My mother gave me my great-grandfather’s writing desk. It had stood for many years in my grandmother’s spare bedroom. I recall her sitting at it doing her bills. But mostly it rested in the corner, its compact form locking away those personal details which were not my concern.
The story of the desk when my great-grandfather owned it is hazy. Perhaps it used to sit in their music room with the piano and small organ? My mother, who was about ten when he died, recalls a table in this room with the horns of a Jersey bull and some Aboriginal tools that might have been found on their farm, near Camperdown in Victoria. The blotches of ink on the writing surface show it was used but reveal nothing more.
What is this desk? Its type goes by different names – a bureau, a slant top desk or a drop front desk. When not in use the hinged writing surface is lifted up and locked in place. It fits snugly in our bedroom and is the perfect accompaniment to my favourite writing place – our bed. The desk is a place where early 20th century meets early 21st century. Adding references to Endnote is not something to be done on a bed. For this I sit at my desk with the references scattered on the floor around me. It is the place where my laptop resides.
The top shelf is dedicated to my very limited collection of toys. On the left is a vivid pink bear with “Best Mum” inscribed on its chest. This was given to me by my daughter, Sunshine, many years ago. Next to it stands an old scottish terrier clockwork toy that my grandmother gave to me. Next to it is the London bus that I made out of Lego when I was a child. It is a reminder of the time when Lego kits came with few prefabricated parts and needed much concentration to construct. Lego was my favourite toy as a child – this is the only reminder I have of that. On the far right sits a paisley bear that my brother gave me.
When the writing surface is open a number of pigeon holes are revealed. Gazing at it I thought that if this desk was like those on the Antiques Roadshow there would be a secret compartment. But the only secrets that this desk has revealed is an old holepunch computer card, a couple of old Christmas giftags and the piece de resistance… an old business card from Kew Gold Fleece service station in Melbourne. With the aid of this card I can tell you the names of the proprietors of this venerable pit stop, the opening hours and phone number – when phone numbers only had six digits and when the Golden Fleece brand of service stations could be found throughout Australia.
For fifteen years after I received this desk I had wanted to set it up in a corner of my bedroom with a folding chair and use it for writing. Since I have owned it, the desk has lived in three states and six different homes, but for many years it languished unused.
One day the mess in our bedroom had become unbearable and I did a big cleanup. By late afternoon I was able to put on a CD of meditative music, sit down, open the desk and write. My heart sang with joy as my favourite pen hovered over the blank paper. I gazed into the desk and thought, “What am I going to write about?”….The Desk.
Thus started a new phase in my life. This is an edited and updated version of the first piece that I wrote at that desk. Shortly after I set up my desk I enrolled in a history and geography degree at university. About eight months ago I sat at this desk to launch another writing project – this blog.