My desk

It isn’t my desk; it is as much its own creation as mine, a product of complex and largely uncontrolled confusions. Certain areas of the desk appear to be designated the preserve of certain kinds of things and not others. Certain kinds of objects tend to accrete into heaps, piles minor but unstable mounds. This suggests order. But the desk is deceptive: the little heaps collapse and disperse. The designated areas extend their boundaries and conduct minor wars amongst themselves. Stuff spreads. Take, as an example, the pens.
Amongst the pens are represented: Edding, Berol, Staedtler, Rotring, Parker, Sheaffer, Cross, Lamy, a Japanese pen whose name is illegible, various sub-brand name biros and felt tips. The pens live in an empty beer can (Red Stripe Crucial Brew – the short-lived first generation, available only for a few weeks before its manufacturers decided that an original gravity of 1086o might prove injurious to the health of the nation and withdrew it) which I emptied in the late summer of 1987. Around its rim are clipped my collection of the small plastic pegs which come affixed to the serviette accompanying the main meal aboard most major airlines. What are these for? The clips form a kind of palisade rendering the extraction of the pens very difficult, but as few of them work this is unimportant. This is an orderly arrangement.
The remainder of the pens – those that work, those that I use – are grouped in a kind of multicoloured log-jam beside the beer can and held in place by various pieces of low-tech desk equipment: pencil sharpener, stapler, hole-puncher. I feel my pens should live in the beer can. My pens feel they should live on the desk. It is a troubled relationship.
Behind them, stopping the pens rolling off the back of the desk, is a wooden thing with slots and brass marquetry work which holds address books, card-holders, passport, airline tickets, more pens, and a clear plastic ruler (12″). Beside it are two ink bottles, one full, one half-empty, both labelled ‘Black Ink’, both actually containing blue ink – a colour I do not use. In any event most of my ink pens take cartridges. We are moving south, across the back of the desk.
Next: a small circular box fashioned from pieces of sea-shell and purchased by me on Phang Nga – an island off the coast of Thailand used as Scaramanga’s HQ in the James Bond film Goldfinger – for 15 baht and two crimson silk-covered boxes holding 1) an ink-stamp carved in the shape of a Confucian sage which, when pressed firmly in 2) an ink-pad in a miniature porcelain saucer in the second silk-covered box, produces an impression of the Cantonese character most closely approximating to the letter ‘N’. Both of these were acquired by my mother at a souvenir shop on the Great Wall of China. An adjacent brass tortoise contains change.
We have reached the south east corner of the desk. My computer lives here. A telephone sits on the south west corner on top of the computer’s mouse pad. The latter is thus unuseable, but at least it is out of the way.
Leaping diagonally, we arrive at the the north east corner where a large brass desk lamp with a cheap digital watch strapped around its stem provides light. The watch tells me the time and takes up no space at all. A pile of notepads stands on the north west corner. Beneath the notebooks there are always two or three books (currently, an essay collection by Marguerite Yourcenar and “The Names” by Don Delillo) and beneath the books there is a magazine; at the time of writing it is the February issue of “Sport Parachutist”. The books and magazine change from to time to time. Underneath the notepads, books, and the magazine, there is a fax printed on extremely curly paper. I think that the books etc. are an attempt to flatten this fax so that I can file it. I do not know what is in the fax. I have not looked at it for some time.
In use, the desk changes quite rapidly. First, it becomes covered with paper: more notepads, shopping lists, old envelopes with telephone numbers on them, postcards, address labels, empty cigarette packets, cigarette papers, books propped open with empty coffee cups and ashtrays, interesting bits of junk mail, cheques payable in obscure currencies whose amounts are less than the bank charges to cash them, used tissues, letters, home delivery restaurant menus, leaflets, reply coupons, pre-paid envelopes, stamps…
Around this accumulated stuff hovers the low-level desk dross: cigarette ash, used staples, bits of sellotape, the very small pieces of paper which result in too hastily pulling pages out of ring-bound notepads, spent matches, paper clips, unidentifiable this and microscopic that, bits and pieces, odds and ends, stubs, dregs, the surplus and alluvium.
No-one knows where this stuff comes from and I am no exception, but this is what I call my ‘work environment’. A cigarette is usually burning somewhere in the midst of it all. The remote control for the stereo is to hand. These are the things that matter. Light up, turn the volume to 8. Allowing one’s surroundings a measure of chaos is important, I think. This is where, or how, or why I write.