I’m thinking about the things that - apart from the untidy papers and computer and phone and all the other heaps – are almost always on my desk. Why are they there? What do they mean? What do they say to me?
One: The pots of pens. Erm . . . if I can only use one pen at a time, why do I need a pot of comfortably identical pens? The pessimist’s answer is “just in case you haven’t got one.” The optimist’s is “because I may write so much I’ll need to pick up one immediately”. Both are true.
The pot itself is a strawberry print mug without its handle. It is a relic from a job I once loved doing and a set of people who were interesting to be with until, one day, funding changed, and all was dismantled. At least my life is in my own hands now. Mostly. Give or take a few imminent budget cuts. Oh, may have ended up at the same place again but without so many leaving parties. . .
Two: Small notes on clippy sticks. One stick has an urgent reminder with a hastily scribbled thing to remember about the current tome. One has a writing quote I heard recently: “turn a phrase until it catches the light”. Clive James but I bet he pinched it from elsewhere. One is my library card number and code for the marvel of online renewals. And there’s one important note in capitals shouting “BACK EXERCISES!” Writing is hard on the body, which was not designed for too much sitting. This clippy stick reminds me of the fact. Take note of the note, you, and unlock that spine now and then.
Three. Kitchen Timer. Like mythical adventurers, writers seem to enter a mystical time zone where everything takes longer than they imagined. An idea that flashed swiftly into the mind takes to a day to write down. An urgent one-word correction absorbs a morning or more. So when I think “I’ll just do that,” and go to my desk, I try to set the handy timer. Then the pan doesn’t burn dry, the cake is edible, I leave on time for the appointment, or I do go and do whatever I’ve promised. A great de-stressing device - assuming I don’t ignore the pings, of course.
Four: The paper tray. This is not the working stack of over-filled trays over on desk two, but a single empty paper tray, which takes up so much space that every so often I get fed up and remove it. Then into my room comes Cat. She jumps, rather creakily, up on to the desk and looks at me with cool disgust. “Where exactly am I supposed to sleep now?” So I huddle my own things together and replace her sleeping tray. Why? Because it is good to have something that can be both strokably living and contentedly silent in the room beside me while I work. Writing is a lonely occupation.
Five: The Stones. Laid in an old green dish, these three stones have been smoothed by the sea, They are a pleasure to hold and touch, and come from Aughris Head, a one-pub beach in Sligo we sometimes visit. The beach is good for sand and trails of seaweed when the tide is out, for rolling waves once the tide has turned. It also has a soul-singing view across Sligo Bay, to where Queen Maeve’s Tomb rests atop Knocknarea, and on to the shoulder of Ben Bulben and the mountains of Donegal in the distance. A desk should be a good place for travelling from.
So what do you have on your desk then?