I’m a sucker for stationery – notepads with marker ribbons; tiny booklets with attached pencils that I can put in my pocket when walking; post-it notes; files; pens, highlighters… a stationery shop is like a sweetshop to me. And this magpie propensity for collecting stationery has led to all sorts of projects on the go. I have a beautiful notebook from China covered in embroidered silk with the finest rice paper embellished by gold leaf. It is my Dream Diary half-filled with details of my most memorable dreams (inspiration for short stories, I once thought); I have a workaday Journal, a robust hardback with lined paper, sporadically kept up to date where I keep tabs on everyday life – it is stuffed with precious cards and photos, gig tickets, The Valentine Letters (again material for a future book), and assorted memorabilia. This Journal has become the encyclopaedia of my life and carries important information therein, such as the date my beloved and I first met (can it really be twenty-five years?) and some poignant conversations between me and my dear sister, who died fifteen years ago. This Journal is a treasure-trove.
I have a beautiful book of Homeopathy Notes that traces my somewhat hypochondriacal musings on the subject, and one of my favourites, my Gardening Book, filled with years of notes on the weather, ideas for new beds, crop rotations in the veg patch and the like. And I have a novel on the go, written in longhand using a real ink pen given to me by my co-editor Sophie, when we worked together on a magazine many years ago. Sometimes, I wonder if I start new writing projects just so that I can have another notebook.
However, committing words to paper in this era of pixels and emails is perhaps more important than we might think. It occurred to me recently that I cannot now access any of the information I keep on CD as my new, all-singing, all-dancing iMac doesn’t have a disk drive – and as for floppy disks, well they may as well be used for coasters, for all the good they are to me now. In ten years time, technology will have moved on again to such a degree that we may well not be able to access what we’re currently committing to the iCloud or Googledocs. What gems may be lost?
This week, I’ve been editing a wonderful historical book for a client whose interest is in the first English explorers in the time of Elizabeth I and Ivan the Terrible in Russia. He has found records – on paper of course – that transport one back to a time almost inconceivable to us now: where rhubarb and rubies were prized riches, where travel took months and years, not hours and where tyrants ruled with an iron fist: an ill-chosen word and one’s head was on a spike. What has surprised me most though is not the information itself – fascinating as it is – but the fact that so much of it is still accessible. Diaries, Wills, maps, notebooks… the intimacies of everyday life that allow us to piece together new stories.
So here’s to the stationery shop, and here’s to pens and paper and the longevity it gives to words.
Currently listening to: Mulatu Astatke – Yekermo Sew