The pen is mightier than the keyboard

As the process of buying a piece of jewellery, at the shop I work in, went from a handwritten receipt to a few taps on an Ipad I knew that I would never again hear those sweet words ~ “Oh haven’t you got beautiful handwriting”. Along with “You smell amazing” and “You’re how old?!” it’s one of my all time favourite compliments.

On hearing those words I would smile and appear surprised as if I’d never heard it before “Ohhh thank you!” I’d reply when in reality I wanted to say “Dude! I know! Being a teenager from 1991 to 1997 does have some benefits”

I’m not so naive as to think it’s all in my wrist action though. I know that what pen is being used to deliver that beautiful notation is a big part of it. And believe me I’ve tried them all. I’ve spent years working out a winning combination of what ink, nib and paper produces the best handwriting. For a while I did find the humble Bic biro a winner, loved the introduction of using a Uniball fine ink pen in an assortment of colours but once I came across the Muji ball point pen with a 0.38 nib size I was in love forever. DAMN that’s a good pen guys! On reading that sentence back I realise I need to get out more but when stationary is your thing ~ and stationary IS my thing ~ finding a pen that fulfils all your writing needs is as good as a nose kiss from a really great dog. Random comparison but when a cute, damp nose prints itself onto your cheek there’s no going back. You’re in love.

With a 0.38 Muji pen my handwriting is a dream. It looks strong and feminine. Artistic and intelligent. Letters almost hug each other, slotting together in a uniformity that is so aesthetically pleasing to me that I rejoice in growing up in an analogue era. I wanted to work hard at having nice handwriting when I was younger and so I did. Hours were spent writing letters to friends I’d see the next day {it’s a teenage girl thing from the 90’s} and my focus was to write a full page of words and sentences in all the same font. Easier said than done people. I would occasionally change the gradient of my writing and have a forward sloping font but eventually I thought it looked neatest and prettiest when it was standing up tall and proud. When it filled the lines it was sandwiched between and displayed a regularity that was incredibly pleasing to the eye.

In January of last year my friend, Catherine, sent me a small, beautifully wrapped package from NYC. She is an exceptional present giver and so I was very surprised when I opened it up to find an old fashioned fountain pen in there. My initial, ungrateful reaction was “How did she get me do wrong? A fountain pen? What is this 1989?” 

At the transitional age of 11 going on 12 I went down the fountain pen route and it didn’t end well. Like actual playing at playtime using a pencil to write a story with was now no longer an option. I was in secondary school and shit had become serious. You were expected to pay attention in school, homework was now a real thing and how I would wear my hair everyday was an issue. The pen situation on offer to me is something I honestly don’t remember and have come to the conclusion that it was so dire I must have simply blocked it out of my mind. My thoughtful and kind Granddad Len gifted me and my siblings a Parker pen set. A  dark forest green twin set of a fountain pen and a ball point pen. Boy, did I feel cool. Fuck the latest trainers or who had Jason Donovan’s current album, I had a set of grown up pens AND a rainbow rubber in the shape of a heart. Life had almost peaked.

My pen joy was short lived though. Writing with a fountain pen requires a commitment to one style of writing. I was still deciding then whether I would write big or small, slanted or straight, whether I would use bubbles over my i’s or simply a conventional dot*. A fountain pen’s nib just can’t keep up with that sort of indecisiveness. Almost as if my handwriting was exposing my secondary school insecurities it appeared on the page all over the place. It looked messy and childish and irregular. It didn’t make me happy to look at it and my beloved Gpop’s pens were sadly abandoned.

On holding the small, chunky fountain pen Catherine had sent me all those writing inconsistencies came flooding back. “I can’t write with this” I thought to myself. “I want to produce a steady, grownup piece of writing when I send a thank you card or a birthday message. I can’t have ink blobbing out everywhere or the nib scratching the paper” This was a first world problem of the highest degree and I was torn. I decided I might as well try the pen at least so that I could tell her what a disaster it was. Funnily enough it was again a dark, forest green pen but this time it was about the size of my palm and had an octagon shaped lid that you screwed off and placed on the end of the pen. She had sent me two little tins of different coloured ink cartridges. I chose the green one, clicked it in to the base of the nib and started writing.

Oh the beauty of this pen.

Like the theme music to British Airways my writing sang to me. The fluidity it produced was an absolute joy. The consistency, dependability and elegancy my handwriting held under the weight of this pen made me want to write. I instantly felt the need to write page after page of who knows what. The content was unimportant. The action of writing with this beautiful pen was what I wanted to do. I planned long letters to far off friends, I made lists, wrote cards and made sure everything I wrote was with this new pen.

I unearthed Granddad Len’s Parker pen and knew that at nearly forty years old I could handle them. I ordered pink ink and finally found myself a lover of the fountain pen. No longer would they make me feel that I couldn’t be dependable with something as important as my penmanship. My life might be a melange of uncertainty and constant inconsistency but, within this digital age, my handwriting is now steady, reliable and beautiful…..she says tapping away on a secondhand keyboard.



* Much to my brother’s disdain I chose and have stuck with a bubble i. According to handwriting analyse it means I am playful and childlike. I’ll take that over being serious and old any day.

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