Nanna’s Tablecloth

I have rushes of both delight and alarm on seeing a bit of my life in a museum; it happens more often than I’d like to admit. This one was mostly delight.

I found it at the Beamish museum this spring. In the bit of the afternoon where Mike and I had parted for some separate exploring.

And – historians forgive me – whilst a family were chatting to the guide, I leaned over the Do Not Touch rope and held my fingers on the cloth.

This was the tablecloth at my grandparents’ house in Goole. Or one very like it.

I learned to write on a tablecloth like this. And this is where I first heard about heaven.

We would sit at the table for board games and card games and occasional painting. All of them disrupted by the fact that the cloth was so thick that nothing ever really sat on it neatly; everything sort of hovered.

There was a big window right in front of the table. And on many days a cloud above the window. As my little mind understood it then, a cloud where God was looking down on us. Probably shaking His head at my terrible efforts at painting.

At mealtimes, there was a second cloth – a white cotton one. There was a knack to putting it on so it didn’t drag over this one. But once on, it was the base for some of the best foods ever. Porridge for breakfast, made with oats soaked overnight. Sunday lunches groaning with homegrown vegetables. Teatimes watching Countdown with the toaster on the table. And Boxing Day afternoons with tinned salmon sandwiches and a pork pie the size of my cousin David’s head.

After every meal, crumbs from the white cloth would be shaken across the lawn, and we’d watch in stillness as the birds came to enjoy our leftovers. Literally still, so we didn’t disturb the birds as my Grandad painted them.

At other times, people shared cigarettes, photographs, home perms and the comfort of having a hard chair to rest a dodgy back. And all of that was back with me in just a few seconds of touching.

There was a loo roll, too, in part of a bathroom exhibit. Lots of far less comfy memories there, and no temptation to touch and relive the sensation.

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