A sneezy light layer of dust, coffee rings, assorted colours of Post-Its with barely legible scrawls. The big, black-framed window on tilt and swivel. Dodgy draught-proofing letting in the freezing air, and the office barely hitting 20 by lunchtime.

I sit too long here on my shabby blue chair, backside numb and fretting with fear of piles. Doggedly wrestling the wares of an information professional.

There’s a story which may well be true. In the other suite, an anomalous desk has extra boarding bodged on, forming a barrier all the way to the floor. Story goes, too many dropped their keys next to Amira’s desk … Or perhaps just one butter-fingered individual. Whoever inherited that one has the solace of well-guarded genitals.

No longer young. Will this daily sitting, year on year, degrade me into some ailing shadow? The magazine copy and countless blog articles promote the stand-up desk, the treadmill desk, and direly warn that sitting all day is just as injurious as smoking.

But the voice inside just says:

Sail away, sail away, sail away
Sail away, sail away, sail away
Sail away, sail away, sail away
Sail away, sail away, sail away

Like the Enya song.

My problem is not sitting on a chair. My problem is a life passing without meaning, of most waking hours chained to a project that that’s tired and tiring.


Pete emailed me a photo today from 30 years ago – the three of us, all clad in orange and maroon, arms around one another, posing at the height of the pass to Reno. My 18-year-old self looks bright-eyed and happy.

I can hear the devotional songs (which then, as now, seemed bizarre, and yet still touching):

Sweet, sweet Bhagwan
I love your love
I love you so
Happy birthday to you

I used to go out on the Lake Tahoe balcony in the dark with headphones in, and sing along to the night – until Jivan got me to stop, concerned how the neighbours might react.

Down to Lake Tahoe’s nude beach in the old open-top jeep, lying out in the warm sun on the shingle. Anam’s blonde girlfriend such a turn-on, I had to manoeuvre awkwardly to hide my physical response from the world. His stolen motorbike maintenance in the garage brought him no favours as the discarded motor oil slicked its way through the local waterway. Naivety. And, according to Russell, also “a conspiracy of mediocrity” as some members of the household began the recriminations.

The taste of grilled nori, and those strange chewy whole food pop tarts – what were they made of? Also seaweed, or some other stuff?

Frosty the Snowman

My gloves are far from watertight, and rapidly soak through with molten handfuls of snow. Kneeling in mounds of it, rolling lumpy, cylindrical balls of it, stripping the ground bare to reveal tracks of surprised-looking grass. Long stains on the trouser knees.

The cold and the wind ice my red ears, haunting possibilities of earache, neglect of scarf or hat. I will assemble a tentative figure of snow, structurally unsound, repeatedly re-built, but eventually upstanding. A couple of sticks and a handful of stones.

Gathering a tin bowlful of snow, mixing with hot chocolate powder in the kitchen, tastes disappointingly watery, and yet repeated year on year in some kind of denial.

The smudge, oily, of coal on my hands, pressing in a row of jacket buttons. It smells faintly of tar and petrol.

The saccharin Christmas carols on an American LP – imagining choirs in artificially snowy shopping malls of neon-lit cityscapes. At the end of Side A, the needle rhythmically hisses against the track end until a grown-up goes through to lift it, gingerly, with the delicate lever. Next up: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


Sitting on the embossed velvet stool on Christmas Day, craning my neck to read the words as Mum played. Good King Wenceslas Looked Out. Or “last looked out” as I always thought…

The mince pies smell of pastry and sweetness and alchohol, and roast goose and sprouts from earlier linger.

It’s cold in the hall here – why no fire or stove through this end, I never understood. I hunch my shoulders against it, and eye the circular, whirring fan heater with longing.

The piano stool contains a couple of generations of sheet music, damp-smelling and dusty Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, along with USA-based Christmas Carols from before the move. Apparently Alice & Laura flummoxed the congregation in Oxford by launching into a solo of Away in a Manger with the American melody.

Some undisciplined guest has dropped pie crumbs on the keyboard. I moisten a finger and lift them off. The pastry dissolves butterly on my tongue.

Playing myself, I feel the wide stretch as my hands endeavour to reach an octave or larger interval, and can almost hear my brain grinding as it interprets the upcoming chords. Is that noise my hypocanthus growing?

Moving the piano from house to house has been a sweaty, scary task. Both my body and the instrument too precious to damage, but so likely in practice to be.