Day 9: PENS…

I am gradually becoming my father. I like to spend my nights watching (and falling asleep in front of) documentaries. I enjoy a good, practical, unbranded, grey cable-knit jersey.And the other day I pulled over to the side of the road to admire and take a photo of some ‘really great engineering’. That’s not even a euphemism. It was literally a new motorway overpass. 

Last night I found a fascinating documentary about Japanese stationery and pens. Not the cutesy Hello Kitty pink stuff (also great). This was more about history, technology and function. It was wonderfully incredible. 

Here’s some things that I learnt:

  1. Ball point pens have a long and fascinating ink history. First they used oil-based ink, which was water resistant, but it clotted and you couldn’t get an even flow. Next came water-based, which had lovely even flow and vivid colours, however it took ages to dry and smudged under the wrist. Then, in the 1980’s gel technology was developed and was the saviour that we know and love today
  2. There’s a pen that Pilot make that has erasable ink. It is designed to vanish when it reaches 65 degrees. By rubbing the ‘eraser’ end of the pen onto the ink, the friction generates heat, and the ink vanishes completely. Apparently billions have been sold around the world, but I’ve never seen one and, frankly, I’m wondering what I’ve been playing at my entire life to have let this slip
  3. There’s this eraser, comprising of ten individual cubes, fused together to make a single knobbly oblong shape, that has been declared a design classic and is displayed in MoMA. Not only is it aesthetically wonderful, but the many corners and sides created by the cubes mean that you never lose precision in your erasing
  4. Washi tape was invented because a group of rad women were using regular old painters, low-adhesive, masking tape for an array of graphic design, scrap booking and crafting purposes, but they wanted more colours and options besides white, blue and green. They harassed the tape factory owner for months, asking for a meeting, but were refused a reception. Finally they sent him a book that they put together, which demonstrated their skill and work. On seeing the book, and how their art made his employees swoon with delight, the miserable, sexist, bastard caved and let them in for a tour. As a result he developed a whole new range of paper tape in funky colours, and patterns, and launched an entire industry from it. Which shows the power of passion and persistence. And never let a sexist old man tell you that your idea is dumb
  5. There’s a stationery shop in Tokyo with a members-only area that is decked out with row upon row of beautiful tables. Each table has a drawer on its underside that is locked. When you pay your membership fee, you get given a tiny, beautiful, silver, key. You then pick a desk to sit at, and your key will open any of the drawers in the area. In each, lies the most beautiful array of papers, notebooks, pens, ink, pencils, tapes and supplies, which you get to use freely for as long as you want. At the end of your visit, you pop everything back in the drawer, and lock it up for another member to discover and enjoy. The notebooks are filled with the most incredible drawings, designs, writing, prose and best of all, secret messages that have been swapped between lovers.

Isn’t all of that just the greatest?!


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