Friday, 9 April 2021

Goldilocks and the three chairs (Anne Rooney)

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin...

Once upon a time there was a little blonde woman who wrote books. Everyday she went to the University Library and wrote her books. Then one evening, the Library sent her an email saying it would be closed in the morning and for the forseeable future. No, she could not take her things out of her locker or cross the threshhold for any other reason. We've all been in this story, one way or another, for more than a year now. The stuff is still in the locker, but this is about a different bit of furniture.

The week before the library closed, the finance director of one of my publishers cancelled all commissioning. Another cancelled two books I was writing for them. Otheres went AWOL silently. This meant not going to the Library wasn't a particularly big  problem. I spent the summer gardening, moping and writing a few bits for which commissions did still come through, including You Wouldn't Want to be in a Virus Pandemic. The minor backache I'd had for a while slowly cleared up to be replaced by a few gardening aches and strains.


Then, around October, bits of work trickled in. Some was immediately cancelled again with the November lockdown, but I was working about half-time and it was still warm so I was doing it in the sunroom, a light, airy, but cold-in-winter room where I have my best desk and office chair, a fine Herman Miller specimen because when you work from home (as I did for years before settling in the University Library) you know money spent on a good chair is well spent. But you forget.

The weather got colder and the sunroom was too cold to work in without turning the heating up to planet- and finance-destroying levels, so I moved upstairs to a desk and chair abandoned by a long-moved-out daughter.  With the early spring, work came back properly. Publishers came out of hibernation, blinked in the strange light of the new world, and went on a commissioning binge, presumably realising they had nothing to sell after all that cancelling. I started to get hip pains, just in one hip. At first I thought it was another gardening injury, or at least a tree-felling injury as I'd been climbing in one tree to cut bits of a neighbouring tree blown down in a storm. Through March, the hip got worse rather than better. I feared I'd become old and would be needing a hip replacement. Perhaps I shouldn't have cut my walking down over the winter. But, well, it was cold. And pandemicky still. Maybe I should age gracefully and buy a patterned stick. Maybe if the shops ever opened...

Then it was Easter. I wanted to go on holiday, but that's not allowed. Part of my house is usually let to a lodger and he'd moved out two days before. This would do: a home from home. I moved in (that is, walked through the connecting door) and started working on a small desk and old office chair. After a few days I had shoulder pains, but the hip was slightly better. The internet connection was dodgy this far from the router, though, so I moved to a folding chair at the dining table. Then I had childcare duties for a few days and stopped working. 

Suddenly, the pieces fell into place. Chairs. Or at least, chair-and-desk combos. The chairs at the University Library had given me backache. The chair in the bedroom hurt my hip. The chair in the annexe hurt my shoulder (wrong height for the desk — it had been adjusted by my tall lodger and got jammed at its new height). The dining table hurt everything.  But the Herman Miller chair is Just Right. As the weather gets warmer, I'll move back to the sunroom. Problem solved, I hope, for now. And if we're still doing this next winter I'll move the chair upstairs.

The moral is if you're working from home and have new aches and pains, look at where you're working. I would have noticed if this had followed straight after Library closed, but because I didn't have any work then it didn't materialise until much later. There's a good reason that employers who have people working at home are supposed to check the safety and suitability of their equipment. Those of us who employ ourselves shouldn't neglect it. Do an audit of your body and your workspace. A few months of aches and pains is a nuisance, but if it goes on for too long, perhaps we could do permanent damage. So don't settle in the chair that is too big, too soft or too small — look for the one that's Just Right.

 Anne Rooney



Arora Saab said...
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Penny Dolan said...

Really interesting, Anne.

So often we don't take the time or have such regular changes of seating - or maybe sharp enough aches and pains - to make us think about our longe term seating arrangements, but your post definitely suggests we should.

I know I just swap about between a high-backed wooden chairn with missing slats that's a bit too narrow on the thighs (no comment needed!) and a plain wodden bench that useful for double zoom seating. I did once, have a cheapish version of a sitting-stool but that had the disadvantage that any definite lean sideways - eg to get that pen from the pot at the conrer of your desk - could topple both stool and sitter over.

Also, that Herman Muller chair looks a very fine chair indeed, Anne. Would certainly make a statement in any room. (HM might be wondering why their website is suddenly getting so many hits.)

Ann Turnbull said...

I've got a standing arrangement, with my computer on a table at hip height. Standing is far more comfortable than any office chair I've had, but of course you do need to remember to move or sit down occasionally. I also have the option of a high stool - but Penny's right about the danger of tilting sideways! I use a table and chair for writing by hand, and sit on an office chair that cost a fortune and is super-comfortable. If I was heavy enough, this chair would adapt to any tilt I wanted, but I'm actually too light to move it at all! However its natural position is tilted forward and is just right for hand writing or reading.

I do agree, it's really important to get the right arrangements that don't cause any strain.