Next month my fountain pen is 34 years old. I’ve worn all the black paint down to the brass where it’s held in my hand, and because I’m jealously possessive of it, the only hand that’s held it is mine. The brass showing through is not a consistent, unbroken surface, but has a lovely shiny marbling to it, a filigree of minute curving cracks bending onto one another like crazy Lilliputian latticework (that I don’t have a good enough camera to capture for you, sorry). Since reading about the Japanese art of kintsugi on Valerie Davies blog [bookmark it if you’re wise], I have come to think of my pen as a work of art; better, working art, for I write with it every day, at work and play, despite I stopped being able to read my handwriting fifteen or sixteen years ago. Indeed, I can only read what I’ve written while it’s in memory (and afraid to say, as alarming as it is, at 51, that can be as short as hours, at best, a day). Also alarming has become the cost of ink, and sourcing it, which I suspect would be impossible now without the internet.
My sister, Barbara, (second eldest of my four sisters), gave the pen to me as a present all those years ago, and the first exercise I used it for was to write my lecture notes for the stage II English literature papers of my BA. We’re a close-knit family, but of the three sisters with contractable names: Christine, Barbara, and Phillipa, there has never been a Chris, a Barb, or a Phip or Pip within the family, certainly not at the dining table where we quaintly all sat while growing up around nightly roasts and self-basting chocolate puddings. Formality like that is … well, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Some would call being made as youngsters to eat meals around a table, stuffy. But perhaps it’s more the modern trend of meals on laps around telly with no conversation is sloppy.
Two years ago in a moment of familial bonhomie over food and wine – two joys of life, outside my pen and my lovely wife, Pauline – I proudly told my sister ‘I’ve still got that pen, Barbara, you gave me 32 years ago, it has become a treasure and a keepsake; I’m even thinking of writing it into my Will it be interned in my coffin.’
She replied, ‘what pen?’
So, here’s today’s painting (be sure to read my qualifer below it). The Moneylender and His Wife, 1514, by Quentin Metsys (from the Twitter timeline of @marisabeloyo ).
[Another reason] I love paintings is because they connect us to ourselves (not paintings as constructs to be bent to the interpretation of a lecturer/autocrat in a lecture hall, but as our past, present, skin, blood and values – real people, [even money lenders]). It’s incredible, to me, The Moneylender and His Wife was painted 502 years ago, yet change that book for an Apple Mac and a spreadsheet, and there’s little in the way of discernible difference to a daily scene in our, or any, office. Those two are us. Although the wifely close scrutiny in the painting isn’t fair on Pauline, for I get to spend as I please (the pocket money she gives me).
No, I am being mischievous and unfair. Pauline will be mortified with that casting. If anything I am naughty in that I leave all cash management in the household to her because I can’t be bothered. I know what we’re worth on 31 March of each year, outside of that I don’t care. The positive framing of this would be that’s just the old hippy in me – it’s worthy of note that despite a formal upbringing, my professional attire has become a skivvy, long-shorts and jandals – but it’s more likely I’m just lazy.
And the pocket money I’m given really isn’t bad. After I buy my Press each day there’s enough left over for the TV Guide – it’s a veritable bounty of riches.