Friday, 6 February 2015

Rough

A random conversation yesterday prompted an unexpectedly fond memory of something I haven't thought about in decades: my school rough book.

Ooh, I loved the rough book!  It was special because it was deeply personal: the one place the teachers could not go (and presumably still can't?)  At my school the standard rough book was really thick, far fatter than all the formal exercise books and unlike them it was bursting with promise; it felt nicer and I'm sure its paper even smelt nicer. Its pale blue cover was there to be adorned, uncensored... an exciting blank canvas waiting to be transformed into a work of art.  Like everyone else, on this I could make my declarations, for boys and for bands, carefully drawn in decorative lettering, bold characters with fancy serifs and blocked in shadows, or logos copied off record sleeves. Doodles of stars... eyes with exaggerated lashes... spider webs in corners... speech balloons...The Clash... hearts and arrows and safety-pins... secret initials... objects of love (and sometimes of hate)...

Inside were those jotted notes, not just from lessons but to friends, clandestine messages - 'I'm so bored!' - and in-jokes, games of noughts and crosses, scribbled alongside the algebra and French verbs. It was the place to explore different hand-writing, as if trying on clothes – does it look better leaning to the left or the right, with closed or open loops?  So uninhibited and unchecked.  No teacher would read it, mark it or judge it, and that gave it power. It went with me everywhere like a faithful friend; a reference book, diary and sketch pad all in one. Maybe I should start one up now and I could use it to jot down ideas for future blog posts and recommended music to investigate (plus it would help to practise the hand-writing, which I'm convinced is getting more difficult than typing).

I also wish I'd kept just a few rough books from schooldays, out of curiosity. I'm sure they'd trigger further long-buried memories. Like, who the hell was JD? And why did I hate Mrs Benson so much?! And what exactly is Igneous Rock? Answers on a crib-sheet, please.





14 comments:

  1. C,
    This is a wonderful post! It's the first time that I've heard about these 'rough book' treasure troves. If only they'd had them at my school, or perhaps I should say, "If only I'd had the imagination to come up with the idea for myself." I was too cautious to even keep a diary. (My mother was a snooper!)

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    1. Thanks, Marie - ah, you missed out there :-(
      You know I just assumed everyone would have had them... I don't even know how much they're used in schools here now, but it was just something I took for granted. It was only when it came up in conversation yesterday that I suddenly found very strong memories - and fond feelings! - associated with this humble but oddly special little aspect of my school life! I'm sure my rough book could have told almost as many tales as a diary so perhaps it's just as well I threw all my books away (somewhat ceremoniously) the day I left there.

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  2. Rough books. Wow. I haven't had a thought about these since I left primary school. I don't think we had the pleasure of them in our comp. Can't imagine what I would have put in one as my work always looked pretty 'rough' anyway. Yes, you should get yourself another one - by writing this post you are telling yourself you need to. Great post - as ever. And, of course, The Ramones. Remember when you couldn't buy a Ramones t-shirt in Tesco? Those were the days.

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    1. Thanks, SB, yes I think you're right and I should start one now (I already leave scraps of paper all over the place with scrawled notes on...don't trust the memory!) Perhaps you could too... I'm sure it would be interesting.

      The Ramones just sounded suitably rough and ready here and 'of the time' ... "I don't wanna be learned"... oh I love it. We just couldn't have imagined in a million years that a Ramones t-shirt could become so mainstream, could we?!

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  3. I came upon a pile of my old school exercise books when I was clearing Mum's loft a few years ago. Several of them were quite interesting, though sadly not my Rough Book. I clearly thought that I was destined for greatness as the whole thing was full of practice runs at signing my autograph! If only I'd worked as hard on other aspects of my education!
    Great post C and, needless to say, a stonking tune.

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    1. Thank you TS. Oh, that must've been strange to see your old school books and possibly quite educational...or maybe not! You've triggered something with your rough book find, though: the importance of the signature. In an era when there were no such things as avatars, profile names, etc. I think we revelled in the simple declaration of *individuality* to be had in developing a signature. I've absolutely no doubt that mine would have been full of those 'potential' autographs too.

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  4. Never had rough books when I was at school - the nearest we got was grafitti on the cover of your jotter (aka exercise book - not sure whether this is only a Scottish word,. Still used as slang for getting the sack - getting your jotters) or in the margins

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    1. There I was thinking they must have been universal... I'm learning something...
      Also I'm enjoying learning Scottish expressions (thanks) - I'd never heard the slang 'getting your jotters' - thought it was just another name for a pen!

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    2. No rough books for us either.

      I did have folders and note pads (jotters I guess) for each class...and every inch was covered with doodles...including the pages that were supposed to be for notes.

      I remember these from middle school...8th grade...when I stopped making any real effort. I had one with The Fall written across the top and this girl asks me about it.
      "What is that."
      "It's a band."
      "Well...I'm not hip to that punk shit." I remember it because it's the first time, at least that I can remember, a kid cussing so nonchalantly...like it wasn't naughty.

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    3. I like that memory...and I bet there was some truly great art in those note pads of yours.

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  5. We never had "rough Books" in Wales either (or at least my 7 sheep's worth)! They sound great, i have missed out and demand one right now!

    Actually, and I know this will label me (correctly, it has to be said) as a sad 80's sad dinosaur but I really miss the Filofax... sort of the Rough Book of the pretentious urban yuppie (remember them?). After reading your Rough Book post I might go and dig out my old one and see if you can still buy diaries or just cut up bits of paper to put in it. I used to love carrying round that little brick stuffed full of torn bits from magazines, scribbled ideas and usually odd beer mats with doodles from friends and bits of trivia. Ahhh, the good old days before the pubs all closed down and I still had friends! My life was probably no more interesting back then but I miss the nostalgia of looking through my filofax and remembering that morning i walked up Shorts gardens from the opposite end for a change, or some such.

    And yes, handwriting does get much harder when you rarely do it anymore, I have noticed that too.

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    1. Let's hear it for rough books... and maybe even Filofaxes! They were so derided at the time (Filofaxes I mean, not rough books) but thinking about it now I reckon it's only because they seemed to be (mis)used as status symbols by certain types. The actual idea of them makes sense and is one we take for granted now, when you consider the far greater amount of stuff most people store on phones and other devices.... But I like the sound of yours more, with beer mats and doodles, things you could touch. Perhaps the time is right to bring Filofaxes back (call it Retro...) and that way we might be able to conserve that fading ability to actually write by hand.

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  6. I know, mine had the diary and address section but was mainly a bursting scrap book cum sketch book that i used to just doodle in constantly while on public transport. Friends used to lean over and write comments about people sat opposite us on the bus or in the pub. They were just funny little reminders of everyday chit chat and people you saw. That was when I lived and worked in a city though... not sure it would be as vibrant or as collaborative out here in the country. I am hopeless with smart phones and all those i-calender 'apps' though... I prefer just to scribble notes. Retro-files would be a good name, for retro gals like me ;o)

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    1. I think this has potential, you know: 'Retro-files'. An antedote to the digital world. The classic Polaroid camera made a comeback a few years ago, didn't it? And vinyl record sales are on the increase. We could be onto something here....!

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