The Unstealable Pen

. 972 words; about 5 minutes.

[This post was rescued from an SQL dump of my ancient Movable Type blog. There may be conversion errors and broken links.]

Anybody who has worked in an office for more than a femtosecond or two will notice a certain pen-related phenomenon. Go on, have a look for your pen now. It's the grubby blue Bic that is… well, “chewed” would be a bit of an understatement.

Bic-nibbling connoisseurs know that like steak, there are good bits and not-so-good bits available. The cap is the first good bit. The pocket clip takes a bit of biting before the plastic yields and becomes a thin strip that can be torn off and chewed-on for a while. The remainder of the cap is a bit too springy for a good chew, and there's the risk of it jumping down your throat, hence the hole in the top. Then there's the end cap of similar plastic, and a fine swallow it is. Finally we've got to the main body, a fine hard plastic that splinters in a pleasing manner generating tasty shards. Finally there's the ink reservoir. That bit's not so good and potentially causes you to catch bluetongue and before you know it DEFRA will be hunting you down.

So, anyway, there is your pen, which mainly looks like a panda mistook it for a piece of bamboo. Hang on, there was your pen, but where is it now? Somebody's deliberately taken it. After all, they couldn't possibly have mistaken it for their pen. You'd have to be a habitual criminal kleptomaniac to steal something like that. Who might it be? Perhaps it's Tone Deaf Humming Man. Or Tobacco Stench Girl, currently absent supposedly for a smoke, but possibly even right now down the pawn shop trying to sell your pen to support their drug habit. Everybody is a potential suspect and half way to HR to borrow their polygraph machine to use on the whole office, you spot something familiar out of the corner of your eye. Yes, it's your pen! And the chaplain is holding it, having absent-mindedly picked it up when hit with the muse. When quizzed, the chaplain sheepishly hands it back and apologies profusely. Really, you can't trust anybody these days.

Triumphantly returning to your desk, you notice fresh teethmarks, and lob it into the bin in disgust. But the beancounters require a requisition form in triplicate to get a new pen, so you just borrow the pen from the bloke next to you who has just gone out to lunch…

Clearly, there is something about pens that cause honest people to turn into mindless thieves. Catalogue shops use special small pens and pencils to try to mitigate the shrinkage, but if you were to turn your average Argos customer upside down and give them a good shake, several dozen pens would fall out (as well as a 9ct chunky gold chain, half an ounce of weed and somebody else's wallet.)

So what is to be done? Solving the pen-theft problem in general is even more intractable than world peace, but you can at least do your bit by stopping your pen being stolen and thus eliminate the reason for you to steal somebody else's. So here's the secret:

Cheap fountain pens are unstealable and are returned when “borrowed”, so get one and use it exclusively as your main pen.

Allow me to explain.

Since almost everybody writes with a ball-point pen, a fountain pen feels very alien. They will remember where this extraterrestrial item came from and return it immediately after use. In some cases they enjoy the writing experience so much that they go and buy their own fountain pen and discover the secret of unstealability and reduce the pen theft problem further.

Left-handers will often complain that it's not possible for them to write with a fountain pen and it's all an evil right-handed conspiracy and how could I possibly be so thoughtless as to own a tool of their oppression, and hand it back without even giving it a try. I will usually counter by writing a sample sentence with my left hand, much to their astonishment. The results do admittedly resemble a spider's death throes after having half-drowned in the inkwell, but that is in fact my normal handwriting.

Cheap is important because while it might be unstealable, it's not unbreakable or unlosable. An expensive fountain pen will just reignite the kleptomaniac tendencies in your cow-orkers again. Besides, you really wouldn't want the pen back after they've orked a cow with it.

Prefer a pen that takes ink cartridges. The cartridges are relatively expensive at about three quid a pack, but much more convenient and far less messy than sucking ink through the nib. You can always use a converter if you find you want or need to use raw ink.

Metal-cased pens are much better than plastic-cased pens and not all that much more expensive. My ugly plastic pen that I keep as a spare was about eight pounds and the rather pretty brushed-aluminium one I normally use was all of twelve. Not only are the the metal ones much more attractive to look at, but the plastic ones tend to suffer stress fractures and crack after a while especially if they're being nibbled, possibly causing bluetits to go with the bluetongue. Rolled steel just doesn't taste nice and it's murder on the fillings. The only mouth-related fun you're going to have with it is to suck on the end or trap your lips in the pocket clip which is actually much more fun than it sounds.

For more useful information, see the Wikipedia article on “Fountain pen”.