asked him the other day if he still has the table, but he doesn’t remember what happened to it.
While I realise that discussing the Formica table was only the catalyst for all this, I see how the dinner table was central to our family, and when I picture the colour and finish of the well-worn table top, it also brings back very exact visual pictures of the coloured napkin rings, which my mother still has, and the serviettes we used to have. I can actually feel the atmosphere and the steam in that kitchen, see the ginger tom who often sat at the sash window and our own black cat with her basket in the corner. I can see the old grey and blue vinyl tiles on the floor, the floor to ceiling white painted units with the (1950s?) pull down sections and the coke-fuelled Aga. It is a sense of well-being and childhood that I rarely think of, and I am grateful for the unexpected meeting that led me to revisit that time