A Couchful of Hiraeth

Wrinkles add character to our old friend

This couch may not look like much now. It’s grubby and wrinkled and sunken in the middle. The cream colour is hardly reminiscent of anything you’d pour over your crumble. Even the dog struggles to clamber in and out. It’s like crawling into a very low-slung hammock after three decades of Gemmell duty. But in its day, oh, how proud we were of it. Today, we make the difficult decision to send it off to the recycling centre in the sky, and we don’t make that choice lightly. No man, child, dog or couch left behind was our mantra last year as we struggled to get all our lives on the ‘right’ side of the pond. But times change. Couches sag more and more. New rooms await with different styles and sizes. Some of us just no longer fit in the way we once did. But it still stings to say goodbye.

California, circa 1990. I remember meeting this couch next to its three-seater sibling, all shiny and pristine, in a Los Angeles showroom. Hubby and I had been married about a year and we’d just bought our first house in the Mojave desert. Yes, you heard me. We left the seafaring life we’d lead on the East Coast for the driest, hottest place I’d ever been. Or even heard of. What was I thinking? Goodness only knows, because the great adventure in the cactus strewn, tumbleweed blowin’, parched, sand-in-your-curtains Southwestern USA turned out to be … let’s just say, not my cup of tea. But the thought of those gleaming couches, nestled against the baby blue carpets in our brand-new Spanish-style home cleared the desert weed allergy-induced tears right out of my eyes. No kids, no dog, so no thought of how on earth you kept cream leather clean, and no other furniture in the house yet (except for a couple of wooden crates used for bedside tables and a futon mattress in one bedroom). Those couches arrived like manna from heaven, because, let’s face it, we should have gone for something cheaper. The credit cards groaned along with the backs of the delivery men.

New-born couches and babies

Our new-born son had his first photos taken with the couch. Four years later, with another child on the way, those two slightly less cream and slightly more wrinkled couches hopped in a moving van to the East Coast. They landed in a colonial house near Long Island Sound in the middle of a forest, the antithesis of their previous abode. Though stationed in the ‘best parlour’ away from the worst of the kid wetting and dog scraping and popcorn spilling and sibling wrestling, it still bore the brunt of various birthday parties and Christmas wine spillages. Uncomplaining and still the apple of its mother’s eye.

Eleven years later, it’s back on the van to snowy Wisconsin, where we discovered leather is quite chilly when you first sit on it and blankets slide off the back of it constantly which means the kids trample all over the wool and the dogs sleep on them, refusing to move as you try to pull the blanket over your freezing legs. But fourteen more years of films and Super Bowl parties and teary teenage breakups (and possibly makeups but I don’t like to think about that) pass with the now way past sell-by date cream couch. The wrinkles had turned to deep crevices full of life’s debris. It’s time for new. A functional brown sectional appeared like a grumpy aunt to take pride of place in front of the television. The three-seater sibling was trundled off to who knows where and the two-seater was relegated to fulltime dog bed, which thrilled the dogs, but may have hurt the couch’s feelings.

Birthday parties, all part of the couch service

And there the story should end. Who, in their right mind, would drag that murky old spoilt cream couch across the Atlantic? There are better ones sitting on most porches outside college campus housing. But you see, our huge new sectionals were never going to fit in our English home. It was the height of the Covid pandemic, so no furniture shops were open to buy new and no recycling centres were open to take the old, and well, we needed something smaller to sit on in our rental property until we found a new home. So there we were, wrapping the dingy grey with spots of intermittent cream couch for a voyage to where no Californian couch thought it would ever go: Exmoor.

Welcome to Exmoor!

The dog makes his own epic journey across the water only to discover his couch is no longer a dog bed. Possession now involves fights with grandma, aunties and friends. When the film starts, all pile over the back of the couch, fighting for pillow space and elbowing others for the only six-inch sweet spot that isn’t so collapsed it breaks your back as you sit skewwhiff.

And yet, the couch, uncomplaining as ever, stoically accepts its role in the Gemmell family, doing its best to accommodate needs and provide comfort. It doesn’t know that in two weeks’ time, when the Gemmells head down the road to their forever home, it will trundle off in a different van, to be eco-recycled: leather to one place, springs to another, metal frame to another, stuffing to another. Its spare parts may help other sickly couches back to health and for that I’m so proud of it. There may not be a dry eye in the house as this thirty-two-year relationship ends.

We’re going to need a bigger couch

The new couches ordered are neither leather nor cream, and they have big shoes to fill. Our old, curdled cream friend will never be forgotten, though hopefully the backache it induces will be. From smog-blanketed Los Angeles to heather-carpeted Exmoor, it has truly been an important part of our amazing transatlantic lives. So many memories – and so many loved ones no longer with us – are embedded in that couch. I’m feeling hiraeth for it. But onwards to new couches and new adventures we go.

10 thoughts on “A Couchful of Hiraeth

  1. Tracey
    Totally feel your pain with sofa separation! After almost a year in our “new” Exmoor cottage (18thC), we are still missing our old L-sectional couch we had in the US. Never in a million years did we think we would ever mourn an IKEA sofa! But mourn, we do … every day as we shove dogs aside to allow us space to sit. We, too, reminisce about all the family gatherings, sleep overs and rites of passage which occurred on that massive couch – we didn’t realize how much it had become one of the family until we didn’t have it anymore. Happily for us, we passed it on to one of our nieces who claims to love it as much as we did!

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    • Ahhh, so nice your US couch got to remain in the family. Unfortunately, our poor leather couch is too far gone to hand on. And truthfully, after sixteen months sharing too small a space, we’re ready for the new bigger couches! Thanks for reading.

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  2. Interestingly we still have our four seater curved British couch and two armchairs. We got those in 1991, when we moved into our then house in Shropshire. Mother in law decided it was too big for her house after 5 years and though it would do us a turn. Little did we know that 30 years later we’d still have it in our basement in Pa. still a wonderful comfy 3 piece. And we’re still very attached to it 👏👏

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  3. I loved the tale  of your couch !  It appeared to be a good friend and one that the whole family will miss !  I hope that the replacement will be as much appreciated.  You certainly have a talent for writing – a born natural. Take care and With love – Penny x  

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  4. The table in my garden that we enjoy summer evenings and coffee breaks around was purchased in Sydenham over 40 years ago. Like your sofa, that table has seen me through 2 husbands, 2 children, 2 step-children, grandsons, 6 houses across England, breakfasts, lunches and drunken dinners and every snack in-between! I have toyed with the idea of having it made into a unique coffin to take it with me when the time comes but meanwhile it is out in all winds and weathers now but still staying strong. So many memories tied up in our possessions but the memories will stay even when the furniture has moved on.

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  5. If there is an after life for couches, I’m sure yours will do stellar service there.

    And it sounds like the big and exciting move is imminent. All the very best for your new home.

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