Pen snobbery

fountain pen.JPG

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?

16 thoughts on “Pen snobbery

  1. Lovely post. You don’t need help though – you have no problem whatsoever! – what you need is the right writing paper (German only apparently, sorry).

    I’ve always been a Waterman person myself, but boy: those Meisterstücks sure are sweet. Pricey though. And perhaps just the wee bit over the top after all?

  2. I usually use a Pilot G2 pen. They’re extremely cheap, and I love ’em. I like the darkness of the ink, as well as the fact that it’s gel ink. On the other hand, if I lose it, I don’t really care; I can get another for $1.50. 🙂

    Question… do you always write out your blog posts by hand, before typing them? After taking a closer look, it would appear the pic is of your blog post, written by hand.

  3. Sweet! Another pen snob! I love my Pelikan pen. Here’s a better shot: clicky.

    Fountain pens will always remain the best writing implements, IMHO. The G2 is nice, but honestly nothing can even come close to the ink flow and the feel of a fountain pen. Bar none.

  4. Wow Jay – that’s a great post! Though I do really, truly want a fountain pen. My brother got given a Mont Blanc roller-ball pen once for being an honest good guy (honesty does pay) and, whilst it writes like a dream, I still want the fountain pen for the true Pen Snob Experience.

    Nils – isn’t being a wee bit over the top the whole point? 😀

    Josh, I have to agree with Ben – G2’s and the like are all well and good for day to day (in fact they are more practical as are less likely to splurge everywhere) but nothing can beat a good fountain pen. The way it just glides over the paper…

    That’s a nice pen Ben, I’m jealous!

    And Josh, most of my blog posts I don’t bother writing by hand as I’m normally at the computer when inspiration strikes. This post got handwritten first because I was in the middle of making notes for an essay when I got the idea – the computer was acutally turned off! When I do handwrite posts I tend to write them in the book I call ‘My Life‘. My handwriting is normally a lot worse as well.

  5. I’ve got a notebook that I use in a similar way. It’s more of a random idea book than a journal though (I use LiveJournal for a private, day-to-day journal).

  6. Thank you Chris, and welcome to Bright Meadow 🙂

    Josh, I don’t really keep a daily journal any more – Bright Meadow usually serves as the outlet for the frustrated ramblings of my psyche (whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is debatable). If it’s something I don’t want to put on the blog the chances are I won’t want it online at all – those go in My Life (or occasionally a random txt file). I toyed with the idea of a private online journal, but it’s just not as portable as a notebook. If I’m going traveling I just throw My Life in a bag with a pen and I’m good to go no matter where I am. A lot easier to lug around that the PocketCalculator (and a lot cheaper to replace, though potentially no less devastating to loose).

    That, and I’m trying to limit the amount of typing I do though you don’t see that when you’re reading online. I’m using notebooks a lot more lately due to the blasted RSI. *grr*

    Oh, and there are of course the times when I’ve just turned off the computer (e.g., late at night, and I have an idea – My Life is perfect for that 😀 )

  7. 🙂 am I going to get shot for recalling the fluffy pink feathery pen thing you had to write in class with for a month on some kind of evil bet?

    My dad REFUSES to write in pencil because it reminds him of school and he hated school. He too is funny about pens but really likes thin fibre tipped ones that make his dyspraxic left handed scrawl even more impossible to decipher.

  8. Ah, the Pink Fluffy C Pen.
    That thing was IMPOSSIBLE to write with – the bobbly letter C on top just got in the way.

    Lol, sad though it is to spoil a good story, I only had to use it for a day and the money was for charity, but that was one day more than I wanted too! I’m not sure if the worst bit was the pink, the fluffy, or the bobbly.

    Or the fact that it was a leaving gift from people who thought I would genuinely like it!

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  10. I never, ever, ever buy expensive pens. Not for any sort of principle, but because I can’t afford to replace them every day after I lose them.

  11. If I received a knife, pen, or watch as a gift for the next 20 years for every holiday year round, I could honestly be happy. You can never have enough knives, as for pens I have a preference toward fountain pens, and watches are just so-so, any type of tool might fall on that list as well, but they all fit the bill. It feels kind of silly to fall so easily into that stereotype of “man” but it’s the truth…
    As people like music, but few like it on vinyl, so it makes a difference for me to type or to write with a fountain pen. If you’re snob, then I must be getting older…

  12. Glow Pens – I find that I loose cheap pens as well, but I make the effort with the expensive ones!

    Lesia – I’m not sure about the knives part of your comment, and I never wear watches (they just get in the way), but I will agree that fountain pens make brilliant gifts!

    Welcome the pair of you to Bright Meadow and the comments 🙂

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