I cannot pretend that I am not somewhat annoyed at myself for failing to go through with my booking of flights for Brisbane so I could be there for the first day of the Ashes series. I have now signed up for some computer service which may give me pictures to watch but if my experience of doing the same for football is anything to go by it will be stop and start and you are unable to get the flow. I think I can get BBC Five Live so I can listen at least. It is strange being in a country for whom the indifference about cricket is more or less total. It reminds me how parochial we are in what we like and what we do. For me cricket is so much part of my daily thinking I cannot imagine life without some reference to it. Yet there are whole swathes of cultural and artistic life which simply pass me by. It would be nice to share the excitement with someone but if it turns out to be as dire as four years ago maybe it will be good to pretend to ignore it – I’ll not see it on the news at least.
I have not shared an office for a long time. When I was first a probation officer it was the tradition then (opposed to social workers who were open plan) to have a single office. Admittedly my first office felt like a dungeon (no windows) but it was my space. When we moved I got an attic room which was big, quiet and away from the hustle of the office reception. This suited me as the view was good and I could make it my own space. Though clients (not offenders in those days) did not like the trek upto the top!!
When I took up my joint appointment in Sheffield I kept a single room initially in both the Poly and in the probation training department. A nice luxury and they were also in walking distance of each other. This was not to last too long.
A little later I then, almost at the same time, found myself sharing in both environments. What contrasting experiences. At the poly I was with a new staff member, also a joint appointment, but with whom, both personally and professionally, I shared little in common. He irritated me which was I know just one of those things But I found him difficult to shut up so I could work. I retreated often to my probation office. There I shared with a guy who though contrasting to me personally and professionally in so many ways this proved wonderfully and mutually supportive. It was he who supported me quietly through the break up of my marriage and tolerantly dealt with my rantings about the unfairness of it all. We built a complementary style to our work – he, the methodical, slightly plodding style, who sought out the details and made sure everything was just so and me with ideas floating around and innovative ways of operating but needing the calming guidance of P to bring to fruition. P was a Christian (found my occasional swearing rants difficult but tolerated them) a lay preacher and very conservative in his thinking. But we could spar together without anger, without rancour and without recrimination. (This could get me onto the subject of the relationship between argument and personal feelings but that is another blog) I wish I still had a picture of our desks – his clean and clear every day before he left home; mine cluttered with papers and untidy!! Interestingly though one day I noticed a pile of flip chart papers (standard fare for 80s trainers) and I looked to find they were mainly P’s stuff but he had maintained his neat space by placing them within my space just furthering the illusion of my untidiness. Though before I protest too much, friends will know it does not take me much to leave tidy places untidy.
Anyway an office move at the Poly, soon to be a University meant an opportunity to rid myself of R. I pleaded with my Dean for a single room but as a joint appointment he argued, not unreasonably, that I could share a space. However he then looked at the plans and saw an attic room and allocated me that on the grounds that no one else would want it. What a wonderful space. It had all the shape of an attic room, uneven ceilings, bits of wall jutting out, uneven flooring but once again it was mine and it was far away from the student crowd. Indeed many of my tutees comments on how difficult it was to climb all the stairs to reach me so I am sure it rationed my demand side. I liked that room and after a year or so I was joined across the small corridor by another colleague, M, who I could share a coffee with then close the door and be in my own space.
Ever on the move probation training de-camped to new premises, a former hostel and when we first arrived smelly to say the least. I had a single room again and until I left probation in 94 I remained in a single room. Once the building was refurbished it became an ok space but not a great one for working in – just a functional office really. I never really warmed to it.
Back at the uni (as it became in ’92) we were on the move again. However I was now a more senior figure, established in a single room and able to exert pressure on maintaining that status or so I thought!! was told I had to share with another colleague, a different R. Now I had hinted at my untidiness but compared to R I was OCD with the desire to keep tidy. I remember once visiting his previous office and when I opened it I found piles of newspapers and other work related papers stacked higher than me and leading via a maze-like tunnel to a desk which again had papers in Himalayan shapes and behind which R sat comfortably beavering away in a tidy space cleared for the purpose. This was not to be a marriage made in heaven. R’s arrival was a nightmare. We had desks opposite each other and I allocated him space sufficient, I thought, to house his goods. No sooner had he unpacked (and I have to say that 4 packing cases remained unpacked throughout his stay with me in the corner of the room!!) that the room filled with papers. It took only a few weeks before returning to my room one day I discovered R at my desk using my phone. The reason was his chair was stacked with papers and he had no space left to function. Fortunately another colleague announced that he was leaving and I segued into his office before anyone else had a chance. To this end over four offices later I have maintained a splendid isolation at the uni. Not all have been a haven of intellectual solitude for me to contemplate on the finer meanings of my ontological world view and in fact most have been simply spaces to put my books and my papers but at least they have been mine. But I will return to my uni space in a minute first a detour via my own home as I leave probation.
Starting the scary path of freelance consultant I found myself out of probation and for half my week needing an office space to work which would keep me out of the university. I had created a study at home which had become stacked with an increasing amount of books. (It is worth noting that the traditional notion of an academic’s room is one stuffed with books from which a grey haired bespectacled professor emerges to squint warily at the world – OMG I have become my own image!!!) So I began to make this a proper office and because I did not have the infrastructure of an organisation began to acquire all I needed to function as an independent self-employed person – photocopier, book binder, laminator, scanner, printer, flip charts, stationary of all kinds and mould this place into a functional office. Well my kids thought it was just mess but one thing I have learnt about myself over the years is that I have a good memory and can always recall where I left a paper or a book. This is not fully validated by a rigorous research methodology as my kids have also seen me throw papers around for hours looking for the old mislaid vital sheet which someone has shifted from its original storage.
My final resting place post 1998 has been in three single offices in the university. The second of which was probably my most ideal space and the one which I managed to achieve what I wanted from an office. Many book shelves, put up against the wishes of the establishment who now provide working space of academics not rooms and cubicles no shelves for book (I guess there is no time to read!!). I also acquired a good size desk allowing for the spread of papers on it which is simply not possible to prevent altogether (well for for me anyway) but allowing enough space for me to function next to my computer and a table for meetings with other staff so I do not even have to leave my room for meetings. This was my favorite room and I shaped it to suit me and my personality. Unfortunately the uni does not allow us to put up any roots and so I am now in another single room – ironically now regarded as a privilege as most are frogmarched into open spaces/cubicles but nevertheless it lacks the soul of my previous abode.
So what does this diversion teach me about office space? Well I know I can share a room as I have had a good experience and indeed my current space is fit for its purpose. I prefer a single room though, I like the option of closing my door and being on my own if I choose and I like being able to shape the room to suit my working practice, which I admit would not suit others. At the end of the day unless you are comfortable where you sit you won’t work, you won’t think, and you certainly won’t create and this then defeats the objective of being there in the first place. So an office is more than simply a place to sit and a good one is an aid to productivity. A good view does not hurt either!! And if I were on my own I could shout at the radio when England lose their fifth wicket or an aussie’s stumps go flying.