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On kids’ stationery

Some pencils are given away with magazines and break like twigs the moment you press them to paper. Some are gifts from relatives, usually branded with current crazes – Frozen, Trolls, whatever. Some come from mum or dad to stem a supermarket meltdown. Some are pocketed at a friend’s house and magically appear. Some are souvenirs from museums and country homes.

Where the lost pens go

Only one thing is certain: no single set of crayons or pencils will remain together. They will be scattered to the four winds. Pens will dry out, their caps sent into a twilight zone. Pencils will roll under sofas and tables and find their way into crevices, only to be rediscovered when you finally move house.

Crayons will be put into jigsaw cases and mixed up with connect 4 pieces. Rubbers will be abandoned in kitchen drawers or break up in the washing machine. Scissors will appear in the garden, at the bottom of a rainwater-filled bucket. Glue sticks will shrink to solid husks and be found in winter jackets halfway through summer. Or under the mattress. Or in a sock drawer.

Mighty plastic swords

Kids use stationery as a key weapon in their war on their parents’ equilibrium. They will draw on walls and leave pens to stain sofa cushions and glue expensive things to precious things.

And on the rare occasions where the children are conscripted into tidying their insanity they will suddenly fixate on some particular long-lost felt tip which suddenly means the world to them and will never, ever be found.

Manufacturers of kids stationery are determined to create as much landfill as possible. In league with the kids magazines, they compete to make the worst quality stationery for giveaway: pens that dry in seconds; plastic rulers and pencil sharpeners that shatter to bits; intricate twisty pencils that break the tip constantly, leaving the least recylable waste imaginable.

It’s all completely unnecessary: feeding off the kids’ desire for new, new, new, a blinking moment’s satisfaction and then the toss aside into forgotten land. We should know better as parents. But we’re tired and the kids are on our cases and we surrender easy. We buy the cheap crap because it is there, to hand.

There should be a better pact between us all – no more plastic junk with the magazines; no more kids felt tips. Let them have crayons and pencils of some bureaucratic EU standard that can withstand the kids use and last them years. They don’t need all this plastic tut.

Remnant splendour

Still, there is a kind of guilty glory in it: in the bruised and battered remnants of the dozens of pen sets and giveaways and presents and pencil cases that you accumulate. More and more of it, filling up the house, stabbing your bare feet in the morning, wedged in some impossible car crevice, in bed, bloody everywhere.

It can be fun to gather it all together and see what has survived: one quality pencil set; the more neglected colours; the not very good crayons that will still be around in a century.

Look at it all, spread out there, sharpened and arranged for one totally unrepresentative image of order. Like a school class photo, a picture of them a way they are never found.

You have to love it. You must. For one day the pens will be gone and there’ll just be your polished floors, your dustless corners and your un-stained sofas. There will just be you and your quiet, ordered, graffiti-free house.

And won’t that be a desolate thing?