PC 208 Wills and Pens

There was a well-balanced but stark documentary on UK’s Channel Four TV station entitled “Surviving Covid” the other week. It followed the fights for survival of four Covid patients in King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, London this year. This PC was partly prompted by a scene towards the end of the documentary which showed the scribe, for the word is perfect here, recording the names of those who had died. She was adding the names extremely carefully in Italic script; it was beautiful and it was surprising and it was delightful – a somewhat old-fashioned tradition that added something to the record, more than if it had been typed. How long would this sort of thing last I wonder?

I tried to take a photo of the scribe, but the documentary has now been shortened, and that piece deleted! This is a simple example of italic script.

If you haven’t made a will it’s probably because you are under 30 and without children. If you are over 30 and want to make life easier in the event of your demise, make a will. Doesn’t cost a great deal and they are not written in stone; you can alter it as often as you like. Always surprises me that a court will accept a challenge to a will by a discontented relative as, in theory, a will is you last will and testament, your choice how you leave your assets, however small they may be. I should add that here in England you can leave your possessions entirely as you wish, not constrained as I might see it by diktats of The State (Note 1)

I needed to sign the latest alterations to mine and that signature needed to be witnessed. In these constrained times finding two people who could do that is bound to break the UK Covid guidelines. However within my part of Amber House are six other apartments, two occupied by their owners and the others rented out. We meet in the hallway and on stairs, on the external flight leading to the large old front door, we take in each other’s Amazon parcels and I argued with myself that we form a support bubble, so asked Ellie and Charlie in Apartment 8. Ellie is an art teacher in a secondary school and her partner runs his own landscaping business, so both are mixing with potentially infected people all the time. However, Covid rates in Brighton & Hove are much lower that the UK average so when they arrived on Saturday morning to witness my signature, I dismissed their ‘Do you want us to wear masks?’

I didn’t need to expose Ellie & Charlie to any details of my will so no explanation why I was leaving 50% to crofters on the Isle of Mull, who knit sweaters from the hair of island rats, was needed. The last page just covered the signatures, mine and theirs as witnesses. I had thoughtfully provided a pen, in this case a green Lamy fountain pen with green ink – my favourite ink colour at the moment.

“Goodness!” exclaims Ellie, “I haven’t used a fountain pen since I was at school.” (She’s just turned 30). Charlie added that he got fed up with getting ink on his fingers, which we all acknowledged was a constant problem. Ellie signed whilst Charlie practised, then applied himself to his task.

My affaire with a fountain pen goes back to school days I guess. At that time it was deemed an essential skill, being able to write well and legibly …. and that meant with a fountain pen, when you could impart character into your cursive script. I could not get into the habit of resting my right forearm on my desk as I wrote; apparently you couldn’t form your letters if you didn’t and Mr Adams, both headmaster and English teacher, took a dim view of such deviant behaviour! Eventually he thought he could beat the habit into me so gave me ‘six of the best’!

My step-father’s mother Isabella gave me a Conway Stewart pen for my 12th birthday; I lost it twenty years later during a weekend at Wield Farm where my chum Alwin was wooing the eldest daughter Claire. I went along in some capacity, certainly not a chaperon! So then I bought myself a Sheaffer which took an ink cartridge, as opposed to putting the nib into a bottle of Quink and letting it suck it up. I still have my Sheaffer, now almost 50 years old; the barrel is a little battered and worn but it writes beautifully.

The signature white ball in the top’s gone and the barrel’s metal casing is very worn!

During my period of unemployment after leaving Short Brothers in 1991 I applied for a sales role with an Israeli firm. After two interviews I was asked to do a graphology test. This was before personal computers and my CV and its covering letter was in my cursive script, in dark blue ink (safe!!). So I asked whether that was sufficient for the expert to analyse. “Could you write something with a biro?” I almost threw my toys out of the pram, imaging that my biro-created words were going to be used to determine my success or failure.

My final degree exams and the Staff College entrance exams all came out of the nib of this pen, as if the answers were all in the barrel or locked into the ink, or flowing down my arm from my brain and out across the paper. There were more figures than letters in engineering examinations, more letters in writing an essay on contemporary international affairs.

Constant use of a pen, whether fountain, cartridge, felt tip or biro is always going to cause a little piece of hard skin on the left hand side of the second finger. As I write this I look down and run my thumb along the finger, for sure enough it’s still there despite less and less use of any writing instrument in this digital world.

I have a collection of fountain pens now, including a MontBlanc given some years ago for some milestone birthday by Stewart, as well as lots of biros, felt tips, fibre pens, Staedtler Lumocolor fine permanents and dozens of pencils. But I do love my fountain pen.

Richard 11th December 2020

Note 1 For instance in Brazil when one parent dies 50% of the value of the house goes to the survivor, the other 50% split equally between any children. In Scotland children are legally able to claim 33% of a parent’s will, divided equally between them.

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