I recently discovered the back of WH Smith. That is to say, I knew of course that it was there, but since the days of joining the long queue to buy records and videos, and later the dvds, cds and console games that filled my children’s Christmas lists, I’ve not ventured so far into the store. In fact, I rarely go in at all but I do know that it’s several years since the department closed. I’ll mention here that I cannot stand WH Smith. It is one of my least liked shops. Once it was a half decent stationer/newsagents but nowadays once you’ve squeezed past the ever-present ‘pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap’ recipe books placed within a few feet of the entrance, it’s over-full, overpriced and underwhelming. If I’m buying a torch and the assistant asks whether I’d like batteries, that makes perfect sense, but when I’m asked if I’d like chocolate when I’m buying some loose-leaf diary pages , well that’s just plain irritating. I know it’s not the staff’s fault but does management really believe that this is the way to woo their customers? Do you think they offer those “Are you interested in our chocolate bars for only a pound today?” to someone buying a diet magazine? I get my copy of Slimming World at the meeting but maybe I’ll try it one day just to test them!
Anyhow, back to the back of my local store. I had twenty minutes to kill whilst waiting for a prescription and, as I mentioned the other day, we’re getting a bit short on quality shops in the local town, so I decided to take a look at the magazine shelves in said shopand then wandered a little further back where I saw a sign which said SALE. There, tucked around the corner at the back of the shop were several shelves full off all manner of odds and ends including these: two A5 notebooks reduced from £9.99 to just £3.99 each.
The one on the left is embroidered and sequinned and the one on the right, surely not real leather but certainly looks and feels like it, is a pale pink with a gold shimmer. I love note books. It began back in high school where, if you took your old rough-book to the school office at break time, they’d hand you a replacement. What was it, even then, about those untouched, blank pages and the delicious anticipation of a new beginning?I’d always make a silent promise to myself that I was going to keep this one really neat. I’m no longer concerned about the neatness; always large, my handwriting in those days was somewhat more contained but years of scribbling memos in meetings, and later the copious note-taking at university eroded what was once a more ordered hand resulting the unstructured scrawl of today.
New notebooks sit on my home desk whilst they wait for their use to become apparent. Inspiration will come – a new project, a new interest, an occasion to plan – these always mean a new book. The shimmery pink one has already been earmarked for a holiday later in the year – a steam rail tour of Yorkshire (a first for us and sure to prompt lots of writing). A new notebook is a treat whether it comes from the more costly Waterstones or Paperchase or costs a couple of pounds in a discount shop, like the lilac embossed one below which is used in the kitchen – shopping, meal planning and jotting notes when experimenting with recipe changes. I’m not precious about about their provenance but the books must meet certain criteria – firstly there has to be something that catches my eye about the cover and second, the paper must be of an acceptable quality, which means not too thin, and nicely smooth; I can’t bring myself to write on ‘sugary’ paper. The so far unused black one really is leather – a gift and quite likely the most expensive notebook I’ve owned.
The pink one with a ‘mother of pearl’ type inlay sits besides my PC and is full of notes on fictional characters and words I may like to incorporate into a story. Sometimes a short speech or sentence that sounds ‘right’ for a character pops unbidden into my mind; these too are recorded in here. The plain gold glittery one contains notes made when my son was so ill in hospital last year. He is not of a mind to take what happened any further but if his feelings change, it’s all in here ready for him.
Also in the kitchen is this small, held-together-with sellotape, hardback silver book in which I record what I’ve given people to eat at dinner parties. It all goes in here and makes useful reference when entertaining the same guests later on. Here you can see the first entry from when I began recording in 2008 and another for a Tapas evening where I raised funds for the NACC (now Crohns and Colitis UK) some years later. Family meals are not recorded as that’s not the same kind of entertaining. Don’t ask for an explanation for this quirk because I can’t adequately give one. It’s just the way it is.
Extracts of poetry, passages I have particularly enjoyed in a novel, an admired sequence of words written by a columnist, can be found in the pages on the small, brightly coloured book below. This one dates from January 1993 with it’s first entry an adaption of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘If thou must love me…’ sonnet 14.
Each year in October I start my Christmas book for the year: lists of cards to send, presents to buy (and present ideas for myself – someone always asks), food to shop for, food to prepare, and endless seasonal ‘to do’ lists. Here is Christmas 2018’s version looking somewhat dog-eared from being constantly pulled in and out of my handbag where it resided for the best part of three months. It will stay around until I’ve copied the card list into the 2019 book and will then be discarded.
Notebooks have also supported my working life – many are the times that I’ve been able to trawl back through month’s, even year’s, worth of notes to find a bit of lost information. You might wonder why not when I tell you that I don’t keep a journal. This is something I’ve tried several times over the years but I’m just not disciplined enough to stick with it on a daily basis. I wish I was – the benefits of journal writing are well documented: writing things down enhances mental clarity,
My final notebook, a present from my daughter, is this unusual little tome – 642 tiny things to write about. It sets outs scenarios and prompts for writing – some realistic, others that stretch the imagination in ways you’ve never considered. I decided that it would make an interesting holiday project and made a start last year when we were away in Devon and later on the cruise. I shall take it with me to Ireland next month and fill in a few more pages.
For me, a notebook provides a place to play around with words, experiment, a breeding place for unleashing creativity. It can be a place to write out pain, to focus, to plan.
‘What is it about a new notebook … that unleashes such powerful emotions – especially in us women? The humble notebook and pen have serious credentials as healing tools, with journal-writing increasingly linked to improved mental and physical health’ (Cathy Bussey, Telegraph 2015).