So here we are, the start of September. The greatest time of the year. The conkers in vinegar, back in socks, new shoes fresh start. I live for Autumn. In fact it’s the only thing that gets me through summer. For most of August I stomp round with a hot stringy fringe and a single line of sweat down the middle of my back and tell myself it will all be over soon. I’ll be able to wear faux fur and jeans and a coat again, just hold out until September. The weather will change, the nights will draw in and I can wear slippers all of the time. I can get the blankets back out and start all over again. Have a lovely clean slate and turn a brand new fresh clean page.
There is nothing, not even jaffa cakes, that I love quite so much as notebooks. A brand new notebook is entirely thrilling. The smell of the fresh sheets, the feel of the spine breaking, deciding it’s purpose before ravaging it for the first time. The first time pen meets paper I could actually moan. There is no questions one of the greatest passionate affairs of my life is with notebooks. I currently own 308. Some are stuffed with notes and postcards and marked with spilt tea. Others have just a few first pages of writing and some are still pristine in their packet, waiting for their time to come. I have notebooks for lists, for diaries, for reflections, for plans to come, for self care, for more lists and records. I have a pad dedicated entirely to planting herbs I don’t own and a 2015 planner than I only half used and can’t bear to throw out. I have pads designed for To Do lists, for monthly projections and for weekly food plans. I am the only person I know who still relies entirely on a Filofax to tell me where I need to be and when.
Now, I have recently rediscovered the joy of pencils. I find there is something very classy about a graceful HB freshly sharpened. Nothing feels like you’ve got your shit together like the fine clean point of a pencil. I also like the thought that you can go back and rub something out later on, pretend it never happened. Apparently, during the space race, the Americans spent months developing a special pen where the ink could defy gravity to stay on the page. The Russians used a pencil. I don’t know how true this story is but it’s glorious isn’t it.
In 2013 Emily Winter started a one woman revolution in a tiny village on the chilly North East coast of Scotland. She declared, in her dining room, that she would single handedly “Bring Back the Pencil.” Partridge and Bell was born and since then single mum Emily has dedicated herself to stamping words, by hand, onto pretty painted pencils.
She says she wanted to create pencils which really mean something to their owner, like a good quote or an in joke, just something that “will make you laugh every time you glance down.” I cannot convey my delight about owning a pencil with “What Would June Do?” stamped on it. June is my mother and a constant source of hilarity to me. She has become a star of Jules and Sarah the Podcast and my instagram stories. WWJD wouldn’t mean much to most people but to me and the podcast listeners, it’s the greatest thing on earth. Of course inspiration for what to stamp on a pencil can come at any moment, so Emily says she is “never without a notebook so I can jot down ideas.” This has led to a whole range of personalised embossed notebooks in all colours and fonts, which are all to die for.
I first discovered Nikki Strange Ltd at a Not on the High Street Christmas event. I threw myself at her tropical print Wellness Planner and have followed her ever since. Nikki uses watercolours and inks to design all her prints at her Hackney studio and she specialises “in whimsical, travel inspired prints.” Well she had me at whimsical.
As well as terrific planners, Nikki Strange also make the most delicious travel and make up bags as well as coasters, art prints, phone cases, pocket mirrors and obviously lovely notebooks of various sizes. There is also a wedding section which includes dreamy Will you be my Bridesmaid? cards and notebooks, worth sending out whether you’re getting married or not. All their products are made in the UK using independent manufacturers, a sentence which brings me so much joy I let out a small squeal. Things that make Nikki happy are dog walks, grapefruit gin, cinnamon winter spiced candles, bed picnics, Tori Amos and rose gold glitter. Nikki and I would get on VERY well.
Finally I want to mention again one of my favourite shops in London, We Built This City on Carnaby Street. I went in yesterday to buy an art print of a deconstructed fry up (sure) for my brother’s birthday. The shop now has two floors selling incredible prints, cards and various other things you didn’t know you needed. A full size white porcelain crown and a Princess Diana perspex necklace must both get a special mention. Upstairs I had a good rifle through their sale box where I happened upon this Natalie Lea Owen illustrated Camden lock notebook. “A bargain!” I thought and “I live near there!” so I bought it immediately. Natalie is a surface pattern designer (which is a very fun title) who started her own brand in 2015 with some help from The Prince’s Trust. Natalie designs everything in her London studio and all of her products and printed and manufactured in the UK. Lovely. She’s also very chic and her products are sold in Fenwicks and Museum of London.
A notebook can be a fresh start, a best friend and just a damn fine accessory. Whatever the rest of 2017 has got for you, make sure you’re armed with one and quite honestly, there is nothing you can’t do.