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Inverallochy, Week 2: 8 January

I fell into conversation this week with one of the young persons at work, who’d noticed that I use a fountain pen and wondered why. I explained that fountains pens were easier to write with than ballpoints, and cheaper (after the initial outlay—the cost being all in the nib) than felt-tips; and that this was just a cheap pen for work. What, she then asked, was the most expensive fountain pen I owned? “About £350,” I told her. Seeing her stunned look of disbelief, I told her with a smile that I’d once owned a hifi that cost more than my car. She stared at me for a long moment, then said, “What’s a hifi?”

Sometimes I think there should be a law against young people.

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

The gloom lifted on Sunday so we went for a walk round the castle of Sinclair Girnigoe on Noss Head, just north of Wick. Temperatures had dropped below freezing overnight, so all the puddles were glittering with ice and even the muddy track was rock-hard, as though Elsa from Frozen had thought, Oh, the hell with it, and just gone back to bed with a mug of hot chocolate and a trashy novel, leaving the kingdom half-frozen. (Speaking of Frozen, you know you’re not the target audience for a movie when you find yourself wondering about the kingdom’s lack of a proper regency council and system of government instead of joining in the songs. I know: I really should “let it go…”)

Into the castle

Like all the best castles, Sinclair Girnigoe has a splendidly bloody history. The most famous story tells that George, the 4th Earl, had his son imprisoned there in 1577: after seven years he decided to have this son killed, which he managed by feeding him salt beef but not letting him have any water; after a few days, not surprisingly, he died of thirst. (I’m not aware that there is any actual evidence to support this story which, as an archivist, makes me a little suspicious. But it says something about the earls of Caithness that it was the 5th Earl, not the 4th, who managed to earn the title “Wicked Earl George”…)

In gansey news I’m advancing resolutely up the body, though returning to work after the Christmas break has slowed me down. (Abraham Lincoln once described one of his generals after a heavy defeat as being “confused and stunned, like a duck hit on the head”—a pretty exact description of me last week.) Still, even with just a few rows each night, it all adds up to tangible progress.

Finally just a word of sympathy to all our readers on the eastern seaboard of the United States, currently experiencing extremes of cold and snow and ice; and in Australia, at the other extreme of soaring temperatures. To all those affected by adverse weather conditions, we hope you can stay temperate; and, above all, stay safe.

Local wildlife – a blackbird

13 comments to Inverallochy, Week 2: 8 January

  • Nigel Southworth

    Very funny tale Gordon. Being cack-handed I can’t use a fountain pen. I wish I could.

    • Gordon

      Hi Nigel, speaking of cack-handed, the best bit about using fountain pens is the big smudge you get on your thumb and index finger. One day I’m going to write a detective story where the crucial clue is that the victim was writing with a fountain pen when he was killed…

  • SongBird

    I love fountain pens. I should hunt all of mine down and take a picture to share! (And write more letters with them!)

    • Gordon

      My problem is, when i’m holding a fountain pen, nib poised above a blank sheet of quality vellum, I realise that I have nothing to say worthy of the medium and quietly put the cap back on the pen and steal away…

  • Gail

    All well here on the East Coast; Cape Cod. Temps now up to 35 and it didn’t freeze last night! Don’t expect the end of cold weather soon…

    • Gordon

      Hi Gail, great, thanks, we were wondering. Also wondering if Bill has got that snow blower and had a chance to use it yet!

      • Gail Donkin

        Yes, we have a monster snow blower and it has been used a couple of times, but not this year, BECAUSE IT HAS NOT SNOWED! We’ve had a lot of cold, a crazy thaw – temps were 60 – and back to seasonable cold in about 30 minutes.

  • Judit M./Finland

    Hello Gordon,
    Ballpoint pens destroyed the handwriting of almost every users.It was too easy to skip letters with help of the smooth pens, thus handwriting became unclear and hard to read. It is a pity that fountain pen users are few nowadays. Thus young people even do not know how fine these pens look like not to speak about how to use these pens.Just keep on using fountain pen. Happy knitting!

    • Gordon

      Hello Judit, people wrote much more neatly with fountain pens, at least they did until paper became so plentiful. When you only have so much, you have to make the most of it—when you have reams of cheap paper you can scrawl. Fountain pens have never quite gone away, and are still a mark of quality—though a little part of me dies too when I see a politician signing an important treaty with a ballpoint pen!

  • Jane

    I like fountain pens too. I like the feel of the paper through the nib, it has a tactile quality which I think is pleasing and in a way valuable!

    Great colour and lovely work, take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, you know, I’m not surprised at the fountain love being shown in the comments—somehow that kind of discernment seems to go naturally with an appreciation of the art of the gansey! And no ballpoint or felt-tip nib is as flexible as a good fountain pen nib, you can flex it to your heart’s content: a ballpoint is such a blunt instrument!

  • Lois

    I have a small collection of fountain pens which I haven’t used in a long time. I keep them mainly to gloat over – the lovely patterns and colours, the pleasing balance of them in my hand.

    I’m so ancient that I can remember being taught to use a plain nib pen in school, and the desks still had inkwells in the corners! I also remember the rotten little boy who sat in the desk behind me and kept trying to dip my long Shirley Temple type curls in the ink! And the torture of getting those curls combed out every morning. I was delighted when my hair had to be cut after an operation, though my mother was in mourning over it.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, I might ask Margaret to take a picture of my modest fountain pen collection next week. I use them for making notes at work, and (a much nicer pen) for taking notes from history books at home (yes, I’ve reverted to my student days—in my end is my beginning, and all that).

      What a great story! At our school we still had the ancient, battered desks with inkwells, but alas the ink was dried up years before. Having gone to an all-boys school, you might think that options for hair-related malfeasance would’ve been limited. But no! It was the seventies: and long hair was in, despite the psychopathic attempts of our teachers to keep it in check. Somewhere I have a photo of my first student card from university with hair down to my shoulders (memo to self: destroy this asap just you get hit by a meteorite on your way to work tomorrow and this is how posterity remembers you…!)

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