Sunday, 14 March 2010

A la recherche du Tom perdu

This desk was in my childhood bedroom. I cannot remember the precise age at which I was moved in here from the nursery I shared with my brother. Was I four or five? I was certainly in here by the time I was at infants school, for I remember its orange and black striped tie hanging in the small cupboard, to be replaced at seven by the bright-red tie of a prep school where I was bullied and beaten by both masters and boys. I was sent to a child psychiatrist, odd because my dislike of this school seemed to me a sign of sanity; too scared to ask for the lavatory, I accidentally pissed on his waiting room carpet. He advised that I should be moved to another school. And so I was to a school with a purple and black tie.


But this blog is not about ties, or psychiatrists, or cupboards, but about desks. And at this desk I would do my homework, or sort my stamp collection. I found mathematics difficult. My mother tried to help me, but concepts that seemed obvious to her remained quite obscure to me. She had done the first year of a mathematics degree at University College London in the early thirties, only to be removed; in those years of economic crisis my grandfather thought university education for a girl a luxury, though her brother was allowed to continue. My mother had a low opinion of her brother's intellectual prowess, and believed that he spent the university years she was denied in dissipated living; she had in truth resented him since birth for when he was born my grandfather ordered the village church bells to be rung, an ceremony no one thought of bothering with when his eldest child, a girl, my mother, was born.

So here I would sit before some geometrical proposition which simply made no sense to me, and she would sit beside me, her frustration growing as the extent of my incomprehension became clear. It was only when I went to the upper school, and began logarithms and calculus, that mathematics became clearer.

The desk has travelled with me, to Canterbury, to London and to Seaford. It is not strictly a desk. I think it might have been a washstand originally. I now use it for a scanner and some wires.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. What poignant stories. It's all too easy to forget how hostile and incomprehensible the world can look when seen through the eyes of a child.

    Is it a coincidence that this was posted on Mothering Sunday or am I overdoing the armchair analysis?

    (First comment removed as accidentally posted unfinished by leaning on the laptop keyboard!)

  3. I think coincidence. I'd been planning this post for a few days, and Sunday was the first chance I had to sit down and write it.
    In my bleaker moments, it seems to me, seen through adult eyes several decades on, that the world is still pretty hostile and incomprehensible.
    On the other hand it's spring and the pond is full of frogspawn.