Beloved turned 30 this past weekend. I got him an excellent cake. I did not get candles for it because I don’t much like candles. I have never really been cool with inviting the birthday kid to spray tiny drops of spit all over something people are about to eat. As a kid I also developed a fear of those stupid candles that don’t go out when someone blows on them. What happened when the adult took them away again? Did they burn forever? Would they destroy the house? (Yes I realise now that they probably just got doused in water but I didn’t think of that then.)
I’ve always been very wary of fire for a few reasons. When I was at primary school the fire brigade would come round at least once a year to talk about risks and preparedness and what to do if a fire happened. This was all worthwhile stuff, obviously. But I think it probably did leave us with an overestimation of the likelihood of our actually dying in a fire. They’d say reassuring things like “People worry about waking up with flames surrounding their bed. But you don’t need to worry about that – the smoke would have got to you long before that point, so you wouldn’t wake up at all!” They would send us away with a bunch of flyers that said things like DON’T SMOKE IN BED OR YOU WILL ALL DIE. I assume these were aimed at parents not eight year olds.
At the time my dad was an 80-a-day chain smoker, my mum probably managed a mere 40, and both of them smoked in bed so we were clearly all doomed. And then there’s something else about my dad.
To be fair about my dad, he is in many ways a brilliant man. Ranked nationally as a bridge player and able to do complicated maths in his head. Unfortunately there are also many ways in which he is utterly stupid. One of these is not starting fires.
The first was when I was a toddler and he set the living room ablaze. I think what happened was that he fell asleep and dropped his cigarette onto his chair. This was the early 1980s, before health and safety had been invented, and chairs were made of the most flammable substance ever invented . My mum had to dash through the flames to rescue me.
Throughout my childhood he was remarkably good at turning the gas hobs on, changing his mind about cooking something and then leaving them on until one of us children who hadn’t had our sense of smell destroyed by smoking would smell gas and switch it off while he went back to the living room and lit another cigarette.
He somehow avoided starting another serious fire until I was away at university. On this occasion he was using one of those electric paint strippers that heats the paint until it peels off. It wasn’t heating up properly so he got annoyed with it, put it down on the sofa and went to make a cup of tea. Returning with his tea he was surprised to see that the room had a raging inferno in it. He managed to do this during the firefighters’ strike so the army showed up with a rickety green goddess. When nothing came out of the hose one of the soldiers went back and kicked the green goddess and the hose started.
Beloved and I lived with my parents when we were in the process of buying a house and I managed to thwart a few fires in that time. On one occasion my dad was making a sausage sandwich. He put the sausages under the grill, realised he had no bread and wandered off to the shops to buy some. I managed to put the fire out before it spread.
So as you can see my fears were not entirely unfounded. I suppose that one effect of this is my sense of the transience of objects. Things get destroyed so easily, particularly in a house with my family in it, and I’m always impressed when they make it through. I’ve never been all that interested in discovering the history of my family – I don’t understand the obsessive tracking of family trees that many people seem to be interested in these days. In any case my mum is from Bristol so whoever her ancestors were they probably made a living through the slave trade when it was going.
But I like objects that have a history. Particularly objects that have been used. I like the idea of using a pen that wrote letters long before I was born. It’s a connection and it’s also amazing to me how well some of these pens can work with a little bit of love and a new ink sac. Which brings me to Flappy.
Flappy is my Waterman 52. Hard rubber, lever fill, 14k full flex nib. Oh and she’s nearly a hundred years old. She dates from about 1926 – the golden age of flexy Watermans (Watermen?) and although Beloved doesn’t know this yet we WILL be having a birthday party for her in 2026. What did she do before I met her? Was she a doctor’s pen or a gangster? Was she unloved in a drawer? Somehow she ended up at Heritage Collectables. Do look up Heritage Collectables by the way. They have some gorgeous vintage pens, restored and loved to perfection. Their website is terrible and I suspect they don’t understand modern technology at all, but they deliver the lovely lovely pens.
Now Flappy is mine. These days she gets used on all envelopes I write at work so I can intimidate strangers with my handwriting. Lever fills are a bit of a pain to clean fully so I generally pick one ink and stick to it for a long time. Flappy gets Diamine Teal which is my favourite ink in the whole world.
And a nib so wet it feathers on Rhodia? Bitch YAS.
Do I want to point out any flaws? Not really. I suppose her feed can be a bit variable when flexing away which is pretty normal. You can see this in the photo below. I try not to overdo it because it’d break my heart to spring her. Her ink capacity is not amazing and because she’s such a wet writer one fill will not get you far. But who cares? For a glorious, smooth, flexy joy of a nib I certainly don’t. It’s always a joy to pick up something this old that frankly works better than most of the pens being made today. This will not be true of any computer.
* I thought about not putting in the IT Crowd reference here because Graham Linehan is a dick and it’s kinda tainted his work for me. I may yet change it.
And now some Betty Everett.
She doesn’t actually have wonky tines. They just didn’t come back together properly after flexing so I had to nudge the right one back slightly.