The writing space of Norfolk actor and playwright Marie Cooper

Marie Cooper’s Writing Space

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The table on which I work, where I write, where I learn lines, where I memorise scenarios for roleplays, where I have breakfast, where I read, where I just sit and watch the birds, is ancient and falling apart. It hasn’t always been that way.

It used to be warm, smooth, shiny and always smelled of spray polish. It sat in my Great Aunt Edna’s spare room, which was like an Aladdins Cave to me when I was small. Full of wonders.

Jewellery boxes that played magical music when opened. Drawers and cupboards filled with mysterious objects. Tins containing buttons, ribbons and shiny things, medals and coins. Photographs in black and white and tools that I did not know the purpose of. A suitcase, just like the ones you see in the old movies, which someone is always gripping tightly to when they are running for a train. The kind that is always battered and brown and opens with a click when you pressed both buttons. It was full of love letters and keepsakes.

If no one was looking, and I stood on the unused coffee table stored in the backroom, the one that I was always warned not to stand on ( because it had a glass inlaid top), I could prise open the lid of the huge yellow airer in the corner. I could peek inside. It looked as if it was just full of blankets, but underneath was hidden treasure. If I stood on tippytoes and reached down and dug beneath the blankets I could reach the books. Books that looked as if they had been stolen from a secret library, the spines wrapped in warm materials rather than cold hard plastic as they are now.

The table sat under the window on the far wall where the sunlight shone through. A vase containing plastic flowers always sitting at the centre, on hand-embroidered placemats that my Great Aunt had sewn. Also, an intricately cut glass tray with a glass ring holder on top and an equally cut glass dish with a lid.

The wood of the table was dark, red-brown and warm in colour and hue. It stood astride two large solid round legs that branched out at the bottom and held it firmly to the ground of my Great Aunt’s upstairs council flat. The most enchanting thing was, that if my Great Aunt grabbed the table, just so, and pulled, it would grow. By as much as a foot on either end. It became enormous. I would often ask her if she could ‘make it big’. I can’t remember when I stopped asking. But even as a grown-up, pulling out those wings of the table still feels me with joy.

Although a bittersweet joy now, because the ends are still shiny and brown and remind me of how beautiful it once was. Now the table is tatty and worn. It has been used to fill the corner when I had barely any furniture at all. It has been somewhere to hide under, a dinner table, a Christmas tree holder, a surface to draw and paint on for two generations of children,

It can make working on it a little risky as the veneer is gradually splintering away and if you don’t have your wits about you, it can occasionally dig into your skin or, if you are unlucky and catch it just right, get painfully under a fingernail. I know these are both possible from experience, usually whilst I am trying to clean the treacherous surface. The table was gifted to me by my Great Aunt. She was like a mother to me. Always there for me. No matter what. Even though the table is flaky and roughly surfaced now, I know I will never be able to let the table go whilst I still draw breath.

I wish my Great Aunt was still here. I am sure she would approve that it has been used well. Especially with childrens’ art and that it is now used daily and constantly for my work, whether scribbling away working on scripts for the stage and screen or with my feet unceremoniously perched on its edge as I sit memorising scenarios for roleplays and learning lines for theatre. Although she might admonish me for not varnishing it as she undoubtedly would have done by now.

I wish she were with me to tell me off for not using newspaper to protect it. I lost her before weekly free newspapers stopped being a thing. I lost her before I fell into my craft and I want to tell her all about it and how happy it has made me. How much better my life is for it and for having her in it. I want to tell her that I wish I had spent more time with her. I wish I had not wasted time on my stupid university degree and my stupid job and stupid relationships.

I should have given her my time. I should have written things down. I should have listened more. I wish I could hear her stories all over again and again. She was like a mum to me. She cared for me. She gave me my love of reading and for green things and I miss her every time I sit at my work table and see my garden growing and the birds feeding there.

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