My desk in all its disorder. i sometimes think it would be interesting to write a biography structured around such photographs – explaining each object, and allowing the explanation to radiate out into the life. So here:

1. The laptop is a gift from Murtaugh, who found my blog 2 or 3 years ago, via a post i wrote about Alan Garner; the Red Cross cup is a gift from the rather superb Mrs Murtaugh.

2. The German dictionary i found in a charity shop in Leeds for 50 pence, a day or two after i suddenly decided, in 2006, that i wanted to learn German – at the time i was so ground down by work that it was impossible to spare the mental energy for anything (which is one reason i decided to TEFL).

3. The photo on the right is of the dobermann my father bought (as an attack dog) when i was 19. Because my father was then working almost 24 hours a day, to fuel his uncontrollable spending (on Roger Whittaker CDs and koi carp), i ended up looking after the dog, who was only 5 weeks old. At first i found this gruellingly unpleasant, but i think the necessity of  clearing up his shit, and feeding and walking him, and keeping him company, kept me psychologically afloat in an otherwise dark time of massive sleep and massive reading and almost total isolation. While i could ignore my own hunger & thirst, and decide to just go back to sleep for another 12 hours, or stay in bed reading (i once spent 8 hours in bed reading Byron), i couldn’t ignore the dog’s plaintive whining and barking, and that kept me tethered (just about) to the world. Here’s a close up of the noble beast with his snout thrust into my gut:

i sometimes ponder the differences between my relatively okay Elberry personality and the not altogether pleasant personality of my last life (let’s call him E-1). A crucial difference is Elberry’s early stupidity – my mind didn’t wake up till i left school, so i was crap at everything except English (i think, given the depth of my connection to language, that couldn’t be entirely suppressed); having no reason to feel better than other people, i approached the world from a very different trajectory to E-1. Along with that advantageous disadvantage, having to look after a dobermann puppy was invaluable – i wonder if i could have swerved from the disastrous path i took, as E-1, had i had to look after someone or something at an early age. i wasn’t devoid of compassion as E-1, but it wasn’t really encouraged or developed – and such compassion as i felt tended to be de haut en bas – and so, in a sense, maintained my deep solitude, the sense that i was better than those i patronised. But that doesn’t work with dogs. Dogs don’t notice the kinds of advantages i had as E-1, they are direct and want biscuits and rum and butter cake and left-over pizza; dobermanns especially have this habit of ramming their snouts into your solar plexus or groin, staring earnestly up, in this way which tends to deflate human pretension. i remember talking aloud to the dober once, about Schopenhauer i believe, and he casually swiped my knee with one of his heavy forepaws, inflicting a surprising amount of pain. As i then hopped about cursing him, he just yawned in an amused fashion, revealing two rows of impressively sharklike teeth, and a long pink tongue. Excellent beast.

4. The picture above the cups is of Odin. i don’t approve of idolatry – indeed, i take this to the extent that i regard Christianity as idolatry, in grounding belief in a historical event and a real human being. But i don’t see any harm in having triggers for religious feeling, as long as one bears in mind that the god is not the representation.

Having said that, i think some kind of power can inhere in representations. i had similar images in my office at my hospital job in Manchester. i came into the office once to find that my hundreds of managers had gone through my things, ostensibly to tidy my desk (as one of the Speech Therapists said, why didn’t they just ask me to do it?), but i think they were actually looking for grounds to sack me – perhaps they were hoping to find handwritten memos like “buy gasoline tonight to burn hospital down”. They threw away a Futhark and a valknut picture, which at first shocked, then provided me with a certain grim pleasure, as i felt they would pay for it – and indeed, one of them was struck low by illness just after, and looked suitably deathly for several days, much to my satisfaction. It all seems very petty now, and one reason i left when i did.

5. The mousemat is a notebook, a gift from my first TEFL boss, even bearing the company insignia. i can’t really use it for writing, as the pages have maths-notebook-like squares which would distract me even more than lines, but it makes an excellent mousemat.