Then and now
One of my sons has just gone to University in London. On the day before the start of Term, he and I filled the car with his stuff which included: a nice laptop computer, a good hifi system, a MIDI keyboard (he’s a musician) and his precious bongo drums. He also had cooking utensils (he’s a good cook), lots of books and clothes and a raft of other ‘necessary’ stuff. By the standards of his contemporaries he was well-organised and fairly minimalist (other parents’ cars were more heavily loaded — I saw one father buckling under the weight of a mattress. Perhaps the standard university issue didn’t meet with parental approval). And then I embarked on James Gleick’s lovely new biography of Isaac Newton, who came to Trinity College, Cambridge in the summer of 1661 bringing with him precisely this: “A chamber pot; a notebook of 140 blank pages, three and a half by five and a half inches, with leather covers; “a quart bottle and ink to fill it”; candles for many long nights; and a lock for his desk’.
Writing paper was expensive in Newton’s time, which probably explains why his writing was so small and neat. He believed in making full use of every square millimetre. He was also fantastically careful with money. The Wren Library in Trinity College has a lot of his papers, and I once brought my boy in to see the account book in which Newton recorded his expenditure in minute detail. On the way in, however, we had to pass the manuscript of Winnie the Pooh, which lay open at the page describing the invention of the game of Pooh Sticks. My son valiantly tried to pretend that Newton’s account books were fascinating (to please his Dad), but it was clear which he regarded as the more seminal document. Sigh. But then he was only six at the time.
Needless to say, one can play virtual Pooh Sticks nowadays. Oh — I almost forgot to say — Disney now own the rights to Winnie the Pooh, so don’t even think of putting any artwork on the Web or their copyright police will be after you.