Lynette Fay: The art of writing by hand and using a 'good pen'
The ultimate treat was getting to Murray Richardson's stationery shop, which was on Church Street in Dungannon. It was the most beautiful old-style shop which stocked opulent tin pencil cases and fancy pens and pencils
I heard myself say 'It will be great to get back into a routine' for the first time in my life last weekend, as I looked forward to the end of summer holidays and a return to work.
Until I became a parent, I was never a fan of routine.
'Back to routine' for many means 'back to school'. The response to the annoying, often over-zealous 'not long until you're back to school' comment, made in an effort to create small talk this week, has offered yawns, eye rolls and unhappy expressions in reply – that's from the children. For parents, Summer 2021 may well have felt like yet another lockdown.
By the time August rolled round, I was the child who was looking forward to going back to school. I loved the idea of progressing to the new school year. I got bits of a new uniform every year as it was too expensive to buy the whole rig out. For me, the big treat for going back to school was the chance to get some new stationery.
For years, I was the benefactor of damaged goods from the Wellworths stationery department, courtesy of my mother who worked there for a time. Any evening Mummy came home from work with a bag of goodies from work was like Christmas for me.
That said, the ultimate treat was getting to Murray Richardson's stationery shop, which was on Church Street in Dungannon. It was the most beautiful old-style shop which stocked opulent tin pencil cases and fancy pens and pencils.
I have always been a fan of a good pen and even in this digital age, I never go anywhere without a notebook and a 'good pen'. When working, even reading, I always have a pen in my hand, just in case I need to make a note of something. I feel naked without one.
I remember learning to write. We learned 'cursive' writing in P5 and I remember wanting my writing to be as good as my teacher, Mrs McQuaid's. I still try to keep my handwriting as neat as possible – and the result of my efforts depends on the pen I use. It really does.
We used pencils in primary school, and graduating to using pens in secondary school was a huge deal. Having a fountain pen, and then a Parker pen were particular highlights, although most days my hands were covered in ink and I used to have a big bunion on my middle finger because of the way I held my pen.
I realised that I have been a stationery nerd for years when I heard an interview on Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4 this week. Presenter Emma Barnett spoke to Jenna Meyers from Fargo, North Dakota who has a huge collection of pens, and 500k followers on TikTok.
Some of the interview was broadcast in vision on Instagram so I could see Jenna's extensive pen collection behind her as she was interviewed. I found myself itching to know what 'good' ones she had.
As the conversation progressed, I learned that there is a social media channel called Pentok where people tune in to watch people writing with different types of pens.
Jenna says that 'pen watching' is predominantly the preserve of women. Last year £3.5 billion was spent on stationery in the UK alone.
Putting pen to paper brings order, it is cathartic. In the Woman's Hour interview, the act of writing was referred to as act of mindfulness. I had not thought of it like that before.
Perhaps the act of writing in a diary is just as good for us as the joy and importance of documenting a particular time in life. I know that if I get 15 minutes to jot things down in the morning, the day gets off to a much better start - to do lists, interview notes, ideas for work; when written down, they stay present for longer. I should write more though.
I received a hand-written letter in the post this week – remember those? It was very touching to think that Catherine, aged 93 from east Belfast, who listens to my radio programmes, took the time to write to me.
I don't have a return address, so I hope that someone will let her know that her letter was very well received.
PS Catherine's handwriting is beautiful.