What’s On Your Desk?

Whether we like it or not, people make judgements about others based on appearances – including the appearance of their work space. Too messy and you’re condemned as disorganized and inefficient; but on the other hand, as Albert Einstein said, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” But then, one person’s neat is another’s messy.
Many of us are drawn to the ascetic simplicity of a desk like this:

Shaker student desk

but unless that book is about the only thing you use while sitting at that desk – or possibly the only thing you own – chances are it’s not going to stay that neat for long. Exquisite, but simply impractical for a ‘working’ desk, unless you have lots of time and an iron discipline when it comes to Putting Things Away.

Actually, one of the things I like best about my desk is that I don’t have to put everything away for meals – unlike when I used a corner of the dining table. I can just put down my pen and go off for lunch, then pick up the pen and carry on where I left off when I get back.

On the other hand, I’d like to think that my desk isn’t (and hopefully never will be) as bad as this one (I’m not even sure that there is a desk under all that):

Mattheus van Hellemont The Alchemist

Happily, my desk has quite a large surface area, so takes a lot before it looks cluttered. I have a bit over one square metre (that’s just over 11 square feet for the imperialists) and that’s before I pull out the two flat boards housed above the drawers and cupboard. (Anyone know what those are called?)

At any given time, my desk top will likely have the following sitting on it:

  • the current WIP exercise book (Tsifira vol. 4)
  • my favourite fountain pen (filled with purple ink)
  • notebook (tracking page count, ink refills etc)
  • chess board (mapping the WIP plot)
  • a picture of a young Amelia Earhart (how I imagine Tsifira looks)
  • notes (of various sorts, on assorted scraps of paper)
  • tea paraphernalia (teapot, strainer, cup & saucer)


  • my skeleton-case mechanical watch (or I’d lose track of time)
  • a wooden box with a perpetual calendar on the lid (ditto date)
  • a Royal Worcester porcelain treasure box (an engagement gift)
  • a teapot-shaped china box (a farewell gift from a former colleague at the DDJ) filled with mints
  • a box of matches (I’m not a smoker, I swear!)
  • the old candle lamp (I told you I wasn’t a smoker)
  • a glass vase (amber like the candle lampshade) with an arrangement of foliage (it’s autumn)
  • a tiny Hun from a Kinder Surprise egg (why not?)
  • a small painting of Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery (a 21st gift)

But not a computer. Not until the rewrite, at least.

What’s on your desk? What does your desk say about you? And dare I ask, what do you think my desk says about me?

5 Reasons Why Being the Odd One Out is a Good Thing

The way some people talk, you would think that being different from those around you was an inherently bad thing – particularly if the difference is externalized in the way you appear. Speaking from personal experience, this is at best a massive oversimplification, and at worst a covert attempt to enforce muffin-ness.


1) The Odd One Out is not easily mistaken for someone else. Ever been introduced under another’s name? Awkward for everyone. The only time I myself have ever been mistaken for someone else was the year I spent in uniform – school, not military. And speaking of the military, there are medals for conspicuous gallantry, so why not one for being gallantly conspicuous? This guy deserves one, for a start.

2) Conformists have to re-outfit themselves as often as the ‘in’ thing changes. The Odd One Out thus saves a packet on overpriced poor quality items and is still free to change their look whenever they please.

3) Ever played the game “I’ve Never”? It’s a party game – each player is issued with a limited number of tokens. Then each takes turns saying something they’ve never done. Anyone who has done that loses a token. “I’ve never owned a smartphone.” “I’ve never used a hair dryer.” “I’ve never owned a car.” Whatever it is that makes you the Odd One Out is now solid gold. Go forth and conquer.

4) Relative immunity from peer pressure. Peer pressure is basically just pressure to conform. The threat held over you is that you will be the Odd One Out if you don’t. You already are the Odd One Out, so what’s to lose by refusing to submit?
I am aware that ostracism can be a painful thing, but trust me, it isn’t friendship if you have to buy it at the cost of being yourself.

5) You’re outside the game. In Victorian times, the social code was so static it was published in books, which told you the correct thing to do in any given situation. But today, the codes and rules are not only unwritten but mostly unspoken – and unlike the Laws of the Medes and the Persians, they constantly change.

Frankly, I wouldn’t even play a game under those conditions (Mao is what they play in Purgatory), let alone live my life that way. Be yourself, be considerate, and if anyone mocks or scorns you, give thanks that you don’t have to dance to their contorted little tune – because you are the Odd One Out.

Agree? Disagree? None of the above? Your thoughts welcomed!

Look Closer

One of the things I collect images of for my scrapbook is buildings I like the look of – doesn’t matter if it’s a one-room cottage or a vast palace complex, if I like it, I stick it in there. (I also like browsing real estate magazines for the perfect house, secure in the knowledge that it doesn’t exist and I will therefore never have to worry about how to pay for it.)

There was one picture, however, which I thought long and hard about before including in my scrapbook. It was from a magazine – the travel section. A handsome two-story brick building glows in the warm light of an autumn day. A large tree opposite the building balances it and reflects the autumn colouring. A large wrought-iron gateway stands in the foreground. It looks spacious and idyllic.

Look closer.

The fence seems a bit out of place here. Tall grey fence-posts, bent in at the top, wrapped in barbed wire. There are letters in the wrought-iron archway. They spell ARBEIT MACHT FREI – work makes you free.

This is the entrance to Auschwitz. Over a million people walked in those gates who never walked out again.

But I put this picture in my scrapbook, all the same. I keep it there to remind me that looks can be deceiving, that the foulest evil can present the fairest face, and that the most handsome of buildings can nonetheless stand at the mouth of hell.

It reminds me not to place too much stock in what the home of my dreams might look like. For in truth, what we desire above all else for our home is something no cut-and-pasted clipping can display: to live in peace, loving and loved.