Episode 1: A Potter
I'm not a fan of The Potter. Too derivative for me. But I know, I concede, I’m in the minority; I certainly am in our household. I’m not sure what the dog thinks but everyone else (the goldfish doesn’t count) flipping loves a bit of Potter.
During the summer we went to The Making of Harry Potter, down there at Leavesden Studios near Watford. Even I was a little excited – I imagined there would be at least one or two things I’d find interesting. I was wrong. There was loads of stuff. You’d have to be a very cold-hearted troll to not enjoy it; if you're a Potterette, I expect you’d need some kind of charm spell to keep your brain from exploding. There is much to get excited about.
The sheer volume of stuff is enough to make you pledge your allegiance to He Who Shall Not Be Named in order to obtain just a tiny fragment of it. Thankfully your soul is saved (although not your bank balance) by the gift shop, crammed as it is to the mythical sea creature’s gills with fabulous stuff. The perfect takeaway being, obviously, a wand and we were delighted to be fleeced two-fold…for two.
Magic: a delightful visitor experience and a perfect memento of the day.
Episode 2: The Poet
At the end of September Tandem’s latest project went live: Seamus Heaney | Man & Boy is a permanent visitor experience, housed within HomePlace, a new arts centre dedicated to, arguably, Ireland’s greatest modern poet. I had very little to do with the project so when we all went along just prior to launch day, I could enjoy it without too much baggage. I wasn’t that involved but I was in close enough proximity to the project team for a little Heaney magic to have rubbed off on me and I had by this time come to enjoy his words immensely.
Man & Boy has been received very well so far with some great press coverage in the Irish Times, the Guardian and the New York Times. It is a special experience and I think you'd have to be a very cold-hearted troll to not enjoy it; if you're a Heaneyite, I expect you’d need some kind of charm spell to keep your brain from exploding. There is much to enjoy. At the centre of the inspiration gallery upstairs there is a fountain pen, suspended as if in thin air. It's the kind of pen Heaney used.
The perfect takeaway? His wand…his gold nibbed, inky wand.
Episode Three: Two Jokers
You can’t buy a Conway Stewart from HomePlace. The company that made them went out of business, first in 1975 and then later in 2014 after an attempt to rejuvenate the brand just didn’t come off; despite the company's reputation for excellent pens demand was just not high enough.
The company was started originally in 1905 when Frank Jarvis and Thomas Garner left De La Rue, a leading fountain pen manufacturer, to set up on their own. Legend has it that they named the business after two music hall comedians of the day. It didn’t do them any harm, things went pretty well and Conway Stewart enjoyed great success with their top notch and affordable fountain pens.
It must have been some time in the 50s that Seamus Heaney was presented with his pen by his parents. He was 14 and went on to use that pen for the rest of his life. He wrote about it more than once: in ‘Digging’, the first poem in Death of a Naturalist, Heaney famously wrote:
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun
In the more explicit 'The Conway Stewart’, from Human Chain, he beats less around the bush and goes into so much detail that pen nerds have speculated confidently over precisely which model he describes – probably a 58 although some have suggested a 388.
Mine is a 15.
I got it on ebay. It’s a nice example although not exactly like the Poet’s. His had three gold bands around the lid, mine only has one. But still, when it arrived my hands trembled as I removed it from its modest packaging. It feels nice in the hand and is, I have to say, an elegant pen. Yes, it’s “squat”, as Heaney described his and yes, it does feel “as snug as a gun”.
It also feels magic.