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  • Mark Brafield

Put down that biro !

Today, being the first Friday in November, is National Fountain Pen day.

My love affair with fountain pens started when I was at school and I was given my first fountain pen, a Parker 25. With its brushed steel body and space-aged design, it seemed light-years ahead of the fountain pen my father used, a Parker Vacumatic. I was amused, however, to see both on display as collectable vintage pens at a recent pen show.

Fountain pens have been a life-long passion for me, with the result that I now own about 15 of them. Some are waifs and strays I have rescued along the way and nurtured back to health. Some are pens it has taken me a lifetime to acquire (such as the Mont Blanc 149 illustrated). Some are gifts, but each carries its own cherished memories.

Writing by hand is often seen as old-fashioned nowadays, and writing with a fountain pen seen as a quaint eccentricity, like Morris dancing or wearing a bow tie and waxing your moustache. But educationalists here and overseas are looking deeper into the neurological advantages of handwriting, and there are signs that the pendulum is swinging back.

To begin with, writing by hand develops a high degree of sensory feedback between the hand, the pen and the paper which, apart from being a pleasure to the senses, enables the writer to develop a fine degree of motor control. Indeed, teachers at medical schools are starting to report that more and more young students lack that essential degree of fine control simply as a result of doing all their writing on keyboards.

As the nib and ink flow and loop across the page, they combine with and encourage the flow of thoughts, expressed directly from the mind to the paper.

Notes taken longhand allow for better short- and long-term memory recovery as they contain your own words and handwriting. These act as powerful memory cues as you recall the original lecture or meeting at which you took your notes, whilst the movements of the hand and forearm help with the process of deep memory coding.

If you write by hand, you think more critically about what you are recording as you have to assimilate material instead of just tapping it into a keyboard, whilst the trance-like state of pleasurable writing encourages thoughts to expand and connect.

Handwriting forces your brain to work, improving literacy, comprehension and contextual understanding, particularly from other texts. Typing on a keyboard is certainly faster so far as mere transcription is concerned, although it is far less meaningful in terms of understanding.

And on top of all of this, writing is just a wonderful, sensual pleasure; the dance of the nib with, perhaps, the merest whisper of feedback, the infinite range of colours, shades and even wetness available in inks, and the crisp, smooth paper just waiting to receive your thoughts.

So - if only for today - why not switch off your keyboard and pick up a pen instead. And while you're about it, why not put down that biro and see if you have got a fountain pen lurking at the back of the drawer. You might have a pleasant surprise.

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