Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

I bet you remember your first fountain pen. Mine was a Conway Stewart with marbled barrel, I had it for starting Big School and I used to polish it. That trusty pen lasted until A-levels finally broke its back and after that I slipped down the primrose ballpoint path to slovenly writing. I never used a typewriter - too noisy, so I hand-wrote my books until the almost-silent laptop seduced me down another slithery slope. But I still hand-write when I need to take my time - books can be divided, like Americans, into fast ones and slow ones.

Recently, a friend told me he had gone back to a fountain pen and was finding it a joy when writing up his notes - he is not a novelist but an engineer, and appreciates good tools. I tried his pen and it felt like grasping the hand of a friend I hadn't met for years. I bought one and, via the miracle that is online ordering, it came the next morning. My new pen is perfectly delightful, cost less than 20 quid, is fluorescent yellow for never-losing on a chaotic desk and generally the coolest pen on the block. It is a Lamy Safari and I commend it to you.

I was reprimanded recently over that miraculous online ordering, and as I have recently moved a mile from a small market town which has everyone's idea of the old-fashioned high street, I decided to put it to the test. It serves us well for hairdresser, optician, computer supplies, pharmacist, newsagent and fresh fish, and has a plethora of gift shops supplying stuff nobody needs but everyone wants.

My dull list read 'Cosmetic sponge. Archsupport insoles. Disposable nappies, size 4' (for a visiting grandchild). Our bricksand-mortar shops yielded none of the above. Cosmetic sponges didn't exist;

insoles 'only men's'; nappies, 'out of that size' - though a friend accomplished all her list, which read 'China bell-pull'. My stuff, bought online, arrived next morning with free delivery. I rest my case.

Myfanwy Piper, that wise woman, used to say, 'There's too much talk.' Now it has extended sideways to 'There's too much writing', the problem being that people feel they have to read it all. 'I've started a blog' is news to make the heart sink. I need my later years to read the best - novels, biographies, Intelligent Travel for Inquiring Minds scholarship in a hundred subjects I want to learn about, poetry, letters, wit. I've cut out newspapers other than the local one, plus a canter through the hatches, matches and despatches and where the Queen went yesterday. …

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