What's wrong with pen and ink?

13th June 2003 at 01:00
Zillions are to be spent on whizzo classrooms of the 21st century. I'm not quite on top of the 19th. I'm more of a quill and ink man. The Osmiroid fountain pen remains my technological limit. Whizzo gizmos bring me techno trauma...

The rot set in with the spirit duplicator. This swinging Sixties device was a sort of pre-Gutenberg mangle. You got covered in purple dye, your worksheets got shredded and your pupils got wrecked on pure alcohol. This was in the days before solvent abuse.

The photocopier was cleaner and less addictive. And more costly. I once pressed a wrong button, left for a cup of tea - and ran off a trillion copies of John Donne. We did a lot of Metaphysical verse that year. Year 7 found it blue murder. At least Donne was dead, though. A living author might storm in with a policeman and send me to the slammer. I must owe that Martin Amis a fortune.

The moving image really did for me. The dread 16mm film projector. I got a certificate in it and knew what "hair in the gate" meant: bedlam. I can still see Lord of the Flies spooling promiscuously across the floor while Year 10 rioted. And video's no better. There's all that twiddling and tracking and tuning, and baying of the mob as they gaze at the drizzle on the screen because some twerp has nicked the aerial. I zoom off to get the Expert and we come back cursing to find the class riveted by Kung Fu Head Crusher.

I didn't get this grief with blackboard and textbook. And I'm not alone.

Our English office was a sanctuary of cheerful chaos and sunny larks. Now it's a bunker full of grim faces in thrall to machines that keep crashing and burning and conking out. Imprecation rends the air. The head of media hurls an electronic register about. It doesn't, apparently, bloody work! It bounces off a cabinet. Bang! Flash! Just another useless machine. I hid mine. Shh... I use the Osmiroid.

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