I love my Kindle and - because I spend a lot of time out of the United Kingdom - I often read newspapers on it. I can download today’s Guardian (99p) while having breakfast in the piazza, looking smugly at the two-day-old papers (3 euros each) hanging on the rack outside the Tabacchi next door. It’s great!
Sales of actual newspapers are sinking. There’s been a 25% decline since 2007 and the evidence is that the fall is accelerating. Lots of reasons for this - but computers, E-readers and I-pads are the main culprits. It's not just that it's easier and more convenient to read a newspaper on an electronic device, they're also altering the way we consume information. You can access live news on an E-reader too. Why read news that’s at least 12 hours old when you can stream instant bulletins of breaking news minute by minute?
Newspapers are dying every week without us even being aware of their demise and it seems quite possible that, in the near future, pixels will permanently replace print. But, despite being pleased that the trees on Planet Earth will get a much needed break, I will feel a twinge of regret when they finally bite the dust. After all, there are so many things you can do with a newspaper that you can’t do with a hand-held electronic reading device. I found, when I put my brain to it, that there were 25 different ways of recycling the stuff, though I expect you can think of a few more.
What are we going to do when we decorate? My parents used to tape newsprint all over the window glass and spread it all over the floor. I do the same. It’s second to none for soaking up spilt paint.
It’s also fantastic to put down on newly washed floors for muddy footprints, and for covering surfaces for messy kids to splash finger paints and water over. Mine used to cut it up into pretty patterns, paint it and make Xmas decorations out of it.
Then there’s lighting fires. They don’t go quite as well without it. My father used to hold a double sheet in front of the grate to get the fire to draw on damp days (not for the faint-hearted). My grandmother used to stuff it up the chimney and set alight to it once a month to ‘clear the flues’. Once, when she’d been too enthusiastic, the fire brigade had to be summoned!
What am I going to use when I move house, or put my precious possessions into storage? I know exactly how to fold a sheet to wrap a mug or a plate, though it’s usually a slow business as I keep being tempted to stop and read odd items on the edge of a page.
And I’m going to lose the pleasure of lifting a carpet in a new house and discovering a yellowing photograph of the Princess Elizabeth with a corgi underneath. Once it was a double spread on the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. Gripping read when you knew how it ended.
Newsprint comes in very handy for lining shelves, bins, swatting flies, or training the dog/cat. Not to mention wrapping fish and chips (already gone under health and safety) making paper hats on hot days, impromptu mats for mugs of tea, papier mache masks for parties, sprouting beans in jam jars, sealing draughty windows, propping up wobbly table legs. There were even neighbours in my grandmother’s Tyneside street who were rumoured to use newsprint for disposable table cloths.
And what are the itinerant to insulate their trousers with on winter nights? What are poison pen letter writers to do without newsprint as a resource? And elderly men in London clubs who snooze behind the shelter of their pink broadsheets?
Finally - childhood memories of outdoor privies on remote farms with squares of newsprint on a nail in the wall. I won’t regret that at all!
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Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle: A Glorious Fame
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