Saturday 27 February 2016

The View From My Desk by Janie Hampton

The view south from my desk
When I finished writing the biography of Joyce Grenfell, my mind was overflowing with facts, dates and details. I needed to do something practical, an activity that required a different kind of concentration. Not being much good at carpentry, constructing a fitted desk seemed an ideal way of expunging three years’ research. The perfect place to put it was in the corner of my first-floor study between two windows: one facing south, the other west.  My skills were stretched and my brain emptied as I sawed, drilled and screwed my new desk, complete with a sliding shelf for my keyboard.

On the shelves above my computer are the books I might want instantly – addresses, diary, dictionary, and some I just like looking at, such as 14 volumes of Chamber’s Encyclopaedia. Two other walls are filled with shelves crammed tight with books and on the floor are piles of papers, always waiting to be sorted. A few years ago, when the shelves overflowed and the piles began to topple, I designed a staggered staircase up to the attic and filled it with more bookshelves. They soon filled up too.

Looking out of the South window, I decided it needed to be extended into a full-length window. The construction of that was a severe test of my marriage. The sliding window arrived in many unlabelled pieces, with instructions translated from Chinese. ‘Make the several parts (B) to commit inwards besides themselves(Y).’  By committing ourselves to extreme patience, both the window and the marriage held firm.
The new window looks over the back garden, in summer a jumble of artichokes, raspberries and rambling roses. Skittling between the vegetable beds are our moving flowers –coloured Peking, Frizzle and Mille-fleur bantams. The Indian runner ducks compete with robins and blackbirds for grubs in the soil.
Moving flowers, or bantams.
View of my desk  (top left)
In spring, the view is filled with a blaze of bridal white pear and blushing pink apple blossom, followed by the intense blue of wisteria cascading over a self-seeded ash tree. In the winter, beyond the tangle of oak and silver birch branches, I can see Temple Cowley Pool. Many a paragraph was untangled in my mind as I swam up and down the slow lane.  But that’s history now:  the pool has closed, soon to be replaced with flats.
To the left is the tower of St Luke’s Church. When it was built by Lord Nuffield in 1938, the workers of his Morris Motors factory threatened to go on strike. ‘If you can afford to build a church, you can pay us more.’  So he paid them more. But by 1999, the factory had declined from over 20,000 workers to a few robots and the church had become redundant.  My oak kitchen table was the altar which I rescued from a pile of rubble during the building’s renovation as the Oxfordshire History Centre. It’s a quiet place to research local history, where I discovered that my house was built in 1929, and belonged to a vet called Mr Snodgrass.
Through the West window I can see squirrels leaping through a beech tree, wheeling red kites, down Cowley hill to the dreaming spires, and beyond the city to Boar’s Hill. 
Looking West to Oxford's 'dreaming spires'.
The wall opposite has a large whiteboard with scribbled ideas, lists and reminders. Many of these have spilled onto the surrounding glass-framed drawings of a Norfolk lane, a Russian monastery and the 1908 Olympics. In the afternoon, a myriad of ‘camera obscura’ images of the sun, formed in the tiny gaps between the leaves, appear dancing on the wall.
Husband and grandchildren waiting in the view.

As the sun sets, I spot my husband wandering down the garden to the bay tree, carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses. It is time to leave my desk and join him in the view.


Sue Purkiss said...

Goodness! What impressive carpentry and gardening skills!

Ann Turnbull said...

I love the bantams!

Yvonne said...

I don't know how you get any work done with so many lovely distractions from your window!