The magic notebook

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Many of those of us who, usually mistakenly, believe that our spontaneous thoughts are of some intrinsic merit, carry notebooks through whose agency our ideas are intended to be immortalised. Some of us even bear the conceit that, when we are no more, someone will come along and gather together our scribblings for respectful posthumous admiration. Notwithstanding the diversity of our ideas, we are a remarkably consistent bunch in our eschewing of the economical notebooks produced by WH Smiths and our preference for the deluxe (and correspondingly pricey) ones made by Moleskine and sold in the better class of bookshop. It is claimed that this is the brand favoured by such literati as Ernest Hemingway and a look around the table at an arts-oriented academic meeting or a close examination of the over-the-shoulder shots in any BBC 4 documentary will evidence that this is yet another designer label to which the cognoscenti may subscribe while retaining their intellectual credibility.

Our notebooks serve us by supporting what we believe – rightly or, more usually, wrongly – to be our individual intellectual and creative achievements and consequent status. The right brand of notebook says something about its owner. (You may now decide just what you think it says and I’ll refrain from comment, at least for now……….)

Think for a moment of the notebook itself: it is placed into the market on the assumption that a latter-day Hemingway will make use of it. If I were such a notebook, I’d feel fulfilled and perhaps even a little bit proud of my role in the creation of “For whom the bell tolls“. In this context, I think I’d feel that I had certain legitimate expectations befitting my role. I should not, for example, be used for shopping lists unless for Kilimanjaro-climbing equipment but, rather, should have my pages graced with the embryonic forms of great literature or, at least, meaningful and intellectually sound musings on matters of gravitas.

But what if such ideas never graced my pages? What if my owner was a hopeless pseudo-intellectual condemmed never to generate a meaningful, creative or original idea and whose scribblings were confined to “to-do” lists? What would be my response and how would I go about seeking fulfillment? I think my own notebook has the answer: three months ago, I noticed that I had only a few pages left so, finding myself in an airport bookshop, I bought a new one. Throughout those three months, my writings have remained about average in quantity (we won’t mention the quality) and so the book should have been filled long ago. However, each time I open it, I find three or so pages remaining. I use one or two and put the book away only to find on re-opening it that there still remain three or so blank pages.

My notebook has become the literary equivalent of the Magic Porridge Pot of childhood folklore and who can blame it? Page upon weary page has been filled with precious little of merit. If this depresses me, think how desperately unfulfilled my poor notebook feels. One can hardly be surprised therefore if, under cover of pocket-darkness, it hopefully – not to say desperately – secretes a few extra pages in the hope that its owner will finally deliver himself of something worthwhile, something that merits preservation in so classy a manner. Already the book feels thicker in my pocket and its so-far-unused successor prowls restlessly up and down my study shelves grumbling almost audibly about antecedants who, like Blair and Brown, refuse to let go of the reins of power despite knowing full well that the game is well and truly up.

Can we blame it? I think not. Brought up to one purpose alone, who can think harshly of an appliance that seeks fulfillment through the achievement of that purpose and, if this involves a little cheating, who are we to criticise?