For years I thought it was. I had a steel Parker fountain pen at school. I’d had cartridge pens and they leaked and I didn’t like Bic biros, which back then, was about the only choice. I know it sounds like something out of Dickens but in lots of ways it was.
Then I started spending money on pens. I still do. And it’s a total waste of time as well as money. Have a look at the current line-up.
This review considers possibly the most important aspect of pen use and ownership, the often-ignored Flickability Score, or how easy it is to irritate other people in meetings or on the sofa by being irresistible to flick the button on the end of it.
Then obviously stuff like weight, image, and lastly, what it’s actually like to write with.
The lovely brass Kaweco
From the top, ignoring the outrageously dusty state of the baize top on my bureau, the lovely Kaweco Sport. Bought new this year, despite looking as though Albert Speer would have played with this in meetings. Design classic, solid brass, a reassuring weight and it fits the hand nicely. But. But.
Flickability Score 7, Weight – too much really, Image – solid, expensive, artistic impactful, slightly odd. This rating should really be called the Aldeburgh Measure . You’ll understand better if I tell you that although you can get one of these for £45 online, in Aldeburgh they’re over £60. Beautifully lit in clothes shops, obviously. Writing capability – um, not that great, actually. And you can’t find the refills easily. Not in WH Smith, anyway.
1990s Parker Sonnet Rollerball
I used this pen for years in meetings and sometimes for actually writing. Aside from the ludicrous price of refills I’m amazed that this pen has nearly doubled in price since this one was very kindly given to me by a partner’s mother for my birthday. It was totally unexpected and never repeated, but that’s another story. It was still a lovely thought and appreciated as such.
Sadly, without a flicky top it scores zero for flickability, although of course you can flick the top across a table by accident, destroying your credibility in half a nano-second. Non-Parket refills might be cheaper but they’re also a bit scratchy, so it’s not as good to write with as it used to be. Image-wise, this suffers because as I get older I don’t want people to think I’m, you know, older, so lost points there. As Pink FLoyd used to sing:
Now it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around.
Pity, really. You can get the refills in Smith’s though, if you’re prepared to pay over the odds for them.
Lamy Al Star biro
The Lamy biro *sigh*!!!! It’s soooooo ’80s! But then, I am, which doesn’t help these days when discussing say, sexual politics in offices. Things change, I try to explain. I’m not justifying anything, it’s just how things were…. Just like this pen in fact, although the black one I had then was plastic, not aluminium.
This pen defines flickability. German-designed again and it fits the hand beautifully. Being a biro it doesn’t write fantastically, but it’ll do. You could still sign cheques in wine bars with it, if there were still cheques. Or wine bars, come to that. It’s still a Lamy. And it still looks as if Max or Miguette or one of those ’80s faces might wander by any minute now….
Uniball Jetstream 101
I first bought a Jetstream when I read about the ghostwriter in Robert Harris’ Ghost using one. I know. Hidden shallows. It’s been said before. Anyway, cheap as chips and unexpectedly brilliant, it’s a biro but it’s more than that too. Mitsubishi, the people whose previous model Zero brought you Pearl Harbour, came up with waterproof ink that actually works for the Jetstream. As they say in the USMC, there are many biros but this one is mine. Spill your coffee over a page written in this and apart from the paper turning brown, nothing else happens. Ok, you’ll have to mop the table, but the ink won’t run. It seriously won’t run. Ever. Which is pretty magic itself in an 80p pen, but more than that, the barrel of this pen is a bit rubberised, just a little bit bendy and altogether very, very tactile. Or it responds to it well, at least (see 1980s office reference above..) It flows when you write with it, but it’s still well….. a biro. Which is bad. But a great pen. If you got one of these from the office stationery cupboard you’d be pretty darned pleased. I would, anyway.
I’m really sorry to have to say this. But. Out of all of these pens, the Uniball Eye is probably the best to write with. It’s a rollerball. It fits the hand. The nib just flows over the page, whatever the quality of the paper, yet another obsession. It has the magic Mitsubishi waterproof ink. Buy them by the dozen and you can get the unit price down to under £1 on Ebay. When they came out they seemed to be reserved only for architects or those frighteningly fit greying middle-aged men who owned whole companies and had more money than you did, and although I went on to own my own companies they still had more money than I did, Cotswold barn or no. Still, I had the same pen and they probably had more sense than to waste money on a brass Kaweco.
It isn’t what you write, nor, sadly, what you write it with. It’s the way that you write it. The song remains the same. So what do I do with all these pens now?