With hindsight, offering your guests to sit on a coffee table because you don’t have enough chairs in your living room really doesn’t sound like a great idea – particularly if said coffee table has very feeble legs. Needless to say, this did not go as intended, and the laws of physics dictated that by the end of the night I found myself trying to fit bits of a broken table into my bin. Lessons had been learnt.
As I’ve mentioned before, studying and living abroad is a very valuable experience because it allows you to see the world from a different point of view. Travelling and visiting other countries is a great way of meeting new people and connecting with other cultures, but it necessarily means that you miss out on the very ordinary practicalities that shape people’s lives on a daily basis. Food shopping, seeing a doctor, commuting, or workplace routines are all mundane rituals that we rarely get to experience as tourists, but which define lives much more than anything we will find in a travel guide.
So is trying to replace a table quickly, cheaply, and without your own car in the middle of London. Unsurprisingly large furniture stores are few and far between in the crowded inner city (yes, even branches of a certain Swedish furniture giant), and having a table delivered would have cost as much as the table itself. Luckily, there is a great British institution that can provide almost anything, anywhere you please – provided you are not too picky: the charity shop.
Charity shops are genuinely ubiquitous in Britain. You will find them anywhere from central London to the smallest coastal towns. The concept is fairly simple: a broad range of charities run shops to which people donate their unwanted possessions, and the shop (often staffed with friendly volunteers) sells them on to people that have use for them. The money then goes straight into whatever the charity is funding, from medical research to social projects. Charity shops are great local institutions that are rooted in their communities and embody the idea of people looking out for each other. I popped over to the nearest charity shop that sold furniture and quickly found a great table that I could afford. The only problem was that I had to carry it back to my house, and the 0.7 miles distance suddenly felt much further with a substantial wooden table under my arm.
The whole ordeal was made slightly worse by the fact that spring has been unseasonably warm this year in London. It seems like we have gone from snowstorms to ice cream within the span of a few weeks! Apart from the table situation however, this has been a very welcome change. Even my daily bus commute to and from work (another everyday-life ritual) feels like a real treat these days!