A fountain of knowledge on putting pen to paper
In a 10-point programme to “reintroduce handwriting back into our lives”, Hensher recommends an assortment of writing equipment: “a 14p Bic Cristal pen, one black, one red (let’s say). Get a couple of pencils – a soft 2B pencil, a hard 2H. A fountain pen, a felt-tip pen, preferably in a garish colour. Get a whiteboard marker – those joyous things with a blunt tip. Anything else you can think of – I like those green Pentel pens with a rollerball at the tip.”
As a connoisseur, he values fountain pens above all others, and devotes a whole chapter to buying a new one. Although the one he had been using was “a perfectly good, highly functional pen made by the German firm Lamy, in brushed steel . . . I wanted a solid fountain pen that would last me for years. I wanted an italic nib. I also wanted a refillable, pump-action, hydraulic-type reservoir.”
The quest took him all over the West End of London during the Christmas season; he was willing to suffer for his art.
First he went to Peter Jones, which he claims is “the best department store in the world. John Betjeman, a former poet laureate, is said to have remarked that if he heard the siren going off warning of imminent nuclear destruction, he would head to Peter Jones on the grounds that nothing really awful could ever happen there.”
However, the day Hensher applied for a pen, the sales assistant had a revolting cold and no pen with an italic nib. He could only suggest Ryman’s – or “there’s always Harrods. They’ve got a pen shop, I reckon.”
On the way to Harrods, which proved not to stock what he wanted, Hensher noticed the shop of “the luxury goods firm Mont Blanc . . . I had the idea that Mont Blanc pens were dizzyingly expensive.” He was right. He found that “the Mont Blanc range goes from a £280 Hommage à WA Mozart to a Meisterstuck Solitaire Sterling Silver pen at £925 . . . a Mont Blanc Etoile Mysterieuse Fountain Pen at £15,600, as well as an unbelievable monstrosity encrusted with 1,400 diamonds, which they aren’t going to tell you the price of because you can’t afford it anyway.”
At last, at a branch of the Pen Shop, on Regent Street, he discovered “a Lamy, exactly the same as the one I already had but with a slightly wider italic nib, and handed over 40 quid”.
As a Hensher convert, I am rather ashamed to confess that this review was typed on a computer and transmitted to Dublin by email. In mitigation, I can only add that my notes on the book were written on paper with a Japanese Uni-ball Micro Deluxe waterproof pen that cost about €3.