A recent thread on Twitter caused me the sudden and urgent desire to dig out my fountain pens. I suddenly remembered how much I used to enjoy writing – not just what I was writing, but how, the physical process and the mechanics of the pens. Writing is still an essential daily part of my sanity, and it occurred to me that maybe I’m missing something in in settling for whatever biro I can lay my hands on that probably came free in a charity envelope.
I haven’t found all of them yet, which is eating away at me, but I found several old friends, and after a quick clean, they’re all working as well as they ever did.
In my book, incidentally, a fountain pen has a reservoir – I would call these cartridge pens – but it seems “fountain pen” is used to cover both pens with cartridges and those with reservoirs these days.
I’m happiest to rediscover my old Parker Vector. This is the only type of pen I ever bought, and I must have gone through many. The others were all gifts or freebies. I still love the styling of the Vector, and it writes smoothly and comfortably, although its line is too thick for most of the writing I do these days – it was definitely more suited to an A4 environment. You can see the cap and barrel of the Vector don’t match, and when you pull the cap to open it, it’s the barrel that comes off, then you have to remove the cap, then screw the barrel back on before you can write. I must have done that thousands of times, and I don’t mind a single bit!
With the possible exception of the Vector, all four pens I’ve found are terrible by any standard. They were probably terrible when new, and they’re in pretty awful repair. Every single one has either a split barrel or split cap, or both. But I can only liken it to putting on your most ancient pair of shoes, or your jeans that have worn to fit you and only you. Even the pens that scratch, scratch in a completely familiar and predictable fashion, and it’s a revelation to remember how pleasant it is to write with a well worn-in nib that you know, as opposed to a random biro whose behaviour you can’t predict.
Do you know what has struck me the most this morning? That flick you give to a newly-inserted Parker cartridge to release the air bubble. Seriously, it’s one of my favourite things in the whole world, doing that, and I haven’t done it in over a decade. I’d completely forgotten it, in fact, until I found myself doing it. It quite took my breath away for a moment. It’s an act so full of potential, like starting the first page of a fresh notebook.
I haven’t written with any of these guys in over twelve years, I think, but they were a huge, huge part of my school and undergraduate life. As a visual learner, I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote, in all different colours, and it was these pens I used. I can still remember which colour ink belongs in which pen, which makes it unthinkable to put anything but ugly pink ink in the ugly brown pen. I’m actually getting flash-backs to the pages of GCSE notes I wrote out again and again with these pens.
Mr Conkers and I also courted in the days where you had to queue up to use the communal phone in university halls of residence, so letter-writing was a big part of my life. It’s completely impossible to write a letter if the paper, ink colour and nib don’t suit what you are trying to say.
I wonder how I would get on if I were to experience a new, reasonable quality fountain pen. I covet the 2017 special edition petrol blue Lamy Safari rather a great deal – it’s going on my fantasy Christmas list just to get it out of my head. It’ll have sold out by then of course. Maybe though I’d be disappointed – I can imagine you could pay a lot for a supposedly great pen, but if it doesn’t feel right you then it’s not worth a broken Parker Vector.
I’m going to keep these pens inked now, and keep hunting for their lost companions. They’re going to be part of my writing going forward, if not for my every-day notes (they’re all rather too broad) then at least in the letters I like to post myself now and then (a weird sort of journaling, but it works for me).