I have this bookcase. It has 4 shelves, solid sides and backboard. It wobbles a bit. My husband does not like it. I admit it is not something with an easily apparent beauty, but I like it. It is made of rough, cheap wood of a middle colour which does not match any wooden furniture you could buy. It snags dusters and resists polishing, preferring to keep its shabby chic. I’m being generous when I say shabby chic.
As a child it was part of everyday life, something in the corner of my bedroom which held my most treasured possessions, my books. As an adult I rescued it because my parents wanted to throw it away. Over time it was relegated to the garage, a storage place for fuses and lightbulbs, odds and ends. There was an attempt (by my husband) to get rid of it during our recent house move, but it backfired because I have rescued it again, cleaned it, and put it in pride of place in the admittedly shabby toy room, where it holds Nathan’s books and fits in with the 1970s ambiance.
Why do I love it so much? Well, this bookcase was handmade by my father, at school, when he was 16, in woodwork class. Now anyone who knows my father knows how ridiculous that is. He is not the handyman type. He is a hard nosed businessman with a background in accountancy, known for turning around failing companies by taking unpopular decisions. He is the sort of man who hires a handyman to put up pictures or shelves. I have always looked up to him, admired his work ethic and the respect he commands, wanted to succeed at work like he did. But at 16 he did not know he would grow up to run a PLC. He did not know he would have 2 daughters who would look up to him. He hadn’t even met my mother. He was just a kid taking his O levels, hoping to do well. The son of a plumber, in a time when all boys took woodwork class, I imaging people saying “it’s good to have a trade” to him as he put together that bookcase, hoping but not yet sure that he would not need these skills for his career. Thinking about his future and whether he might one day have a wife and kids and need to put shelves up.
I think about how far he has come since being that young man. How successful he is, his weaknesses and failures too, how his marriage to my mother has supported and helped him, how proud he is of my sister and I, and how besotted he is with his grandchildren. I think of my two boys and their futures. The uncertainties, the possibilities both good and bad. I think of myself at 16, just discovering rock music, just finding out about myself as a person, just about to launch into the world. That bookcase isn’t just an ugly piece of furniture. It stands for hopes, dreams and fears, for being on the brink of becoming, for learning who you are and accepting who you are not. It stands for growing up, for launching into life, and for the bright future that awaits.
When we finally get permission to renovate this house (the huge Georgian grade II listed house that my 16 year old self would never hope to own), I will find a corner somewhere for that beautiful ugly bookcase. I will tell my boys who made it, and teach them to be themselves, to reach for their dreams, and not to fear the future.