I've always been a bit of a fountain pen lover — although admittedly I’m not quite as lost to the bug as my friend Scott, who must now be up to a dozen fountain pens of various makes, shapes and sizes.
Ever since I came second in a school hand writing competition at the impressionable age of seven (second in the whole school that is, not just in my year), I’ve known that the best pens come with a nib and an ink reservoir. The secret of my success was that I’d quietly nabbed my dad’s venerable Parker 45, getting ink all over my fingers but producing writing better than I’d ever achieved with pencil or biro, and from that day on I’ve been hooked.
As you might expect, given that I’ve just chalked up the first fifty, I’ve had a fair few pens. Over many of those fifty years the fountain pen has been an essential part of an unholy triumvirate of items without whose existence I’ve found modern life harder to tolerate, namely:
However, and here I hang my head in shame, I don’t…and whisper it quietly…actually own a fountain pen right now. Yes, dear reader, despite being an inveterate devotee of the shiny, complicated and expensive (subtext: perm any two from three to make an item acceptable, or settle for any one of them in the case of a close family member’s gift if you know what’s good for you), I currently own precisely no pens that aren’t gel rollerballs, of which I have many although most of these are, I suspect, under my younger son’s bed.
And here I pause to reflect as to why this might be. Let’s just track through my pen history for clues…
Does anyone else here recall the Parker 25, that company’s make or break pen aimed squarely at young chaps like myself (fourteen at the time), all brushed steel and plastic (and therefore cheap), blessed with ‘space age ruggedness’ (or so the ads told me)? I bought one on the day they came out, and if I still had it it’d be worth about six times what I paid for it. That was the first of many flirtations with bottled ink, and almost the cheapest. Over the next twenty of so years I went on to own and love a succession of pens, several of them Parkers, dallied with a couple of Sheaffers, trashed a few dirt cheap Lamys and had a fleeting affair with a Mont Blanc - but only one pen ever really did it for me.
Purchased as part of my 40th birthday celebrations, it was a brutally huge Parker Duofold with a nib like a Crusader’s sword and a clip thick enough to cope with the roughest of handling. It was a gorgeous piece of kit, and yet… I came to realise over the next year that there was something missing for me, not helped by the pen’s huge dimensions. It was built like one of Arnie’s cigars, and I slowly slid to the realisation that it was just too damn big for my pockets — this was in the days before I discovered the joys of leather pen cases — and so (after the crowning indignity, when the button that seals the cap fell out and was lost) I did the only decent thing a man can when he possesses something he no longer covets but which needs to be loved. I gave it to Scott, who promptly sent it off to Parker for repair and now gets it out for a quiet lustful rub every now and then.
I tried again, with a delicate Duofold Marine that entranced me for a few months until the barrel split for some reason that was more than likely my fault, and in a fit of pique I…yes, you’ve guessed it…gave it to Scott, who once again went down to the Post Office and got Parker’s amazing after sales repair team to work their magic. It’s becoming a theme in my life, mind you, this is the man that worked until midnight one day to get my limping Corvette fit to go to Le Mans, and so I could deny him little if he were to ask for it (obviously anything apart from my Bouvier, my Porsche or indeed almost anything else I own, now we’re thinking that bold assertion though properly).
Recently another problem has arisen, and it’s a fundamental one when it comes to fountain pens. Modern paper (to steal Blur’s assertion from the ‘90s) is rubbish! As an author I can’t use a fountain pen to sign my books, given that the porous paper involved sucks up ink like I go through good scotch, which means in turn that the good old Pentel Gel Grip 0.7 rollerball is my weapon for choice for signing, lining, dating and drawing rude Roman penile graffiti in my first editions. Mind you, just how will one ever sign an e-book??
And it’s not just the printed word. I also work for a living, being too penurious to sit around lollygagging like my full time writer colleagues (and having a German sports car habit to maintain to boot), and being a meticulous little chap I do tend to write everything down in my favourite Black ‘n’ Red notebooks —…a quick note before we go on — just to prove what a crusty old fogey I am - I positively foam at the mouth at that ‘n’ when I find it in place of the word ‘and’. I really must be getting reactionary in my old age — (and breathe…) - Black AND Red notebooks whose paper tends to be silky smooth and gorgeous on one side and like spongey sandpaper on the other. Which makes one page in two a bit of a trial to write on.
But, be all that as it may, I’ve decided in the course of writing this blog post to go for it one more time. I will procure another fountain pen, I will. Scott, who will be reading this now, is doubtless already rubbing his hands in anticipation…
Anthony Riches began his lifelong interest in war and soldiers when he first heard his father's stories about World War II. This led to a degree in Military Studies at Manchester University. He began writing the story that would become Wounds of Honour after a visit to Housesteads in 1996. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and three children. The Leopard Sword Empire is his latest novel...
10 August 2012