This is the second part in a three-part pen-based autobiography. Part 1 is here and Part 3 is here.

Age: 11
Pen: Parker Jotter
Ink colour: blue
Comments: Moving to secondary school requires a more serious type of pen. Bye bye Berol. The Parker Jotter was apparently the first ballpoint pen marketed by Parker, and over 750 million have been sold. Having said that, I think Parker have slightly overestimated how iconic the Jotter is:

The Parker Jotter is a design classic and a household name, preferred the world over for its quality, durability and great value for money. It’s popular, dynamic and personifies the social side of writing with bright, lively colours and a practical, simple shape. Fun and friendly, anytime, anywhere – Jotter is the perfect Parker companion.

The Parker website also has an incredible writing simulator, which allows you to choose a “postcard”, select whether you want a fountain pen, roller ball, ballpoint or pencil, and then write a little message:

Look at how I avoided writing swear words. Are you proud of me? I’m always amazed those little pads that people use to test new pens in Ryman aren’t just covered in obscenities. Well done Britain. I once had a vague idea of collecting those bits of paper from Ryman. I thought it’d make a nice little website or something. But then I couldn’t be bothered.

Age: 12
Pen: Parker Frontier
Ink colour: black
Comments: My second Parker, the Frontier. After a year of using the Jotter, I wanted something which combined the conservative tradition of Parker but was also more forward-thinking. I wanted to push the boundaries, while at the same time, building on the expertise I had gained. Something contemporary, distinctive and dependable, with more than a hint of style. Fortunately, the Frontier was ideal:

An intriguing mixture of the conservative and the forward-thinking, Frontier brings Parker quality to people who want to push the boundaries – but who know the value that comes from expertise. With a unique blend of durable, soft-touch materials and smooth, lustrous finishes, it’s contemporary, distinctive and dependable – with more than a hint of style.

It was also around this time that I switched to black ink. It seemed like a more logical partner for a sheet of white paper. Black and white. Like the words on this page, like the words in a newspaper, a book, pretty much any written material. It added authority to my words, words which needed authority as they had none of their own.

Age: 13 to 15
Pen: Bic M10 Clic
Ink colour: black
Comments: After a couple of years of Parker pens, I realised that, actually, they’re not all that impressive. I wanted something more simple. One day, in Folwers Stationers (117 Central Road, Worcester Park), I spotted something I had never seen before – a Bic M10 Clic. I had imagined that this was a brand new innovation in pen design, although actually it appears the M10 was launched in 1956, almost forty years before I discovered it in Fowlers that fateful day. Soon, I had the full set – black, blue, red and green. Although I abandoned blue, it was still useful for labelling diagrams. So was green – indeed this appears to be the only situation in which it’s considered acceptable to use green ink. I was always led to believe that green ink was traditionally used by finance people for some reason, and anyone else who used it was immediately labelled a lunatic. I’m not sure if this association with insanity has anything to do with this:

Age: 16 to 24
Pen: Bic Cristal
Ink colour: black
Comments: From the M10, I moved to the Cristal. It was at this point that my relationship with stationery connected to a wider aesthetic, an ideology. Studying Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, I began to appreciate the iconic beauty of everyday objects. I began to want to surround myself with the most definitive versions of things. If I was thirsty, I’d drink Coke (though I preferred Pepsi). If I was hungry, I’d eat a Big Mac (though I preferred Chicken McNuggets).

Richard Hamilton inspired cover of this book which I have never read, but it looks quite good.

It was a way of avoiding having to make decisions, I could be totally passive and surrender myself to the collective will of society. I read Duchamp. Eno. Perec. Venturi. I became interested in automation, industrialisation, Fordism, globalisation. “Ugly and ordinary” instead of “heroic and original”. I found boring things interesting (“I like boring things”).

It was obvious then that I would choose the Bic Cristal (even if, secretly, I preferred the Staedtler Stick 430M – see below). Over a hundred billion sold. A design classic, included as part of the Museum Of Modern Art’s permanent collection. What other pen, other than the Bic Cristal could be used for something like this?

This is my desktop wallpaper.

Age: 25+
Pen: Staedtler Stick 430M
Ink colour: black
Comments: Of course, that kind of aesthetic militancy can’t last forever. Eventually, you leave school, leave university, get a proper job, settle down, mellow out. With me, this took the form of feeling relaxed enough to give in to my true desire and switch to the Staedtler Stick 430M. Just look at that strong silhouette, classic German design.

I feel more comfortable in myself now – although, tragically, this feeling of ease was reached at the same moment that both the trajectory of my life and the development of technology coincided, with the result that I now write on a computer more than I do by pen.


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