I loved school supplies when I was a kid. Still love them, only now I get to call them ‘work supplies.’ Trouble is, I can’t find what I’m looking for.

At first I assumed it was a US/UK terminology problem. I must just have been asking for the wrong things. But, even wandering the aisles of Ryman’s and WH Smith, I could not find them. Where were they? How were people managing without them? I have tried asking for them by description, but no one at those stores knows what I’m talking about. I’ve tried keywords on Amazon.co.uk, and none of the results are right.

We called them “portfolios” when I was in school in the seventies and eighties in New Jersey. Also, “folders.” But the former conjures in the British mind presentation binders with clear sleeves inside, and the latter brings up literal folders: folded card stock in which one can shove papers, but no pockets to keep them in. I’m after “folders with pockets,” but the word “pocket” here brings up a full sized pocket. Imagine a card-stock folder with the two short sides sealed. Sure, you can hold things in them, but you can’t look at the things without taking all of them out.

This is what I’m after: a card-stock folder that when closed is a little larger than a piece of paper, and when open is double that. It opens such that each side is oriented portrait, not landscape. Each of the two insides has a pocket that goes halfway (or maybe a third of the way) up. They come in many colors, so you can sort papers into easily recognized and portable subjects. Once inside, the papers don’t fall out, and you can look at them or rifle through them without taking them out.

Which is a lot of words, clinical, unvivid ones at that, to describe what is, to me, a common object that I never considered important until I couldn’t find one.

Point one: Sometimes writing stalls on something that isn’t interesting but which needs to be clear: the layout of the scene of a crime, or the working of an appliance that later becomes a weapon. These things are obvious upon sight but difficult to put into words. In The Start of Everything, I struggled with a door that was “catercorner” to another, a word none of my early readers knew but which was the literal and sole accurate word to describe the door’s position.

Point two: I really, really want a bunch of these pocket folder thingies. How British people sort their papers without them I do not know. They are now up there with large bottles of Advil and People magazine on my “bring back from America” shopping list.

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