An Easter at Easthampstead Park.
I recently enjoyed a nice Easter break at the Easthampstead Park hotel, near Wokingham. It was little more than an hour’s drive from home, but still felt like a holiday. The hotel is a stunning 1860’s mock Jacobean mansion, and for many years belonged to successive generations of the Marquess of Downshire, whose estates also included Hillsborough Castle in Ireland. Eventually, it was sold to the local council and then a few years ago to the Active hotel group.
As with any holiday, part of the enjoyment is deciding which pens to bring. I am always torn between going minimal and just bringing one pen, or else going the other way and bringing too many. Even though it was just a one night stay, I ended up bringing three of the new pens bought at the London Pen Show in March, plus a Jinhao X159. Three of these went into my new Orom pen case in Elk leather, and the fourth in my shirt pocket.
Whilst I could not resist the desire to bring all these, I did in fact use only one pen for holiday journaling, namely the Aurora Duo-Cart. This was bought from Kirit Dal at the recent London Pen Show, who, after seeing my pen show haul blog post, kindly got in touch and offered to send me a proprietary converter for the pen. A few days later, I was thrilled to receive the converter in the post – a lovely metal squeeze bar type, which seems appropriate for the vintage inspired Duo-Cart model. He also enclosed a box of Aurora cartridges which was very kind.
Before driving home, my wife and I visited Bracknell, a Berkshire town not far from the hotel. Although only an hour from home, it was the first time we had been and we had a saunter around the pedestrian shopping centre, a nice mix of shops, some inside the mall and some outdoors. Although well-prepared with my pen stash, I found myself wondering what options there would be to a traveller who found himself in Bracknell, and (for some reason) in urgent need of purchasing a fountain pen! From our brief visit, it seemed that there were various options although somewhat limited. Someone desiring a fountain pen from the Italian or Japanese brands might be out of luck. However there was a selection of Montblanc pens in Fenwicks’ department store. For Cross, Lamy and Parker you have a Rymans. There were also Parker and Lamy in WHSmiths. Sadly the Paperchase store, as with all their branches, has recently closed.
Just before leaving I did come across a fountain pen, in the shop window of F Hinds, jewellers, which I had not seen before. It was a Sheaffer, in polished chrome and from its size and shape I wondered whether it might be one of the recent Sheaffer Legacy models. I went inside to investigate. They also had a few Cross and Parker fountain pens. The Sheaffer model that had caught my eye, labelled at £85.00, turned out to have a very tiny steel semi hooded nib, not the inlaid nib that I had rather hoped for. The nib looked more like the one on the Sheaffer Taranis. It looked rather odd but strangely appealing, and certainly felt comfortable to hold, with its generous girth and decent weight. But with the help of my wife at my side, I was able to resist buying it. I later found online that this model is called the Sheaffer Icon, in lustrous chrome and found a favourable review of it on The Pen Addict blog.
The Quiet coach.
I am not very good at confrontations. Nor am I very good at conversation, which may be a result of spending most of my working life in rooms on my own.
Travelling back by train from Southampton to London, I was looking forward to reading my God-daughter’s book “Tomorrow Perhaps the future”. I had travelled down to see off my wife and mother-in-law for their cruise ship holiday and was travelling back alone.
Seeing that I’d boarded a “Quiet coach” on the train, (where passengers can escape from overhearing other people’s loud mobile phone conversations etc) I settled into a corner seat with a table. However the remaining three seats were promptly taken by three men in buoyant mood from watching a football match, whose manner seemed unnecessarily rowdy and boisterous for conversation across a table. Fearing that I might be subjected to this for the next hour, I politely mentioned that this was a quiet coach. The man turned to me as if I was mad and told me that I was “very silly,” travelling on a train from Southampton on a match day and expecting the train to be quiet.
To be fair I had not thought this through. Perhaps I expected these three football supporters to just say “oh, sorry” and talk in hushed tones for the trip as if in a library, whilst I read my book in peace. Instead they bellowed “Does that mean we can’t talk?” and asked “what are you going to do, confiscate our phones? “No, that won’t be necessary” I answered, sounding even more ridiculous, before adding apologetically “clearly I am out-numbered, my mistake.”
What could have been an awkward and uncomfortable journey then turned out to be delightful and memorable one. Introductions were made. Whilst one of them went to find the facilities, another, Tim next to me explained that they were keen supporters of Crystal Palace, a London team although he had travelled from Manchester to see the match against Southampton. The third man told me that he had been to every game, and had collected every match programme, for decades. Clearly they were lifelong football fanatics and took great enjoyment in travelling to follow their team.
Tim then asked what turned me on. I hesitated, saying that they would find this ridiculous, before saying that I was a fountain pen collector. Tim immediately recalled his school days with inkwells in the desks, for dip pens. That would be back in the 1960’s. He asked whether I had any fountain pens with me. Funnily enough I had with me a pen case with a Montegrappa, a Cleo Skribent and a Waterman (representing Italy, Germany and France, in football parlance). I got these out, bracing myself for further ridicule, but none came. He took interest in each pen. I talked about the issues for fountain pen users, of being left handed. I got out a notebook to demonstrate the pens and explain the style that I had adopted of writing away from me, turning the paper 90 degrees left, rather than hooking my wrist, to avoid smudging.
One of the men opposite returned to his seat. He asked what I did, to which I replied that I was a lawyer working in residential property. This prompted a bitter tale of his own experience of using a solicitor for a property sale, in which he had complaints about perceived delays being the fault of the lawyers. But soon after this the train reached his stop.
Tim remained while the two friends opposite got off. A young woman boarded and took the window seat opposite me.
To my embarrassment, Tim then asked the newcomer “Are you into fountain pens?” She took out her ear buds and he repeated the question. “No, not really, I mostly use biros” she replied. Tim (who was clearly good at starting conversations) then filled her in, with our conversation thus far. We established that her name was Hannah and that she was an illustrator and author of children’s books. She had written a series of children’s detective books. She was also left handed.
I mentioned that my God daughter Sarah Watling had recently had a second book published and showed it to her. The book concerns a number of women writers and outsiders, who were drawn to the Spanish Civil War. Tim was familiar with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and was well versed in this part of Spain’s history.
We also got on to talking about the Titanic and coincidentally I had just visited an exhibition about the ship whilst in Southampton and had noticed that the anniversary of the sinking was just a day ago 14 April 1912. Tim was clearly well read about the Titanic too. Many of the crew who perished in the disaster had come from Southampton.
The journey to London flew by in pleasant conversation between us three random strangers on the train. As London approached, Hannah put on her woolly hat, coat and back pack. Tim shook my hand and we parted as friends. On the platform Hannah disappeared into the crowd and we each went to our separate lives.
After such encounters I am often left feeling that I have not been a very good ambassador for the fountain pen hobby and community. Although one cannot rehearse such conversations it was enriching to meet both Tim and Hannah.