That Smell

When I wrote the other day about passions I suppose I was letting you know, in a round about way, that I have something which has captured my imagination at the moment.  Now this isn’t something new, rather, this is one of those old passions rekindled.  In many ways it is one of my oldest passions.  Stationery.  Yep, paper, pens, pencils, erasers, set squares, notebooks, compasses, French curves etc. etc.  The more observant of you may even have noticed the link to the Pen Addict website which has been on here since I started this last year.

One of my earliest memories of Newcastle is a trip, as a child, with my Dad.  I must have been pre-school, perhaps slightly older.  I remember going to a bookshop which I’m fairly sure would have been Thorne’s, now Blackwell’s, on its old Haymarket plot.  The pavement outside the shop was covered in boxes of pamphlets that I think my Dad said were some sort of political documents but my memory is hazy on that point.  Two things, however, stand out particularly clearly though, the smell and the first floor stationery department.


Thorne’s Student Bookshop

There is nothing like the smell of a bookshop.  It is the smell of the now, history, deception, truth, love, hate, birth and decay.  Life’s heady potpourri, if you want to be a pretentious wanker about that kind of thing.  I love the smell of books and of the places where they are stored.  You just don’t get that emotional connection with a Kindle or an iPad.  As far as books are concerned I shall remain a rain-forest destroying Luddite.

Anyway, bringing us back to the delightfully analog world of stationery, there is also a particular smell you experience in a stationary department.  But it is different to that of a bookstore, it is newer, fresher.  It is the smell of beginnings and possibilities, the smell of the future.  Via its wares the stationary department can lead to new works of great fiction, world changing scientific papers, love letters, resignations, shopping lists, idle doodles, suicide notes, reminders to put the bins out.  It will bring about change.  Yeah, I know, more pretentious wanker shit.

Of course, put a stationery section within a bookshop and that will completely screw with my senses.

Thorne’s was an Aladdin’s Cave to me in my youth.  It seemed to stretch for miles and there were boxes of stuff all over the place.  I couldn’t comprehend how many different types of paper there were.  I had a fascination for carbon paper for some reason and the numbers of varieties of that alone were staggering.  The whole pace was an assault on the senses.

The sight of multi-hued pens and pencils was enough to turn me into a Magpie; I just felt an insatiable need to hoard them.  There was a white noise like hum about the place.  Not as reverential as a library, but hushed mummers echoed in its vastness punctuated by the scratch of pens and pencils being sampled and the rustle of examined paper.  There are also fewer, more tactile places.  From the soft, yielding, warmth of a putty eraser to the cold, hard edges of a steel rule and the finger pricking points of a stray compass.  There was even a taste to the place. I would mimic the seeming experts who, in testing a pen or pencil on a nearby sheet of paper, would lick the nib/point before commencing the process.  These experts were probably all disease ridden and I was most likely playing Russian roulette with my heath but I was young and invulnerable, and I never said the taste was good.

Of course all things change.  Sometime in the 1990s Thorne’s moved from their shop by the Handyside Arcade (now there’s another post in itself) to the current location in the old Grand Hotel building along the road.  I don’t recall what they had done with the stationery department but in recent years, since the name change to Blackwell’s, this has been more of an arts section, located in the basement.  A visit this week reveals that a good portion of the shop has now been taken over by a coffee emporium and the art section is now relegated to a small side room.  The art section is, it seems, not long for this world and perhaps even the bookshop itself.

Kakimori in Tokyo, one of a dying breed.

Kakimori in Tokyo, one of a dying breed.

Newcastle is now largely devoid of bricks and mortar stationery departments.  I think that the one in WH Smith’s is the largest we have and, frankly, it’s mostly a waste of space.  I’m really struggling to think of another.  The Newcastle Arts Centre has a section but as you can imagine this is more of a pastels and sketchbook kind of place.  Paperchase in Eldon Square could claim one too, at a push.

I doubt we’ll ever see the likes of Thorne’s again.  No, these days I’ve had to resort to the internet for my purchases.  Which is fine if you are shopping for something you’ve used before and are aware of how it works or feels in the hand, but frustrating if you’ve no previous experience of an item.

Worst of all, the Internet is missing that smell.

Having said that though, the internet is a mine of information and I’ve found a huge stationery resource out there.  Videos and articles on everything from how to sharpen a pencil to reviews of any bit of stationery paraphernalia you could possibly imagine.

Using this resource I’ve building up my stationery hoard over the past month or so.  Pens, pencils, notebooks etc. have all made their way to me from various different sources.  One of the things I plan to do with all this stuff is write about it and post my thoughts on here.  I don’t claim to have any great experience or in depth knowledge of this subject but hopefully a little enthusiasm will go a long way.

Recommended drink: How about something from Paper City Brewing? Their Goat’s Peak Bock should put some lead in your pencil this time of year.


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