From the age of six I was brought up in Queen’s College, Oxford with this building at the end of our garden.

library summer storm

The Queen’s college library with a summer storm coming in

The library is an exquisite Queen Anne edifice with an imposing stone eagle on the top. The eagle’s presence is explained by the college’s coat of arms, which is a shield with three red eagles on it. This is the coat of arms of the founder of the college Robert de Eglesfield (1341) and I assume the eagles were a pun on his name.

My bedroom was in the roof of the Provost’s Lodging’s and looked straight out at the eagle. It was the last thing I saw before I fell asleep each night.

the lodgings

Top right was my bedroom window

Not long after we moved into the Lodgings, the eagle was struck by lightning in the middle of a spectacular thunderstorm. I was looking out of the window when it happened. It shattered and crashed down into our garden. It was odd that it was struck because we were surrounded by much higher spires: St Mary’s, the University church was not far away and that is the highest spire in the city centre and then there were the turrets of All Souls college and indeed the Queen’s chapel. But it was the eagle that attracted the lightning.

Perhaps it saw the opportunity to take flight and seized it.

What is it like to live in this city of birds and shadows? It is like being the offspring of a ghost and a hooligan


It is an event from my childhood that is fixed firmly in my memory because I was upset and frightened by it. The following day I remember looking at all the pieces of it smashed on the paving stones and trying to hide the fact that I was crying.  Some of it disappeared into my mother’s rockery, other bits were swept away.

In time another eagle was carved and hoisted aloft, this time with the precaution of a lightning conductor running down its back. I remember how big the new one seemed, almost as tall as me, and I remember touching it before it was hoisted aloft. I thought no one was going to touch it for a long time once it was up there.

However, I never felt quite the same way about the new one.

On my desk I have part of the stone eagle that I saw being struck by lightning; a hand-sized piece of its wing that my mother kept. It reminds me of her and my father and of that old eagle that shattered.

eagle wing

Eagle wing

Sometimes I imagine the old eagle is out there, surfing the currents above the Oxford spires, sometimes I imagine he might land on my window sill one night to reclaim this from me.

I have it here to remind me to retain a little bit of that magic from my childhood in my writing. After all, what are our imaginations for, if not for taking flight from time to time?

Do you have an object or touchstone that has a particular significance for you? What is it?


12 thoughts on “ON MY DESK: EAGLE WING

  1. My grandparents were farmers and provided the milk for the village.
    All the milk bottles were marked with our surname ‘Burrow’ and their village ‘Church Minshull’.
    My grandparents have both flown away but I was given a special gift when visiting an old friend of the family.
    Her neighbours had found one of these bottles buried underneath a few feet of soil near their wall and it was still intact! So now it’s on my bedside table next to their photo.🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting the power we give objects, isn’t it. I remember going to a heritage talk and the speaker produced a lump of stone and told us it was from the Berlin Wall. We responded with reverential nods and sighs, and then the speaker told us, actually, he was lying, it was a bit of stone he’d found in his garden… I have too many bits’n’pieces that mean something to me, and love picking them up from time to time. Everything from an Esso keyring from the ’60s to my grandfather’s brass seal when he was a missionary in India, as well as a couple of my old toy cars (a plastic 2CV and one of those Austins with turning wheels that were very desirable to an eight year old…). Sacred objects, to me at least.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a wonderful tale.
    Seems it has the makings of a short story …
    My studio is full of sacred objects, sacred to me any way. My family, my friends, my surroundings have given me gorgeous, often very colourful things which speak to me as I work on my next painting.
    I suppose one of the most touching are the paints and paint brushes that belonged to my father. I use them and I think how he modelled having a studio in the house. And I have had a studio in every house I have ever owned.
    Happy flying!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Francesca! I’m looking at the card of the Virgin of the Macarenas which is on my desk now. I really enjoyed the episode of Civilizations that dealt with that! My Man with the Blue Sleeve managed to get himself a brief visit in one of those as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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