“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





09 June 2010



Virgo Nut Admits Hun Pen Fetish
Bic Owes Da
Vincis Whole Motza
Something A Little Lighter From The Archive


Being just about the most virgoan of virgoans, I’m a fanatic about the way I hang my washing on the line: all the tea-towels there with red pegs; the tee shirts there with blue pegs; the bedsheets there with yellow; socks in pairs with green.

It’s an exercise that also challenges my chronic colour-blindness. I can sort them darn pegs into colours! No flies on Whitey!

Any neighbouring lass who sees my clothesline just has to mutter “Wow!” Then it’s out with the john and tinic and into the violin playing.

Which leads me to the matter of the quality of clothes pegs. I’d been really shitty about the Chinese ones I’d persevered with for months: damn things kept popping open and springing to useless bits, leaving the jeans in the dirt and my sheets halfway across the vineyard.

So I broke open the vaults and bought some nice new French ones. Red, white and blue. Bic.

I often wonder how much money the Bics owe the estate of Leonardo da Vinci. The two gadgets they’ve made their scrillions from were both invented by him.

The first is the ball-point pen, which uses a ball-bearing.

Leonardo (below) invented the ball-bearing, and the ball race. M. Bic merely put the ball in a writing stick, filled it with sorbitol-moistened ink instead of oil or grease, and soon bought a yacht that takes about half an hour to walk past.

But only one of Leo’s inventions went into production before his death: the wheel-lock.

And that's not something sticker-lickers use to bolt your car down.

In his day, countless thousands of musketeers ended up impaled on enemy pikes because their damned muskets misfired, or never fired at all. There was only one spark from the flintlock, and if the charge didn’t ignite and send the ball flying off into the enemy on the first pop, the poor buggers would have to empty the barrel of gunpowder without blowing themselves up, recharge it, pack it all back with the ramrod, put new powder on the flash pan, cock the hammer, aim, and have another go, by which time the pike had got well and truly into their gizzards.

Leo thought awhile and reckoned he should devise a method of extending the duration of the spark. So, using the mechanism of a spiral door spring, and a dismountable crank handle, he built a musket that wound a serrated wheel over the flint, giving a good few seconds of constant spark. Fizzzz ... BANG! The wheel-lock musket. Suddenly it was the pikemen getting their gizzards spread, and Leo rose to favour in the eyes of the King.

Who was probably Piero Antinori’s great grandfather.

Anyway, the Bic family cunningly turned this, the wheel lock, into the Bic Flick cigarette lighter, and whole generations of us are dying of lung cancer without ever having to strike a match.

So, apart from the fact that this writer once sprang Murray Tyrrell for adding sorbitol to his wines, which is highly illegal, what’s this got to do with the Devil’s Brew? Well, obviously, a wine writer needs a pen, although I can’t abide a ball point. You can’t write cursive copperplate with a friggin Biro – it’s the Deux Chevaux of writing sticks.

It works, but won’t get you picking up Lucinda Williams at the Strath dances.

Nossir Ma’am, since high school I’ve been addicted to the Germans for scribe’s tools: you can’t beat the old Hun Rotring Rapidograph technical drawing pen. You can’t write copperplate cursive with one of them, either, mind you, but if you affect eccentric spidery microscopic writing like mine -- you need fewer notepads – the old needlepoint is impossible to beat.


Besides, the Rapidograph uses indian ink, so you can spill a whole magnum of Margaux on your notes and they’ll never smudge or fade away.

Rotring ventured into the conventional fountain pen business for a few years, and couldn’t get it right. I loved my matte gunmetal black hexagonal-barreled brass-bodied model, which reminded me of an old Winchester carbine, but the Huns somehow got the cap catch all wonky, and when you wore the pen on its clip in your chest pocket, the pen would fall out of the cap and spread Quink Royal Blue (same colour the Duke of Edinburgh uses) all over your Savile Row suit and Richard Anderson shirt.

Not to mention the Krug tie, if you happened to have been listing to port.

A man could wake up with an enemy pike through him

On about the tenth time I returned that beloved Rotring fountain to the vendor to have the problem fixed, the sanctimonious pseudo-Christian bitch behind the counter advised primly that Rotring had sold out to Parker who’d immediately ceased production of said macho chickmagnet and accepted no responsibility for inadequacies of their production.

For a moment I thought she meant Robert Parker Jr., who would go and do something like that, then increase the width of the nibs to about seven inches.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean he’s not getting you Whitey”, I told myself sagely, before remembering that Phil the Duc uses a Parker, which is a pen and doesn’t come from a house with a glass-topped table in Maryland, which is what them Parkers have on their fluffy carpet.

Glass-topped table, glass-bottomed bed I always say.

Something the farting bulldog can watch through.

Anyway she hated me for regularly bringing that pen back for repairs under warranty, especially when I

reminded her that for eighty-four-point-seven-five per centum of the duration of my ownership of it, the lovely black brute was off in Sydney or Hamburg or someplace getting its lid fixed.

I bust into a cold sweat, imagining the Rapidograph, too, had gone.

A few panicky phone calls got me through to somebody in Sydney who promised Rotring was in the technical pen stakes for ever, at which point the pike came back outa my chest and I muttered something about Rotring needing Leonardo and never saw that woman again.

She sold the shop, actually, before she drove all her customers away. The new people are utterly polite and charming, but those beautiful Rotring fountains have never been seen since, which is a horrible shame. I reckon a touch of Bismarkian perseverance would have sorted it eventually. Damn!

Anyway the Rapidograph needlepoint technical is my main side arm still.

And short of Rotring making clothespegs, I’ll stick with Bic for the clothesline art.

I wonder if Leonardo invented the clothespeg?

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