Our tablecloth is a large print of a world map. It covers a rather beautiful oak table that we bought in a moment of impulsive consumerism. We would rather like it to survive until after the children have left home, although I suspect it will continue to be covered for a long time after that, until one day our great grandchildren come to clear the house of our possessions and shout “I do declare – there was a beautiful oak table under here all along!”
But I digress. The tablecloth seems to initiate conversations and discussion with just about everybody who sits and has a cup of tea with us. For some people it’s a raised eyebrow and comment on how ‘interesting’ it is. For others it is a chance to indulge in some curiosity sating walks around the world with their fingers.
Our own family plan imaginary (hopefully real one day) trips and trace the steps of previous journeys and adventures; it is a tablecloth of dreams and desires. To add to the excitement our world is often populated with little extra islands of Weetabix and archipelagos of sticky cake crumbs.
When granddad comes to stay he uses it to show us all the places he went to and talks about the things that happened to him during his time in the navy during and after WW2. This visit he told us the story of Bermondsy Bill;
When he was billeted with a family in Hounslow – with Mrs Collier and her unattached 18 year old daughter Barbara, who was sent to accompany grandad on any and every errand and excursion he left the house for – he was sharing a room with another sailor called Bill, from Bermondsy. Bill didn’t particularly like the authority aspect of being in the navy and found it hard to bite his tongue at times.
Naturally this resulted in lots of ‘opportunities for Bill to reflect on his conduct’, but eventually he went a step too far and was transferred, disappearing from the house and the base overnight. He was replaced with a married man who spent all his spare time fiddling his leave and forging passes and tickets so he could visit his family in Torquay.
Some years later grandad ran into Bermondsy Bill again, at a transit camp in India. He found that Bill had been given a ‘special duty’ on a patrol boat in the Arctic Ocean. He spent his time shivering with cold, watching for German boats sneaking down from the North and crying himself to sleep at nights. He had never progressed beyond stoker and thought perhaps he maybe shouldn’t have answered back quite so much.
We all felt there was a moral in here somewhere, but I will let you decide for yourself what it is.