This is the first part in a three-part pen-based autobiography. Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here.

Age: 3 and under
Pen: wax crayon
Comments: Not actually a pen, of course. I would have been too young; chunky crayons more suitable for clumsy fingers. Soft wax which, had I stabbed myself or attempted to insert it somewhere, wouldn’t cause any serious injury. I’m not sure what happens if a child eats a wax crayon, but as I’d imagine it happens quite often, I guess it can’t be too serious. Probably doesn’t taste very nice though.

I have no real specific memories of crayons from this period. I think at this age, I would have just been using generic “chunky wax crayons”, it would be later that I would get a set of Crayola crayons. This list of all 133 (including 13 retired colours) Crayola colours is a brilliant piece of Wikipediaism. It never really occurred to me that crayons could be so political:

The color known as Flesh was renamed Peach in 1962, partially in response to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Indian Red was renamed Chestnut in 1999 due to concern that some children thought the crayon color represented the skin color of Native Americans. According to the company, however, the name originally referred to a reddish-brown pigment from India that is used in artists’ oil paint.

Age: 4 to 6
Pen: pencil
Comments: Again, not a pen. I don’t really remember which pencil I used to use back then, although the Staedtler Noris range is definitely one I associate with my childhood, although I was rather sniffy about it in my review on Amazon of the Tradition. This isn’t a Noris proper, it’s a Noris Club Triplus Jumbo, which might not have even been available when I was younger. I’ve included a picture of it though because it is also the pencil I bought most recently – I wanted quite a fat pencil as I was laying some flooring and wanted something chunky to mark up the boards.

If you’ve ever wondered how pencils are made, and like women with weird sexy robot voices, you might enjoy this video:

Age: 7 to 9
Pen: Berol Handwriting pen
Ink colour: blue
Comments: My first pen! At last! I was never really sure why Berol decided this was a “Handwriting” pen. The Berol website doesn’t go into much detail either:

A plastic tipped pen that is specially designed for children’s use at home and at school. Ideal for classroom and home use, the pen has a smooth ink flow to ensure effortless writing. Washable ink and will not dry out for at least 14 days if the cap is left off. Black, Blue and Dark Blue ink with 0.6mm line width

I’m fairly sure that at our school, they believed it was quite an important thing to move from pencil to Handwriting Pen. I think they believed it was a privilege which had to be earned, and it was only if you had satisfied the teacher with your ability to correctly write in joined-up (something which as soon as I was free from the shackles of primary school I abandoned, at least in part – I now tend to join pairs of letters rather than full words. Some pairs are particularly pleasing to write – I have always enjoyed writing “of”, for instance. A pleasure lost since typing replaced handwriting as my most common form of written communication – although I do always enjoy typing the last six letters of my name “es Ward”). I seem to remember a divide forming within our class at school – those still on pencil, and those (such as myself) fast-tracked onto pen. This seems quite cruel, so possibly isn’t how it really was at all. Some of my memories are certainly fiction (like the way I remember everyone in my class suddenly switching to saying “haitch” instead of “aitch”, much to my frustration. This did sort of happen, but I don’t think it was a sudden event in the way I remember it to be).

Age: 10
Pen: Berol Fineline
Ink colour: blue
Comments: Once I had mastered the Handwriting Pen, the next step up was the Berol Fineline. This pen, with its finer nib (0.4mm compared to the sturdy 0.6mm Handwriting Pen), had to be handled more delicately. Otherwise, the nib could bend or possibly even snap off entirely. I still have nightmares about bent nibs. Actually, that is not true. I have never had a nightmare about a bent nib, although it did bother me a lot at the time. I’m probably interested in stationery quite a lot more than most people, and so this sort of thing doesn’t bother them. Bent nibs, contaminated slabs of Blu Tack, chewed biros or biros with missing lids, Crayola crayons with torn paper sleeves, ANY evidence that the rubber on the end of a pencil has been used. All these things make me unhappy. But why? Stationery is supposed to be used. They’re functional objects. It is my tragedy.


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