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Last Word by Tom Sykes (Irish Examiner, December 2007)


The home office is possibly civilisation’s finest invention. Especially when it’s in someone else’s home.

My home office, for example is located in a chilly garret at the very top of my wife’s childhood home (we actually live among precarious piles of tottering baby clobber in a small house at the bottom of the drive). When the wind whips round the gables the windows rattle and for the past month it’s been so cold I have had to wear my arctic-explorer’s Canada Goose jacket to prevent hypothermia setting in while I type. In fact, I’m wearing it now, and sitting two foot from a one bar fire and feeling pretty cosy.

I absolutely love it. And because it’s not actually in my home, I can come up here, to a nappy free zone where I am certain to be unmolested by the horrors and delights of family life and work furiously away all day – or drink tea, eat digestives and maybe take a restorative nap on the old bed that’s been left up here by happy accident if I so choose.

At least, I used to be able to. But last week my brother-in-law Turtle, another writer, who actually lives in the house, has moved his laptop into the garret next door to me (there’s no shortage of garrets at Lisnavagh. Sometimes I think they should be in the garret renting business. Ireland’s stuffed full of struggling writers just crying out for a good draughty garret).

Since Turtle’s arrival, life at the not-my-home-office has changed. I now have company – and competition. Although a door separates our offices, it’s not the most soundproof of dividers, and when I hear Turtle start clacking on his keyboard, I start to clack. When Turtle Skypes, I Skype. When Turtle stops for coffee, I stop for coffee. And, more importantly, when Turtle doesn’t stop for coffee, I don’t either, lest he think I’ve got a bit too much time on my hands. I went from eight cups a day to four overnight.

I think we’re both trying to find the measure of our new communal working arrangements. It’s been a long time since either of us worked in a real office and questions of etiquette abound. Should we greet each other every time we see each other? Should I stop for a chat when we pass each other? Even if I am just on the way to the loo? I worry that it is disruptive to do so. But maybe it’s rude not to?

I have to walk through Turtle’s garret to get to my garret which could one day annoy him. He has to come into my garret to make coffee which could one day annoy me. And the doors are thin enough for the odd shouted conversation, which could one day annoy both of us.

Here’s a conversation we just had:

Me: “I’m bored”.

Turtle: “Are you related to Eric Sykes?”

Me: “No.”


Turtle: “Did you know that James Mason was Belinda Carlisle’s father-in-law?”

Me: ” No.”

Another pause.

Me: “Don’t you have a home to go to?”