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The Calamari Defence

Posted by Dirck on 3 December, 2013

Yet another Ludlum novel title!  Although, on reflection, it might be more in line with the sort of thing we get from John Grisham (at whose mere mention I’m trying to develop a lowbrow pen-related joke whose punchline is “The Pelikan briefs”).

I mentioned in yesterday’s harried visit that I’d gotten Philip Hensher’s The Missing Ink.  I have made the mistake of bringing it to work, to serve as the entertainment and brain re-inflation components of my breaks.  This is a mistake, because it limits my reading to roughly thirty minutes in two installments, less time devoted to attending to bodily processes.  Since I refuse to read at top speed if I’m reading for fun (as opposed to the ferocious pace I’d got at for classes, back in the sepia-coloured university days), this means it takes me rather a while to advance.  I am, therefore, only just begun in the reading of it.

The early stages of the book reveal a few things, some of which trigger memories and some of which arouse troubled feelings.  The latter are mainly, but not entirely, connected to as apparent assumption that handwriting is doomed, doomed, doomed, and has not more than the duration of the current generations of humanity to see its practice die out.  I don’t agree, of course, but I don’t think that the assumption is much more than a motivator to get the book written so I won’t hold it against him.

The memories come about as a result of Hensher’s own recollections of his days learning to master the writing task.  From what he says of fountain pens, it’s clear he never encountered in his youth anything other than cartridge filling; this is not a big deal, since I was only vaguely aware of any other filling method during the whole of my twenties and thirties, and certainly spent my developmental years in an innocent ignorance.  He does describe very nicely the various sensations of the action of installing a cartridge (on p.11 of the hardcover edition), culminating in a certain amount of flicking to get ink to inhabit the feed sufficiently to start flowing and only stopping when there’s a spatter of ink on the desk or floor.

Usually smell is activator of strong memory, the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus leaning upon one another as they do, but in this case there is no smell associated with the Skrip cartridges that filled my childhood pens.  The spatter, though… that evokes a memory or two.  I did not prime my pens that way, though, after the first time; teacher’s displeasure was something I took to heart.  I would squeeze the cartridge a little, or dismount it and poke the point in to take up a charge, reversing the usual path of capillary action.  The spatter was reserved for dire need.

I think we all remember school as a mixed bag– some friend, some foes, and once in a while a fiend amongst the classmates.  For those latter, who were generally a destructive lot, I had a viable threat– leave my stuff alone, or go home mottled.  I didn’t have to follow through very often, either; word got around that I was perfectly willing to do it, the range was long and the results invariably parent-upsetting.  For some reason, nothing ever came back to me of those incidents, which suggests that either the parents in question took all their ire out on their offspring, or the teachers knew just how the situation developed and decided that justice was served.

The last time I used a pen in anger was about a week into high school.  New setting, new people, the youngest of the school feeling small, threatened and anxious to avoid being marked out as prey.  Someone thought the oddly quiet guy with the weird pen would be a handy way of marking himself out as predator rather than prey, and offered to steal my pen.  In the brief hand-to-hand struggle that ensued, he withdrew with a veritable mark of Zorro across his t-shirt; he’d gripped my wrist, but my hand was free to flick.  He ended up with about half a cartridge down his front.

I’ve mixed emotions about that last incident.  Pride in having stood up for myself, but by that age the capacities for empathy and foresight had started to develop; I had concern about the fallout for both the spotted chap and potential escalation.  Nothing specific came of it, so I assume I was using something more or less washable that day.

I’m going to finish up with a quick return to the book and the troubled feelings it produces.  Hensher is apparently a very oral person, describing just after the cartridge insertion the habit of sucking on a pen, fountain or otherwise, which has ceased to write in an effort to put ink in a useful place.  Icky, but not as bad as a sentence halfway down the next page:

If I borrow a ballpoint from one of [his creative writing students], within half an hour it is apt to creep towards my mouth, and by the end of the seminar it is often not in a returnable condition.

He’s a pen-chewer!  I hope he doesn’t bring this up too often in the course of the book.  There’s only so much horror I can take.

Today’s untoothed pen: Parker Vacumatic
Today’s unlaunched ink: Herbin Éclat de Saphir

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8 Responses to “The Calamari Defence”

  1. Love the title of this post – sounds like a Big Bang Theory episode. Ugh, pen chewers…never mind how gross that is, imagine what they do to their teeth!

  2. It does sound like a Robert Ludlum book title! I also like “The Pelikan Brief.” Mr. Weebles never remembers the brand of pen, he always says “Is that one of the bird pens?” The bird pens.

    That sounds like an interesting book, except I’d have been really put off by the pen chewing. There’s nothing more unsavory to me than seeing the mangled, chewed top of a ballpoint pen.

  3. […] very slowly making my way through Hensher’s The Missing Ink, last spoken of here, and I’ve a couple of thoughts I want to share.  They probably haven’t incubated long […]

  4. […] brief mention of the untold millions upon millions of the things moldering away in landfills (and, based on an earlier chapter, in Hensher’s […]

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