A Chair is for Life

May 7


Tristram Whitney

Tristram Whitney

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You might not have thought about it, but I bet you have a favourite chair.

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You would not think that a piece of furniture would be the ideal gift for a two-year-old child. And if you were considering an elaborate candelabra with gilt inlay you may well be right.

But I recently bought an adult-sized box wood chair for my niece as part of her second birthday present (admittedly I also got her a cuddly caterpillar too,A Chair is for Life Articles but I’m hoping the former present will have a greater impact over time).

Do you remember the sensation of being young and tiny and being allowed to sit up at the dining table with the grown-ups on a grown-up chair? Even though you were knelt upon a couple of cushions you felt the pride of being part of the mysterious world of adults.

Everybody’s parents have ‘that chair’ the one guests aren’t allowed to sit on because “it could collapse at any moment” yet nobody can bring themselves to throw it out. My mother had this wonky cracked stool which my grandfather had made, with a big iron nail rammed through the middle threatening to pop out and put an unpleasant ending to dinner at any given moment.

My father’s entire dining set was made up of these kind of chairs, which would have trouble keeping a particularly slim hobbit from being dumped onto the floor for more than a couple of minutes, but which he couldn’t bring himself to swap for generic factory-produced replacements. It got to the point where guests were having to sit on plastic garden chairs rather than risk the rocking chairs of sentimentality, but still he refused to let them go.

My chair for life still stands proud in the corner of my bedroom, its dark spindly wooden legs rising up to a throne-like back guaranteed to straighten your spine. The seat itself is covered by a layer of red leather which has an almost reverse effect to cushioning, not that it matters because I wouldn’t risk so much as a small pile of books rested on it any more. The slightest breeze has it swaying as if it is straining to return to its tree origins. It’s impractical, difficult to pass off as a thing of beauty and almost certainly the kind of safety hazard that would have local councils burning you at the stake, but I refuse to get rid of it.

In the song Norwegian Wood John Lennon sings: “I looked around and I realised there wasn’t a chair.” This line always stood out to me, because there is an unnerving sensation accompanied by visiting somebody’s house and realising they “don’t do chairs.” A house full of beanbags and cushions strewn on the floor isn’t a home, nothing says “I’m staying here” like a good solid chair.

When you think about all the possessions which you have carried with you through your life, I bet a chair is nowhere near the top of your list. But I bet if you really think about it, it is in there and it’s more important than you think. That’s why I’m hoping that my niece will find that a chair is for life, not just for birthdays.

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