Thursday, 29 March 2007

The travel journal

I am not a hard-core diarist, but every time I do some serious travelling I keep a journal. I started out using notebooks and have tried several varieties: hard-bound, softcover, spiral bound, ruled, unruled, square ruled, etc. After years of this I went on to use a book that really spoiled me: a hand-bound hardcover book that had originally been made as a gift guestbook but the maker had not wanted to give it as such because he was not quite happy with it (the Rexine covering had a couple of bulges in it), so he gave it to me instead to use as a journal. That book was such a luxury to write in and unlike the notebooks there was nothing flimsy about it. After being lugged around for four months of rough travelling, the only thing that distinguishes it, seen from the outside, from a new book is the dirty edges of the pages and the slight bulge in the cover due to all the stuff I have glued into it.

Which brings me to a slight dilemma: I glue stuff into my journals all the time. Boarding passes, bus and train ticket stubs, postcards, clippings from tourist brochures and newspapers, postcards, photographs, flowers, stickers, stamps, etc., etc. This is fine when using a spiral-bound notebook, as they can usually take the swell or be made to by removing some pages, but I hate using spiral-bound notebooks for journalling. Don’t get me wrong, they are fine for some other purposes, like taking notes in class or keeping a diary at home, but when travelling, especially on a road trip, the spirals inevitably get squashed, making the book hard to open flat without much swearing and a pair of pliers, the ends of the spirals unbend and get hooked on stuff – usually favourite pieces of clothing – and the boards, which are usually just thick cardboard, quickly start to look scuffed and ugly.

For my upcoming holidy in the USA I want another hard-bound book with nice, thick paper to write, draw and paint on. As I have been learning bookbinding I can easily make myself a journal, but what kind? I want one that will give me the following:

a) it can take the swell of all the extra things I will stuff into it without it showing on the outside,

b) I will not be left with many empty pages at the back – my journals are always a few pages short of being enough for my next round of journalling but I still feel guilty for not using all those blank pages – and

c) it looks good, preferably unique or at least appears to be one-of-a-kind. That is the problem with the ex-guestbook: it isn’t ugly, but it is covered completely in brown Rexine (fake leather to the uninitiated) with “Guestbook” gilded on the front.

I have solved problems a) and b) in one stroke: I will make up a number of signatures (the little booklets that are sewn together to make a book) before I set off. I will get a small two-ring binder and keep each signature in a plastic pocket, ready to be written in and decorated. Fastening the pages together with one staple in the middle may help to prevent loose pages getting mixed up. I will make many enough signatures that there will be no danger of running out (and even if I did, paper in standard sizes is widely available). When I get home I will bind the signatures into a book and the thickness problem will thus take care of itself because all the additions will already be in place. Those signatures left over I will bind into a new blank book, ready to be used as a journal or notebook, or perhaps I will store them to use on my next journey. The problem I foresee here is mostly to do with remembering to have big enough margins in the book so it can be trimmed after sewing to make the pages more even before I put the covers on. Of course, there is something to be said for making sure a book looks hand-made, but I’m afraid that the insertions will make the edges look not just interestingly uneven but downright tatty, so some trimming will be necessary.

As to c), the only ‘problem’ is that I have too many ideas. I am currently vacciliating between these:

1) half-bind the book (i.e. cover the spine and corners) in some interesting Rexine (I have just enough of some rather nice cloudy blue stuff, the colour of the ocean on maps), and then use a map to cover the rest of it. Just to make sure it’s made from good, strong paper I would sacrifice one of my National Geographic maps (might as well use them for something). Seal the paper, then get the title and year professionally gilded on the spine, and voilĂ !: I’ll have a memento of my journey to be proud of.

2) half-bind the book as described in 1) and make a collage cover from travel brochure photos and stamps.

c) Cover the book completely in one colour of Rexine and start a series that can be referred to by colour.

Of the three, I like 1) and 2) best, as they will give me some outlet for my artistic proclivity, but 3) would be very hard-wearing and classic-looking. The hardwearingness hardly matters as it will mostly just sit on the shelf to be taken out now and again to help me remember some point of the journey it describes, but the classic look is, well, classic, and at some point in the future I may grow tired of the artistic version – but of course the artistic version will also show what kind of person I was when I made it...

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