'It is typical of Oxford," says Charles Ryder after his return from an idyllic summer at Brideshead, "to start the new year in autumn." Evelyn Waugh presumably meant to suggest that this was a characteristically perverse thing for an ancient university to do. It has never seemed perverse to me.
Granted, I was the sort of studious child who was secretly pleased by the sight of the "back to school" displays in the shops. But I always liked the idea of starting the new year in September when, instead of that post-Christmas fag-end feeling, you got the excitement of stocking up on new stationery.
The contents of a pencil case were my first encounter with the aesthetics of material objects. For me the smell and feel of a new eraser are as evocative of autumn as falling leaves. Stationery was also my understated introduction to the idea of utopia, the triumph of hope over experience. Forgetting all the false dawns of autumns past, I believed that if I could just find a pen with the right nib, or highlighters in ideal colour combinations, I would at last have the tools to accomplish great deeds.