Sunday, 28 March 2010

My life in desks: the years of adolesence

Now I have started, I think I probably have to go on till I finish. But I have no photograph of the next desk to play a part in my life, an old and monumental Victorian roll-top. After a bout of pneumonia caused me to miss most of a summer term, and removed me, providentially, from some considerable unpleasantness at school, I moved bedrooms at the age of 13 into a new and larger one sited above my father's waiting room (he was a Cambridge GP), at about the age of 13. Here I had an upright piano, a record player, a gas fire and small leaded windows looking out, in one direction onto Lensfield Road, and in the other onto Tennis Court Road and the back of Addenbrooke's hospital.

The desk stood at the Tennis Court Road end. It had a lock, but I was not trusted with the key, so, to stop it locking by accident I made stoppers of paper which I put in the grooves to prevent it closing fully. It had a patina, and marks of heavy use, ink-stains to which I added and gouges from pen-sharpening and envelope opening. It even had a secret compartment. What could be more agreeable?

As I used it, so it acquired more marks of ownership. I began smoking and kept my cigarettes in the desk, which gave it a strong scent of tobacco. As I was lucky enough to have a school friend who worked in an exotic tobacconist, long closed, I was able to go beyond the usual cigarettes favoured by early seventies schoolboys, No 6, and Embassy Gold, and enjoy such brands as Fribourg and Treyer, Sullivan Powell's Turkish, Sobranie and Passing Clouds. These last were oval and came in a pink box, which would cause a stir behind the bike sheds or the scout hut. It also held, for such were the times, the odd consciousness-expanding substance, though I was scrupulous in removing any traces of these.

The desk was sold when my parents moved after my father retired from full-time practice and no longer needed a house with room for surgery, waiting-room and dispensary. I would have liked to have kept it, but at that stage in my life I had nowhere to put something so large.

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