What a lot of history lives in this photograph. That table, bottom right? My mother bought it during the 1960s or 1970s, somewhere in Stony Brook, where we had been living since 1965. It was covered in high gloss paint and she spent hours stripping it back. Those carved columns were damned hard to clean up. Exhausted by her travails, she left it in its raw state without even giving it a protective coat of wax, and grew to hate the sight of it.
I acquired (i.e. stole) this occasional table in the 1980s, moving it around and around my flat(s) — when not in use as a bedside table it can feel remarkably de trop, despite its small size. Out of some warped sense of duty or family loyalty I transported it to the UK with my other belongings. As you can see from the stain on its shelf and its run-down state, I, too, am at a loss. I’m sure it would look adorable painted a jazzy colour, but worry that Gloria will come back from the grave and beat me to death with the table if I undo her hard work.
The cat’s not historic. She’s lying in the bedroom right now.
Under the bed you can see a slate hearthstone. I’d love to bash through the wall and open up the fireplace that used to be — must still be — here. That’ll never happen.
Which brings us to the bed. I bought it locally. I live around the corner from a clutch of antique shops. Quite a few things in my flat made the short trip from there to here.
I had my eye on this bed for a while. I wanted something for guests so they didn’t always have to sleep on an inflatable mattress in the living room. Though this is mildly impractical, being a single, I tumbled for it. It’s clearly institutional, from a boarding school or a hospital or an orphanage. I’ve seen near identical beds in costume dramas on the telly. Always downstairs, not upstairs.
It is made of three pieces. The head and foot boards, and the springy bed that slots into open sockets, nudged all the way in with a couple of whacks from a rubber mallet. Amazing construction. I love the simplicity of it.
What really got me, though, was the mattress:
In the shop I gave it a once-over, thinking I’d find evidence of some disgusting medical calamity that would force me to discard the mattress. To my relief and surprise it was clean, though dusty. I’m pretty sure it’s stuffed with horsehair. I’m entirely sure it’s six months older than my mother, who was born in September of 1937.
I squealed when I saw this label. Heal is such a renowned British brand, and the definitiveness of the date, the definitiveness of everything about this makes my heart soar. I even love the bossy instructions, though I ignore them. I bought a memory foam topper and zipped the two layers into a mattress sac. It offers a fine night’s sleep, despite a bit of sagging into the centre, which is the springs’ fault, not the mattress’s.
When I decided to get a proper bed for the spare room all those years ago, I looked around the modern shops — John Lewis, Ikea — but nothing satisfied me and I couldn’t bring myself fork out the cash. The instant I saw this I knew. The tenth time I found myself drooling over it I finally cut a deal to get it out of the shop and into my flat. I’m not sure who I was kidding, going to the regular shops in the first place. If I can solve a problem — storage, seating, sleeping — with something old and quirky I will. I’ve always known that if I discovered the secret of time travel, I’d go back instead of forwards. I’d rather meet Cleopatra than the first human colonists on Mars.
What about you? Which direction would you go?