Sunday, October 9, 2022


Most of what I write will start as half-thoughts recorded on a scrap of paper, or even a couple of words scrawled on my right hand. This is borne from a belief, made many years ago, that I had forgotten more good ideas than I had written down, so therefore all ideas must be caught, with a paper and pen – the finished work can then be typed up later.

To that end, when I write – when I am actually in the headspace of writing – I use a felt-tip pen, specifically the Paper Mate Flair, introduced in 1966. Their current advertising makes big mention of fun and expression, selling in a range of bold and expressive colours of ink that won’t smear or bleed through the page. I don’t really doodle or draw, or write bullet journals, so the appeal is purely functional: I avoid the mess I always end in when using a fountain pen, and I avoid the extra force required to write with a ballpoint pen. Instead, it is just me, and essentially a very stiff brush soaked in ink, and I love how that looks on the page.

There is no accounting for how people wind up with what they need to work. Pinned up at my workspace is a copy of David Bowie’s handwritten lyrics to “Fashion”, because it showed the process where he attempted to rewrite the end of the line “we are the goon squad and we’re coming to town, beep beep”, proving that sometimes the first idea you have is the best one. Like other Bowie lyrics I have seen, these were written with a felt-tip pen, red on this occasion, on squared paper. I did wonder if he also used the Flair pen, and the recent biopic “Moonage Daydream” confirmed it for me in a photograph of Bowie writing, the distinctive Flair shape blown up to fifteen feet long on a cinema screen. It was a happy coincidence for me.

With felt-tip pens most often found in packs for children, and adults, to colour between the lines, I forgot that felt-tip pens became popular enough for Parker, maker of higher-end fountain pens, made a felt-tip version of their Big Red pen in 1970, itself a copy of the Duofold pen that dated back to the 1930s, and oddly marketed as “a glorious handful of solid pleasure”, so faithful to the old design that you have to unscrew the lid, rather than just take it off. Withdrawn in 1981, Parker never made another felt-tip pen, keeping to ballpoint and fountain pens, but like Paper Mate, they are part of Newell Brands, formerly the delightfully-named Newell Rubbermaid, so there is still time to share some ideas around.

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