I noticed today that it was the 100th anniversary of formica – no great deal you might think, and you would be right. Formica in itself is a fairly unlovely laminate which is, generally speaking, much less alluring than a nicely oiled piece of beech, a slab of varnished oak or some well worn ash. However, there is a certain je ne sais quoi to the heyday of the formica kitchen table – it’s appeal lay, I think, in its ability to project us forwards into the space age future that we all knew was waiting around the corner. Like tail fins on a Cadillac or the aluminium wings of English Electric Lightnings there was something about formica with it’s easy-wipe, brightly coloured, sheer joy of being plastic that spoke of the atomic age (that is, the good bits of it rather than the erm, atomic bits….).
In every dream home a heartache maybe, but in every suburban and provincial home a formica kitchen table. We had one for years, as far as I can remember it was there from the mid sixties well into the eighties. A yellow the colour of a Mari Wilson dress with arty cocktail hour squiggles that seemed to resemble writhing tadpoles or some other biological objects (much less suited to a wholesome kitchen). It must have been a popular design because a friend’s mum had the same design in blue, but having spent a while trying to find it in ‘vintage’ online formica pattern books and having had no luck I can only assume it was a formica knock-off, passing itself off as the real thing whilst no doubt being considerably cheaper.
It had the quintessential aluminium legs, that seemed to grow wobblier every year, and at first it added a certain bold newness to our drab brown small town world. But by the time it was replaced it was an anachronistic dated piece of kitsch rubbish – even I could tell that.
In my mind it’s still irrevocably linked with my growing up, with jets whizzing low overhead almost hourly – the aforementioned Lightnings, big black Vulcans, pretty but hopeless Starfighters – well, the names speak volumes already – and even occasionally a squadron of Russian Mig fighters which the Americans had somehow laid their hands on and flew over East Anglia for training. I seem to remember being told that the pilots (all Americans) wore Soviet uniforms, spoke exclusively in Russian and ate Russian food, all so Uncle Sam could stand a better chance of getting inside the mind of the Red Menace.
On one occasion a plane on a bombing training run missed the intended target (the marshes some fifteen miles away as the USAF flies) and dropped magnesium flares into the field at the end of our road – it was the middle of the night and the light was blindingly white, bright enough to wake me and the rest of the street who ran out in assorted nightwear just to check that the big one hadn’t finally been dropped. Funny, it never made the papers…
But I digress (see how evocative laminate tables are?) I’ve got my own kitchen now, with some nice pieces of heavy wood furniture in it; I’ve even managed to get past the stage of worksurfaces made of that foul faux marble. I like it that way. But sometimes, just sometimes, there is a slight yearning in me for the sleek shiny plastic art of the formicalike table with all its promise of a brighter future. I know that I’ll never feel that about the natural beauty of something that is at the end of the day just a bit of tree.
And for your delight and delectation, enjoy the coolest jet plane this country ever produced – I don’t go much for weaponry, less still attempts to glamorise it, but after four minutes of this I was ready to mix myself a martini, climb into the cockpit, see the night close around me and not care….
(Oh, and watch out for the way the pilot checks his missiles are firmly attached – by giving them a firm manly thump…)
Update - thanks to my mystery correspondent - THIS was the pattern we had - although it was even more atomic in yellow !
Oh and go on - have some music, avoiding the obvious Blondie track here's one from a man I'm proud to have met and had a drink bought by, a legend if ever there was one, alleged inventor of the word 'groovy' and Marvin Gaye's father in law to boot. Awesome