Before I go to Smith’s – By @josieaefinlay

By Josie Finlay


Before I go to Smith’s


I woke up this morning with a sense of urgency and the name “Smith’s” on my lips. I’m going Back to School in a month and I haven’t even thought about what stationery I’m going to get.


Back in my school-school days, this would be unheard of. The coming year’s stationery haul would be on my mind from day 0 of the summer hols, and it would be an area of thought that I’d return to regularly over the weeks that followed. There were lots of things to think about, especially when it came to pencil cases. Would I follow a trend and end up with something cool, but that a classmate would inevitably also have? Or would I go for a more risky, indie option? The latter was an approach that sometimes paid dividends. My most one-of-a-kind piece, a sequinned denim number with a mesh eraser compartment, once got a compliment from a girl in the Year Above, no less.


There’s nothing like the newness and sharpness and plasticky smell of a fresh set of stationery to put some fire in your brain cells after a long hot summer of inertia. Maybe it just hasn’t crossed my mind because this particular summer hasn’t been very inert. I feel like I’ve spent most of it explaining what I’m ‘doing next year’ to people, which has been quite exhausting. The conversation usually goes something like this:


Person: So what are you up to at the moment?

Me: Well I’m about to start a copywriting and art direction course at the School of Communication Arts in Brixton?

Person: Oh, a masters, cool

Me: It’s not actually a masters

[If I can’t be bothered for this part of the conversation, sometimes I just say I’m doing a masters]

Person: Oh right. Cool! So what is it?

Me: You work on briefs. You learn copywriting and art direction. It’s about creativity. For advertising. And you get into partners at the end of the year, to make a creative team.

Person: Wow, cool! Aren’t you scared no one is gonna choose you?

[They ALWAYS say this. Why does everyone think no one will want to be my partner? Maybe I need some new friends]


Another factor that caused pencil-case-decisionery to be pushed to the side this year was the scholarship project. This was a strange portion of my life that I think I’ll go into properly on another SCAB, but has definitely cemented my position in history as the person who’s stared at a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce for the highest number of minutes.


And, of course, there’s the Memory Book, which calls to me in every moment of rest. This has been quite an interesting one to take out and read on the tube. People tend to give it really suspicious glances, and then look at me with concern. Maybe they think I look tragically young to be reading a book on how to improve my memory, or maybe it’s because the book looks very Scientology. (‘Kenneth L. Higbee’ also sounds like a fake name, like an anagram or something. Who is this guy?!)


In short, this hasn’t been a normal summer of doing normal stuff. So I haven’t had much time to consider how fine my fineliners should be. But I don’t think this year is going to be a year of doing normal stuff. And I’m really excited about that: I’m looking forward to being able to channel my impulse for making and writing not normal stuff into my full-time occupation, rather than in stolen time between work and sleep.


But now that the prospect of stationery has finally surfaced in my brain, it’s time to take some action: I’m going for a W H Smith browse this afternoon for the first time since 2009. Do the School Kids of Today even buy stationery any more or do they just mine cryptocurrency? Will there be ashes and tumbleweed where protractors and gel pens once lay agleam in W H’s disgusting fluorescent lighting? It remains to be seen. But if all goes to plan, I’ll be blessing myself with plenty of new gear, ready for the year ahead. It’s just a shame SCA doesn’t have any Year Aboves to give me that sweet pencil case validation.


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