I’ve just realised something about myself: I am a pen snob.
I rarely hand write things these days and when I do I normally just grab any old biro that’s lying around. When I’m taking notes in class my weapon of choice has always been a Pilot V5. It has smooth flowing ink, lasts a long time, feels nicely balanced in the hand, and has the added advantage that I can use it to sketch on the rare occasions I feel so inclined. After bitter experience I’ve found it’s also the one pen I can rely on my handwriting being (more or less) legible in.
When I write letters however, I prefer to use a fountain pen. It makes it feel that bit more special. This stems, I think, from where I went to school. Biros were frowned upon and from about the age of nine we were all using fountain pens. We even had lessons in penmanship and handwriting, not that they really made much of an impression on me as can be seen from my habitual scrawl.
All my young life I hankered for a proper fountain pen, not one of the scuzzy £3.99 ones you picked up in WHSmith’s in packs of five that leaked as soon as you looked at them and had all the joy to hold of a knobbly carrot. I have distinct memories of sitting in Mr Staple’s class (that was Year C, so I was 10/11) and having three fountain pens in my pencil case to choose from.
One was the scratchy icky WHSmith one. This one I tended to use in Maths were you needed to know the numbers wouldn’t blur into each other. The only plus side of these pens was that with the small ink cartridges you could store a spare in the top of the barrel (and collect the little ball things inside).
Of the other two, a white Schaeffer was my day to day pen. The nib was slightly thicker and it rarely let me down. The third was a basic Parker which could again be relied upon not to let me down. Sometimes I would use it in preference to the Schaeffer, but normally I just kept it around for those times when I’d run out of Schaeffer ink – that was the one down side of the Schaeffer – the ink cartridge was an odd shape/size and no one else in my class had a Schaeffer so there was no one to cadge a cartridge off if necessary. I also had a red Schaeffer before the white, but Jordan Lacy borrowed it one day and bent the nib, so it never wrote nicely for me ever again. That’s when I learnt that everyone has a different way of writing and, through use, the nib of a fountain pen bends slightly to reflect that style. If someone else then uses the pen for any length of time the nib can get bent a bit differently, ruining it for the first person.
It may seem silly, but a fountain pen is a very personal thing. A good pen is like a trusted friend and should be treated with love and respect. I was very chary, after that, in lending out my pen.
When I was fifteen I got a proper Parker fountain pen for my birthday (Mum was going to make me wait till my sixteenth but I can be very persuasive and annoying when I want something). It was, still is in fact, brushed steel with little gold accents round the rim and clip. The nib is perfect – neither too thick or too thin – and the ink flows with reassuring constancy. It rarely oozes ink over my fingers, has the perfect balance in my hand, and it is a pen I treasure to this day.
I found myself using the pen today to write an essay. To do so I had to go digging in the draw to find a spare ink cartridge – got to be black – then wipe off the dried-on ink that spoke of my sad neglect of the past few months, before I could put pen literally to paper and marvel at the smooth flow of the words. I’d forgotten what a joy it can be to write, physically write, then look back over the words and go “I did that and it is good”.
A few years back I kept a journal that I wrote in most days – not every day, but most days – and when I finished it I looked back and had a warm glow of satisfaction that those words were mine. I wrote most of that in fountain pen. The next journal I started however I have never finished because the paper refused to take fountain pen ink. It just oozed into the cheap recycled paper and the words became illegible black splodges. The quintessential “spider fell into an ink pot and crawled over the page” look. Not nice, so I had to write in biro in that journal, and it just wasn’t the same. Biro has it’s place to be sure, but somehow journals need to be more special.
More grown up.
Yes, even aged 24, I still feel more ‘grown up’ and adult when I write with a fountain pen. One of my many adorable little quirks.
However, much though I love my fountain pen, it wasn’t very expensive – £25 is the figure I remember, a lot for a fifteen year old kid to use and quite possibly loose, but not in the grand scheme of things – and I find myself lusting after the fancy-pants luxury writing instruments. Yes, that’s right. When a pen is this posh it’s no longer even called a pen. Nor does it have a price tag listed on the website (a sure sign it’s time to rob a bank or sell a kidney). I want an heirloom pen, something like the one my grandad used to use, or my dad uses when he remembers to get ink.
I want a pen I can take out of my jacket pocket/handbag/filo-fax at a meeting to jot down my number on the back of a business card, and for someone to go “OH! That’s a lovely pen…!” If I could go “Oh, this old thing? It’s just a Mont Blanc…” in that casual, off hand, cool as cucumber Hepburn way even better. Well, a girl can dream, can’t she? I’m not a child of the late 80’s/early 90’s, oh no.
I don’t wear designer clothes or sun glasses. I don’t have a St. Tropez tan. I don’t iron my hair straight every day. I have curves enough for ten Nicole Ritchie’s. But something in me hankers for the status symbol of a good fountain pen.
I doubt any one else even notices what people write with but I do.
Yes, I need help. And handwriting lessons. But don’t they say that admitting you have a problem is the first step towards curing the problem?