Burley Anima Sana In Corpore Sano

by Scribble Monboddo

Well, a blog post title on 'Nero's Notebooks' was already taken, so you'll have to accept a bit of Latin. Roll with it!

England’s smallest county really is a bijou affair; blink as you pass through and you’ll miss it, if a wax-jacketed Chelsea tractor driver hasn’t mown you down in that brief moment of reverie. But they do like a bit of Latin themselves and the county motto, multum in parvo (a lot in a little, roughly) has some truth to it, for there are hidden talents lurking behind all those restrainedly teeming Farrow and Ball paint-jobs.

Take Rob de la Porte, for instance. ‘Good strong Norman name, that (well, Breton actually) – but he knows the pen is mightier than the sword. I know that too, in part because he’s borrowed a few pens of mine over the years; yes, this stationer is very much One Of Us. Swing by his atelier, up in the eaves of the old smithy, and it’s obvious that he fits right in. One glance at the apex tells you that’s a seventeenth-century roof-line, for starters (you have your copy of Early Modern Vernacular Architecture For Dummies to hand, right?). But what’s inside is even more impressive.

Whatever comes out of Rob’s workshop is truly handmade, and I’m an eye-witness. Every aspect of these notebooks has been lovingly assembled by one person who picked the paper, printed the inserts and covers, guillotined the stack, stapled the seams and rounded the corners, each action requiring a separate piece of equipment. It could be a production line, but he’d need to clone himself first.

All that old-fashioned manufacturing (in the original etymological sense of ‘making by hand’) comes at a price, you might think. But it turns out to be a shockingly reasonable one, so Nero’s Notes struck a deal. These two pocket-size (90 x 140mm) notebooks are fruit of that liaison.

Now, similar as they look, I’d say they’re quite different beasts in the flesh, or indeed in the pocket. Let’s start with the Basics, which I would see as the one for pencils. Don’t get me wrong; you can write on this paper with a fountain pen, and it will behave tolerably well, but it does have quite a lot of texture and it’s not, honestly, the most comfortable sensation if you’re wielding an exotic nib. For writing with pencils, though, it’s absolutely perfect. If you’re a graphite fiend who might just use a real pen very occasionally, the BASICS (see, that title makes sense now) is actually terribly refined.

Regular readers will know that, much as I love a posh pencil, the noble fountain pen is what I reach for when I really need to write. For that, the paper needs to be smooth, and not too absorbent, so that the tip of the nib glides and the ink doesn’t seep through to the other side. This is a tricky requirement in a pocket notebook, where there is a page-count price to be paid if the paper is too thick – but our friend in the old smithy has pulled it off again. The ink-friendly notebook is absolutely lovely to write on, and can even handle my old OMAS which is so gushing that it’s been used as an emergency fire-hose at the local model village (they saved the bakery, even if it turned purple for a fortnight). It’s all readily dismantled for recycling, too – although I promise, you’ll want to keep this.