Penis trees and giant snails

Gorgeous Image: Paperblanks

Gorgeous Image: Paperblanks

I love an illuminated manuscript, the ornamentation, the fine details.

I like the Celtic influence that means you can have a picture of the easily led Eve plucking fruit for the equally easily led Adam, surrounded by knotwork of interlaced dragons – an Asian religion (sand, dates and fig trees) illustrated with pictures whose roots are in a frozen North (ice floes and lands of the midnight sun). That mixture appeals to me.

While we’re on the subject of Adam and Eve, can anyone tell me why Eve has been so long castigated for leading old Adam astray? Supposing the early Christian leaders were right and men were superior to women (women were after all, created from a man, right?) why is it that this superior individual, the first child of the Creator, takes no blame for man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden? If Adam was so amazing, why wasn’t he capable of saying

No, love. I think I’ll give that apple a miss, ta. There’s a melon over there with my name on it.

If Eve was a temptress, then we have to say that Adam was weak willed and none too bright.

I only ask, as the harsh judgement of Eve has impacted on women’s personal and legal rights, their rights to their own bodies, to their children, to education for … Ooh … A few thousand years and counting. Just a small thing but worth mentioning.

Back to manuscripts.

Apart from the skill, dedication and craftsmanship that manuscripts demonstrate in dead calf, iron and oak gall, they open a window into the Medieval mind in the form of marginalia. It seems that when monks were handed a book of the Bible to transcribe and illustrate, they had pretty much free reign. This meant they sometimes filled the margins with some very interesting doodles…

Rabbits firing crossbows, people relieving themselves in jugs (back and front), preaching dogs, snails with human heads, nuns picking penises out of a tree … Err, yeah, not quite sure what that’s about, but either vellum and goose quills are hallucenagens or monks channelled the creativity they might have used on more earthy pleasure into their artwork.

These rough, vulgar pictures appeal to me. They show that human minds really haven’t changed in a thousand years – give a man a margin and five minutes alone and he’ll draw a willy.

Something else that appeals to me is the book illustrated above. No, it’s not an illuminated manuscript, but a notebook* I found in W H Smiths yesterday. The cover design is based on the 8th century Lindau Gospels. To say I was tempted to buy it is an understatement.

You see, there’s a part of me that wants to pretend I’m an 8th century monk, sitting in his cell, offering up his time, his eyesight and the health of his spine to creating such a beautiful object.

I don’t think I’d be pepared to maintain a tonsure through judicious application of a pumice stone, but I might draw some creative marginalia – probably involving giant snails and a penis tree.


*The makers also produce notebooks featuring the works of Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Charlotte Bronte and F Scott Fitzgerald. Now, who could fail to be inspired by that?

This post is dedicated to Emma at Bluchickenninja and her love of stationery.

Confessions of a book nerd: Stationery and why my life would be poorer without it

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

I’m writing this post from bed.

Never fear, dear reader. I am not suffering from a superbug, the patient zero in a global pandemic that is sure to wipe the parasite race of mankind from the face of the planet (Sorry, recently finished Station Eleven . Haven’t read it? Really, you should, it’s very good.)

Neither have a I broken a limb doing something wildly adventurous and energetic like climbing Mount Snowden or leaping from a plane in some misguided attempt to cross peculiarly dangerous activities from my non-existent bucket list. The closest I’ve come to that is spraining my ankle whilst running for a bus. And yes I did do that and yes, I am a plank.

No, I’m in bed because I wish to share one of my obsessions with you and I can’t do that whilst Wolverine is smashing heads downstairs – on the TV I hasten to add, not in real life. Thank goodness, because those adamantium claws play havoc with soft furnishings.

I was sitting here, wondering what to yak about when I noticed my pile of notebooks. Allow me to describe.

I have around twenty five of them, most are A5 size – any smaller and you get through the pages too quickly, bigger and you’re in danger of pulling a muscle as you lug them around in your bag. Most are spiral bound because they open up better so you can use the entire page. Every notebook is numbered.

There are green ones, blue ones, black ones, some with stripes, though none with butterflies, cats or any other type of fauna as that’s all a bit too girly for me. Needless to say, none of them are pink. Most look reasonably scruffy – curled and marked corners, crumpled and creased covers – as they’ve all spent some weeks or months in my back pack, sharing space with my purse, paper hankies, bottles of milk and sandwiches.

These are working pieces of paper, at the coal face of my creativity. They aren’t neat and pretty.

There are ideas for novels inside – whole novel plans I haven’t found the time to write yet, part novels that are still gestating, snippets of ideas that start in one book and carry on in another and perhaps another. There are short story ideas. Character studies. Overheard conversations. Descriptions of people I’ve seen on public transport. Ideas for blog posts. Angry rants.

I also have a separate, small notebook in which I’ve written an index for all the others and if that sounds terrifyingly organised, OCD and very unlike me, then rest assured I had to create it to save myself from hours of swearing and potential RSI as I flicked through page after page, driven to manic drooling, because I can’t find an idea I desperately want to use.

I’m a bit weird about my notebooks.

I take one with me everywhere, even if I’m going out shopping or seeing a friend. Now, this isn’t because I have a physical need to be close to paper or an ink sniffing addiction (for, of course, where there is a notebook, there must be a pen. And a spare. Probably a spare spare.)

No, this is because, as Will Self has said,

 Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.

And he’s right.

Though this, of course, does not explain how excited I feel when faced with a brand new notepad, how glorious it is to feel those smooth, silky pages under my hand. To feel the potential of that empty space.

Because, maybe this is the book that will hold THE BIG IDEA, the unique, beautifully formed  creation that will make me feel like a proper writer.


Do you have a fetish for stationary? How do you store your fledgling creations?