Virginia Barton

22 September 2013: My notebook habit

22 September 2013: My notebook habit


22 September 2013

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People have the weirdest habits. Here’s just one of mine.

There is a type of shop I can’t pass by without popping in to take a look, which almost always means buying something. Maybe just a box of paper-clips or sticky labels? You’ve guessed it, the irresistible stationer’s. Sheer magic. All those neat stacks of many-hue’d paper in assorted sizes with matching envelopes. Tubes of pencils, biros, felt pens by the dozens – and rubbers! (those are erasers, to my American friends)


But there’s something else I’m after. Notebooks. I don’t want ‘Kitty’ or even my beloved ‘Snoopy’; plain ones are best, spiral bound. A good stationer will have plenty of choice and I often buy half a dozen at a time. And no, I don’t always fill them completely, but no spare paper is wasted I assure you; little heaps of it sit by the telephone for messages, along with the pencil stubs, and BH has a pile by his chair for his own hieroglyphs…


A recent rough survey of my notebooks revealed a large A4 entitled “Ginny Barton, Beloved Snail”. It looks pretentious – it is. Inside is a long quote from St Paul to the Ephesians marked: “For my book, when I get round to writing it.” The rest, predictably, is empty; obviously I am still waiting to get round.

To hide its shame, on top of it rests a serious black A3 spiral bound, 140 pages. It has much spidery writing with notes for CP’s, refs., book titles, the odd bit of a poem viz. What is the end of fame… (Byron) and the definition of simony. Then I see I have two, sized A6, one blue for bank balances, and one purple for all the passwords necessary for my pc. Both these are allegedly under lock and key, ha ha.


On my desk itself we find a journo jotter for, well, jottings. This fills quickly and is replaced frequently. Beside it a smaller version for travel purposes – in the handbag or coat pocket.

The bottom kitchen drawer holds notebooks just for lists; shopping of course, a cheapo tear off one. Then one for garden notes (“scattered aquilegia seed near the hellebore, do not rake or dig”), and an old Dinner Party book which hasn’t been used for ages. I keep it to remind me of our palmy days when not only Dinner but Lunches and Breakfasts too, were very often festive occasions – oh halcyon days! It was a hectic decade!

In the sitting-room is the Journey Notebook, started too late in life to be of huge interest, but one or two epics are recorded. Then there is a beautiful notebook, so grand it is never sullied with mere biro – it merits a fountain pen. But sometimes I stroke it, misty-eyed. I doubt I’ll ever write in it, or in the pretentious A4 come to that. Little ones are less intimidating aren’t they?

And did I mention I’ve been keeping a diary for years?


Words words words, far too many. Does one really have that much to say? I blame Charles Dickens actually, and Swift. They both advise the writing down of stuff – hence this Commonplace.

(Does anybody else share my notebook habit, please?)




  • Robert M says on: September 22, 2013 at 12:52 am


    Although I find myself to be in possession of an almost ridiculously large collection of notebooks of all shapes and sizes, I must confess that I have not seen the inside of a stationery store in decades. My marginally readable handwriting precludes the writing of letters (cards are easy – short and sweet), and I would not wish to “mistreat” a sheet of beautifully crafted paper.

    I do enjoy finding and purchasing notebooks that are almost minor works of art – handmade papers, finely covered – often in a tooled leather, and enhanced with unusual endpapers. I also find great pleasure in books whose publishers believe that the book itself should be just as wonderful as the contents (take a look at These “finds” are few and usually come from unexpected places.

    As to my note taking, idea jotting, and occasional illuminated sparks of creativity, I grab whatever scrap or sheet of paper within reach, and write with everything from pencil to crayon. Many moments of reflection and even insight have arisen in the “re-discovery” of some of these years later.

    • Ginny says on: September 24, 2013 at 11:25 am


      Like you, BH resorts to cards Robert, a wheeze he picked up from an aged uncle who lived most of his life in Rome. And like you, BH’s handwriting is execrable, so the less of it the better.

      Your Lumiere Press looks very fine and I’m not surprised you collect. I wonder if you came across the Folio Society imprint? They also specialise in good bindings, content, and specially, illustrations. I bought their Hunting of the Snark, but only one other as they are rather pricey.

      Some time ago I started subscribing to the journal of the Imaginative Book Illustration Society, IBIS. (Illustration is a subject I shall return to in a CP in due course.) The last issue announced the opening next year, in the regenerated King’s Cross area in London, of The House of Illustration; I will certainly visit it if the good Lord allows.

      Fine books make really good presents don’t they? Children need them these days, what with endless screen-gazing.

      I wonder which “re-discovery” caught you by the throat? Ginny

  • Rosanne says on: September 23, 2013 at 3:57 pm


    Hi Ginny,

    I share your passion. As I write this at a local cafe, I have within arm’s reach my ‘active’ date book (leather, fits in wallet), my two different hard-backed, but not leather, notebooks for two very different books I am in the process of organizing (ruled, have page markers and inner pockets, bound – so ideas stay together, and, naturally, different and very carefully chosen colors for identification), my to-do and miscellaneous notes notebook (an old friend, navy, somewhat worn leather, loose leaf, impossible to find, ruled, six hole 3 x 5 inch pages).

    That’s four active notebooks I’m carrying around in my purse every single day!

    At home, there’s the notebook by my bed for listing (but rarely reflecting upon) what the heck I did all day and the glamorous plum colored, crocodile-print leather notebook I bought this summer that has not yet been given a job, not to mention the uncounted collection of perfect, carefully-selected notebooks from all over the world (all with lined pages, no blank pages for me) for future use and the four splendid and elegant notebooks I bought in New York City yesterday which may become Christmas presents if I have the good character to let them out of my clutches.

    Obsessed? Moi?

    • Ginny says on: September 24, 2013 at 11:26 am


      Now, what do you call a wallet Rosanne? Mine holds bank notes and credit cards only; no way would a notebook fit in unless it was spider-size. Then I find you have a purse. Which has to be a handbag? My purse is for coin of the realm – except brown money which goes for the Missions.

      (I hasten to add that this is supplemented when collecting time comes round.By the way, we are to have a trial run of plastic money to put in the washing machine if you’re that way inclined – do you have it?)

      On re-reading your post, I’m a little relieved to find it’s plum croc-print and not plum croc-croc; it sounds super-special and I think you should give it to yourself. You certainly have a great many.

      And I have just remembered one I forgot to mention above: the cover is a facsimile of the Penguin edition of Wuthering Heights. They brought a whole series out as notebooks in 2008 and a daughter gave me mine after a visit to Haworth; suitably made in a raging storm! In it I write longer versions of all the stuff written in all the other notebooks. Gin

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