I have a new table, to sit at when i write. It’s a beautiful thing, engineered from English oak, a wide expanse of pale wood, not even oiled. I spend most of my time travelling, writing in cafes, airports, on trains, in snatched moments of time, on borrowed surfaces, but there is something deeply satisfying about having this surface waiting for me at home. There is no inbox, no clutter, no pens and pencils, no power supply, just the bare, textured, surface of The Table.
Oak is not my favourite wood, but it’s right up near the top. The skill required to work it is beyond me: green oak, the name given to the timber fresh from the tree, clutches at saws, clogs the teeth, and once cut, moves. Oak moves much more than you may imagine, stretching and yawning with the humidity of the seasons, tortured by central heating, caressed by the sun.
The Table is iron bound: in what i suspect is a futile attempt to prevent it shrinking and splitting, there are three bands of metal screwed into the underside of the planking. Three shackles that will try to hold the wood steady as the young timber strains to find it’s natural shape.
Wood knows where it wants to be, and binding it will have little effect: it does not move fast, but the warping and twist of timber is inexorable. You can fight nature, battle the natural balance, but only one winner ultimately will emerge.
Whilst my father has been ill, i have spent more time at home over the last two months, hence procurement of The Table. My stable space. Each day, as i sit down to write, i run my hands over the surface, feeling the warmth, where the dawning sun has passed over, feeling the softness of myriad imperfections.
The Table is not perfect, but who is.
Large expanses are clear, setting a context of idealised beauty, but then a knot berates the perfection, ugly, asymmetrical, memory of storms and growth.
It is the imperfection that creates beauty. The imperfection holds the tension.
Whilst i seek a certain calm, as i sit at The Table, The Table itself is embodied tension. The propensity to movement belies the underlying, internal force. Wood is a substance of tension, internally conflicted, frozen in time, as anyone who has split logs for the fire will know. The explosive energy as the axe hits is the tension, unbound, the energy liberated. The memory of a hundred years of storms, a lifetime of movement, frozen, and liberated with a single blow.
The touch of my hands, the heat of my laptop, the dampness from my coffee, the glare of the sun, add to the imperfection. As it strains and moves, the surface will also stain and mark.
The wood will grow with me, and i with it.
We will find our harmony: a million words will leave their mark, and a hundred years of growth will mark my words.