Nov­el­ist Nicky Pel­le­grino ap­pre­ci­ates the flaws


Down the cen­tre of my din­ing ta­ble there are two deep scratches; the le­gacy of the day we de­cided to clip the dog. Why we thought this was a good idea, why we stood him on the ta­ble, th­ese de­tails are lost in the mists of time. The whole scheme was ill-ad­vised and we’ve never tried it again. The clip­pers were given away, our old dog is long gone, and only the scratches on the ta­ble re­main.

If you came over to my place for din­ner you prob­a­bly wouldn’t no­tice them. I make sure they’re well cov­ered with bowls of good food and bot­tles of de­li­cious wine. Be­sides, that ta­ble is far from the only thing in the house that is look­ing scarred and worn.

I try for a sort of care­less bo­hemian style. There is in­ter­est­ing art cov­er­ing any walls that need dec­o­rat­ing and cook­books piled on win­dow sills to con­ceal flak­ing paint. Mine is a home where pets free-range over the fur­ni­ture and no vis­i­tor needs to take off their shoes (in fact it’s bet­ter if they don’t). It’s a place to come back to when I’ve been out in the world, to gather friends, to rest, to read and write.

When I’m in the mid­dle of work­ing on a novel – which is most of the time, es­sen­tially – I have a rule. I never look up at the cob­webs on the ceil­ings or down at the muddy paw prints on the wooden floors.

I don’t worry about the weeds ram­bling through the gar­den or the balls of dust be­neath the sofa – where do those come from any­way? Care­less bo­hemian is what gets nov­els writ­ten, and means there is time to ride my horse down Muri­wai beach, go for long walks or sit around and dream.

I do feel guilty at times that things aren’t glossy and im­mac­u­late. So imag­ine my joy when I dis­cov­ered wabi-sabi, the Ja­panese phi­los­o­phy I seem to have been em­brac­ing all this time with­out re­al­is­ing it. Wabi-sabi is about find­ing beauty in im­per­fec­tion. It in­volves ac­cept­ing that things de­te­ri­o­rate over time, not fight­ing the fray­ing, rough­en­ing and rust­ing, the crack­ing and los­ing of shine. Es­tab­lished cen­turies ago in re­sponse to a cul­ture of lav­ish­ness, it is an aes­thetic that speaks to so many of to­day’s bet­ter val­ues. Sus­tain­abil­ity, re­ject­ing the throw­away cul­ture, plac­ing greater worth on ob­jects we al­ready own rather than con­stantly ac­quir­ing new ones.

Okay, so there might be a lit­tle too much wabi-sabi go­ing on in my house at the mo­ment. I’ll ad­mit to dream­ing of a fancy kitchen to re­place the shabby old one. I’d like one of those mas­sive stain­less steel ovens, cup­boards that glide open, clever stor­age so­lu­tions and I’d re­ally love a dish­washer that works with­out some sort of spe­cial in­can­ta­tion be­ing mut­tered over it.

But will I ever re­place the scratched din­ing ta­ble? Ac­tu­ally it’s more of a flashed-up tres­tle, an old hol­low-core door on rust­ing me­tal legs that we were given by an un­cle who was ren­o­vat­ing his of­fice. It’s scored and scarred, its var­nish is peel­ing and it’s seen some messy din­ner par­ties. There are nicer ta­bles out there.

Still I wouldn’t give up mine for the world.

“Imag­ine my joy when I dis­cov­ered wabi-sabi, the Ja­panese phi­los­o­phy I seem to have been em­brac­ing all this time with­out re­al­is­ing it”

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