Inky Fingers

I hammered another nail into the coffin this week. Dealt another savage blow to the nation’s high street. 

I bought some pens. Yes, from you-know-where. In a previous life I’d have gone into Rymans. Then bought a sandwich. 

Maybe some socks from Mountain Warehouse. ‘Might as well do my clothes shopping for the year while I’m in town…’

But I didn’t. Fourteen gel pens. Nine quid. 

And here they are falling through the letterbox the next day. Even generously donating two to my lovely wife – wisely, I don’t say ‘here’s something for Valentine’s Day’ – I’ve enough to last me until the first snowfall of 2022. 

But you know what? I feel ashamed of myself. I’m a man who thinks we should measure in rods, poles and perches. Go back to pounds, shillings and pence. ‘Fourteen bob for a Mars Bar? Has t’world gone mad?’ 

So how can I possibly use a gel pen? 

Do you remember the excitement at school? The day Mrs Flood announced that you were big children now? That it was time to start writing in ink. The trembling fingers as you slid back the brass cover on your ink well… 

The Sorting Hat choosing the ink monitors…

Hmmm… Did junior school know something about my future path through life? I never made it to the dizzy heights of ink monitor. Not sure I was ever a milk monitor either. A bullet dodged there – the days when school milk was left in the playground to curdle. Then Mr Nicholson the caretaker hauled it in and Frostie the Sadist forced you to drink it. 

The years passed, you made it to big school. Geometry set, pencil case – and your own fountain pen! Parker or Platignum? Almost as fiercely debated as red sauce or brown sauce with your bacon buttie…

The old memory’s getting a bit hazy now, but I’m fairly certain I started off with a cartridge pen. Or was it the one with the strange lever on the outside? A tiny rubber sac inside the pen. 

I have a vague recollection of dipping my nib in the ink (Stop sniggering at the back…) and pumping away like some demented medic performing cardiac massage. Fervently hoping my pen would gasp and suck in ink – like the heroine gasps and sucks in air before she gazes into his eyes…  

I’m in the fourth form now. And my pen has a plunger. Into the bottle of Quink Ink and draw the plunger slowly upwards. Even I understand the physics, and I’m good to go for Hist and Geog. 

Damn it. Serious exams are approaching. Three hour endurance tests in those days. 

And you’d stagger out of the school hall. The middle finger of your right hand stained blue. A dent in it so deep that it had to be permanent.

What did you just whisper? Biro? 

‘Is that a biro in your hand, boy?’ 

Writing with a biro was a capital offence. A couple of days in the stocks at least. The line between writing with a biro and moral degeneracy was thin, if it existed at all. 

‘Serial killer you say? Can’t say I’m surprised. Wrote with a biro when he was a teenager, you know.’ 

Black ink was another sign. ‘The wretch wrote his essay in black ink? Thank you, Mr Foulkes. Let me know if he speaks to any of the Biro Boys.’

You can understand what a shock it was to my generation when official forms suddenly demanded black ink on pain of death. 

Anyway, time to reach for the gel pen. Work calls. 

And where’s the hammer and the nails? I need some new Pukka Pads…

“A good, pacy read, excellent follow-up to Salt in the Wounds. Subject matter a little harrowing but written in a sensitive way. Can’t wait for the next book in the series. I love Brady!” 

The River Runs Deep is out now on the Kindle.