The View from my Desk by Kate Venables

The formic approach to writing – The Guardian Saturday 28 September 2019. © Tom Gauld

My desk is set at right-angles to a first-floor window that looks down on my garden. The room in which the desk sits is a great improvement on its predecessor in my last house in London. There, the desk looked at a blank wall and was crammed next to the boxed-in hot-water tank with the result that piles of writing-related papers would accumulate on the shelf on top of the tank and I could never find anything. Here, the desk has space. Behind my chair are cupboards with old notebooks, typing paper, and printer cartridges. Over the cupboards are shelves for my poetry collection. I am a nerd about books and so individual poets are arranged alphabetically by surname, preceded by anthologies ordered by theme, preceded again by technical texts about poetry writing and criticism. In front of me, visible over the top of my paired screens, are more shelves which contain the reference books I need for my current creative non-fiction.

To my left, there is a Guardian cartoon which encourages the writer in ant-like persistence. But, also to my left, is the window with its view over the garden. I spend a lot of time gazing out at clouds, neighbouring roofs, leaves, squirrels, and birds, which undermines a diligent, formic approach to writing. Apparently, the average British back garden is fifty feet long, which means that mine is smaller than average, but it has aspirations above its station. The man who planted it – two owners and five decades ago – was a good designer and it packs in a lawn, walls, steps, and a pond backed by a yew hedge; wisteria, climbing hydrangea, ivies, a fig tree, boxes, bulbs, and perennials; and big clay pots for agapanthus and geraniums. I think of it as a country house garden squashed into a matchbox.

In the neighbouring plot, at an angle to my garden, there’s what would have been a commercial barn in earlier centuries when Abingdon was a town with a vigorous river trade. Its long, undulating roof is unchanged by its conversion to small housing units and it fills the view from my window with its warm flank of orange-brown tiles.

The roof ridge is wide enough to be a platform for strutting pigeons, lines of gulls, and skittering squirrels, the only sign of animal life I can see from the window. No people. Evidence of the human life which surrounds my house, and therefore my desk, is aural: car engines from the road below the window at the other end of the room, church bells, occasional laughter from the street.

Except of course in the sky … The sky fills the upper part of my window and is always dynamic. As I write, a fat smoke-grey and peach cumulus cloud is drifting left to right on a background of pale Wedgwood blue. Every so often a jet passes high overhead and a vapour trail unfurls behind its hundreds of passengers. And, once, a hot air balloon drifted by. I heard the huffing of the gas jet as the occupants gave it a boost to clear the roofs. I looked up to see three cheerful faces leaning down from their basket. They were the first other people to see the view from my desk.

Biographical note:

Kate Venables is a doctor and academic. Her poetry, short fiction, and essays have appeared in various journals, including The Frogmore Papers, LighthouseBrittle StarInk Sweat & Tears, and Shooter Literary Magazine. She recently completed a memoir.

Posted in Works.