Saturday, 12 November 2016

Who doesn't love spangly stationery?

It is entirely possible that I am a ‘loser’ in this regard, but I suspect that there actually many others like me who almost miss that annual pilgrimage to the local stationery store to stock up on essentials, and a few novelty extras, at the beginning of each school year. Anyone else care to fess up?

Now I look back, a new pencil case was one of the few permissible outward manifestations of personality when your daily attire was dictated by the uniform policy. Try as we might in our teenage years, all other minor attempts at rebellion, like blue mascara, glittery lip gloss, or even shoes with more than a 2.5cm heel were swiftly quashed and supressed. In my school at least. But no one could lecture you on your choice of pencil case, ring binder, and pens. These were fundamental to successful learning – Boom. Result. Rebellion successful.

I’ve actually still got some of my old pencil case relics (hands up - I’m a sentimental hoarder). A purple and silver fluffy monstrosity which has recently been commandeered by my daughter, a functional blue zippy cylinder to which I have ‘creatively’ added Tippex eyes and a mouth around the aperture, and a black and white Barbara Hepworth style one, when I was clearly attempting to demonstrate my cultured nature and maturity…age 14 I suspect.

In my ‘stationery past’ there were also ring binders, carefully collaged with pictures and quotes cropped from the teen magazines of the day, now long since superceded and irrelevant. They bear testament to the TV shows (Friends), the hunks (Leonardo di Caprio, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise), and the mantras like ‘no pain, no gain’ and ‘be true to yourself’ that mattered at that period of my life. Of all of those, probably only the mantras remain relevant, as even in those formative years it seems my attitude and outlook were relatively consistent to now.

The reason I’m excited about stationery is that it symbolises a common and necessary step in any life challenge. Whenever the learning curve gets steep, progress towards a solution requires research, paperwork and organisation. All of which mean new stationery.

In my current situation, my cancer diagnosis, (rather crudely delivered by phone owing to my distance from the hospital where it all kicked off), is scrawled on 4 lime green post-its in purple pen. It was all I had to hand when I took that call in my study, and now those key facts that disrupted my life: cancer, stage, CT scan, chemo recommendation will be forever etched into my memory on neon squares.

Since then there have been forms to complete, appointment letters, stoma support books, clinical trial papers, contact details, patient information leaflets and countless brochures from the superlatively helpful people at Macmillan.

Until yesterday I’ve been shoving it all in a heap on my desk, and dilly-dallying over sorting it out. In my head, the messy pile (in which I can still find everything, obviously), is probably the equivalent of burying my head in the sand and delaying the onset of reality. This is also my general attitude to post and mail, opened only on a reluctant, need-to-read basis…unless, of course, it looks exciting or the envelope is handwritten.

Fortunately, I’ve had a university mate up to stay this week. An amazing friend who pointed out that I needed to get organised and whisked me off to the stationery store of our time (not the ailing giant, the newer, trendy one – naming no names). She treated me to pens, a diary, a ring binder and, of course, a new snazzy pencil case. Lucky, lucky me.
Unicorn pencil case

The pencil case is amazing; my teen self would have loved it. Bright, sparkly and it has a water-filled front with plastic unicorns, rainbows, flowers and stars that seem to dance about in their fluid-filled home. Truly an emblem of optimism and joy, if a frivolous one. I’m just having to hide it from my daughter as she’d have it off me in seconds.

The upside of this lovely trip is that I am now ‘getting organised.’ Taking that crucial step that marks a transition point forwards. A first preparatory stepping stone that forms the foundation for traversing any unchartered territory, taking on any fight, and swatting-up mentally for any new experience. This approach is how I’ve formerly dealt with acquiring and training a puppy (sadly not part of my childhood experiences), preparing for pregnancy, labour and child-rearing, have considered jobs and careers, planned parties and weddings…and now it will doubtless serve me well for fighting cancer too.

Amen for stationery, and for my friend that nudged me into realising how important ‘getting organised’ is.

But whilst writing this I’ve also been reminded of further memories, travelling in India and working in East Africa. I remember being advised to give stationery, not sweets (or money), to interested children...and adults, and so I took crayons, biros and notepads rather than caramels, black jacks and nerds. These trifles that I dispensed were received with great glee and appreciation, and I recall cursing that I hadn’t brought more.

In the UK I take stationery for granted. So much so that I’m ashamed to say the basic biro has been banished from my house in favour of its rather more flamboyant cousin, the gel pen. The boring wide-ruled notepad has been replaced by the leather-bound journal complete with inspirational cover quote, as a jotter for my daily thoughts.

Whilst I have always, and will always, love ‘good’ stationery, I’m left with the realisation that many people don’t have access to even the basic versions, and these tools so crucial to education and learning, which are the real gateways to opportunity and social mobility are sadly lacking in so much of the world.

No pressure to act, but I’ve just take 5 mins to google this and whilst Pens for Kids are doubtless not the only option, it looks like they might do what I’ve mentioned in the UK and abroad, dispensing stationery to those that need it. It may mean one less stocking present for my kids, but they’ll never know and it will have no impact on their lives at all. On the flipside, for an unknown stranger or two my small donation could mean the world. Worth a thought as we countdown to the season of giving? 

For those of you in big corporate jobs take a look at In kind direct. You all know how much stationery and equipment gets wasted as logos change and technology moves on. Wish I’d known about this before.

Now I don’t want my blog to get preachy, but sometimes when times are rough, thinking about others who are worse off, who have needs and circumstances so much more pressing and fundamental than mine, is a wonderful reminder of how lucky I really am. It’s also a kick up the behind to provoke me to stay positive, appreciate what I do have, and maybe to do a very little something for someone else once in a while.

This doesn’t mean I’m donating my unicorn pencil case I hasten to add, (am still too selfish and whilst I’ve only had it a day or two I am now emotionally attached to it as a mascot in my cancer fight). But it does mean I’ll be ordering some stationery from Amazon and sending it to Pens for Kids. Thanks to my uni friend, I feel my life and ‘fight’ is a little more organised and positive, so if I can help someone else with that too, then I think I should.

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