Everything is possible, he told his subjects, if God so wills. Even (do I hear an intake of breath before such ambitious thoughts are uttered?) a pen which does not leak.
This is my day off. Each Saturday I leave my household for a day,and travel to the outskirts of London where the Celt has his home. Today, almost as an afterthought, I put in my pocket my Christmas present to myself: an inexpensive fountain pen.
It nestles there still, and it does not leak. And it occurs to me that Scheherezade never did get round to telling the story of the great Caliph who ordered the creation of this miraculous and beloved creation.
So, Best Beloved: Once upon a time, there was a great Caliph, renowned for his fair-mindedness. Christians and Jews loved him as a ruler. His kingdom spanned the Mediterranean coast of Africa, and his capital was Egypt.
Around 21 years into his reign, he called his inventors to him.
He wished to construct a pen, he told them.
It could be used for writing without having recourse to an ink holder because – and this is genius – the ink would be held inside it. A person could just fill it with ink: and write whatever he liked.
“The writer can put it in his sleeve or anywhere he wishes,” he instructed them sagely, “and it will not stain nor will any drop of ink leak out of it. The ink will flow only when there is an intention to write.”
This Caliph, he was in the forefront of technology, and a progress zealot. The atmosphere in the room, Best Beloved, must have been electric. Because according to records, no-one had ever though of such a thing before.
“We are unaware,” the Caliph declared, “of anyone previously ever constructing a pen such as this. It is an indication of ‘penetrating wisdom’ to whoever contemplates it and realises its exact significance and purpose’.
His Chief Engineer was astounded. Flabbergasted. He exclaimed, ‘Is this possible?’
And the Caliph replied: “It is possible if God so wills’.
The papers do not record, Best Beloved, what happened. This exposition, astonishing in its detail, is more than 1000 years old; and it begs us too look at a fountain pen as an example of penetrating wisdom, as a triumph of God’s will.
1052 years later, fictionally speaking, Winston Smith sat with a fountain pen staring at an unbegun diary.
“The pen was an archaic instrument, seldom used even for signatures, and he had procured one, furtively and with some difficulty, simply because of a feeling that the beautiful creamy paper deserved to be written on with a real nib instead of being scratched with ink-pencils.”
Winston, in 1984, is about to break the law in a surveillance state with telescreens on the walls.He is about to create self-expression where it is strictly forbidden. And Orwell chooses as his revolutionary instrument of thoughtcrime: a fountain pen.
There is much to unpack here: for the sensuality of the pen is bound up with its exquisite functionality, its penetrating wisdom, and its emergence as a glorious demonstration of he will of God.
We live in strange times.
And I wonder if the pen remains mightier than the sword?