It’s 1989 and I’m walking up Park Street past Forever People looking for the art shop someone has
told me is near the university. I’m on a quest and I’m looking for a particular Holy Grail of a pencil.
Perhaps I’d best explain that. It’s been a few months since I failed my first year at university, due to
laziness not stupidity (at least that’s what I’m telling myself), and I’ve been telling people I’m a
writer. The only drawback is that I haven’t written anything yet.
So I’m sharing a house with some guys from Uni, I’m not working and we mostly spend our time
playing board games.
“What are you writing?” Mark asks, I think he’s genuinely interested and not just trying to put me off our game of Risk.
“He’s not writing anything, he does nothing all day” says Julian the only one of us who actually works
“What do you think I should write” I say to steer the conversation away from the topic of my being
lazy and not having enough cash to contribute to the bills. Again.
“Write what you know” says Josh
“Nah, no-one wants to read a tale of a layabout that does nothing all day, where’s the conflict?
Where’s the character development? Where’s the fast moving plot?” says Julian
“You should write a SciFi story about a group of space travellers who are on the run from the law”
“What, like Blakes 7?” I say
“Fantasy” says Josh
“Erotica” Says Julian
“He’s going for Kamchatka and I can’t stop him” I say changing the subject, yet again my plans for
world domination have fallen through.
The next day I feel that I should write something but look at my writing desk (a second hand trestle
table with a dodgy leg) and feel that what I really need is a journal and a proper writing tool. I’m too
poor to get a typewriter so taking inspiration from the East of Eden letters where Steinbeck says –
“On the third finger of my right hand I have a great callus just from using a pencil for so many hours
I’m going to go out and buy myself a good pencil. Not just any pencil though, Steinbeck’s pencil.
And for something like that I had to go to town.
I have a racing bike, which spends most of its life with one or other of its tyres flat so I spend the
morning patching it up and pumping up the tyres before I can cycle into town. When I get to
Broadmead I chain the bike up and go to Smiths. The lady is very helpful but they don’t have such a
pencil, she tells me that the art shop at the top of Park Street may be able to help. It doesn’t take
me long to cycle to the bottom of the steep hill and chain my bike up. With the tassels of my suede
jacket flapping in the bitterly cold wind I walk up the hill.
When I eventually find the shop, which is not on Park Street at all. I get into an involved
conversation with the person behind the counter about the weather, the state of the traffic and
Steinbeck’s writing. Eventually I broach the subject of pencils.
“He highly rated three of them; the Eberhard Mongol, the Blaisedell calculator and the Eberhard
Faber Blackwing. Do you have any of them?”
“We can possibly order one in for you” She says pulling out a large black ledger “if they still make
them that is, Steinbeck died in 1968”
“How long will that take?” I ask, already worried about how much this will cost me, but I’m already
committed to my quest now, in order to write my Magnum Opus I need this.
“I’m not sure, come back next Saturday and we may have something in.”
I give her my telephone number just in case it comes in before I do and walk back down Park Street
to collect my bike.
On Saturday I phoned the shop, after a long conversation it turned out they had been able to order
one but it hadn’t arrived yet. The following Saturday I again phoned and it still hadn’t arrived. Again
the next week and for what seemed like an age. Eventually
“Do you have it”
Was finally answered with
“Yes we do, come in and pick It up any time”
I repeated the pumping of tyres, the long slow wobbly ride into town, the energetic walk up the
steep hill and finally had in my sweaty palm Steinbeck’s pencil.
When I got home I joined in the on-going game of Perudo. I flourished the Blackwing in triumph. The
magic of Steinbeck’s pencil is bound to rub off on me.
“So what’re you going to write?” says Mark as I roll the dice
“Fantasy” says Josh
“Erotica” says Julian
I am confident, I am assured
“ A bestseller about…” my confidence evaporates
I realise I have yet to buy a journal.