Sunday, July 06, 2014

Dining style

Technically we don't have a dining room. We have one long main room (about 8 metres or 26ft), that sort of gradates from the TV, sofa, and wall of books at one end, through my office-like zone of computer desk, filing cabinet, shelves of ringbinders, to the end near the back door where my wheelchair and the laundry stuff lives.

Growing up, for me, dinners were always, always eaten at the table. Without exception. If you were ill, but still had an appetite for your dinner, then a concession might be made that you could put an elbow on the table to prop your weary head.

There followed a steep learning curve in my mid-late teens as I started taking some meals at friends' houses (which often meant bedsits or houseshares) and experienced the excitement of eating takeaway or ready meals from the carton, often with a plastic fork or even with fingers, while sitting on the floor, or a sofa, or a bed! I learned when someone hands you a college folder or a freebie newspaper at dinnertime it's so your lap doesn't get burned, not because they want you to read it. I learned that cushions are more comfortable but less disposable, especially in the context of sweet and sour sauce.

For their part, some of my friends were caught off-balance when they would come to my house and their plateful of dinner was placed on the table. To this day I know my mother winces at the memory of one of my sister's ex-boyfriends who would sit at the dining table with one foot on the seat of the chair, his knee up by his shoulder, and walk away as soon as his plate was empty without so much as a thank you. I've got to admit that, given the choice of which scenario I would rather be unable to cope with, I think it's better knowing how to sit and eat politely at a table.

When I moved out the first time, into a shared flat, the three of us didn't have the resources for much furniture. The part-furnished flat had come with a cooker, one bed, one ancient sofa, and one coffee table. The crockery we had scrounged was my mother's twenty-year-old "best set" that she had recently acknowledged was taking up vast amounts of cupboard space, had no cash nor emotional value, and was considerably less attractive than the new set of everyday crockery she'd just bought. A slightly bizarre situation then arose where cheap student-y meals at the flat were eaten around the coffee table, but from highly incongruous floral-patterned china.

Back at my mother's house, things had become a bit more relaxed. Some meals would be eaten at the table, others in front of the TV. Having the choice was nice, and when I moved out again, this time on my own into my tiny weeny shoebox-sized flat, I bought a cheap second-hand drop leaf table and chairs (like this) so that I could continue having that choice. The room was far too small to allow the table to open fully, but being able to open out one half of it for the duration of a meal was definitely a bonus. Not to mention that being obliged to fold it away again at the end of the meal meant it could not suffer from Flat Surface Syndrome.

With Steve, dining was not originally, an issue. I would come to stay for a week, we would spend that week mostly eating food at restaurants. He also had a folding dining table but as we discovered when we tried to use it, the leaves could not boast stability in the horizontal plane as an attribute. To press down with a knife or fork was to risk a lap full of dinner. Over time, we formed a habit of eating in front of the TV, and even bought a couple of proper, cushioned, wipe clean dinner trays to make it easier.

Only in the last couple of years did it register to me that it wasn't really easier. All through my teens and early twenties I'd felt that non-table dining was more relaxed than going to all the fuss and trouble of laying a table and sitting up straight. But now... getting older and (why not admit it) bigger and less flexible... I found that for a lot of meals it was quite awkward. Having a meal with gravy meant not being able to stretch or lean to get my drink off the floor. Leaning back meant drips on my clothes. Sharing items and condiments ended up neglected in the middle of the floor because they couldn't be reached for mid-meal. When I was tired or in pain, the plate was just one more thing to try and factor in to balancing. As for having people over for dinner, well, for anything apart from pizza it was outright embarrassing, especially when they declined a tray and didn't know about using the freebie newspaper to protect the cushion...

Dining table

The table is solid mango, the chairs are solid oak and surprisingly comfortable. It's Proper Furniture. The whole lot is heavy and sturdy enough to lean on when standing and I can see it lasting well beyond the five-year warranty period. And! Sitting at this table to eat our dinner is so enjoyable. Especially for sharing foods, like bread and salad and fajita fillings, to sit with a plate in front of you and help yourself from a central dish is just better.

Of course this does mean we'll have to sort out the decor of that blank wall. And the light fitting in that part of the room is frankly tat. And I've been thinking about curtains...

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