Monday, 14 January 2008

Back-to-school book-covering blues

For a stationery fetishist like me, back-to-school week is a happy time indeed. There are few shopping experiences as delicious as storming into a well-stocked stationery shop, with its crisp piles of virgin notebooks, reams of snowy paper and mountains of sharpened pencils. I love a new file, a roll of masking tape, a fresh box of paperclips, a chunky cube of Post-Notes, a fistful of lovely inky gel pens... so shopping for my kids' stationery requirements is a real pleasure. Until, of course, I get to the till and find out how much I'm going to have to fork out.

At this point, I pull out the carefully ticked-off lists and get seriously ticked off myself. Why, I ask you, does an eight-year-old going into Grade Three need four new erasers and twelve HB pencils? I don't know how long a pencil lasts, but I'm damned sure that it should last for longer than a month, even allowing for the rampant stationery thievery that goes on in the average classroom. And does she really need FOUR jumbo tubes of Pritt glue? Last time I checked, sticking wasn't part of the curriculum, but it seems to me that my little darling is going to spend many hours of every day glueing things into her book if she's got any chance of getting through her Pritt quota.

Then there's the labelling. As I sit for hours shaving slivers off pencils so I can write on the bare wood, and hunting for a place on the crowded labels of (four) Pritt sticks to write my daughter's name in black magic marker, I wonder why stationery manufacturers can't be bothered to leave a blank white space on every product destined for the back-to-school buy-fest. Have you ever tried printing a child's name on one of those red-and-black-striped HB pencils? Luckily, my kids have short names, but I wonder how the parents of Thandi-Tiffany Khumalo-Worthingham-Jones must feel?

Next week, I have book-covering to look forward to. In my day, this was a rather satisfying January ritual that involved buying many rolls of brown paper and polythene. (Ok, my mother did it, but I learned at the elbow of a master.) You placed a layer of brown upon a layer of plastic, cut the rectangle to size, snipped off triangles at the corners and a V at the spine, stuck a lovely Christmas card on the front, and printed your name, class and subject at the top. Then you taped everything down with sticky tape, close the book in triumph, and swore loudly when you realised that you'd put the cover on too tightly and that its ends were curling up like the wings of a bird. It took at least three books to get the knack of it.

Nowadays, exercise-book covers are all pre-printed and pre-snipped, which is all very well and handy, until you view the selection of designs. I've looked in three shops, and I have presented my daughter with a choice of the following design options:

1. Spiderman, Batman and Superman ('Puh-lease, I'm a girl')
2. Barbie and/or Bratz in lurid purple and pink ('Mum, I'm so not into Barbie')
3. Photo of sulky, slutty-looking teen girl, wearing T-shirt saying 'Bad Girl'. ('Cool, mom!'... 'No darling, that's not appropriate. You're only eight')
4. Selection of great white sharks bursting out of the ocean ('I don't think so, mom').

Even if I find the right covers, I know I'll be sitting up until midnight a couple of evenings next week, wrestling with pre-cut plastic covers that are made in China and craftily designed not to fit locally manufactured exercise books. Look, it's only once a year, and it's a time-honoured task for the parent of any school-going child, but the novelty tends to wear off after the tenth year and the third child. I'll be so happy to open my pockets to any canny entrepreneur who comes up with pre-covered books next January.

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Muriel said...

About 5 years ago we managed to find a stationery shop that sold ordinary brown paper and plastic, pre-cut to size. We should have bought enough for the rest of the kids' school careers, because we've never found them again. How could such a good idea not have become currency?

meggie said...

I remember how excited our kids would be to get all their new stationery, & we would choose covers etc.
By the time they were all covered I would think to myself, what the hell was the excitement about!

Pilgrim said...

I loved the time my first-born daughter, who has a superb, dark sense of humour, cut up a Bunny Suicides book to adorn her schoolbooks (The Bunny Suicides catalogues the inventive, very funny attempts of a small, sad rabbit to End It All). The school was, needless to say, Concerned.