Sunday, 6 June 2010

Quotes from the bench


'The bench is looking very fine indeed.' Philip called back over his shoulder as he headed out the front door. A strange inconsequential comment, you might  think, but this particular bench has been the focus of some very  intense effort, some might say craftsmanship, this weekend.

In the village where we live, there is a rather fine house, whose owners have developed a foolproof approach to selling on any furniture that is no longer needed. A kind of e-bay without the 'e'. They simply put the furniture outside the front door, with a ludicrously low price written on it and an invitation to post the money through the letter box and take the furniture away.

We've been saying for a while that it would be nice to have a bench on the allotment - all digging and no sitting is not much fun. Earlier this week, a wooden bench appeared outside the rather fine house, with a price ticket of just five pounds. Philip spotted it on his way to work and lost no time in posting the fiver, picking up the bench and bringing it home. It needed a bit of work, so he's spent the last two days cutting and fixing slats to make a new seat. Then he painted it - a pale, early-morning sky, kind of blue - and now it does indeed look very fine.

This isn't the first time that Philip and I have smiled benignly on a bench. It might be a fairly ordinary, work-a-day article of furniture, but the humble bench  has featured in some of the finest moments of our relationship and given us some very fine memories.

There was a time, when we first knew each other and just before we got together properly, when I wasn't sure that it would happen at all. I was the older lady with a failed marriage, four teenage children, and a fairly ramshackle hand-to-mouth lifestyle. He was the tall man, always dressed in grey, with kindly smiling eyes and passionately held opinions. He also had another life in another part of town. One January afternoon we went for a walk in the park, to see what future, if any we might choose. We sat on a bench, both a bit scared, on the edge of committing to something we thought might turn out to be pretty important. As we sat there, it started to snow. We sat there for a long time, the beautiful white flakes falling all around us, the chill in the air forcing us closer. By the time we stood up from the bench, the decision was made.



It was another year or so before we started living together, during that time we'd travel backwards and forwards between parts of London, me snatching the odd night away when the kids went to stay with their dad. One weekend, on the way back home from Philip's flat in Camberwell, we saw a bench for sale in Woolworths' window. It was perfect for the porch outside my house and seemed to be a bargain price so we decided to buy it there and then. Maybe not the wisest move, as we had a long train journey ahead of us, and the fairly heavy bench came packed in a large, unwieldy cardboard box.

After some debate, we took the flat-packed bench back to the flat, freed it from its cardboard container and assembled it. Then we carried it back to mine. Down the hill to the station, onto the train, off the train at the other end and along the road to where I lived. It was still heavy, but whenever we got tired, we just put it down and sat on it. We did get a few quizzical looks, but it came in very handy when all the seats were full on the train.Woolworths stores may be no more, but the Woolworth's memorial bench still has pride of place outside the front door.

Two years ago we got married. No snow this time, but I think we were again both a bit scared as we set out on the next stage of our big adventure. As we left the registry office we just wanted somewhere to sit down, to catch our breath before heading off to celebrate with friends and family. There, just when we needed it, was a wooden bench. It features in some of my favourite photos of the day.


So I'm very glad that Philip spotted and brought home the latest in our line of memorable benches. I'm looking forward to sitting on it at the allotment, surveying the fruits of our labours. And I find myself, somewhat bizarrely, in agreement with Napoleon Bonaparte, who proclaimed that:

A throne is only a bench covered with velvet. 

9 comments:

CAROLINE.LAING said...

That is a lovely story - never realised how much fun you had getting that bench home although I do remember it in your porch!

Charlie said...

A wonderful story, Sharon. The two of you make a very handsome couple.

Since Napoleon is dead and we aren't, I suggest an ajustment to his quote:

"A bench is only a throne covered with love."

Pat said...

That's a benchmark for a happy marriage. I took a similar leap in the dark 31 years ago. So far it's gone very well:)
Sorry couldn't resist the weak pun.

Sharon Longworth said...

Caroline,
Hello! Thank you for reading this, and for adding a comment. It's nice to know you're looking in from time to time - I'll try not to write too many giveaway tales about little sisters...... x

Philip,
I'd forgotten about the tooth - sorry. But I'm glad you liked the post.

Charlie,
Thank you. I absolutely love your alternative quote.
On the hill where we sometimes sit, there's a bench with a plaque on it to commemorate a lady who's dead now, but who loved to sit there and look out over the valley. I think I might ask someone to put your quote on a bench for me when I'm gone.

Pat,
thank you for your comment (and the pun). I'd love to hear/read more about your life. I noticed on your blog that you're on the final revisions of your memoir - so I hope to get it to read it before too long.

Madame DeFarge said...

It is a lovely story and it's a lovely picture too. And I rather like Charlie's requoting too. Seems apt.

Sharon Longworth said...

Madame,
You are too kind! thank you.

Young at Heart said...

truely I bench mark moment........!!

Eryl Shields said...

This is a post to savour. I've always been rather fond of benches so it's lovely to see them in such a light, as a motif for a perfect pairing.

The wedding photo is great, I love your hair – I think I might have said that before, but it's worth repeating!

Sharon Longworth said...

Young at Heart (I was about to abreviate you to YaH, but that sounded much posher than I am), thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Eryl - thank you. I'm having a bit of a hair crisis at the moment - trying to grow it, but a bit worried about the long-hair-at-your-age? thing. Why do we create worries for ourselves? I shall instead just savour the idea of being in a perfect pairing..!