It’s National Stationery Week, which has some writers more excited than others. Here three explain that it’s not just the League of Gentlemen‘s Pauline who loves pens.
“Stationery is Stationary.”
I’m not daft, I know the ‘e for envelope’ rule when spelling the word. What I mean is that for me, stationery is calmness, a constant. No matter what has been going on in my life, pads and pens always make me happy.
They’re a shortcut to joy. I’m sure other people are cheered by purchasing clothes and jewellery but when I want to treat myself, I wander into a stationery shop and breathe out. Plus, I’ve never been too fat for a ringbinder.
In times of stress and success, I turn to biros, pencil cases and, in a weaker moment, some crayons. I’ve been in Paperchase, Rymans, WHSmiths, Staples and a little independent one near me where the old ladies on the counter use their brains instead of tills, to cheer me up on a rubbish day, celebrate good test results and because it’s my birthday. It’s like alcohol but with more wonderment and possibility and less vomiting and ill-judged kissing.
“A new notepad is a new start. Anything could happen between these pages.”
I once revisited the pubs I used to frequent as a twentysomething with two old friends and was thrilled when I saw a member of the bar staff wandering around Kirkpatricks (South Shields, classy pub but horrible Miss World staircase to the loo) selling highlighters. I did think it a little odd but I hadn’t been on a pub crawl in 10 years. Clearly this is what they do now. Turns out they were illuminous shots of booze. I glanced around expecting to see lots of similarly disappointed faces but no, everyone was shiny and hammered and not even thinking about pens. Idiots.
Stationery is a failsafe present for me for friends and family. My husband has even learned what the optimum notepad is like (soft cover, lined and not too thick as I never fill them because I get too excited to start a new one).
And a new notepad is a new start. Anything could happen between these pages. It’s a Monday morning. A January 1st. A first date or day one of a new job. And for me it IS my job. I’m a lot less computer savvy than my spectacles and social awkwardness at parties would have you assume. I downloaded two Louis CK specials and one by Maria Bamford and then couldn’t find them on my laptop. Never found them. No clue.
My standup shows are entirely written in a collection of scrappy notebooks. I don’t trust computers. They’re all full of excuses. “Oh, sorry your work has disappeared but your iCloud was damp/I thought you wanted a blank page saving/I’m an arsehole and I hate you.” My notebooks are like someone you know rubbing your back. “It’s okay, I’m still in your handbag/on your bedside table/in the car. Here, have a clean page for all those new cock jokes.”
And breathe out.
(All the info on Sarah Millican’s new tour is here)
My dirty secret is so embarrassing (not to mention costly) that I would almost rather admit to having a coke habit.
It all started when my partner and I hadn’t been together too long.
The thing is, I wasn’t raised to have beautiful things for everyday tasks. Beautiful things were to be mournfully lusted after or scoffed at. Never to Actually Have.
But he bought me a Moleskine notebook and I immediately fell in love. Empty, it was full of promise. The lined pages, thick and creamy, longed to be filled with exciting ideas and witty notes. But full, they bulge like treasure troves (I think the makers secretly inject the pages with something that plumps them out when ink hits them, just to make them look more enticing and so you have to stretch the elastic tight in case your musings on the nomadic life fall out).
Since I opened my first one, I just can’t write in anything else. And as someone who travels the length and breadth of the country interviewing people but frequently forgetting her notebook and pen, you can imagine this habit costs me a pretty penny. So many times I have stood in WHSmiths, close to broke, hovering between the 400-page A4 pad for £3.99 and a good old £1m Moleskine. “Ah well,” I shrug. “I didn’t need lunch today anyway.” I take the notebook, use it for the interview, bring it home and file it on a shelf, never to be found.
“When people ask how much a Moleskine actually is, I watch their eyes widen as though I have confessed to putting batteries in the green bin.”
I wish I could say that their design and page quality is what makes them beautiful but it’s possibly the cost. A tenner! (I know!) If they were £3.99, perhaps they wouldn’t feel so special and I suspect that if someone were to offer me a job lot for a cut price I would go off them (though, try me, just in case). When people ask how much a Moleskine actually is, I watch their eyes widen as though I have confessed to putting batteries in the green bin. But with every line I write, at the back of my mind I’m secretly thrilled with the idea that I am basically writing up an interview with a Dudley pest controller on £50 notes.
Since having children the habit has got even more un-cost-effective on account of the fact that ALL BOOKS are fair game to be scribbled in. There’s nothing quite like opening your brand-new Moleskine at the Labour Party Conference to find giant goggly eyes peering at you from every right-hand corner. (And that’s before I clapped eyes on Miliband. Badoom-tish).
I’m not proud. I’m not. But on the other hand, I don’t smoke or do drugs and rarely drink so, er, that’s OK, right? To mitigate, I actually couldn’t give a shit about what pen I use. Any old chewed biro will do. But the notebook? The notebook is everything. So, like my New Yorker subscription and the 25 lattes I drink a week, my Moleskine habit must and will survive all household budget discussions. I’m a WRITER, goddammit.
“And thus began my obsession.”
It’s Christmas morning, 1983. Nan’s house, Swanley, Kent. This is the Christmas morning that seven-year-old Angela Barnes will open the best Christmas present that she ever opens. Ever.
The hot toys that year were Cabbage Patch Kids and Transformers, but Santa knew all too well little Angela Barnes wanted something a bit different.
And there it was, in all its glory. I ripped off the paper and squealed. My very own pink and yellow candy striped cardboard briefcase. Inside it was stuffed with paper of varying colours and sizes, ballpoint pens, envelopes, rulers, paperclips, a stapler (with staples), elastic bands, rubbers (to add to my burgeoning novelty collection), treasury tags (try telling the kids about those now) and, the piece de resistance, my very own hole punch. I set to work straightaway organising my office. For this seven-year-old had stories to write and stuff to staple.
It was a wonderful coincidence the case contained lot of the exact same stuff I had seen in my mum’s office on a Take Your Daughter to Work day. They must have used the same supplier…
And thus began my obsession with all things stationery.
Pens and paper have forever been my only way to express creativity. I can’t draw, I can’t colour in, I can’t sing, I can’t dance, but I can make barely legible marks onto paper and release the burden of the words being stuck inside my brain.
I am a words person, you see, not a numbers person or a pictures person. Stationery is the tool that converts the words in my head into something real and tangible. A pen puts the words on paper. A staple holds the pages together. Suddenly my silly thoughts are a thing that you can hold.
“I am always losing phones, keys and purses. I even once lost a shoe on the way to work, but I have never lost a pen.”
A pen and paper is my stress-release valve. Got a problem? Write it down. Missing someone? Write them a letter. You can always tell how I’m doing in myself by how many pens I have had to buy that week. If there are fewer than three in my handbag, I’m having a good week.
I feel more lost without a pen in my pocket than anything else. I am always losing phones, keys and purses. I even once lost a shoe on the way to work, but I have never lost a pen. And I have never walked past a branch of Staples without going in. It is my Happy Place™.
My pen of choice, you ask? I’m a simple girl. As long as there are Bic four-colour biros in the world, and in my pencil case, I can survive.
Angela Barnes5010 Views
Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.