Illustration: Simon Letch
''DROP off your school list and we will pack it for you to pick up later.'' This is the offer from a big office supplies chain. I can't imagine anything worse.
I no longer have children at school, but we used to enjoy a leisurely wander through the magical aisles of arcane stationery items. How many children will be deprived of trying to figure out what the oddly shaped eraser actually was meant to represent? Choosing between movie themed pencil cases, deciding between the ink flow systems in the latest pen technology, gazing at the pristine ruled pages of exercise books or lecture pads, graph paper, matching pen holders, trays and hole punchers.
I can't look at a set of coloured pencils without remembering fondly my first big set of Derwents. Never mind that I have no artistic talent, surely if I had the biggest set I would be inspired above my natural abilities. I could rearrange the graduated colours to my heart's content. Primary colours together, sports team colours, colours that would do justice to the family pets. Perhaps I should put them back the way they came in the lovely large tin. Yes, that's best.
Exercise books have made way for presentation folders and plastic sleeves. The sleeves in giant economy boxes somehow never had the weight and clarity of the ones that came in smaller packs. But I didn't always have much money. Luckily sometimes grandparents could extend the budget. Calculators that had holes in the side flap and could go in your folder. Of course I never used it that way, and always looked for it in my pencil case and then had to remember where it was. But that's the point. Gathering a whole lot of stuff to help you do stuff. It will be better this year; I will be better this year.
Nothing beats beginning a new school year with a swag of gleaming new equipment and books with dog-ears. Personalising them with paper or contact. Being open to a whole world of writing, thinking, drawing, learning, doodling, gossiping, growing. The pleasure is even more satisfying when you see your kids working out how they want their year to be shaped and equipped.
I work in a public library and come from a long line of teachers. Stationery shops are a close second to bookshops in their seductive appeal, their time-wasting capacity and their budget temptations.
My list is five lecture pads, two each black and red biros, one HB pencil, one sharpener, one eraser, one student dictionary … and I'll pick it up at 5.30pm.
Where's the fun in that?