Nick Richardson, editor of Kitchen Table Memoirs, and I are in heated agreement – a house doesn’t really feel complete until the kitchen table is installed. My kitchen table – a honey-coloured Jarrah piece that comfortably seats eight (but can squeeze in 10 if you squash the littlies along the bench seat) – is where we eat breakfast and dinner everyday. I also study at the kitchen table; work there if I have something important or tricky to write; and sit there to read. I decided long ago not to be precious about the Jarrah – I’m not chopping vegetables on the tabletop but nor do I get my knickers in a twist if a bowl shunted from one end to the other is a bit scratchy.
Kitchen Table Memoirs pulls together anecdotes from Australian writers and the kitchen table plays a starring role in each. There’s hardly a weak spot in this collection – I bounced from one to the other, shuttled from Bruce and Roz Esplin’s joint take on their kitchen table and art, and Dan Stock’s memories of his time as a waiter at The River Cafe to Elizabeth Cashen’s raw and honest memories of the 336 meals she ate at the eating disorder clinic where she was a patient.
“Watching another patient get away with something was like watching someone cruise down the emergency lane while you were stuck in peak-hour traffic; you didn’t want any harm to come to them – you just wanted them to get pulled up.”
Of course, a couple of stories stood out. Tony Wilson’s memory of his brother laid out on the kitchen table after being airborne thanks to a ground-breaking quardruple-bounce on the backyard trampoline is brilliantly funny –
“…by the golden summer of 1982 we were no longer trifling about with double bouncing. We were on to quadruple bouncing.”
“We were young and exuberant and totally united in our campaign to make our state of the art, Olympic-sized trampoline the domestic hazard we knew it could be.”
And Denise Scott’s story about her mum, Marg, and Marg’s advancing Alzheimer’s combines the painful and the funny. She says of her mother sitting at the table after a hard day’s work, and enjoying a fag – she was “a monument to the art of living in the now”. I may have had a little cry at this point before moving on to Martin Brown’s hilarious account of table climbing.
“Like other disciplines now recognised by the IOC – the rings, the pommel horse or the balance beams – table climbing is not about the apparatus, it’s about the degree of technical difficulty of the moves and their artistic interpretation. There are five sequences in the climb: the Mount, the Entrance, the Traverse, the Exit and the Dismount.”
Some of the authors have included recipes – egg and bacon pie, John and Macca’s pâté, crusty flatbread, Valli’s mum’s Christmas trifle, spaghetti al limone and a fancy crab soufflé. Whatever is served, Gemima Cody’s closing words about kitchen tables hold true –
“Because the world is hard enough. But so long as we have those two square metres of neutral ground, we can figure things out, just us few. With nothing between us but a stretch of wood and maybe some chicken pie.”
4/5 Part of the proceeds from Kitchen Table Memoirs go to Foodbank, an Australian food relief organisation. For that reason alone, tuck in.