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The pen is mighty fine

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In the first of our ‘Voices of the Advisory Group’ series, Karen Dovaston shares her unexpected passion

Stationery. There. I’ve said it. And yes, I do mean stationery with an ‘e’ for envelope and not stationary with an ‘a’, as in we have arrived at the point where the pace of change to the family system will slow down. First, because the latter would be a bit dull for an article, and second, because it’s not true. (Yes, buckle up everyone; there are more changes afoot.)


Stationery. Frankly, I think we solicitors are letting the side down. I accept we all have computers, tablets, phones, smartphones, and so on, that do everything except eat our dinner for us. However, we are, I firmly believe, still a tactile race. We like to touch stuff. There were two events that confirmed this for me, both occurring recently.

Exhibit A: Our new Red Book and At A Glance arrived at the office. They were pristine. They were untouched by human hand or Post-it note. They looked lovely and smelt of that amazing new-book smell. Everyone got excited about the touch and feel of the books. (On a side note, apparently you can get this in a spray can. Yes! New book smell in a can. One of our trainees found it. Well done, Kirsty.) (On a second side note, we have a tradition at my firm of the trainee on qualification being presented with a lovely posh pen in a box. I like that tradition.)

Exhibit B: A Twitter exchange in which my fellow stationery-watcher Mena Ruparel and I were lamenting the sad use of the Bic biro to write notes in a case before the Supreme Court. No, I cannot name the case and thereby shame the non-stationery-lover. But it rhymed with garland.

We appear to have lost our way in respect of the marvels of a really rather lovely pen

That, dear, gentle reader, is what brought it solidly home to me. With all the computers and whatnot, we appear to have lost our way in respect of the marvels of a really rather lovely pen. I do not just mean any pen (to paraphrase M&S) but a nice-looking, perfectly weighted, smooth-writing pen. My own current weapon of choice is not overly fancy: I am lovingly using a Parker roller ball with liquid ink (silver casing, since you ask).

You will notice the use of the word ‘current’. That is not a mistake. I have flirted with Muji Gel Ink pens. These are great in different colours. Blue for commenting ‘nicely’, red for correcting, green for correcting in a non-confrontational way, but they lack on the appearance front. I will cheat on the Parker with a Uniball or a Pilot liquid ink pen – both good pens but the outer casing and look leaves a lot to be desired. I will admit to also liking a free pen from courses and conferences and the like. But no, I categorically deny that I considered re-booking a conference for the following year on account of the quality of the free stationery they bestow on attendees.

I categorically deny that I considered re-booking a conference on account of the quality of the free stationery they bestow on attendees

Anyway, to get back to the Supreme Court point; being in the top court in the land, on the telly and everything, surely merits a better instrument than a Bic biro. If that were me sitting writing down all the interesting words and knowledge of those around me (and I doubt it ever will be), I would have had my stationery sorted out AT LEAST a week before – and probably also a desk plan showing the optimum placing of each item.

Does it really matter? Well, yes, I think it does. An article in the Guardian explains that pens and keyboards bring into play very different cognitive processes. “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,” says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva. Reading on through the article, it seems that the actual mechanics of writing improve our cognitive abilities and our memories. This might explain why I seem to gravitate to my handwritten note of a meeting rather than the typed copy, and why I can remember far better what I have written down myself rather than typed. And, if I am going to do that, I would prefer it to be written with a jolly nice pen.

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