Friday, 28 November 2008

A SECRET(ISH) LOVE - Susan Price


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?

13 comments:

Katherine Langrish said...

Hmm - a lovely bit of blank cave wall, perhaps? with some enticing ochre mud? Or one's own bare skin and some nice black sticks of charcoal from the fire? People must have started doodling on themselves from pretty early on, rather like writing notes on your hand in biro.

I agree totally - stationary stores are SO enticing!

Penny Dolan said...

Just enraptured by these thoughts! Maybe it's the absolute totally wonderful potential of it all? The chance (as Kath says) to make your mark, where none has marked before? To speak in well-written script to people from your perfect, exactly-coloured self, not the one who scrabbles for an already dis-proved and erratically inking pen? Even the promise of having everthing in your life that may be awkward, grimy-edged, tattered or bumpy soon righted with the help of a few shiny paperclips? Hmmm! Contented sigh! And it's also all small task stuff, isn't it? The clear single sheet of paper invites that neat, witty line or two. We ignore the weight of the ream behind it. So no work involved eh? Just buy this stuff and you'll have instant transformation, reformation, and unsmudged joy! (By the way, the man home here, so wonderful in many ways, is forever offering grubby ex-office ring binders circa 1980, and therefore totally immune to stationery charm. Dear heavens, Sue, didn't mean to witter on like this. Think you've proved your point!!!

Lucy Coats said...

Maybe it's the allure of being organised--that Holy Grail of all writers (or writers like me, anyway), who dream of a tidy desk, with the filing done in serried ranks of folders, arranged according to published/unpublished, picture book or novel, ideas, poetry adult and children, instead of tottering and toppling piles, carefully balanced. The trouble is that the moving of any one piece of paper precipitates a precipitation of unmatched horror and messiness. And if it does happen, it gets piled up again until there is 'time' to do it--that is 'time' as a mythical concept. Oh lord, now you've got me at it too. I shall have to go to a stationary store forthwith to ease my mental pain.

PS: NEVER go to a cash and carry. They are even worse. I once came out with SIX trolleys of seductive stuff like nesting bowls with lids which I really didn't need...be warned

Mary Hoffman said...

Ah, stationery! Drool indeed. It's hard to believe ANYONE could be resistant to its allure. But as writers we are honour bound to be seduced by it, aren't we?

adele said...

This is so exactly how I feel that it's quite SPOOKY!! I adore stationery too....I used to write in gorgeous A5 notebooks and sort of collected them but that was then and I'm now totally computerised as a writer...but still haev a drawer ful of notebooks of every possible kind I cannot resist them. Nor pens. Nor all those things so well described by you, Susan.

Anonymous said...

Stationary stores are so much easier than moving ones

Linda Strachan said...

Oooh yes, note books. I can't resist them, little ones, A5 with bright covers,spiral bound or not, brand new and waiting... and pens. A while ago I found Asda were doing lots of small notebooks for pennies -striped ones, black ones, hard covers. So I bought a whole pile of them, still in cellophane...what a delight! One or two are still sealed..and waiting.

Stationary stores might be easier, but moving ones? You'd have to hop on or catch it- now that sounds like fun- Like a merry go round! But, what if it suddenly went so fast you couldn't get off again? there's probably a story in there somewhere..

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I thought this was my own secret madness! As the daughter of a draughtsman, I grew up surrounded by T-squares and drawing boards and the smell of paper and inks in the days when plans were truly blueprints and the wax (and drawings)could be soaked off to leave behind the most amazing piece of linen. I'm sure I held a pencil before I held a bottle (of milk)and therein lies the madness!

Jo Kenrick said...

I think Mr/Ms Anonymous was referring to the homophone stationary/stationery, which is often mixed up. But what's a vowel between freinds (sic)?

I am with Adele and Linda on the notebook thing. I have always felt as a writer that I SHOULD make notes in notebooks, so I buy them (in fancy colours or with stylish covers to 'inspire' me) and keep them in drawers. Every now and then I take one out and start a story in it (NB I never make notes in them). But before long, the story has got so long I need to transfer it to computer in order to work on it properly, so the notebook, part scribbled in, is returned to the drawer...and the rest of the pages remain blank for years!

And what is it about these stores that convinces you to buy items you never knew you needed before? Now, a pen pot that divides biros from rubbers, pencils from rulers - now THAT'S what's been missing from my desk all these years! And if I had two, I could use the other one for paintbrushes, couldn't I? But there are six colours, and I can't decide which ones I like best. I don't like brown, obviously, so that leaves five. Well, maybe I'd just better buy them all because, after all, they are quite cheap and so PRETTY...

Doda said...

I have to admit I'm a bit of an office suppliesoholic myself. I think it started in childhood. The joy of buying a new pencil, or a smart new notebook beats a new pair of shoes or a dress anytime!

Nick Green said...

Here's a random alternate theory: stationery stores have a characteristic, soothing smell. Almost too subtle to notice, but enough to trigger certain emotions and memories.

And then there is, of course, the huge crackling potential energy on those shelfs.

fritz said...

French stationery!!!!

fritz said...

I am not Fritz I am Catherine - I have never been able to use these comment thingies....
catherine johnsonx