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THE KITCHEN TABLE MASTERS

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Most people will know what a kitchen-sink drama is, even if they don’t recognise the term. Many watch regular episodes of kitchen-sink dramas and there even those who think they are real stories about real people. I’m finished with kitchen-sink drama. But as a student, I’m working on a kitchen table Masters degree.

It is not that I don’t have a desk. There is a perfectly adequate desk-space in my house. On the top floor. That in itself is a problem. I say, ‘perfectly adequate’, but its adequacy needs to be qualified by its imperfections. The desk-space is adequate. Once it was perfectly adequate. Today, it is shared with a large Apple computer monitor and a tiny Apple computer battery operated wireless key-board. I don’t use the main Apple equipment for my work. The Apple equipment - although very expensive - is hardly ever used. It was my wife’s investment for a different function before we moved to Spain. Next to that, its very large footprint sharing the desk-top space, there is an almost equally expensive Samsung laser printer that doesn’t work properly. The printer was purchased as an all knobs-and-knockers, black and white and colour device which printed double-sided. For some reason, it will photocopy in colour but not print in colour. Nor does the double-sided print feature work properly. In any case, this is not the printer which I use for my studies. Nor is the big Apple computer the tool I use when not writing things out long-hand.

On the right-hand side of the desk-space is a pile of documents. These documents are currently gathering dust, but they are very precious to me. They are not my documents. They are the source material for a future book. The documents are the evidence of a complicated life, frequently well-lived, sometimes lived in chaos. Ultimately, these documents will meld into my version of the life of my friend Rosalind. Rosalind died unnecessarily prematurely and most unexpectedly, of sepsis, after a routine operation that was initially successful before sepsis struck. She did not die of the bi-polar condition that blighted her brilliance. The documents will get the attention they deserve - but not just yet.

Beneath the desk-space, sits the music keyboard that does not work well, the keyboard that we were given and do not dare to throw-out, the keyboard that has been used once in the past twelve months. It sits in a position which carefully causes my feet to be cramped-up, trapped under the chair when I sit at the desk. It is accompanied under the desk by three boxes of my wife’s documents, an old, broken printer with fewer facilities than the printer on the desk surface itself and two music cases, each containing clarinets. My wife plays clarinet.

To access all these inconveniences, I have to laboriously climb two flights of marble steps. Laboriously, because the climb is a feature of my current physical condition and limitations. This relates mainly to my left knee. The left knee saga began when I was a young man, playing soccer on a rock-hard pitch in Cyprus. Trying to kick the ball powerfully, I managed to kick the ground powerfully instead, doing irreparable damage to my left knee for the rest of of my life. There has been an operation. The left knee does bend. However, it also locks-up unexpectedly and will bear neither weight nor pressure. Going upstairs requires a one-step-at-a-time effort, right leg up one marble step followed by the left dragged onto the same step without doing any real work, to be repeated as many times as I have marble steps.

The marble steps deserve explanation. I do not live in a mansion. I am not a wealthy man. Nor is my house a castle or mansion. The marbled steps were there when I bought the house.The knee has got worse since. I knew there were three floors to the house and two sets of marble steps. The marble is local to the area, very accessible and relatively cheap. All the houses in our complex have similar marble steps. Not all have three storeys. It takes considerable effort to get as far as the desk-space upstairs where the house WIFI doesn’t work. All my Open University materials are on the internet. I need working WIFI. Even when I get up to the office space, I often find that one knee or the other has stiffened up by the time I am due to come down and it is even more effort to descend again. If I get upstairs, I have to carry with me my precious iPad, the tool that I use more frequently than anything else.

So, in most cases when studying for this MA degree, I sit at the kitchen table. It does mean that my studies are shared with the salt and pepper, the olive oil and vinegar, all of which normally grace the kitchen table full-time. As an addict of sweet Chilli sauce, there is often a bottle of that on the table too.

Sitting at the table, I have a flat surface on which to set my iPad, or a flat surface at a sensible height for my note-pad. If I am reading, I do that from my electric reclining arm-chair but usually when not reclining. Reclining is reserved for siesta-time. Although I am a proficient touch-typist, I still find writing things out long-hand, then typing them up, helps the creative process. At least, I deceive myself that this is the case. Copy-typing something out serves as an initial proof-read/edit function which I think is positive. The point about a flat surface merits qualification. We live in an active geo-unstable area. Earthquakes are not uncommon. However, most earthquakes locally last only seconds and rather surprisingly, most appear to occur only at night. There was an earthquake two or three nights ago. The one previous to that I slept through. My note-book, my iPad, has not yet been rocked on the kitchen table by an earthquake.

Kitchen table activities are often shared with our dog. She is conditioned to believe (see Pavlov’s dog salivating at the sound of a bell) that humans at the table mean tasty scraps for dogs rather than common or garden dog-food. She usually comes to check what I am doing at the table - but slinks away disappointedly from the pen if I am writing or shows no interest at all during the rapid ‘clack-clack’ of my fingers on iPad keys. It is here at the table that I connect best to the internet and the downstairs printer. The downstairs printer, a much cheaper Hewlett-Packard model than the expensive Samsung upstairs, works well in black and white, in colour, single sided or double sided as instructed. This is why my MA studies are kitchen-table based.

It should not be assumed that all is perfect and set fair for a good result from the kitchen table. Adjacent to the internet router is a large television set, fixed to the wall. I have limited interest in television. I rarely watch. I have no real interest in kitchen sink drama. I do watch BBC TV news most evenings on a daily basis. I feel the need to remain aware of what is happening in the BBC world, even if it is not always the world at large. Also, I enjoy sport on TV but there is so little of it on terrestrial channels these days. I refuse to subscribe into the pockets of billionaires who seek to promote their own greedy view of the world.

However, there are some television programmes which prove impossible to deny to my wife. She has a fascination for quiz programmes. On most occasions I do not even recognise the question let alone know the answer. She loves any programme to do with buying and selling property. She revels in ‘Tipping Point’ which I think is drivel. I live through what she watches. Thank goodness she does not like soaps or so called ‘reality’ TV which has little to do with real reality.

On the kitchen table until recently it would have been possible to find Alan Bennett, Stendhal and Cervantes along with loose papers and several working files. However, as we can now visit IKEA about an hour away, a new feature sits neatly under the kitchen window - an extensive book-shelf containing more working files than I thought I had, not yet complete note-books (complete ones are stored away elsewhere for posterity or the bonfire), along with Alan Bennett, Stendhal, Cervantes, quarterly Poetry Society reviews and a copy of Creative Writing (Neale).

Meanwhile, I sit and scribble at an unburdened kitchen table.

All the bookshelf requires now is a framed Open University Masters Degree certificate with my name on it. Perhaps next year.  


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