This article is about the PEN being mightier than the SWORD. That starts about half way through because I got diverted by the very nature of Pens themselves.
It is highly likely that you (you as in ‘reader of this blog) will have at some point used a pen. I make this at first sight apparently rather general assumption, on the basis that you are reading and understanding what I have written, and have probably written things yourself, most of which will have been entirely more useful to something or someone than this is. I’m also having to assume that you have partaken in writing something with a PEN rather than a keyboard because the pen reigned dominant in this field for many years and being over the age of 40 will certainly have brought literate people into contact with one. Therefore I’m assuming for the most part that you’re over 40 which seems pretty natural as I am (at the time of writing), over 50, not famous or rich and therefore would not be interesting enough to be worthy of reading for anyone under 40 who hasn’t been forced to read it by some monstrous privately owned examination board like the unimaginably wanton PEARSON who have at sometime in the future decided for some perverted reason that this should be a set text to royally piss A level students off.
It’s quite likely that your view of the pen has in recent years become wistfully nostalgic. That you remember writing fluently with a flourish, holding your wonderful horn-finished Parker, Sheaffer or Waterman, cap neatly resting beside the pad of Basildon Bond watermarked paper. You can hear the soft swish of the wonderfully seasoned gold nib as it glides across the page, leaving the glorious trail of slightly expanding blue-black Stephen’s ink behind it, the lines you write etching themsleves into the weave of history itself. Your writing was not just your word choice, but a work of art all of its own.
So let’s forget the dream huh? Maybe at your wedding.
It’s 9.00 am and you’ve just arrived at work for a meeting that has already started before it was supposed to. You want to appear to be taking doodles and so you need paper and a pen. Your Waterman went on Ebay after someone alerted you that they fetch a decent price. Paper is easy. 3 sheets of 75g A4 out of the office laser printer. Pen is a lot more difficult. Of the three RED clear transparent plastic BIC things you have in your drawer, only one vaguely works and it blots badly. AND…. it’s not there!!!! (You were late remember and everything you are about to do is what somebody else did minutes before you arrived.) You have to consider doing what others did to you by taking their pen. Until you realise (futilely) that nobody else has a pen because they were prepared to steal your crappy red biro.
Hilary’s desk is of course utterly festooned with pens. They sit in neatly ranged desk tidies, gathered together in sensible groupings. A knot of medium price ball points with satisfying click-mechanisms cheerfully hunker together around some keys and a large indiarubber, while at the opposite side of the desk the support staff of prickly androgyne propelling pencil hybrids, wide highlighters, tippex eradicators and calligraphy devices cast threatening looks at the multi coloured 5 switch fat superbiros sitting smugly in the largest tidy. Alone, carefully positioned and so iconographic, so importantly not confined to the restraints of the desk tidy, the vintage stainless steel Parker cooly lies at an angle carefully calculated to look cool and sveletly say to your inner ear “I don’t do fucking laptops”
And it doesn’t stop there. The first three drawers are where multifarious cornucopiae of wildly exotic writing implements nestle together. From precision Staedtler markers, whiteboard makers of every colour of the prism on “Dark Side Of The Moon” with clearly organised thicknesses, wax crayons, gouache coloured pencils, 70’s style “Felt Tip Pens” – standard white and full colour chalk sets. A fully working and serviced Dymo machine, three different types of stapler, all working, protractors, rulers, set squares, dividers, compaxes, slide rules, an unopened TRAY of Tippex 300 ml bottles, 14 pads of 3 inch square post it notes, some of which are not Yellow, boxes of Rexel Staples, a hole punch a small plastic box filled with paper clips of every colour of the Pantone Spectrum with a similar boxful of elastic bands. A paperweight, a bakelite inkwell, four boxes of aa batteries, a laser pointer which takes ONE AA battery and it still has the FIRST one it EVER had in it.
And we’re not done yet. That’s the realistic account, that’s what Hilary’s desk is really like. And we haven’t even started on hyperbole. So, from branches above the desk dangle sumptuous fronds of pens and other writing implements from all corners of the globe, Stylii specific to Baylonian Cuneiform script, exotic implements from Ancient Sumaria, Counterfeit detection pens, dippers, cartridge pens, disposables, Flux pens, quills, porous points and rainbows of Caran D’Ache extending into the unseen realms of light at both ends of the spectrum.
Reality.. sorry. Into the MEETING!!
Chris’ doodles of Hilary. He forgot to add PENS
The meeting is in full swing. You can see that Chris’ doodle is far more progressed than yours. He arrived before you to be fair. He is able to do lifelike comic book representations of other members of staff. You notice, the disgust dripping down your spine like candlewax, the red blotches all over his work. And you wither under Hilary’s mocking gaze from the other side of the table, that look that can only mean “I know where you got that Steadtler Medium Gauge Permanent from”.
NOW – The actual bit I was going to write before I got distracted by PENS themselves.
You often think of the phrase “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword”. This is one of those things that if it had been first coined in todays world would have been one of those irritating Facebook memes, or ten years ago a gaily coloured printed card on someone’s desk at work next to a copy of Desiderata and “You Don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps”. It’s an old quotation though and is therefore thought to be some ancient wisdom.
And of course it’s bollocks. Even at its most literal, a poor quality Indonesian Samurai clone sword from Tesco Local could put paid to all Hilary’s pens in about five seconds flat. And at the level which it was meant, i.e. That writing will shape the world more than weapons – well it’s bollocks too, particularly if you happen to be at the wrong end of a sword that is being thrust towards you and all you have is a Papermate cartridge refillable. Even less literal, were we to hastily write “please put that sword down” on a piece of conveniently to-hand loose leaf feint foolscap, the odds would not be that much improvedfor the person with the pen.
Now of course I realise that I am being pedantic here. It’s amusing to me perhaps, but yeah.. what the ancient wisdom is implying that through the literature and science, knowledge and philosophies we can write with pens, paintbrushes, pianos, chisels etc, can eventully raise the human game to a point where the sword becomes unnecessary. So we have embarked on the writing of billions of Books, Concertos, Operas, probed further into the sciences, explored everything from the vastness of space to the minutest particle known to .. er anything. And we have taken that knowledge, pooled it and developed…. yes …a series of far better (read as: lethal, fearsome, terrible, inhuman) weapons than swords.
Designed by people with Pens. These are Nuclear Missiles. You can just tell.
However, where this rambling article is leading to, (like those video ads that tell you that at the end of the video you will know how to either lose all the excess weight you have by next Friday or be able to make your own electricity using stuff you have in the garage and a very secret ingredient but you have to wait until the end) is my declaration that i ACTUALLY THINK IT COULD WORK.
Now just in case you’ve forgotten what I think could work – well I actually think that the Pen COULD be mightier than the sword, but for thousands of years – the problem is we’ve actually been writing the wrong things with the pens whilst they’ve been doing all the ‘right’ things with the swords.
So how could we change the effect that our writings could have? Well, lets have as our “Swordsman” a dictator. We’ll call the country he’s President of, er.. Slobovia. It’s on the Continent of Eureka. His Name is David Bing. A real nasty type. Invades neighbouring peaceful countries who just like enjoying the sun, has an appalling appalling record on Human Rights. He has weapons which he shouldn’t have and we now have to take action against him which will unfortunately have to be funded in some part by Monies paid to us (haven’t decided who US is yet) by Bing for weapons he shouldn’t have. So we start writing stuff. With our not very mighty pens. We draft up resolutions at the UN. Make politically verbose statements which are pretty dull to most people, quite threatening, well worded. And all these serve to do is boost the Ego of Bing. Protesters line the streets with banners calling for “justice” and “end to human rights violations”, “Stop Bings Murders”, “Mercy for Bing’s Children” etc etc. And Bing sits there looking at the telly thinking to himself…
“My God I’m big. I’m news. Look at all those people in London telling me how powerful I am”. His metaphorcal sword grows more restless in his hands. So… it just totally eludes me why no-one seems to have thought of this… why don’t we just do it differently. It’s cheap and EASY!!!
So he rounds up a load of people from some slightly irritating (to him) Ethnic grouping who like different food, won’t let them move, forms an enforced enclave… terrible conditions, a lot die and it provokes international outrage. So Bing, after a nice cigar on the patio returns to his state rooms to watch Newsnight and get a roundup of the international outrage from all over the planet. And sure enough, there it is. Rome, London, Perth, Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Fez, Johannesburg, Leeds, Hilversum. Huge crowds of people with the omnipresent placards, waving them in the air. But after the first macho pride, he peers into the screen and realises…. there are probably a million or more people, of evey age, colour, creed, sex (I know there’s only two), type, class humanly imaginable. And they’re all carrying banners and they all say the same thing……
They say: “Bing! Your’e a TIT!”
You see, here we have used the pen in a far better way. Instead of telling Bing how fearsome, terrifying and powerful he is, we have confronted him with an astonishing truth that probably has never ever entered his head. Most of the world think he’s a TIT. And that’s completely different from being a C**t. Or a T**t, a F**ker or any other Major League Cuss. TIT is a great leveller. It’s comical. It’s amusing. But you (if you’re the Tit) are still, a TIT. And one thing we can be sure that Bing did not think of as a way of describing himslef as, is just that.
Because if you’d called him a C**t, or a F***er etc.. he’d be able to be annoyed about it. Get all worked up. Respond with force. But TIT is just a phrase that makes him feel small.
So, combined dictators oligarchs, despots and megalomanics the world over. Andy Tillison, the lead singer with an extroadinarily obscure prog rock band has reached the conclusion that you are all Tits. Maybe Fools. Twerps. Daft Brushes. He thinks it’s time you came in for your tea. He thinks you should go to bed without supper. You should be grounded. No TV for a week. He’d stop your pocket money and make you stand on the street with your hands behind your head. He’d send you out of the room.
Most of all, he and millions and millions of people across this globe would like to write you a note. “Go and take a long walk off a short pier”. We’d write it with a cheap, (heart)felt, PEN.