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Saturday, 9 March 2013

The value of vignettes

Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to write as much as we want to. Even at the busiest, most pressured times I do usually write something, even if it's just a short paragraph in my diary in order to make sense of what is going on in my world. But if I am unable to delve into a proper piece of writing I will write a vignette and I thought that I would share one with you .

In literature a vignette is a short, impressionistic scene which focuses on one moment or character. It originally meant 'something that could be written on a vine leaf'.

My vignettes definitely wouldn't fit on a vine leaf but they are short, manageable pieces of writing which you can scribble down whilst stopping for a cup of tea or coffee. They help me feel that I have achieved something when the rest of my writing life is struggling to keep its head above water!

This weekend in the U.K. it is the fourth Sunday of Lent and that means it is Mothering Sunday.
Traditionally it was a day when children who had gone to work away from home as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their families. In those days children would often leave home in order to find work at ten years old. Prior to this it was considered important in the Christian church for people to return to their home church once a year. So every year, in the middle of Lent, people would visit their Mother church and this is where historians believe our tradition of Mothering Sunday emanates from. These days we give flowers, chocolates, books and cards and hopefully come together for a meal. That meal might be in a restaurant but it might be at home around the kitchen or dining room table. Which leads me neatly on to my vignette!

This was in fact written for my writing group. We meet once a month for a critique session and read out pieces of work for constructive feedback. There's no pressure to have anything to read but I was inbetween books and had been clearing up after a family get-together so thought I'd jot something down. Here it is!

My dining table speaks of many things. In the golden oak lie stories of my family. In it's black flecked grains are the sadnesses.

It is not a perfect table. It is a little too narrow in its refectory style. But that is fitting in its own way for we are a narrow framed family, lean and small-boned. The table belonged to my great grandparents and I wonder about the people who have sat around it, the discussions that have taken place, the food that has been eaten, the letters that have been written, the toes which have touched each other across the basal plinth. I think of the tree which it came from and the land where it grew; the mill where the wood was processed and the transport used to get it there. I think of the carpenter who lovingly carved the pedestal legs with art nouveau style leaves and the shop where it waited patiently for a permanent home. I think of the vases of flowers and the petals which have dropped like tears on to its French polished surface. I think of the bowls of fruit which have adorned it, the cutlery and crockery that has graced it, the games that have been played on it and the hands like mine which have cared for it with love. It is not a precious table in a 'don't spill anything on me' kind of way. It is robust and capable and sitting at it you can't fail be be re-assured. This table is not just mine. A part of it belongs to every person who has come into contact with it for they have left a little of themselves behind like a smudge of a fingerprint. This table shows where my family have come from and in these days when everyone wants new things, when life is full of uncertainty, my table is a constant, a friend, a reminder of people lost and gained. I would not want to be without it.

Wherever you are in the world I hope you have a happy Mothering Sunday and if you are a writer I hope that you will at least have the time to write a vignette this week. Thank-you for reading.


  1. That's a beautiful piece of writing. I too have sat at that table but I'll look at it slightly differently next time :-)

  2. Thank-you so much Ros. Sometimes we don't appreciate those things which we've had for a long time or use every day. They just become part of the furniture so to speak.