Ian McMillan: The comfort of a familiar place to work

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I bet some writers have got proper writing desks. I’m not complaining, you understand, I’m not indulging in a bout of Yorkshire chuntering, I’m just saying that I bet some writers have got proper writing desks. I bet they sit down in the morning at a mahogany beauty with lots of drawers and things to keep their quills in and a special holder for their discarded ideas. I bet some writers have 21st-century plastic see-through desks with a dock for their laptop and a charging point for their i-Thingy. I’m not moaning, of course. I’m just saying that I bet some writers have got proper writing desks.

You’ll have guessed from the above that I haven’t got any kind of proper writing desk; the nearest I’ve got to mahogany is those chocolates that are still left over from Christmas, and the only see-through plastic things I possess are my glasses, and they’re not much good for sitting at to write.

I’m writing these words at my table with the fold-up legs, the table we’ve referred to for years as The White Table and, like The White House and The White Cliffs of Dover, it’s attained a legendary and iconic status round here. When the kids were little they had their tea off it, and my grandson has done the same. We’ve done jigsaws on it, we’ve taken it into the garden and had picnics off it, it’s been the counter of a toy post office and a representation of a battlefield when my lad got his model soldiers out. Every house has one, I suspect: the useful table that folds away nicely when you don’t want it. Well, I want it. You can forget having your tea off it or doing jigsaws on its white surface for the foreseeable future. It’s my workstation, my place of labour. Sometimes I wish I’d got a proper desk but the white table with the fold-up legs will have to do until there’s a sale at Mahogany-is-Us. So, every morning when I need to make up witty sentences I get the white table out from behind the curtain in the back room, wrestle it to the ground and I click the fold up legs loudly and it stands upright like a newborn foal and I plant my laptop on it with a flourish and the witty sentences begin to spill out like soup from a punctured can. The other day, though, my wife issued a note of caution. “You want to be careful with that table” she said; “those legs won’t last much longer.” She sounded like she was talking about an elderly uncle, not my place of perspiration and inspiration. “What do you mean?” I asked, aghast. “You’re opening it too violently” she said, “the legs are going.” I leaned on the table and I felt it sigh and give a little. Well, more than a little. I blustered, which is my normal form of defence when I’m wrong. “Well, we’ll just get another one” I said, rather too loudly for the smallish room we were both in. “You’ll be lucky” she replied, going into the kitchen. She turned at the door to deliver the bad news like people do in soap operas: “They don’t make that sort any more!”

So now I’m writing this very gently. I normally strike the keyboard forcefully but now I’m dancing lightly over the letters like a mouse. I keep stopping to test the legs: shaky, wobbly, fragile. How much longer will they last? Until the end of this column, I hope...

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