This rather unlovely beast is my desk and has been mine for more than twenty years. I reckon I’ve edited upwards of 800 books at this desk. And it’s as well for me to remember, amid all the excitement of flat-selling and house-buying and dreams of sunshine and citrus, that this is really what my life is about: many hours of labour at this particular coalface. What has been fantastic is the reaction of my publishing colleagues (I probably should call them clients, but I’d rather not) to my move, which has been entirely positive. Excitement for me at our adventure, and no concern over the greater working distance.
The desk itself is of particular importance. It might not be considered beautiful by many, but I love it and have done all my best work at it. It is a piece of ex-MOD (Ministry of Defence) furniture, picked from a warehouse sale in Lincolnshire in the early 1990s. Its being MOD furniture of a certain era means several things: it’s made of solid oak; it’s designed for transport – more on that in a moment – and it’s reminiscent of my childhood.
At the age of six or seven, I believed that the RAF uniform was the universal uniform of Fathers. I was surprised to encounter a schoolmate whose father was not in the RAF; I thought that a most odd kind of father to have. Now I know it’s more the other way round: it’s growing up in RAF quarters with oaken MOD furniture and moving every two or three years that could be considered odd. But I never minded it. I loved living in the Middle East (though barely remembered, I was so small) and Cyprus; I loved packing up and moving every so often. That’s partly why I’m so excited now. I’ve suppressed my nomadic nature for too long. The thirteen years we have spent in this flat is longer by a factor of four than I’ve ever lived at any address. And I need to go back to the sun.
Look at this! Simple wing nuts hold the desk legs firm. They are easily removed, and the legs fit into those special compartments under the top, again held in place by wing nuts. When it comes to deciding what to take with us, this is a dead cert. This desk goes with me wherever.
This is my dad in Aden in off-duty uniform, on the left. (He added the caption many decades later.) I love this photograph. The Yemeni man in his smart uniform had requested the picture, but I’m not sure by whom it was taken since my father still has his camera around his neck. Anyway, it was, and it’s in our family collection. I love it that my dad could cover that cultural gulf – where it was so natural for Arab men to hold hands but so awkward for Englishmen – and look pretty cool and comfortable with it.
We’ll be back in the Algarve, where we have meetings with the Sensibles, our agent, our lawyer and a tax adviser. We also very much hope to meet up with First Friends, the people we stayed with when we first came to Portugal, and whom we’ve seen on every visit since.