The art of writing paper

I needed a plastic sleeve the other day to give someone some documents. The only one available (and decent-looking) was one containing seven sheets of pretty writing paper.

This was a gift received seven years ago from a friend with whom I used to correspond frequently via snail mail. I appreciated the gesture very much. The original gift contained 20 sheets of this A4 notepaper and the same number of envelopes, the stock of the latter now having been entirely depleted.

I appreciated this gift because it harked back to a bygone era – and to my childhood.

As little girls, we used to collect and exchange sheets of pretty notepaper. I doubt ten-year-olds today would find this an interesting pursuit, but when I was that age, we still had black and white television and certainly did not watch it every day.

In addition, the stationery we were issued at school was dull in the extreme. Most exercise books had newsprint pages and defied the use of a fountain pen; the covers were always a fairly nauseating khaki colour. For this reason, we were allowed to paste pictures cut from old Christmas cards and the like on the front. Nevertheless, I do recall a certain amount of censorship.  Magazine pictures of women in bikinis were not permitted.

Exercise books with white paper were reserved for “special” subjects, such as English Composition and Geography.

As if to put most people off for life intentionally, English Language (including Grammar, of course) was practised upon grainy newsprint at least one quality grade below that of butcher’s paper. In fact, my mother asked her butcher for a few unblemished sheets of his paper for a school project of mine once. We did not get the few extra slices of complimentary ham that week. Anyway, I would have preferred my grammar book – and all others for that matter – to have been filled with pages of bluish grey Basildon Bond®.

I should mention that in my formative years I was schooled in a former British colony under economic sanctions at the time. Prudent use of resources was essential, and this trickled all the way down to the necessity of drawing two or three extra lines with one’s ruler at the top or bottom of each page of the exercise book in order to “save paper”. I am sure this very effective national campaign had something to do with my preference as an adult for large pieces unlined paper upon which my large handwriting can spread uninhibited.

So there we were, in a world where the best colours could be found in the garden, or, on a sheet of writing paper. Each little girl treasured her eclectic collection, and we more or less all ended up with the same sheets as one another. Unless someone went on holiday outside of the country, and came back with something new and exciting. But then, she was normally the girl with the best collection anyway, and unwilling to exchange her fabulous writing paper for something locally-produced which she already had.

Fast forward to today.  Unsleeved on my desk lie these seven reminders of a magic bubble of yesterdays. I have a mind in the not too-distant future to write a short letter to seven friends who would appreciate a letter in the post. It will obviate the need to buy more plastic sleeves.


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