Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The story of a chair

The last time I was at my parents' house, I was looking through some old photographs and 
found this one...

It shows my mother, sister and I sitting under the apple tree in our garden. I am the smallest person in the picture, probably three or four years old, with no idea of the photographer behind me. Perhaps we had no garden furniture then, for the chairs we are sitting on are from the dining room of our cottage. We would have seen the sunshine and carried them out onto the lawn. I have no memory of this day, but there have been plenty of similar ones since. When I saw this photograph - nearly thirty years after it was taken - my eye was drawn to the chair my sister is sitting on. I hadn't seen it in ages. My dad, at heart, is both a hoarder and a restorer. He revealed that the chair was somewhere in the depths of the garden shed, likely riddled with woodworm and laced with spiders' webs, but he'd dig it out and brush it off if I wanted. And I did want. I'd been on the look out for a new chair for my writing room for some time. I've never been a fan of 'office furniture' - ergonomics and lumbar support are always so.... ugly - I'd rather a less comfortable seat with a touch of romance about it. 

A month or so later, my dad came up trumps. The chair was just where he thought it'd be, at the back of the shed among our old bicycles and abandoned easels, trapped by a pair of oars. He spruced it up, banishing the sprinklings of woodworm, scrubbing and treating and varnishing. He re-upholstered it using some fabric I'd brought back from Rwanda, purchased by the piece in Kimironko market. As well as giving me the chair, my dad gave me the history behind it. He'd liberated it from a skip at the Manchester school where he was an art teacher in the 70s. It was an old teacher's chair, probably dating from the 50s. For years we'd had it in our dining room at home, until his parents died and we inherited their furniture. If I'd hadn't seen the photograph, it'd still be in the shed. And now it's here, in another photograph... 

My writing room in Bristol. Sharp eyes might glimpse the mood board for my second novel, and a copy of my first in my bookcase, beside some of my favourite authors. The chair appears black and shining and perfectly at home. It presides over my desk - another reclaimed piece of furniture - and seems to know its place. Abandoned and rescued twice, it's something new born of something old, and made with love. It might not be the comfiest seat in the world, and the height is a little off for typing, but for me it's the perfect writing chair. We have history; one summer's day we both sat under an apple tree in a sunny garden, the Devon hillsides rolling away behind us.