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Sunday, 15 November 2020

Is it real?



Is there such a thing as the perfect notebok, or is it a quest for the impossible?

The Traveller's Notebook story is infectious. It has got under my skin.

Type, traveller's notebook or Midori into a search engine and see what comes up.

I feel like I've opened the door of the wardrobe, not the one to Narnia. this is a strange land, is it Midoria?

It is a land where the simplest thing, a leather sheet with a handful of holes punched in it and threaded with an elastic band becomes a gravity well.

It draws in the refills and on the paper it collects the thoughts, ideas, tickets, stickers, stamps. Anything you could possibly get to stay between the covers, or with a clip on the edge (hanging on by the metaphorical fingernails,) pen, pencil.

There will be one somewhere, with sketch or watercolour paper, in an insert with a waterbrush tucked into the elastic or snuggled into a clip. It has to be.

I digress, my question was, is there such a thing as a perfect notebook, or are we, like the Grail heroes, chasing the impossible.

The quest, the journey, the search for the imposible, is what matters. When success is in the travelling, not reaching the end. 

What we discover about ourselves on the journey is the quest. The picture is a thought in action.

Without leaving my seat, what notebooks do I have to hand, and you can see the result.

A5, cahier, passport size, moleskine, home made kraft card cover cahiers. Leather Midori style, Wanderings, September leather, and a home made one. 

A motley crew, the current cast of a story that stretches back years, decades.

I've found making notebooks immensely satisfying, and I occasionally wonder if I have too many. Am I feeding a strange obsession? Perhaps, or merely doing something I enjoy and find relaxing.

Go on, admit it Martyn, you're hooked on stationery, when I find myself in that aisle in the supermarket, I am stationary.

There is a strange promise in a pristine notebook. to make the transient solid, capturing the fleeting thought and fix it on the page.

The fresh page, and the book beckons, taunts and challenges in one moment. To reveal a precious thing, not by peeling away, by adding lines of ink or layers of paint.

Who said the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?

Every story begins with a single stroke of a pen on paper, or the sweep of a brush. The step into the unknown, how will the story unfold or the painting ever be finished?

The search goes on.

Will the perfect notebook reveal itself at the moment you close it, after reaching the end of the last page, knowing it becomes a passive companion, retrospective, and not an active player on the journey. 

Am I looking for an individual book, or a type. Closing the last page creates the desire to find a match, another of the type to continue the story.

The degree of perfection dictated by the task it is called to.

I'm drafting this in an A5 notebook with a suede effect cover, writing with the ubiquitous Parker jotter. Picked up for a few pounds at The Range. Off the top of my head I can't recall the brand.

I'm comfortable with it, scribbling the thoughts and drafts for a blog post on the pale cream paper. 

I may be in a mellow mood, for yellow paper, white is too stark, cold, clinical. It has an uncomfortable brightness.

ivory, pale yellow, or a similar colour is warm, more welcoming.

The notebook, let's call it THE notebook, as a type will call for a sense of connection. It will become a nexus from the fleeting world of thought to the outside world. Inviting, not taunting or challenging, welcoming.

Inviting the pen to jot down the idea. we are not doing lines for misbehaving. we're planning brilliant, intimate, inspired, life changing.

To ask so much of a notebook!

The perfect notebook couldn't do what we ask, it has to be as we are, imperfect. 

The cover of the Midori, of the numerous Fauxdori and alternatives is a skin, and the idea of making what you will out of it. The skin holds the parts and the book begins a life of its own, a companionship with its owner, but essentially it carries the bumps and marks of its own existence. 

They show its character, as our bumps and grazes show ours, it changes as we do, as we share the journey.

A friend, a companion, what else could we want?

Perfect!

Martyn

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Scary. starry night




Nanowrimo v Hallowe’en

That’s the real battle, not the ghouls and the reindeer squaring up across the aisles in the supermarket from October onwards, we know how that one ends. The ghosties and ghoulies are vanquished by the 1st of November.
 
That’s when the scary bit starts. Most of the world is waiting for a knock on the door, counting the hours until the stroke of midnight and the annual ghoul fest is over for another year.
 
Others, you and I, my friend, stare into a blank void as the chimes strike out into the darkness, a rolling toll of tension circles the globe as each time zone reaches the witching hour and the hammering and scratching begins.

That lonely place, a blank screen or sheet of crisp white paper. Pristine as the fresh snow fields in the high latitudes awaiting the first footfall, 

The moment, the first impression, once made it is there, it exists, even if you later delete it. 

You made the mark!

The last chord of midnight fades into silence, and another clock ticks into life – a pulse of creativity. Thirty days, to fifty thousand words, and you can make all the excuses you like. The only person you’re cheating is yourself.

Reach the end and the deed is done, Midnight strikes again and November clicks over to December. 

1667 a day will keep you on track, and the chunk of verbiage qualifies. 

The length of the Great Gatsby, twenty seven thousand shorter than Where Eagles Dare, and every word counts.

You wrote the draft of the novel you always said you would write.

I'll see you on the other side.

Good luck!


Martyn

Sunday, 25 October 2020

My First Notebook



Not the first notebook I ever had, that is a long forgotten memory. I can hazard a guess it was probably a Silvine brand notebook with lined pages and a stitched spine.

This first notebook is my first attempt at scratch building a Midori style traveller's notebook.

I've touched on this in an earlier post, so I'll try not to digress too much.

Having entered the world of the Traveller's Notebook, I'm struck by the ethos of flexibility it generates amongst user and aficionados. I have become a fan, and will spend time tinkering with the mechanics of compiling, assembling, binding and trimming the components of the refills. Right down to securing the signature spines with a pamphlet stitch. 

A reasonable achievement for me, my track record with a needle and thread lies with lashing things together, rather than sewing.

The relatively simple matter of lining up the holes for the stitching and the spine of the outer cover caused a bit of headscratching. A basic card template helped. Unfolding the papers and laying them flat after the initial fold usually meant one or more holes were misaligned. 

I needed a cradle. A simple V shape to drop the pages and the template in together with as little distortion or displacement as possible.

The inspiration lay with Wallace and Gromit, erstwhile heroes of "A Grand Day Out," "Wrong Trousers." "The Curse of the WereRabbit," etc,

An old biscuit tin on top of he bookcase stamped with an impression of the characters holding electrical bits contains pieces of Meccano. An engineering construction toy from way back. 

Working - playing - with Meccano is a noisy job, especially when the bits are in a biscuit tin. Digging through the metal parts looking for the right one.

I spent a while nosing around the Internet, especially Pinterest, picking up ideas and wound up with a vague idea of what I wanted, and how I might do it, nothing planned, a sort of picture in my head and little else to do for a couple of hours. 

The Meccano built the base, the cradle, and the bed where the paper would lie came next.

A while ago, I had a need for a six inch rule (don't ask, it was an idea stuck in my head moment and only a six inch rule would do,) and ended up with a packet of ten or more from a supplier on the Internet. Two of these rules became the sides of the bed, held by a couple of rubber bands to stop them slippping and the job was good to go.

The test piece was a handful of folded pages torn from an old reporters notebook, and they proved the cradle worked. It was strong enough for the job. The jeweller's awl was too big. The holes were far larger than required.

The solution came with a return to my original home made awl, a needle thrust into the cork from an Islay whisky. It punched beautifully and the holes were closer to the size of the needle I use for stitching. I was happy with the result.

The moment of truth beckoned! A new refill, as I had done with all the others, I clipped the leaves and the template together, dropped them into the cradle and punched.

Two out of three ain't bad, according to Meatloaf. 

I want three out of three.

What happened?

The cradle gave as I pressed down. The rubber bands around the six inch rules flexed slightly, allowing the leaves and the template to drop with the bottom of the cradle, into the V.

Because I had clipped one side of the booklet to hold the leaves together it flexed awkwardly and couldn't follow. The spine was thrown out of line at one end and the needle missed the mark. 

Next time, without the clip, I folded the leaves and the cover together, slipped the punching template into the middle, tapped them straight and dropped them in.

I punched the centre station first, and the flexing cradle sorted the alignment. Three out of three, spot on! 

The job is a good one.

I am pleased with the result. It has the over engineered qualities of Wallace and Gromit, or Heath Robinson, (Rube Goldberg has a similar reputation in the United States,) in the spirit of cobbling it together, hey, it works.

Only one thing left to say. 

"That'll do!"

Martyn

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Under the skin

No pun intended, but the idea of the Midori, Traveller's notebook or whatever brand name your variant may, or may not have, it strikes me that is what this item does. It gets under your skin.

I've found the concept and the way so many users employ it to facilitate their own personalities, fascinating. 

The number of pins dotted around Pinterest offering downloadable formats for the inserts, and the production lines feeding the internet stores and Etsy will easily pass an hour while the tea goes cold in the mug.

It creates a discussion inside my head.

The old habit of carrying multiple notebooks is hard to break, and the reality of multiple books inside one cover is equally hard to establish.

Not one book, books with paper layouts specific to a role, or task.
Plain, lined(ruled), grid, dots, storyboards, musical staves, the list is bounded by the imagination.

Sketchpad, story board, planner, diary, bullet journal - the list is comprehensive. If you are inclined to make your own, incompetech.com has a variety of downloadable formats to . 

The result is a pleasantly tactile, versatile tool.

A tug of war ensues, the notebook on the desk says, pick me up, write, you know you want to, and it's true, even when the idea isn't there. 

An endless notebook, a literary suitcase, when the pages are full, at journey's end?
The inserts are unpacked, and fresh ones are stowed for the next stage of the jounrey. 

The previous inserts are tucked away, not sent to the laundry - hopefully!

A reversal of the previous reticence to plunge into a new volume. A pamphlet stitched signature drawing you under the covers. 

The package exerts an intimacy, the individuality of each one, shunning the regimented uniformity of staples. The way the elastic cords, the bands, hold the notebook inserts into the cover, and each, other is quirky. Not precise, they snuggle together under the covers.

This quiet intimacy creates the connection, and is self reinforcing. The more contact you have, the stronger the hold and the pull becomes.

It has gravity,  The evidence of its experience is on the cover, as we wear the traces of our own, and reveals the character of the notebook itself. You wouldn't be surprised to see Indiana Jones draw one from his pocket, and all eyes are on the book.

Who wouldn't like that notebook?

Martyn


Sunday, 27 September 2020

Making the mark


I found the time, and the place, to break the surface of the Wanderings Notebook. The brand of the "Midori-style" notebook I had been given. It was either birthday or wedding anniversry, I can't rememebr which, the look of satisfaction on the giver's face I do remember. 

"I've found something you'l like," 

They were on the mark. 

Last year, I acquired a pair of cats, and that is definitely another story! 

Back in the patch of changeable weather that calls itself Summer on the Yorkshire coast. A procession of sunshine, pleasant, warm, and now and again hot. Rain, running the range from drizzle - walking through a low cloud leaving you feeling wet and uncomfortable - it gets into all the nooks and crannies - to torrential. Saturated in seconds, not as discomforting as drizzle.

The fog, an East coast sea fret, drifts in after warm weather and dense enough to wake the foghorn. Quite a mixture to stir into  a few nights away from home. 

Travel, excitement and activity, good food and then collapse into a cloud of crisp white Egyptian cotton after the sun drops behind the North Yorkshire Moors, and the fog slips ashore. It gets a bit Stephen King, A strange house, a strange bed and the deep sonorous note of mournful resignation from the harbour. A baritone sigh from the belly of the sea, tapping into the light sleep, at one minute intervals until the fog clears about 4.00 a.m.

You wake to brilliant sunlight all around. Fog, what fog, you must have been dreaming!

In the esoteric wrapping of the holiday was the moment I pulled aside the retaining loop and opened the book with intent to write, a review of a Fish and Chip restaurant. Yes, a fish and chip shop. Look, it's Scarborough on the Yorkshire Coast, and they do damn good fish and chips, and Black Sheep Ale. Enough said!

A few scribbled notes, and I forgot to grab the significant point - the Amercian singer who inspired the name "Winking Willy." (Any suggestions, drop me a line.)

No clues line the walls, the decor is strictly nautical, and locally flavoured. The  local maritime bric-a-brac, an occasional tip to the wider world,  with a whisp of baudy seaside humour.
 
The owner plays on the name, Willy, euphemistically male organs - Do I have to spell it out? The serious business of combating the Covid 19 virus gets a lighter touch. The hygiene drill begins with the hand gel, dispensed from the Willy Sanitiser, and Willy Distancing encourages social separation.The largest dish they serve is "Willy's whopper," a real belly buster. 

Social distancing tables reduced the number of seats available, but for the diner, the distance made the evening more intimate. There is no sense of being cheek by jowl with the next table. The staff had more time to jnteract with the customers.

It did the trick, the smooth clear paper had been marked and I could now easily scribble away, and the book has a clip for the Jotter ballpoint. The knock on effect is curious, a reticence to jot things ad hoc has gone and the scribbles, jottings and doodles on the pages are often only connected by their physical recording between the covers . 

The odd thing is, the feel for this style of notebook is so comfortable, like it's been it's around for ever.  A few weeks before lockdown I had no inkling of the potential.  The past few months have opened my eyes to the freedom and flexibility found among the users.

It has the potential to become obsessive.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Martyn

Monday, 7 September 2020

The Write Stuff

Tradition, an explanation of how and why things are done in a certain way, and always appear to have been done. It can be a way of drawing a conversation to a fairly abrupt end.

Don't ask, don't question, it's tradition. It was a familiar word as I grew up, I often saw it tucked behind my Dad's ear, embossed in gold lettering on the barrel of a pencil.

A Joiner by trade. Not a carpenter, he once emphasised the difference,  a Joiner, and his tradition was a pencil. The red and black striped Staedler. 

I watched him with it, marking out a job, scribbling a sketch or a note. I never saw him use any other. He liked the way it kept its point and the mark it made against the wood.

The tradition I gained was to look for the right qualities in the tools for the job. My search for the perfect, or the best available notebook, the one that suits me. is joined with finding a writing instrument to match.

Burdened by the urge to scribble things down quickly, my hand writing resulted in an erratic scrawl described as a cross between Michaelangelo and a spider on acid. It was funny, true, and not entirely a compliment.

School began with pencils, the Staedler came later, and  progressed to ballpoint. A strange plastic Platignum design that looked like an old fashioned dip pen. (Ironic, given the school desks had the wells for ink pots in the top right hand corner). The ballpoint encouraged the scrawl until I came to the fountain pen.

With incessantly inky fingers from squeezing the rubber bladder inside the barrel. It required more control, and the  slower writing speed helped smooth out the scribble. 

Heavy handedness wasn't good for the nib,  a working compromise was achieved.The ink would flow freely if I eased off on the pressure. The general idea, write on the paper rather than engrave the words into it.

I digress, the Tradition pencil revealed an overlooked aspect of tradition. It is about what is passed on. Dad used that particular pencil, his tradition, and drawn from that I learned the value of the right tools. 

The Red and Black striped barrel became a benchmark for a pencil. The default pencil in the pot on my desk is the yellow and black version. 

The Staedler's made in Germany have a tighter grain and a different texture in the graphite than the British made ones. (I'll use a point cover, to keep the point in my pocket, and an extender when necessary, so I can work with the shorter stumps,)

The Tradition is wood, but the mark on the paper moved me towards technical solutions. 

I often had the pencil, but not the sharpener, or the blade was dull, and the fine line became a broad stroke. 

Enter, mechanisation. The propelling pencil. Compared with today's sub-millimetre standard lead, the chunky Platignum pencil that came with a matching fountain pen laid a wide stripe across the page.

It was a consistent stripe, not a variable thickness, broadening as it worked towards a visit to the pencil sharpener. The smooth touch of the graphite on paper has a strong attraction for me, and frequently the first steps on any project are done in pencil. 

The mechanical, propelling, piston, or clutch, gave me a reliable line and steered me back to pen and ink.

Pencil, Ballpoint, Rollerball, Fountain, with a love of the written word and means of recording them.

I like a fountain pen, a good one. Not always the expensive models. The connection lies with the sharp end, the nib, or the point.

The Rollerball is a compromise, a useful intermediary.

In any choice, the key is how they suit my hand. Weight, balance, ink quality, reservoir size, are all factors.

Eventually, the fall back, the default choice was arrived at, and the draft of this was put down with one. 

The ubiquitous Parker Jotter. The style, weight, balance, ink flow, refill capacity, (and availability,) and the solid click of the action. All work for me.

The ballpoint is simple, has an elegance to its line, especially the all metal bodied version and is robust, all make it my go to pen.

The Jotter fountain pen as the same personally favourable qualities. 

For a while I've used Waterman "Havanna" ink. A Dark red-brown that appears like dry blood on the paper. An old friend used to write cheques with it, (especially to the Inland Revenue).

My choice has a tradition,  to make the mark clearly on the page. To pass something on.

An aide memoire, among many other things, no doubt.

The scrawl still needs attention.

Martyn

Monday, 31 August 2020

The Perfect notebook

Is there such a thing, a combination so tuned to you, the author, that words flow unhindered on to the page? The Notebook, the one, a soulmate whose signature beckons you between crisp white sheets, or perhaps, soft ivory?

The search continues.

 I've done it, I am not alone.

Have you ever?

Tried every notebook, on a shelf of identical mass produced copies, searching for the one with the right Zen, the essence of notebookness that touches you deeply?

Sniffed the 'new' paper smell, standing in the aisle of the staionary department, again, seeking the Zen of the book?

Reached the point where you have given up on finding the right one?

Bought one on the off chance and found it has enough Zen to be condusive to what you are doing to make the book useful. Perhaps a prepacked one, took the chance and it paid off - sort of?

Rejected a notebook one day, to grab it off the shelf on the next visit to the store and rush to the till before you have chance to change your mind?

Have you found what you think is the right one, with the right stuff about it,  and then hesitated to use it, needing the proper writing instrument to make the first mark?

Failed to find anything like what you wanted and then received one as a gift that becomes a key to a new journey?

It's said many times, by a creative who comes up with a solution to seize the imagination of the public, "I couldn't find what I wanted, I knew exactly what it was, so I made it myself."

The first step on a journey, begins alone, but you encounter many sharing a similar path, and what you now have is that thing you were looking for.

I enjoy Moleskine notebooks, the cahiers usually plain paper ones. I have a habit of ignoring the lines on pages. My handwriting can be big and scrawly, and indecipherable, and the  lines get in the way. 

My first encounter with the Moleskine
was a long time ago, but I remember the hesitation after unwrapping it.

I'll put my hand up, the story in the little leaflet tucked into the pocket at the back referencing, Picasso, et al, and almost total loss of the brand was part of the reason I bought it, and inspired the hesitation. A book, albeit a workaday notebook handled by such illustrious creatives commended respect. . 
 
I gravitated, in time, to the pocket cahiers. The small soft back notebooks, usually in packs of three, rather than the similar sized hardbacks. 

The three smaller books had the same number of pages as the hardback, and are more affordable. 

Back to my first time with a moleskine, and the hesitation. I felt it needed a little extra, that the first mark warranted a certain, I don't know what! The French  have a way of saying it!

It's looking at a  patch of freshly fallen snow. The footprint will be made, the call is irresistible, you know what I mean. Blundering is not an option. It has to be good. 

The first mark in a new notebook is a point of no return, once made, even with a pencil, (cheating by rubbing it out and starting again doesn't count,) it can't be unmade.

I wanted a writing instrument that felt it should make the mark. So, the Moleskine went into my bag, or my pocket, but remained untouched, unmarked, for weeks.

Poking around the local market, (Wednesday is Bric a brac,) and rummaging through the clutter on a house clearance stall I stumbled on a box of mechanical pencils. A worn individual caught my eye and closer inspection saw Yard-O-Led on the clip.

I asked the stall holder what he wanted for it, he said £3, I paid him, quickly, and moved on.

The casing is scuffed, the rhodium plating is chipped in places but stripping it down revealed the slender pockets where the 3 inch sections of pencil lead fitted. It does hold a Yard of Lead.

The styling was 1940s, possibly 50s, but old enough to be a contender for the first mark. (A conversation not long after with a Rep for Filo-Fax, who owned Yard-O-Led at the time suggested I insure it for a lot more than £3.)

Not the reason for allowing it be the first marker, but the notebook and pencil shared sufficient history to be logical companions.

The search isn't over, I am settled on the Cahiers, with the choice of paper. plain, lined, dot or grid.

Not sure about the Dots, but plain, and grid, or squared, definitely, depending the job in hand. Now a mutliple number of books being moved and handled, another element is required and the answer came from an author friend.

The Traveller's notebook, the Midori, an outer cover with room for multiple notebooks inside. This was new to me.

My first was Passport sized, joined by a larger version to accept the cahiers. A genuinely refillable cover! Neither are true Traveller's. The passport is a Wanderings and the larger from September Leather

Then the fun began, as I took it apart to load additional notebooks, (it had an extra band to add to the lonely book tucked inside the leather cover,) the thought occurred I could make one.

The original gift has the pristine paper/first mark conundrum. Awaiting the right moment, and instrument.
 
The Moleskine compatible was loaded with already started notebooks, so lacked the pristine challenge.

The task was to source the material. Leather, elastic and trinkets, beads etc. Once gathered, I had a go, with reasonable results.

I had a few cahiers in hand. They were duly installed and an excuse to visit local stationery departments magically appeared. Now the Lockdown effect touched base. Stocks of Moleskines appeared depleted, especially on the pocket cahier department. None could be found, even in the local Mall.

Plan A shifts to Plan F!

Ok, I had made an outside, what about the guts of the beast? A short spell of Internet searching and picking a friend's brain  provided useful information. Card and paper stocks were mustered, with sharp knives and cutting mats. A few foul ups followed, obviously.

Three completed, hand stitched, signatures later, the in'nards were in place.
It looked good. 

The indefinable thing, the unexpected bit, was the 'Zen.' The smell of the leather, the feel of it, everything it is - right, and piling into it with any old pen or pencil is easy. No hesitation, the clean page is an open invitation, a cheery 'come in' the paper is lovely!

The search for the perfect notebook will never end, it's an ideal. To make a new acquaintance along the way who immediately feels like an old friend has got to be something special.

Martyn