A lovely but overbearing boss once informed me quite gravely that the most important and powerful tool that every salesman should have was a pen.
It was the kind of intensely pop-eyed, finger-jabbing and well-meant statement that rather than laugh at there and then, I would nod at with a matching gravitas (and a career was characterised thus) and save the falling about until back in the car. Nothing funny about the message, I know, but the delivery was hilarious.
As a top tip, its intensity at least was wasted on me, for I was and remain a right proper fusspot in the pen stakes – as much so as my wife, whose Holistically Excellent Stationery Syndrome was one of the oils of attraction, along with Richard Scarry cartoons, wasabi peanuts and, obviously, Charlemagne stores in France.* I am never without one, a pen, and not in that grabbed-off-the-hallway-table way either, but by a selection process that’s half intuition, half pragmatism and always with the end in mind. This doesn’t mean expense or massively branded decisions, but you’d think, if you ever didn’t return one, that it bloody did.
At work I was branded that fusspot. Sometimes this clashed with those who simply, pen-wise, didn’t care, weren’t fussed at all, and who’d got by and got on anyhow, no biggie. These folk would sometimes get snippy when you asked for your pen back, using words like ‘precious’ and actions like slams. I didn’t like them. Some were glad and unprompted returners, but some of them in turn liked to work at their gums in the meeting, getting my pen right in there, feeding the barrel up under a cheek – and the returned pen I would take pinched at the less damp end, like I would do with your undies in a pair of tongs, and drop it, with a high and theatrical stiffness, into the meeting room waste basket.
But thankfully there were, at the end, the good ones. The colleagues who, the more I embraced how I was and what I was – the more I initialled and stickered the stuff over which I had temporary, booze-funded stewardship – would in return embrace what they had stewardship over in me: the team nutter with the helpfully obvious triggers who was never in want of a stapler, or fifty shades of Sharpies; resulting in my receiving small gifts like this, from teammate Mat:
I am never without one, a pen…
There’s a reason, a driver, for writing this now. Last month I went to a meeting in my new life of stuff-I-do-now, and on the way, too far around the bend in the road to go back, I realised in horror that I didn’t have a pen. Pete, who was with me, lent me a spare (it was nice, and I was grateful, but it came, insanely, without a top). Horror two – I forgot to return it. And it sat in my bag, gathering fluff and crumbs about its naked end, as a corpse might lay in a basement, or a picture frame lurk in Eastenders. Eventually yesterday I had the chance to hand it back. Pete declined; generous, practical, unbothered and with perspective. All admirable traits in the pen-stakes, for sure, but the fact remains that his nib’s all to cock, and so, now, am I.
* and she it was who came up with the title ‘His Nibs’ (and the Roller Bawl gag… and the ‘Quill-I-Am’ I didn’t get to use).
Words and pictures © Steve Mitchell, Fisher Lane, 2012