WE are very lucky to have a ‘Big Table’ in our house.
We got it 12 years ago from Ikea and it lets eight people squeeze around its white formica top and silver legs. When we got it, the seven of us sitting around it didn’t feel like a squeeze, but the youngest was only four then and the eldest 14 – now seven adults and a grandchild have to tussle for space.
It is used for everything important. It is the place where we eat our ‘big dinners’. High days and holidays like Christmas, Easter, and birthdays of course. But also, the in-between ones where important occasions are marked – the successes and, probably more importantly, the disappointments. Our Sunday dinners are always at the big table – except in the summer when the match is on, of course. And I love those.
Very little changes by the way of menu at Sunday dinners, roast meat (usually chicken), mash, roasties, roast carrots, roast sweet potatoes and whichever veg caught Saturday’s eye, which last Sunday was turnip and spring cabbage. And the gravy. Anything else can go wrong with the dinner but if the gravy and spuds are okay then it is well worth the effort.
We are no longer the bright-eyed citizens of last year, afraid but determined. We know what is required, we know what the virus will do. And we know to soak it up. If 2020 was Seamus Heaney’s year, 2021 belongs more to Patrick Kavanagh.
In lockdown the Big Table has become something rather extraordinary. During the week the same table is used for four computers, busy doing work and classes. It is pushed over to the wall for the Zoom exercise class. It becomes a TV and radio studio for broadcast interviews. It is the site for intense debate and quick press releases. It holds our tech, our notes, our cups of coffee and our outpourings of ideas.
On Sundays, when the papers are carefully (or not) filed and tidied away, and the placemats replace the reference books, those resuming their seats get to put a physical space between work and home time, even though it is at the same table. The quiet respite of each other’s company with a lovely dinner allows the physical and mental exhaustion of home working with little down time, to be processed.
This lockdown is entirely different to last year’s. We are no longer the bright-eyed citizens of last year, afraid but determined. We know what is required, we know what the virus will do. And we know to soak it up. If 2020 was Seamus Heaney’s year, 2021 belongs more to Patrick Kavanagh.
I heard years ago about ‘An Tost’ on our western islands, when islanders waited out the winter. They were waiting for a new season, kept indoors by the unrelenting weather and when they came together in each other’s homes they sat staring into the fire. They shared their space in silence – ina thost.
We have a different experience. We have the international and local connectivity of Zoom, Teams, email and WhatsApp.
Our minds are constantly being invaded with imagery and thoughts. The same family living in the same house can share Twitter videos and communicate with emojis.
But despite that, the quieter space created by the Big Table is essential for us. It lets us create the essential spaces we need to see us past this extraordinary time, and it sustains us. We never thought when picking it in a vast warehouse, we were looking at our home pandemic hero.