Early Days

Long, long ago and not terribly far away my husband began school and among other things he learned to write.  In those days, the kiddiwinks were seated at double desks and each desk had a hole for an inkwell.  Splashes and trails of blue-black ink had stained the dark wood.  Getting to play with that stuff seemed like a most attractive proposition but it was only pencils that were allowed for the first couple of years.  But even for a youngster, the days roll by, the weeks accumulate and lo and behold the day arrived when the teacher inserted brown bakelite inkwells in the holes in the desks, applied the huge bottle of Stephens ink – strong both of colour and of odour –  and issued each pupil with a dip pen.  Seemingly endless instruction was given while the children quivered in anticipation of deploying the pen at last.  Finally, finally, the teacher wrote a sentence on the board and left the children to write it in their copybooks.  He dipped his pen, noticed that a quantity of ink had magically attached itself to the underside of the nib, and carefully applied it to the paper.  On the very first upstroke, the gimlet-pointed nib dug into the paper and splattered blots across the paper and the desk.  That was a bit disconcerting.  Try again.  Same result.  He knew that this was unlikely to meet with approval, and he could hear the teacher approaching, studying each child’s work and offering praise or advice as required.

His efforts were met with neither praise nor advice but with a screech of outrage at the inkblots all over his copybook and the desk, followed by a good crack over the knuckles with the ruler, as those were the days when it was believed the children learned by pain and fear.  Now a simple lack of dexterity was compounded by the shaking of the beaten hand.  More blots were added to the total and the nib became bent, with tines pointing to different points of the compass.  Further knuckle-thrashing ensued, together with a loud public announcement that henceforward he would be confined to using a pencil as he was too stupid to use a pen.

It was not an auspicious start.  The surprising thing is that he went on to write, moderately legibly, with a variety of writing instruments.  But not dip pens…

4 thoughts on “Early Days

  1. This brough fond memories except that the ink pots were white porcelain (I think). I still have one of my first dip pens and my first fountain pen with me.

    1. Hubby remembers that the desk-frames were black tubular metal and the seats and desk-tops were in a heavy, dark wood. This was a country school and some of the desks bore initials from a generation before. I would love to have a desk like that now!

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