'That has now ended': my year in Post-it notes

24th July 2009 at 01:00

I have just shredded all the things that annoyed me in the past year. What a feeling. It is viciously satisfying: ripping up paperwork full of strict demands and poncey formal English.

"Please complete this questionnaire and return it at once to the head of Year. Make quite sure that every section ... ". Rip!

"Computerised forms must now be used for detentions. If you have used the old blue forms this term, please redo ... ". Scrunch!

There they go - the insane demands, bleating lists and snarling memos of the past. How suddenly they are all over.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the sticky notes of yesteryear. Each one preserves a moment of panic on a neon square. "Fill in report grid!" takes me back to a frantic break with no time for biscuits.

In this parallel universe preserved in sticky notes, everything is equally urgent. Panic is a great leveller. "Get extra chair for F's broken leg!" competes with "What is a FNEP?" and "How long do otters live?" I want to soothe these anxious little messages - tell them that they have done their job and can relax now.

Like this one: "Find pink folder!" We chewed ourselves up for weeks over who had last had it. It was never found. Then somebody said that most of the things in the pink folder were also in the orange folder. So couldn't we just use that and update the top sheet? And everyone was happy again.

Yet this poor little sticky note is still valiantly shouting its message to a world that has moved on. It doesn't know the war is over. No one has told it that the enemy has left the jungle now and the mountains are ringing with the shouts of liberated children.

The pink folder story ended well, but some of these notes are baffling. I don't remember why I told myself to "Finish 'To Autumn' sensibly". My favourite mystery is "Go to Lynne after briefing and fill her in on the biting man." Surely that one deserved an exclamation mark?

Distance brings out irony. "Say prayers, then teach 9X" now seems like a sensible precaution. "Choose Bible reading - try 'Father, forgive them'," has an angry purple scrawl slapped on top of it: "Clobber Heather - still no homework!" Hm. I think we had a different Bible reading that day.

"Puppet tragedies" caused no end of grief. "Explain puppets again!" recurs in various forms until we finally get to "Fix blinds." That file has "Never do this again!" marching across it. If we could foresee problems we would probably never try anything new.

These were all pressing; now they are all past. There's an Anglo Saxon poem called "Deor" about how everything passes, including worry and trouble. The poet describes "the pain of winter-cold", "a cruel king" and "sorrowful, sleepless love". He consoles himself in his present trouble with a simple thought: "That has now ended; so also may this."

Written in the ninth century, the clear-eyed refrain works for small troubles as well as great: "That has now ended; so also may this." It deserves to be put on a sticky note and transferred from one year planner to the next.

Files, keys and reports will carry on getting lost. Trapped in the moment, a way out seems impossible, but somehow we always find one. "Find eagle!" soon became "Borrow eagle!" then gave way to "Photocopy eagle". I'll take comfort from that, before I fly into the blue sky of freedom.

Catherine Paver, Writer and part-time English teacher.

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