We sit on that brown sofa, our legs stretched out and crisscrossing like rivers; and as liquid. We drink our coffee and talk. Today, we also had these slivers of orangey chocolate crisps – addictive little critters – that a friend introduced us to recently. The crisps crunch between our teeth, and that’s the only sound we hear. If I open my ears wider, there’s a chik-chree-chik of a winter bird I cannot name, the ticjk-tock-ticjk-tock of a clock that’s running seven minutes late, and the sounds of our floorboards stretching like old bones. I’m in love with this quiet, with this time, this tangle of limbs.
When we were walking Chotto-ma to school earlier, something caught my eye at the window of the thrift shop we pass everyday. My feet faltered, stopped, for there behind the shop window stood the coffee table I’d been waiting years for. Angels sang. It was old, tiled, used, perfect. But the shop hadn’t opened yet, it was too early in the morning. By the time it opened I’d be at work, and the whole day would’ve passed. I knew the table wouldn’t stay that long; it was a very busy shop, business was brisk, the table was just £20. I stood there, I fretted. D walked to the back of the shop; the cleaner was opening one of the shutters, but then the cleaner wasn’t allowed to sell anything. Chotto-ma was getting late for school, I was getting late for work. And so, I walked away. I told myself that if it was meant to live with us, the table would stay. And if it wasn’t, well, it was meant for someone else to keep their coffee on.
The table waited for us. The world had passed by its gorgeous tiles, its sturdy legs, its throwaway price, and yet, no one had taken it away. And that’s the way most of our home has gathered itself over the years. Pieces, old and used, from here are there – the big armchair, the dining table, the odd chairs, the blue china cupboard which we painted and wallpapered, my desk, the footstool my feet now rest on.
Unlike new furniture, these come with stories. They have a past, they were loved and left, or passed down from those who had passed away. Adopted, orphaned wood. I like the way they bring in bits of other lives; imprints I can only guess at. I like to think of them as continuations.
Many months after we bought our dining table, while cleaning crumbs from the floor, I discovered that the table had something on its underside. A painted heart with the initials A + L next to it.
And here’s another continuation: do you remember this? Well, it’s been sitting by the window for a while now, and I’ve watched it change from a bright yellow to a deep, dull yellow. I’ve watched it settle and sink into its own juices, skin softening, ageing. I’ve opened the lid to sniff, dipped in a finger to taste, and I can’t wait any longer.
Butter with preserved lemon, roasted cumin & coriander
A good salted butter
Preserved lemon peel, finely chopped (don’t use the pulp, just the peel)
2 tsp whole cumin
Fresh coriander leaves
Keep the butter outside the refrigerator to soften it.
Lightly dry-roast the cumin in a hot pan, stirring constantly. Take it off the heat and coarsely grind it with a pestle.
Mix all the ingredients together. And your butter’s ready.
You can use it on anything – spread it on toast, smear it on a grilled fish, tuck it into warm rice. It’s all good.