Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tea Leaves, Tree Leaves, Book Leaves

My new TWSBI Diamond 530 arrived on Saturday morning from the super efficient online pen shop The Writing Desk - I placed my order for one pen, one bottle of J. Herbin Éclat de Saphir ink and a Clairefontaine notebook at around 10:55am on Friday morning and less than 24 hours later the postman was at the door - at about 8:20am. So The Writing Desk get a big thumbs up from me for excellently swift service, and I will certainly use them again in the future - probably to buy more ink in the near future, maybe even Herbin's Lie de Tea ink, because I am also a slightly obsessive tea drinker.

Indeed, as I type I am drinking a mug of freshly made Mélange Madeleine tea from Hédiard in Paris, which might be my favourite blend of tea. My mainstay teas are Earl Grey and Brodie's Afternoon Tea, both of which I have in the cupboard as tea bag teas for a quick cup of tea, then I have many different types of tea as tea leaves - including various green teas, an Earl Grey from Hédiard, a black tea and flower blend called Blue Lady which has mallow flowers, marigold flowers and grapefruit petals which I got somewhere in Scotland, a tea called Nirvana from another shop in Paris called Compagnie Anglaise des Thés, which my parents bought for me along with a rather lovely tea pot.

In the garden all the autumn leaves have finally been cleared up, and put in the compost bin. I've just ordered some new roses for my garden from Peter Beales Roses - I've ordered three ramblers to be trained against my garden fence panels:

Ghislaine de Feligone:

Phyllis Bide:

Narrow Water:

Now moving onto books. Why are there so many people with Kindles? I'm less bothered about iPads than I am about the Kindle, because the Kindle seems to be trying to pretend it is a book replacement. What is the appeal? I don't get it, and it isn't because I am a technophobe, because I'm not - I like my gadgets quite a lot, but I could do without them if it came to that, because there are books, and paper, and pens and pencils. BBC Four's series The Beauty of Books is a wonderful celebration of the book, and as one of the commentators points out - I think it might be Stephen Bayley - at the beginning, the book is the best information storage and retrival system ever created, and that you can read it in the bath - by which I think he is really saying 'you can read it in the bath, and drop it in the bath, without permanently, irrecoverably, damaging it. If you drop a paperback in the bath it will not be rendered unreadable - it will get a little warped but other than that you're still going to be able to use it. My main problem with e-readers of all types though is the lack of actual, physical, turnable, pages - essentially there are no 'leaves'. E-readers can attempt to manufacture the turning of the page all they want, but the thrill of opening a book and turning the page is gone. I'm sure there are people less bothered and obsessed about this than I am, but part of the reason I love books is the page-turning. I love that you can pass them onto other people, make a gift of a book which is especially special to you, make annotations or leave messages in them, not worry too much about dropping them, you can get them second hand so they have some past before coming to you, they are like old friends - my list could go on quite excessively.

Writing of books which are like old friends - yes you guessed it - my non-PhD reading this week has been a collection of AL Kennedy short stories, my brain is tired at the moment and can't sustain reading a novel, so I've been reading Indelible Acts again. Kennedy's new novel comes out in August and has a very blue front cover. Well, it is called The Blue Book. Hoping I might get my hands on a proof copy sometime in the next couple of months.

My visits to the British Library are becoming quite rare because it is becoming increasingly noisy in the reading rooms. Why? Mobile phones. Last time I was there the man sat next to me kept listening to his voicemail messages in the reading rooms. So I've taken refuge in the periodicals reading room at Senate House. However, when I have been at the BL I've taken to ordering up a book called How I Write, which is edited by Dan Crowe and Philip Olterman, and is really a collection of essays by different writers on various writing subjects - Will Self on post-it notes for example. I have a slump about half an hour before lunch so I read a couple of entries and then go off and have lunch. I've been working through it slowly and will soon reach ALK's entry called 'Notebooks thrown across rooms'.

I've been saving this entry - I was tempted to jump right to it, but have restrained myself - and have been wondering lately about notebooks, because I use them everyday for my work and I am beginning to understand exactly what I want from a notebook. Primarily three things: sturdiness, good paper and the ability to lie flat. I need one for my PhD research, a pocket notebook for other stuff and a diary (I've tried using my phone and computer for the latter but it doesn't work for me: I do use the laptop for 'to do lists' on iCal though). I used to get the 'pocket' sized page-a-day Moleskine diaries, but came to the conclusion that they were too bulky and I wasted many of the pages. This year I've got a soft-cover pocket size, page-a-week Moleskine diary, which has a lined page for notes on the opposite page. So far I quite like it - I have enough space for weekly notes, and if I keep my writing neat I can fit all my appointments and meetings in each day section. I've heard that some people have found the soft-cover Moleskines damage easily - the covers rip off and such like. The bugbear I have with it is really to do with the elastic band - it seems to have got baggier and a bit flimsy. And why do they persist in providing an address book in each and every diary? I've got three now which I will never need to use. We shall see.

My notebooks for my research tend to be hardback A5 hardback books, plain or lined pages, and most of them are red or some sort of reddish shade - not sure why - I've four in total: a Collins Ideal, which was started for an undergraduate journal I had to submit for a course years ago and which is actually larger than the A5 size, the first 20 pages or so are used, but I will cut them out and use the book at some point; a Seawhite of Brighton book, which I think is actually a sketch book; and two standard A5 notebooks with lined pages which I think came from WH Smiths, one of which is full and the other I am currently using. I expect to finish both the Seawhite and the Smiths books in the next few months and then will start using the Clairefontaine book I purchased last week. I also got a pile of black soft cover A5 notebooks free a few years ago on a festival I worked on, I don't actually like them all that much - the front cover is embossed with The Times logo, and they don't open out flat. I only continue to use them because I like the paper - pencils don't smudge and fountain pens don't feather or bleed through the page. On closer inspection the paper is made by Conquerer. I've got two of these Times notebooks on the go, I've donated two to my sister, and have two left which I will willingly send to anyone who asks. I'm quite happy with my red A5 notebooks for research notes and shall continue with them - they've all been sturdy and have good paper.

My problem is with the pocket sized notebooks. I've been using a hard cover, blank page, Moleskine for a few years and am towards the end of it now. It has withstood several festivals, a house renovation, many, many train journeys, and being in my bag on a day-to-day basis. It is one of the older Moleskines so has one of the older, tighter, sturdier, elastic bands. The top and bottom edges of the spine are slightly worn, but not enough to bother me. On the whole I like it, but I do have issues with it. My problem with Moleskine is about the paper, and about the falsified Moleskine 'legend'. I could overlook the latter - but I'm not willing to pay for it. The paper, however, I can't overlook because ink bleeds through and feathers - I've had problems with rollerballs, gel pens, and fountain pens, and the paper is particularly bad with some fountain pens and inks - although, oddly for a pen which can be a bit temperamental, my Waterman Hemisphere with black Waterman ink writes on Moleskine paper very well, doesn't put down a dry line, feather, or bleed through. However, because the Waterman pen was given to me as a present by my parents I consider it to be my best pen and don't want to have to carry it around with me everyday just because it is the only pen I have which writes perfectly in a Moleskine.

So while it is generally a good notebook, and I do have another blank page Moleskine, I am on a search for a new pocket notebook. There are several blogs who are on a quest to either find a Moleskine alternative, or inks and pens which are Moleskine 'friendly' - you can find links in the blog list on the left - I've read a few of these and recommendations include the Stifflexible (which I can't find anywhere online or in a shop), the Alwych 'All Weather Notebook', the Quo Vadis Habana, the Rite in the Rain notebook - another all weather notebook - Rhodia notebooks, and Cartesio notebooks. The Journal Shop offers paper samples from some of the notebooks they supply, so I'm going to ask for a sample from the Cartesio - I do quite like this bluey coloured notebook in the Cartesio range.

In the meantime I very much like my new TWSBI Diamond 530 and am going to enjoy using it on a daily basis.

On a final note, The Morgan Library in New York is currently holding an exhibition called The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives. If - like me - you are not in, or near, or going to or near, New York, then they have pictures from the exhibition online and an audio tour you can download.

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