E Jane Dickson: 'I shouldn't be wasting my time on flat-pack furniture, I should be flying kites with my kids'

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On the box containing the flat-pack desk there is a picture of a little man who has opened the package the wrong way up. Quite a small component has fallen out and grazed his shin, and the little man is rubbing the afflicted part in a hopelessly good-humoured way, a bit like Stan Laurel.

On the box containing the flat-pack desk there is a picture of a little man who has opened the package the wrong way up. Quite a small component has fallen out and grazed his shin, and the little man is rubbing the afflicted part in a hopelessly good-humoured way, a bit like Stan Laurel.

I only notice the picture of Stan once I, too, have opened the package wrongly. I, however, take the Oliver Hardy route, stamping and swearing and railing at the heavens when a length of sustainable rubberwood catches me smack on the shoulder. Clara pops her head round the door and gives me an encouraging smile. "It's going to be a lovely desk, isn't it?" she says.

I agree that it will be lovely. Whether it will, in fact, be a desk is less certain. Fanned out on the bedroom floor, it looks like a particularly pointless art installation - the kind where you have to work out the meaning backwards from the title. I decide to call mine Divorcee: 10pm and go to make a cup of tea, hoping, almost believing, that when I come back the pieces will have rearranged themselves into some more cohesive form. It's a system of personal re-booting that sometimes works for me. You simply switch off, turn your back on the problem and when you return, hey presto, the lost keys are in your shoe, the jammed fax machine is working and you get on with your day, feeling lucky.

It's not working this time, though. The bits of wood are precisely where I left them and I am feeling the thunderous self-pity that is peculiar to the single parent. I shouldn't be wasting my time on this stuff; I should be wading through rock pools and flying kites with my kids like the single mums in the building-society ads. If women were meant to assemble flat-pack furniture there would be a picture of Lucille Ball instead of Stan Laurel on the so-called instructions.

Bugger it. I'll ring a friend and ask him to help. I won't be blatant about it. That would be feeble and unfeminist, and even though I always drew the line at dressing like a feminist (I did have a pair of dungarees in 1979 but they were baby pink and extremely fitted), there is a small part of me that still believes in sisters doing it for themselves. So I will ring my friend for a casual but extremely well-informed chat about screwdrivers. I'll explain that mine isn't quite up to the job (you would think that you'd be OK with a super-tungsten Phillips cross-head with flexible flange, but there you go) and maybe he'll bring his over and we'll have that desk licked, two co-workers together.

I can hear my friend smirking down the phone. "Go on, say the words," he prompts. "You need a man."

"No," I insist. "I need a desk." But already I'm scratching the top of my head and grinning like a fool. My inner Ollie pokes my inner Stan in the chest. "Another fine mess," he scolds, and I fear he may be right.

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