Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A Writer's Desk

A writer's desk

Well, OK - my desk. I am reading Antifragile,an insane ramble by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of two previous best -sellers : The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness and The Bed of Procrustes. It is a defence of serendipity and a reminder of the role of chance in all our lives. Also known as 'flying by the seat of one's pants'. It reads as if the author had dictated it into a recording machine, or as if a series of lectures had been transcribed. His authority derives from the fact that he was one of the only professionals working in Wall St to predict the financial crash of 2008. He is in favour of doing things rather than theorising about them. He is on the side of pragmatic awkwardness, such as asking an earnest climate change activist as I did recently: where was your jacket made? causing the activist to blink and swallow as though I had hit him. His jacket, as he well knew, was made in a sweat shop but he had bought it for the same reason that we all buy goods made in China: it was excellent value for money.I am not sure whether a desk counts in the same way as a mantelpiece for giving away its owner's character and interests. Here we can see on the top of the desk a collection of old x-rays, now superseded by recording them on disc. I keep them as a memento mori, they were taken during a particularly severe bout of pneumonia. When I was up and about again, I remember standing at my front door on a sunny morning and greeting a neighbour who told me he had had pneumonia too and how long it might take me to convalesce. At that time around the turn of the millenium, on our side of the street were: a weird Italian who never lived in his house but used to come to Residents' Association meetings and suggest that the square be patrolled by armed security guards; someone in the City; an American banker; a lawyer; a member of the House of Lords (my co-sufferer from pneumonia); more City men, an Irish dentist, the widow of a French banker and a famous poet. Back to the contents of the desk: on the highest shelf we find: a large book of wedding photographs lying flat, an old lampshade and a small book of wedding photographs; next down: my old Mac laptop, various important documents such as my will, the external hard drive for my current laptop, software; first shelf: old cheque books, envelopes, batteries, various leads and chargers, a bottle of Zacharry's spruce spray, a travelling socket adaptor, a Russian-English dictionary and the issue of Novy Mir where 'One Day in the Life' was first published. On the main level of the desk are two cardboard boxes full of postcards unused, to be sent. These boxes are shaped like shoe boxes and I thought they were shoe boxes until yesterday when Sally Tait was round helping me sort and chuck and we discovered that they contained packets of Thornton's fudge best by sometime in 2011. Economy labels, memory sticks, address book, scrapbook, script of the Alexander Men play, bank statements, mug full of pens, A-Z contacts box, two compasses, measuring tape, paperclips,broken clock, notebook belonging to grandson Zac, bowl full of rubber bands - an indispensable supply for a game we play at Christmas shooting them into the lampshade in the centre of the ceiling; transparent A4 folders, By Air stickers, small black velvet bag, white luggage label, small green notebook from Traquair, reuseable stamps torn off envelopes, scissors, piece of jigsaw featuring a snowman, sellotape, 'Beattock' station fridge magnet. From this collection Sherlock Holmes could deduce that I suffer from chronic lung disease, have two daughters, speak and read Russian, am a devoted grandmother, own a spruce forest, have friends abroad, frequent book events (hence the notebook from Traquair where 'Books Borders and Bikes' is held every summer), am not inclined to throw money around (the economy labels and the torn off stamps)and have a relation  - my cousin John in fact, who is very keen on trains and to whom I intend to send the fridge magnet once my Christmas cards have arrived from Shutterfly.

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