Conversation 2: January 2019

Sonia (Skype message, 3rd January, 2019):

I just want to talk to you about about object that I discovered yesterday in a charity shop, that I pounced on when I found it. It’s the most beautiful box, and that box is that gorgeous 1970s brown […] Clover Leaf is the make, and it’s got this lovely little logo, a gold three leaf clover, and there are six table mats. The font is just gorgeous, I don’t know what it is but it’s classic 1970s, and it just says, ‘Six Table Mats’ on the sides and then, most marvellously, it’s still got its original sticker which says C76 Shakespeare, so that puts you right where this product is aiming at.

If you look on the back, it’s got a little bit of a blurb in English, and in French, and in German in that order, and it’s ‘proudly made in the United Kingdom’, and it tells you about these Clover Leaf mats ‘which are designed to add that vital finishing touch to your table setting. They are not only decorative, but functional too, protecting the polish of your table from marks and stains. Using table mats instead of a table cloth, you can enjoy the full beauty of your table’s polished surface. Used on a table cloth, they will give your table added protection. The surface will resist grease, fruit juice acids and alcohol. The heat resistance is high, a little bit below the boiling point of water. For all practical purposes, however, it is advisable not to use plates or dishes that are too hot to be held in the hand. The best way to preserve the finish of your table mates is by keeping the surface clean of grease and stains by wiping with a damp cloth previously immersed in soapy water. The surface can be kept bright andshiny by lightly rubbing over with a liquid wax polish, and polishing with a dry cloth.’

What I loved immediately are the beautifully illustrated scenes, some of which are Stratford, and some of which are surrounding Cotswold villages…Broadway, Boughton-on-the-Water…Warwick Castle. […] Stratford was incredibly significant for me and my father as the home of Shakespeare and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, and what’s really lovely is that I’ve been looking through old slides with my Mum in recent days, and so many of them are taken at Stratford.

It’s a place I remember that we would go to regularly. It was one of our haunts, and we would go and look at the swans, and we would tumble down this slope from one of the bridges, possibly in front of the theatre – my geographical memory’s a bit hazy – but we would play tumbling games and there’s photos of us in all seasons that Dad had made into slides, and it just feels very appropriate because Dad seems to have mingled his literary loves and ambitions with early family life, and he spent a lot of time there because he just adored Shakespeare and the theatre, and it might even be that he was seeing performances of something while we were playing, I don’t know. And it was also a place that we took visitors from Spain [cough…I’m sorry]…

Katherine:

I’ve often thought about the table mats we used to have when I was a child. My mother’s were raffia, but my grandparents’ were the kind with pictures, like your Shakespeare ones, except ours showed Tower Bridge. Now I come to think of it, I see echoes of that picture everywhere: on the table mats and matching coasters, on a pack of playing cards, on my plastic wind-up television, which played London Bridge is Falling Down. Thames Television in the afternoons, where Tower Bridge doubled to a fanfare. Perhaps I’m misremembering. Perhaps I’m just reproducing Tower Bridge in places where it doesn’t belong.

The mats would come out for weekday lunches on the bare table, and on Sundays, on top of a lace table cloth. Underneath was an oval oak table with fold-down leaves, and it was always polished, of course, because everything was in those days. So much labour; so many layers of care. The table cloth soaked and washed each week, the mats wiped down every day until they became worn at the edges. The table and its chairs rubbed regularly with wax and polished to a shine. We would spend our lives in paranoia of ever letting anything touch it. Every now and then, when someone (me) had carelessly left an orange squash ring-mark on it, there would be grave frowns, and mutterings that it would have to be French-polished.

People still buy me coasters at birthdays and Christmas; I supposed that’s what happens when you’re an adult woman. I never use them. My tables have always been deliberately practical, the kind of stuff that can withstand a coffee mug or a splash of red wine, left overnight to dry. I don’t see the point in anything else. Everyday life leaves enough of a mark, without it all showing in your furniture.