When I wake up in the night I get up, make myself a cup of tea and come and sit at my desk. It’s a very sturdy, dependable sort of desk, just the right height, with three drawers of different sizes on the right hand side.
The very first company I worked for (and still do) is DESMA, the world’s leading manufacturer of machinery for the footwear industry. About 25 years ago they decided to sell off some of their old office furniture and I bought this desk for 50 Deutschmarks, €25. A few years later I decided to personalise it by spray-painting the wooden surface antique crackled gold. Last year I thought time had come to modernise, but then I thought of all the words, lessons, ideas this desk helped me with and that it has been a trusty friend in good times and bad and I would be daft to throw it away just because I could.
My lovely husband is reading the Bolton book about Trump just now, the ideas and concepts get his blood pressure going for the day as he reads a few pages before getting up every morning, and the idiomatic language is sometimes challenging. But, being married to an native speaker (and an English teacher to boot!) he doesn’t have to wonder long about the meanings of such phrases.
This week he asked about the word ‘resolute’, which surprised me as ‘resolut’ is a German word too. But he was perplexed as to how a desk could be resolute. Ah, but it wasn’t ‘a’ resolute desk which was being described, it was ‘the’ Resolute desk.
“This double pedestal partners’ desk, usually called the “Resolute desk”, was made from the oak timbers of the British ship H.M.S. Resolute as a gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes from Queen Victoria in 1880. It has been used by every president since Hayes, excepting Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, 1964-1977.
It was used in the President’s Office on the Second Floor of the Residence from 1880 until 1902, at which time the office was moved to the newly constructed West Wing. This desk remained, however, on the Second Floor of the Residence in the President’s Study. President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that the rear kneehole be fitted with a panel carved with the presidential coat-of-arms, but he did not live to see it installed in 1945.
After the Truman Renovation of the White House, 1948-1952, it was placed in the Broadcast Room on the Ground Floor where it was used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during radio and television broadcasts. It was first used in the Oval Office in 1961 at the request of President John F. Kennedy.
After President Lyndon B. Johnson selected another desk for his office, it was lent to a Kennedy Library traveling exhibition, 1964-1965, and then to the Smithsonian Institution for exhibition, 1966-1977.
In January 1977, President Jimmy Carter requested that this historic desk be returned to the White House for use again in the Oval Office. In 1981, President Ronald W. Reagan also chose to use this desk in the Oval Office. President George Bush used it in the Oval Office for five months in 1989 before having it moved to his Residence Office in exchange for a partner’s desk which he had used in his West Wing office as Vice President. It was returned to the Oval Office for use by President Bill Clinton, 1993-2001. President George W. Bush chose to continue using it in the Oval Office during his terms.
A brass plaque affixed to the desk records the history of its creation:
“H.M.S. ‘Resolute’, forming part of the expedition sent in search of Sir John Franklin in 1852, was abandoned in Latitude 74º 41′ N. Longitude 101º 22′ W. on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855, in Latitude 67º N. by Captain Buddington of the United States Whaler ‘George Henry’. The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England, as a gift to Her Majesty Queen Victoria by the President and People of the United States, as a token of goodwill & friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the Queen of Great Britain & Ireland, to the President of the United States, as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the “Resolute’.”
Courtesy and loving kindness seem to have got a bit lost in some countries at the moment, and goodwill and friendship are not how I would describe the current antics of certain politicians in certain countries at the moment.
All the more reason for the rest of us to be resolute. Presidents come, and they go.
The Cabin fever part: