Tuesday, 15 February 2011


My birthday is on the day after St. Valentine’s day, which can be a great advantage if I should want to book a restaurant table and drink remaindered pink champagne. It’s like buying a holiday out of season: it’s a bargain, but it feels a bit flat somehow. Can you imagine how those born on December 26th. or January 1st. must feel?

At lunch with friends the other day, while I wasn’t paying attention, talk turned to stationery. I know two things about this subject. One is that the post-it note was invented as a by-product of research into adhesives. I expected this fact to be received with polite interest, but was almost knocked out of the way as two members of the party jumped forward to proclaim their reliance on the sticky little patches of paper. “I love post-its”  said one, “Post-its make my day more interesting” claimed the other. They settled down eventually, but the incident did confirm the other thing I know about stationery,which is that some people find it irresistibly seductive.

Now, this is good news for the stationery industry, the demise of which was predicted more than twenty years ago when computers threatened a paperless office. It didn’t happen then, but the industry faces a new threat in the form of internet social networking. Nowadays there is an alternative to snail-mail greeting cards. I’m quite sure this does not explain why my mailbox wasn’t overflowing on St. Valentine’s day. On the other hand, nor does it explain why it was pretty well stuffed the following day.

Walking behind a couple of women returning to their office from lunch, I heard one say “coloured envelopes are actually quite hard to find”. I could have taken issue with her, since I had, just that morning, slit open quite a few of them. Coloured envelopes are one of the weapons in the armoury of stationers fighting back against electronic communications. Their charms are tactile as well as visual, making them are easy to buy, and difficult to consign to the recycle bin after extracting their contents.

Some people, however, are yet to be taken in by sexy stationery, and opt for Facebook postings (which do have the advantage of broadcasting events to the unknowing), or text messages, which nudge into one’s day like unexpected encounters. Some still use the telephone to speak or even sing their greetings. The sung ones are sometimes best heard as a recording, lest my inadvertent wincing communicates itself down the line.

Overwhelmed thus by the full panoply of different forms of greeting, I can only be pleased for the stationery industry’s continued survival, grateful to social networking for spreading the word, happy with SMS for the constant reminders, thankful for answerphones for sparing my blushes, and chuffed in general that so many friends and relatives have wished me well, one way or another.

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