New desk, you carry a weight of hope and expectation equal to the heaviness of your solid, aged oak body. You’re not supposed to be here, in this corner of my basement study-cum-recreation room. My mind’s eye pictured you up in the bright and airy attic, next to the big window that gazes Cyclops-like over the plains of Worcestershire and next door’s garden. In winter, that room puckers with cold; in summer, it pants with heat. Yet in its physical location atop my teetering 4-storey house, there lies an appealing, cerebral elevation which, I felt sure, would infuse me each time I sat down at you to write, on those many, many days when the words are a sticky jumble in my brain and, the more I try to unpick them, the more gluey my fingers become.
No, you weren’t supposed to be here, in this dark, viewless corner by the downstairs bathroom-cum-laundry-room, in the basement that is cold all year round (in summer, deliciously so). As I type now, the washing machine chunters and whines behind the pulled-to door. Almost directly above my head, the dishwasher coughs and rasps into life. Those sounds are accompanied by the constant out-breath of the electric fire beside me, the soft clacking of the keyboard and the ever-present whistling in my ears.
I suffered a sleep-deprived night after it dawned on me, two days before the courier was due to deliver you, that there was no law of physics that could be bent sufficiently to get you up the narrow crevasse of a stairway that leads into my attic. The trouble is, you were an impulsive purchase. A considered impulse, as I had been harbouring a yearning for a vintage, solid oak desk for some time, and was fleetingly and mildly broken-hearted when the wonderful specimen I originally had my eye on sold before I swooped. Then, I found you – or rather, it seemed, you found me – on Etsy. A vintage typist’s desk with an almost imperceptible lean to the right (I’ve always been drawn to wonky things, an affinity that can perhaps be explained by my slightly wonky face). ‘Small proportioned desk, great if you’re tight on space’, the description read, and of course I cast an eye over the measurements. But five other people had you in their basket! and there was no way I was going to let you get away. Two minutes later, you were mine. A most pleasurable satisfaction settled in my belly, and I happily awaited your arrival.
Then, as I say, two days before that glorious event, I thought I’d better just make sure you would fit up the stairs…
Oh!! the dismay, the abject, sinking, vein-emptying despair when the tape measure assured me that my attic stairs are a meagre 50 cm wide, whereas your girth is a fulsome 92 x 71 cm. My equilibrium was annihilated as surely as if I were a child on a seesaw, catapulted skywards by a rugby team on the other end. And, as is the way of things, once my plans for you were ripped asunder, every other awkwardness in my life suddenly cracked apart, forming a perilous hole into which I duly slid, bump, bump, bump, like a ragged old Pooh Bear going down the stairs.
Oh no, oh no, oh no… Once again, I had let my visualised life get the better of my reality. How foolish was I, how utterly foolish in my spendthrift ways. How naïve of me not to do the sums before parting with more precious cash. How childish of me to think that owning a solid oak, vintage typist’s desk would miraculously release that creative flow that has been choking on silt these last two weeks. I was doing that thing that I do again, that thing when I fancy I can buy my way out of a problem, that thing instilled in us by advertisers since before you were even crafted, vintage desk. These remonstrations formed, of course, just one clump of weed in my now wildly eddying pool of regrets and fears, and so my routine staggered along…
Yet now, here you are, new-old desk. Once I had calmed down sufficiently to think rationally, I began eyeing this unloved corner of my basement. Hmm but the feng shui is all wrong, I fretted. I cannot string together sentences of any merit when seated in such proximity to the downstairs loo! The chill air in this corner is apt to manifest in furry green-grey deposits of mould on any object left to rest here. That would be no good for you, solid oak desk, no good for you at all. There isn’t even a view of the garden from this corner. Surely I need to see greens and browns and birds and squirrels in order to be inspired?
But the tape measure was unequivocal, the conclusion definitive, and suddenly obvious. Your proportions could have been conceived for this very corner. The fit is so perfect it feels like a near-divine revelation. And you, my desk, are so beautiful it takes my breath away. Lugging you down the outside steps with the courier (what a lovely, bearded young man he was, I felt instantly at ease with him) involved much huffing and heaving. He warned me you were heavier than you looked (well, we have that in common! thought I). And you are quite the tonnage of old bird; every nook and cranny of you, from dovetailed drawers and pull-out shelf to ingenious, fold-away typewriter rest, is of the most solid of solid wood. The spirit of the tree is muscular within you.
You are also delightfully, luxuriously quadrilateral. As soon as I ripped off the black plastic in which you had been swaddled for your long journey from Norfolk, I laid my upper body across you, wrapped my arms around you, pressed my cheek against your cherry-dark grain, and fell hopelessly, irreversibly in love. I want to tell you all my secrets, solid oak vintage typist’s desk. I want to whisper my fears to you and revel in the silence with which you receive them. I will sigh, and type, and drum my fingers on you until things start to make sense to me again. Your welcoming expanse, your patina glowing in the rose-tinted light of my lamp, the ticking of the clock (to how many billions of seconds have you borne sturdy witness?) invite me to linger, and sit, and daydream, and marvel at you. And if the words won’t come, I will rest my head against you, and just let you take the weight of all my thoughts, hurts, happinesses and sadnesses, regrets and hopes, determinations and despairs. Perhaps I will wonder at all the people you have served over the years, at the typewriter that once resided in your belly (the screws left scars on you), and at the care and pride that went into the making of you, presumably just one of rows of identical typist’s desks who are now who-knows-where, but I hope those cousins of yours are loved.
This has not been the easiest of weeks. I am teetering, I fear, on the precipice of fresh agonies. Certain of my hopes are frail and fading fast and the bigger world out there is a little bit scary right now. In this moment, however, I am profoundly content to be sitting here, in this once-unloved corner of my basement that is now filled with your unintended presence, the most welcome and benevolent of cuckoos in the nest. Here we are, you and I, dear desk, as close to the ground as we could be, and perhaps that is, after all, the best place to be.