I am going to be interested to see if anyone else had this rather bizarre school experience. Of course I only think it’s bizarre looking back, at the time it was all perfectly normal.

When I started in the lower school of my school, aged 6, I was taught to write with a fountain pen. Well actually I was first taught to write in fountain pen style but using a rectangular shaped pencil where the lead was shaped to resemble the nib of a fountain pen.

We spent a lot of time learning how to hold this pencil in the correct way so that when we produced line after line of all the letters of the alphabet they came out with the thin bits and the fat bits all in the right place.

We were then let loose with fountain pens, which had to have a slanted nib to produce the fanciest of writing, and ink. To show how ancient I am, or perhaps how ancient my school was, we had inkwells in the corners of our desks. I won’t go into the amount of lesson time that was spent soaking up ink from those wells into strips of blotting paper, that were then scrunched into sodden balls to be pinged at another pupil. But I’m sure I would have learned considerably more if those wells had not been present. Anyway most of us had bottles of ink, so you can imagine the mess. For several years the top parts of my first and second fingers on my right hand were permanently stained navy blue (the regulation colour). And no amount of scrubbing would remove it.

For those of you who have had children imagine sending your little darlings off to school every day with a glass bottle of ink in their bag. What could possibly go wrong?

The enduring image of my lower school years is of never managing to have one piece of school uniform that didn’t have an ink stain on it somewhere. A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, was constantly covered in ink blotches, both on her clothes and skin, and she even gave herself a tattoo one day with the aid of her metal compass. Happy days. Our mothers must have been tearing their hair out.

I also remember seeing the first girl arrive with a fountain pen that held a cartridge and thinking, now that, is the future. And yet another who broke all the rules by writing flamboyantly with turquoise ink, of which I was terribly envious.

I was equally envious of all those who produced beautiful handwriting. Mine was then, and still is, atrocious. My teachers told me constantly to slow down but thoughts always came too quickly and in my rush to get them down my handwriting suffered. Nothing has changed.

We had to progress into middle school before we were allowed the relaxation of using a biro. Ah, the lessons I’d spend in the science block melting my biro over a Bunsen burner just enough to be able to tie it in a knot.

Anyway, why I’m writing about this is because last year I was bought the very generous gift of a fountain pen by a client. I had always been impressed by the way he produce his for signing his books at launches and he wanted me to have the same. What a lovely man he is!

I tried it out, signed a few books when the need arose and kept it in its box, for best. When I next came to use it I really struggled to get it working, the ink wouldn’t flow, the nib was scratchy and I felt terrible. I’d somehow managed to break this wonderful gift.

In any other year I’d have taken it back to the shop where it was under warranty and ask them what I’d done wrong but this isn’t any other year so that’s not been possible. Which turned out to be just as well.

Because then I thought of Youtube and found out all about flushing in this delightful video:

The only problem with my pen had been lack of use. Ink had dried inside it and once I’d flushed it out it worked perfectly. Lesson learned. In this year of all years we should all remember, don’t save anything for best, get on and use it. And so I have. My fountain pen has replaced the usual rollerball I have on my desk and I use it for everything. Although sadly, my writing is still atrocious…


And the other moral of this story is… if in doubt always turn to Youtube…


Over to you… Do you write with a fountain pen? Or would you like to? Have you ever kept anything for best that you shouldn’t have? And do you think it’s odd to make such small and inept children learn to write first with a fountain pen?

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12 Responses to Fountain pens, flushing and lessons learned about keeping things for best #MondayBlogs #fountainpens
  1. Oh this took me back! And I have a very beautiful Montblanc pen in presentation case with the grateful thanks of my company – I can’t remember what it was that a number of us had done so well, but I’ve never used the pen. Brought it to Spain, though. One colleague saved hers to use for signing her job contract with another company 🙂

    I don’t keep things for best any more either. I bought a very beautiful chemise and overshirt some years back which was too small for me, it was an Incentive. I then lost lots and lots of weight and tried it on for a special lunch, just the job I thought. It was too big. So I wear it (too big or not) for work and have never Saved anything since. Come to think of it, this recent Covid weight should make it fit rather well at the moment. Far too hot to wear it at the moment but in autumn I shall be dazzling the locals, who are used to seeing me in the most basic of casuals.

    Nice post! May be time to break out the pen –

    • Thanks! It’s definitely time to get out that pen, (nice gift from a company!) and use it all the time. The only thing I’d say is that it can bleed into some paper, but I just put up with that. I’m thinking of changing to a different colour ink to jazz things up a bit but I’m being indecisive on colour at the moment. It sounds like you have a nice new outfit waiting for you in the autumn too – winner! 😀

  2. Definitely relate to learning to write with an ink pen, AND to having inkwells on desks, AND to having a permanent blue ink stain in my right forefinger! And yes, my friend wrote in turquoise ink, too. Actually, I think I did, too, for a while. I must go and dig out my old school books (yes, I did keep some of them – there seemed so much work had gone into them, it was a shame to throw them out!) and have a look.
    As an avid viewer of the BBC’s brilliant programme, The Repair Shop, I’ve learned that most issues of things not working properly can be solved by giving the thing a good clean! YouTube is fantastic for how to do stuff. I use it all the time! When we moved house a few years ago, I couldn’t remember how to reinstate the filing cabinet mechanism. Not something you’d imagine anyone would think of putting instructions about on the internet. But yes, there it was on YouTube. A life saver! Mind you, I’d dearly love to clean down my old family heirloom typewriter and while there IS a YouTube video of how to do it, I think dismantling it might be beyond me!

    • Well you would have been a rule breaker at my school, Wendy. I do have one of my old books up in the attic somewhere (I think!) but it would take a lot of digging to find it. Maybe one day, when I have a clear out (she says laughing, because that’s not going to happen any time soon). I really fancy watching The Repair Shop but haven’t got round to it yet. I don’t watch half the stuff I record already. It is amazing what people put on YouTube. I managed to convert all our old videos into digital this summer by searching on there.

      Maybe you should offer your heirloom typewriter to The Repair Shop, that sounds like a challenge for them. 🙂

      • Yes, I did think I should submit my battered old typewriter to The Repair Shop. It has a nice family associated story, too, which they’d like. I can definitely recommend the programme, so do try and give it a go if you can. We’ve become quite addicted to it and having recorded loads of them for weeks before we actually sat down to watch them, we’ve a good supply to amuse us when there’s nothing else on TV we like. But if you do watch, keep the tissues handy – some of the stories and the reactions of the owners when they get their restored item back can tug at the heart strings!

  3. Wow, I didn’t realize children used fountain pens when you were a kid! Yes, that must have been very messy at times indeed. I’m an adult and I still struggle with them sometimes. 🙂

    • As do I, Lydia, so I’m not sure what was behind the thinking way back then. I could almost understand it if it was brought in for sixth form, at least then you have more control over your faculties, as it were. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 😀

  4. Yes! Inkwells! But in 1944 we didn’t have permission to bring hideously expensive things like fountain pens to school, and all writing was with dip-pens ( with the broad type type nib which didn’t catch in the paper on an up-stroke (unlike those horrid pointy ones that were used for copperplate style). the ink wells were a great temptation for us, but the ink balling was not acceptable in class; in wartime we had always to think of saving work and money. The greatest wheeze was when a boy put olive oil into all the inkwells and of course this stayed on top so nobody could get ink onto their pens and all the wells had to be taken away and thoroughly washed; we all had to use pencils for days.

    The first Biro we ever saw was a stubby thing like a .303 cartridge that cost the equivalent of £10 in today’s money. We were all amazed and entranced by it and couldnt make out how it worked. Then came the Biro Minor which was only a quarter of the price and disposable which was an unheard-of idea! Although we got hold of them, teachers would not let us use them because they skid around so easily that our writing suffered dreadfully, and the early ones kept making little blobs because the ink wasnt a gel.

    When I became a teacher I wished that all the children did use ballpoints, as the greatest danger was turning one’s back on children, when they would pull the lever on their fountain pens and squirt ink on the teacher’s trousers, which he wouldnt know about till he got home.

    I keep my old Parker fountain pen , with an ink supply, but hardly dare use it as the ink flow is very generous. – when I think of doing a bit of high-style calligraphy I revert to dipping and use a simple wooden pen from about 1950 with various nibs.

    I take your point about keeping for best. Our wedding present was a very grand looking dinner service, but it had a lot of gold on, and so my wife wouldn’t use it more than once a year, and once we got a dishwasher, not at all! How silly we were in retrospect.

    • There has been some mention of dip pens over on the Facebook post but I think these were a bit before my time. I don’t remember them anyway. And the ink balling was most certainly not acceptable at my school either. I can imagine the teachers were horrified at that olive oil trick too – what a task to clear up after that!

      You saying that about biros making your handwriting worse makes me realise why we started off on fountain pens first. Presumably they were meant to cement our handwriting into something elegant and then we could progress to a biro, and were meant to keep up the standard.

      I hadn’t thought of this from the teachers point of view at all but imagine all those little horrors armed with mini ink jets!! I like your mention of calligraphy, Ken. When I’ve seen art sets for doing this I think they have plain nibs that you dip. It does stop, as you say, the flow from being too generous. I think it helps if you have paper specifically for fountain pens too. Mine does spread a little on some that I write on now, like my diary.

      I sympathise with you on the dinner service too. I have one in my cupboard, as I’m sure many people do, and I rarely use it! Mostly because it’s a faff to get too but mostly because we gravitate towards our everyday one and it’s only if we have unusually high numbers of people (and lets face it that hasn’t happened at all in 2020!) that I get it out. I shall endeavour to use it more often though I think.

      Thanks so much for reading and leaving such a lovely and detailed comment, Ken, much appreciated.

  5. What an entertaining post, Georgia. I have never used a fountain pen but I must admit that I like to use my ‘posh’ pens for book signings. I also save things for best – it’s something that was ingrained into me as a child and I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of it. There is something satisfying about having something that remains in pristine condition. 🙂

    • Thanks, Heather. But what are you saving them for?? That’s what I started thinking. So I changed my way of being and now use everything. In fact, I now like to use things up and get rid!


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