A Desk Of My Own

I am not a fan of Virginia Woolf but the writing ‘room of your own’ idea is definitely dear to my own heart.

She says you need money of your own as well, but for that I have to admit I rely on my generous husband. ( I think, if memory serves, Virginia had a bit of help from a rich family and wasn’t entirely dependent on her royalties to break out of the lentils and bread routine…)

Anyway, we have two spare bedrooms, and a study.

In one spare bedroom in one my generous husband has set up a history writing den as he decides how to create the definitively simple guide to European history so that we not only can know what the defenestration of Prague was all about, but what was also happening in say, well everywhere else, at the same time.

But let me not distract you with thoughts about how useful and entertaining that will be when it is published.

When he said he wanted that room for history writing, I said, that was fine as long as it could be easily converted back to a spare room – and that in return I wanted the study as my writing space.

Well, point number one is working out fine, but point number two never really did.

He never really left the study and I never really took it over.

So, dear reader, this could turn into a very long story so I will cut to what has happened.

I decided to move my writing to the other (by the way much smaller, but probably my favourite)spare bedroom but it lacked a desk.

A country auction is what I needed. Lots of brown – but lovely – furniture on offer. At least it is sometimes.

Sometimes, like charity shop shopping, there just isn’t anything you want. Should you want a miniature obelisk, or a Chinese inlaid cabinet or a set of wheel-backed dining chairs, you are fine but if you want something else, something particular and in the right size, shape and price you are out of luck,

We used to have a good auction house in Petersfield but it is now a trendy bar, so we have to go to Alresford where there is a (country) auction.

So, on the hunt for a suitable desk, I dragged the generous husband to the viewing and found I was delightfully knee-deep in potential desks.

To get the idea you have to imagine barns stacked with a lot of brown ( mahogany, walnut, oak etc – most of which will have been made by hand) furniture – very unfashionable – and pine furniture which, inexplicably, goes for a relative fortune.

Anyway, one of the ‘desks’ was mahogany and was really a wash stand – think servant in a good house getting up at 6, or maybe newly-middle-class girl thinking of making herself pretty, or given where we live, a farmer’s daughter – all in the the 18th century and with her wash bowl of cold water, doing her ablutions.

(If you are an imaginative sort, you could fly with a woman of slender means doing her pre-theatre abultions and hoping to get lucky, you could go with the widow fallen on hard times after her husband got killed in the Napoleonic wars, you can go where you want to – go for it, feel free.)

There was a fine Regency piece which had all the lovely curves and was originally a hall table and I liked that a lot.

It was not quite Beau Brummel’s standard I suspect, but he could have walked past it and maybe cast an admiring glance.

Those were the days when people had hall tables of walnut and hand-turned legs, dovetailed drawer joints and all hand- properly made.

Then there was another Georgian desk – and it was a proper writing desk, as defined by the catalogue, and who can’t love the idea of sitting down and writing at a desk which has been ‘written on’ for all those years.

Who was writing what to whom? Were there carriages rattling past the window as she ( or even he) wrote that poignant/formal/rebuffing/begging/entertaining/last letter.

I love Georgian stuff – it has the sniff of properly old stuff. I have three elm Georgian chairs, bought for a song and I love the fact that they are British elm – no longer available as they say – and have had bottoms on them since the 1700s.

As I say, there were other ‘desk ‘ options but they were not in the same league – they would have done, been serviceable, useful and would have rescued some ‘brown’ furniture which is always a good thing to do.

But they were not going to send me home with a song in my heart ( though what they went for would certainly have put a song in my generous husband’s wallet.)

We looked and measured and considered and all in all, the ‘desk’ I fell in love with was not entirely the best option – and anyway, it had a much higher estimate than the others.

So, the next day I schlepped back – alone – to the auction. They do a fortifying bacon roll and cup of tea before the kick off, so I had one.

As the lot number approaches, even now after all the auctions I have been to, my heart starts thumping, my hands grasp the catalogue, but I try to look calm to impress the auctioneer and other auction-goers, though god knows why because they don’t give a stuff whether you are a hardened bidder or sweating your knickers off.

Anyway, so many lots at this auction had gone for diddly-squat – and, dear reader, they were lovely things like a walnut sideboard, a Georgian cabinet, dining tables for what you would pay in IKEA for a few candles – you could have furnished a house for two and six at that auction.

But of course, you can never quite believe that your lot will go for less than double the estimate – and you will have to go home weeping.

So, I had three lots – one after the other.

You just have to bid as they come up and hope that you get one of them and if not, you have to put it down to bad luck and keep looking.

In my case, I was lucky in that my favourite came up first – that usually doesn’t happen and you have to forgo bidding for your third choice to save your money for your first and of course…..

You will no doubt, if you have got this far, be delighted to hear that I got the favourite – the one I really wanted, and I am sitting at it now writing this – in the (spare) room of my own.

And it was a bargain.


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