A writer's office: Ben Myers

27 September 2010

by Ben Myers

Compiling this piece I've realised that my office looks like the domain of a far older person. Or the attic of a dead man, perhaps.

I think the reason for this is that I feel comfortable surrounded by useless old ephemera, possibly as a reaction to living in an increasingly digitised world. Out of shot however are the more mundane trappings of the modern age: broken computers and modems, plastic folding Ikea crates, laundry bags and a clothes rail that has nothing but a solitary hat hanging from it.

In the 1820s Isambard Kingdom Brunel dug through the bed of the River Thames to construct the Rotherhithe tunnel; I, on the other hand, can't wire a plug. What a great mind. Here's a lesser known fact about Brunel which reduces his greatness quota slightly: "In 1843, while performing a conjuring trick for the amusement of his children, Brunel accidentally inhaled a half-sovereign coin, which became lodged in his windpipe. A special pair of forceps failed to remove it, as did a machine devised by Brunel himself to shake it loose."

Sometimes I sit and try to imagine what such a machine must have looked like.

Hanging on one wall is a picture. It makes me smile every time I look at it, which is currently between 20 to 40 times per day. It depicts England's finest thug-thespian sporting a black eye with his arm resting casually - some might say lovingly - around the shoulder of his film director friend Nick Love, who himself is bedecked in shorts and cheap baseball cap and clutching a can of Coke. It's a priceless piece of opportunistic merchandise sold, I suspect, out of a lock-up in Canning Town. When I say 'priceless' I, of course, mean £2.99. Available exclusively from dannydyer.com.

Hanhing on another is a poster I bought in Iceland in September 2008, the week that I started writing my novel Richard. To me it represents strength, barbarism, ruthless ambition, travel and a punishing diet of salt-cod. This poster features lesser-used words such as "wenches", "fakirs", "cudgels" and "skulking loafers". I live in a house built in 1641 which makes it older than any building in North America, so it seems fitting decoration. I bought it at Mother Shipton's Cave on the same day that I saw David Dimbleby's petrified glove.


I drank coffee before it was fashionable to drink coffee (ie. 1999). Obviously it's horrible, but it is functional.


A painting hangs behind me. It looks as if a 19th century sailor has stuck his head out of a port-hole only to discover that is a time portal, and now he finds found himself looking into a strange and curious scene: an office in the 21st century. He sits behind my shoulder all day and I imagine him to be thinking "Twitter again? You're wasting your time, son." I would describe the squinting sailor's sartorial style as "Moby Dick-ish".


On my desk is a new set of dentures that belonged to my Gran. Sadly she never got to wear them, which I'm sure you'll agree makes my Orton-esque ownership of them slightly less morbid.


A ukulele hangs from my office wall untouched. With postcards stuck in its strings it now at least serves an alternative purpose. The top picture is a David Hockney painting (not an original) and the other two depict scenes from the travelling community and were bought from the Side Gallery in Newcastle. The note at the bottom says NEVER COMPLAIN. NEVER EXPLAIN to remind me never to complain. Or explain. So far it hasn't worked.

Ben Myers is the author of Richard, published by Picador.

You can find out more about Ben and his writings on his blog, Man of Letters.

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