The Secret Project

The Christmases of my childhood were set in a time way before the introduction of the Nokia ringtone or anything prefixed with an ‘i’. A time where green cursered Amstrads and Commodore Plus Fours ruled (if your score tipped into four numbers games went doolally ..thus awarding your Fire Ant infinite lives until you got bored and decided to hit blocky penguins with snowballs instead). Portable gadgetry got only about as good as the black and white minuscule screen of the Donkey Kong handset. And that was good.

Christmas in the Digital Age….where a two and a half year old has his own Skype account with which to converse with his grandparents over his morning egg and a folder of apps on our now sleekly upgraded portable gadget (upon which his mother did most of her Christmas shopping tipped off on many occasions by a blog or two….) was always going to be different….

Lying in bed Christmas morning I listened out eagerly for the exclamations of delight on O’s discovery at finding his stocking, hand knitted by his Nana, stuffed full of presents. Singing….Wheels on the Bus and Incey Wincey Spider the rep of choice…. signalled he was awake. Snuffling signalled that he had gotten bored of his singing. Screeched acknowledgement that Father Christmas had been and gone leaving gifts in his wake ….never came. I went next door.
“Morning baby….oh look…what’s this?” I prompted pointing to the woollen sock deformed by its ample filling.
Suspiciously he gave it a prod.
“It’s got presents in it….” he concluded with a tentative smile.
I nodded eagerly and awaited the joyful delve within.
“Read books in Mummy and Daddy’s bed?” he asked dismissively, holding his arms up for a cuddle.
“Shall we take your presents?” I encouraged.
“No.” came the definitive answer.

Gathering up the stocking regardless together with a sample of books plucked from his bookcase, we made our way into our bedroom to find Daddy. With coffee made and milk poured we then sat excitedly ….or rather S and I did…..extracting present after present. He brushed each one away unopened.
“Read the story” he asked.
I tore at paper.
“Look” I cajoled, “a car!”
Brooming it momentarily he appeared vaguely pleased until a packet of Percy Pigs fell from the stocking’s gaping mouth.
“Peppa Pig!” he exclaimed. “Have it?”
Resignedly… was Christmas after all….we relented and, mouth filled with stickily pink gelatine, he nestled back against his daddy for a story about a haircut. (Don’t ask.)
“I’m sure Father Christmas will have bought you more books….” I said positively as I rifled through the stocking but already I was too late.
“Tidy away these things…” O asked (and before you ask yes I am carefully nurturing these signs of OCD.) Brushing irritably at the torn paper atop the bedclothes he tilted his head at us hopefully.

With presents apparently holding little interest it was decided that the pile awaiting their opening downstairs should be postponed in favour of a leisurely breakfast and a cycle in the park peppered….or should I say Peppa-ed ….with multiple bike-throughs of the abundant muddy puddles. Headed home again, sodden trousers stripped from his pudgy legs, I surmised that the reveal of The Secret Project ….S’s undercover operation which he had been frantically finishing right up until the port was poured and carrot laid out on Christmas Eve…was unlikely to be revealed anytime soon.

It was, you see, for O. Or that was my supposition. In fact I’d already made my guess as to its identity although clues hadn’t altogether matched up with my theory.
Work on it required S to be in work gear.
Noise prevented him from doing it in the evening.
Mess had resulted in a curious outfit of overalls and thermals so work could be conducted outside.
A huge saw contraption was in residence, borrowed from a friend I think…
Snug was out of bounds
Some sanding had been executed…the spoils of which, scattered on our patio, I had naively thought was the first falling of snow.

Conclusion: he was sanding and refurbing one of the desks in the shed for O.
Meanwhile I continued to share auction listings on EBay.

“Hallway?” went the message… with image of an industrial bench attached.
“Metal legs not good on our tiles.” came the reply.

“This?” went the message.
“Looks like scaffolding.” came the reply.

“What about this?” went the message…all intentions to buy second hand evaporating as a picture of’s walnut bench pinged from my phone to S’s.
“Maybe. Wait for sale?” came the reply.
Encouraged by the sense of promise the message carried I teenaged a humphed reply.
“Oh. Ok.”

But with shoes walking their way from wardrobe to hallway and bag straps winding across the tiling as if lying in wait for blindly hurrying toddler-carrying adults descending stairs…. I lost patience.

“This?” I demanded….finger hovering purposefully over ‘buy now’.
“Too expensive” came the nick-of-time reply.

“So” said S. “Do you want your last present?”
“Mine?” I asked surprised.
“Yes, yours.”
Intrigued, I followed S through to the snug where an object, its silouhette decidedly un-desk like, lay shrouded in a sheet.
With a Derren Brown-esque flick of the wrist the sheet was flipped back.

A. Very. Very. Beautiful. Bench ….crafted from leftover kitchen flooring and the legs of a Habitat table we had left for too long in the garden… its veneer top eventually popping off in protest at the combination of our laziness and the varying humidity of the English summer.

I let out a gasp…a mix of both pleasure and the realisation that my recent Ebay browsing had been a thankful near-miss.

“At least” S said “you can stop sending me emails now. I’ve received about fourteen in as many days.”
“I had no idea…..” I said, caressing the bench’s sanded top. “Its perfect. But….how did you know how to do it?”
“I didn’t” he admitted. “I made it up. And it took triple the time I thought it would because of it. I’ve made mistakes….”
He proceeded to point out things the naked eye cannot possibly see “I’ve rushed it in places….and it comes with my blood on it. But…”
He looked at me, sheepishly proud. “I can’t believe you didn’t guess….”

Not only is the bench an example of skilled craftsmanship and the epitome of green engineering…it is also a piece of very clever design. S has designed it to perfectly fit the hallway in terms of both its width and length…. but ……it also doubles as seating at our dining table when extended – its height having been measured precisely to fit. And with our house being a-buzz this Christmas with friends its dual purpose has thrice been put into use.

So whilst next Christmas we will be recommending to Santa that he goes virtual….. upgrades to favourite apps would do O nicely…..I’m quite the opposite. Furniture made honestly in wood by my husband’s own skilled hands. Now that’s a Christmas present to treasure.



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