Have you ever, gentle blog-reader, found yourself in one of those giant stores that caters for offices? Have you wandered into the aisle that's lined with paperclips of every hue, size and kind – striped, plastic-covered, metal, circular... Little pots for holding pens. Bulldog clips that would clip bulldogs together. Transparent folders. Box folders. Folders with clips. Folders – sorry, I have to wipe drool away – with a metallic sheen, in silver, green, purple, blue.
There are those little round paper rings for reinforcing the hole in the paper that fits into folders with ring-clips. Somewhere there must be a dynasty, grown rich on the manufacture and sale of little sticky paper rings.
Other aisles are stuffed with envelopes of every colour and size, plain and decorated, padded and unpadded, self-sealing and ones you have to lick. Pens! Oh, the pens. I hardly ever write with a pen anymore, but oh, the allure of the pens. Roller-ball, felt, glitter, calligraphy... With special nibs!
I know it's not just me, or even just writers. My partner has never written anything except his thesis and that was so 'head-nipping' (his term) that it turned him off writing for life. Not long after I met him, I asked him for a lift to a big stationary store, so I could use his car to bring home some heavy boxes of printer paper. In the store a sort of rapture came over him and he drifted from aisle to aisle, examining paper and card of different weights, storage boxes of every kind for storing every kind of thing, rulers, compasses, calculators, coloured inks, ledgers, portfolios (with and without inner pockets)... In a dreamy, wondering voice, he said “I didn't know places like this existed...!” Yet another benefit to him of meeting me. And soon he was returning reguarly, alone, to look at the big set-squares, the highlighter pens and the wall charts.
I have other friends, quite unconnected to writing, to whom I've said, “I just need to nip into the stationary store...” and they've been visibly thrilled. “Oh, I'll come in with you,” they've said, a little too quickly and eagerly. And once through the doors, they've slipped away to finger the mouse-mats and the desk-tidies, perhaps bought themselves a new pencil or a block of post-it notes in that hard-to-come-by shade of chartreuse, which will make them the envy of their work-colleagues.
Why do office supplies have this appeal? Where's the evolutionary basis? In all essentials we are still, we're told, the hunter-gatherers of the Ice Age. It makes sense, then, that the sight of three red deer stags picking their way past me to reach a river should rivet me to the spot. That's food, clothing and tools, on the hoof. But why does a fixture full of envelopes, with or without windows, in buff, cream or white, have the same effect? Where would Ice-Age man ever have come across them?