Art Pact 225 - Desk fort


I sat on the floor under the desk, my little happy place. Let me describe it. Our desks are cubicle desks, built in fours that face inwards. The desks curve in the middle, which is where we sit, so that we can turn in our chairs either to the left or to the right and easily find more desk space. Desk designers, you see, are like military generals in that they prepare to fight the previous war. In the old days, when everything in an office was done on paper, having a big desk was no doubt an advantage, and having easy access to it a further advantage. I imagine a bowler-hatted bureaucrat spreading case files (or whatever it is they have - I'm unclear on the details, having been born at the very tail end of the twentieth century) across their vast expanses of planed and varnished woodwork, reading from one, cross-referencing another, and so forth. In those days naturally desk surface would be at a premium. I can even understand how it would have worked as a sort of territory in a strange way, so that the more important one was, the larger one's desk. People would no doubt have fought for a large desk, would have measured their worth in square-footage. No matter. Nowadays, we do not work in that old world. I won't be so naive as to suggest that we work in a paperless office - we do have a human resources department, after all, and if there is one thing they are good at (and extensive experience suggests that if that statement has a failing it is that it is if anything over-generous), it is producing paperwork. I would estimate that out of every two pieces of paper I have on my desk, approximately three of them are from HR. It's as though they inhabit a separate world, one in which our computers belong to our competitors and communication via paper provides a windtalker-style alternative language which the enemy are unable to decipher.

Since I now live and work in the twenty-first century, in which almost all work is done on a computer, this ergonomically-designed desk is more of a hindrance than a help to me. Should I wish to discuss some matter with a colleague, I am forced to sit with my body between him and the computer screen if I wish to be able to read anything out, and if we both need to look at the screen at the same time - well, let's just say that I have to keep my eyeglass prescription very much up to date. I'm considering buying a pair of opera glasses to lend to visitors.

So my desk, as you will be able to imagine, turns ninety degrees in the middle, albeit in a deep curve rather than a sharp angle. It has two canvas-covered backboards, forming the cubicle walls, although it lacks the other two boards which would make it a true cubicle. These two backboards form one backboard each for my two neighbours, and... well, you've seen open-plan offices before, you get the gist.

Underneath the desk, where I was, were also the little nest of wires that had escaped from the desk's woefully inadequate cable management system, the footrest which human resources had pointedly given me on my first day due to my short stature, my desk-drawer (three drawers, from top to bottom: personal belongings pens and paperclips; electronic junk; files from HR that I was supposed to keep with me and review monthly), and a couple of tote-bags that I'd been given at conferences in an attempt to persuade me to buy .NET framework libraries that did something or other with XML so boring that even I had forgotten what it was. In one of the tote bags was a supply of hemp chewing gum that I'd been sent as a joke by my old university flatmate, but which had turned out not to be hemp-flavoured (as I - and I think he - had assumed), but actually saturated with THC and therefore mildly intoxicating. I snaked a hand into the bag, pulled out one of the little sticks, fished a juicy-fruit out of my pocket to give my teeth something to work on, and began to chew.

There was a lot to be gained from the underside of the desk. First of all, even those well acquainted with my height did not realise that it made it relatively easy for me to hide, so unless one of my closer colleagues walked past I generally went unnoticed. It was quiet enough to think, the top of the desk blocking out a little of the general chatter that makes open-plan such a terrible proposition for programmers, and it was a little more comfortable temperature-wise, since the exhaust from everyone's computer blew out below desk height, making a little bubble of hot air a few degrees warmer than the arctic conditions maintained by the building's over-active air-conditioning. The carpet - nylon-topped tiles over the raised floor that housed the office's cabling - was not particularly comfortable, but I was able to stretch my legs out and lean back against the partition that I shared with Katherine - indeed, to my right I could just about see the shiny red tips of her shoes (empty, no doubt, since she was one of those people who would wear shoes only when necessary, kicking them off with reckless abandon whenever possible).

There is, of course, a deadline beyond which most problems cannot be avoided. And I knew well that this one in particular could not be put off for more than a couple of hours. But work days have an intriguing property that real life does not - the discontinuity between one moment and the next. When it is half-past four, a problem that must be addressed within the next hour becomes a problem that can be put off until tomorrow, with luck. My desk was the shield that would be providing me with that luck. I just had to sit under here for another - I checked my watch - twenty seven minutes.

Piece of cake, I thought to myself.

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