Saturday, February 04, 2023

Fountain pens

I remember a time when writing with a fountain pen was something to aspire to. Yes, the fountain pen with its little metal lever, delicately hinged against the soft bladder within, to syphon up the ink. I remember the wet, metallic smell of ink. Quink in glass bottles - presumably the qu- for quick, as in quick drying; ink as in ink. The syringe-like way in which it was drawn up into the pen. And I can still recall the sensuous flow of ink from the nib, flowing on to the page as I tried to master nib technique, scratchily unsatisfying one day, smooth and flowing the next, so unpredictable that there were whole catalogues of disaster and frequent frustrations along the way. Bent nibs, split nibs, or the two vertical sections hopelessly crossed.  Accidents, leakages and the stained fingers of the apprentice writer. The running out of ink, and the excess of ink, pooling into blots on the page. And, of course blotting paper - loose or as part of a pad, the necessary accompaniment to pen and ink. Essential for drying-off your writing before the fold, before a turn of the page. Blotting paper to keep on top of minor spillages, to clean the nib, to mop up bottle drips. Blotting paper pellets, launched across the room from a flexed ruler - oh, the anarchy of stationery in the schoolroom! And then, the hazardous business of penmanship, of lining up letters of an acceptable size, looping them together, working to a standard of perfection, the ideal perfection of handwriting, and the grown-up signatures we all aspired to. I've still got my father's fountain pen. It's a Sheaffer with a screw-on lid, with the smooth contours of what might, in its time, have been thought of as futuristic. There's something rocket-like about it (although that may because I still see it through the eyes of a child who grew up with Dan Dare, moon-landings and space exploration). All right, so it may or may not be futuristic, but it's certainly elegant, gracefully tapered, carefully designed. It tapers like a bullet. It has a dark walnut-coloured finish, reminding me of a mint humbug. And, in common with all of its generation, the pen lid has a small golden clip to secure it to your pocket - the inside pocket of your jacket, of course, because 'wearing' it on your front pocket was seen as rather crass. There was something very accomplished and professional about the way in which my father parted the front fold of his jacket to draw out his Shaeffer for signing a cheque or making a note. In those moments, the pen was like a powerful weapon in the hands of an assassin. It was always on target, just right, and his signature was always the same, neat and flowing. It seemed to encapsulate the very essence of him. His neatly loped signature was like his neat wavy hair, carefully parted and carefully presented.