I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, always have. They help me think and I often find myself writing things in my notebook. I am here now watching the nib of my fountain pen as it moves across the page. I like using a fountain pen - I don't know why. Perhaps I like the way they feel in the hand or the design of the nib, maybe it's the way the ink flows. I don't know. I suspect the reason has more to do with subconscious associations: images of important people signing important documents, black and white films, the desks of famous writers, or my own memories.
Looking at my pen, I open the door to memories of myself as a young boy, probably about five or six in my grandfather's house. He lived across the way from us and I used to pop-in and the two of us would talk. Perhaps it would be about bird watching and he would show me something then hand me his binoculars. Sometimes we would go to a room he had which was full of wonders: like bits and pieces from radios, a flying suit on a hanger on the back of the door and an old roll-top desk. I loved that desk and the way the lid would disappear. It was magic - furniture that actually did something interesting.
In that desk was a Swan pen. The fact that I know it was a Swan means he must have told me and he was proud of it. Being a boy, who liked to fiddle with things, I liked the little lever recessed into the side with the tiny scoop so you could flick it up with your fingernail but I can also remember looking at it and marbled pattern of the barrel, fascinated by the interlocking shapes and varying colours. That pattern made a deep impression on me because I can remember an art lesson in my junior school where we were told to paint a pattern. I drew a few bold geometric shapes and painted them different colours. The teacher liked it and held it up for the class and then asked why I done it that way. I said it was because I couldn't do it the other way. "What was the other way?" he asked but I couldn't describe it. All I knew was that in my mind I saw a richly variegated, random pattern, a bit like my grandfather's pen. I knew it was beyond my abilities and so I just made things simple.
Sometimes we would be in my grandfather's garden. It was used to grow fruit and vegetables. I can remember him reaching down, giving me something and saying "Here try one of these goosegogs". I didn't much like it and I have never really cared for gooseberries but I love the word 'goosegogs' and in my head I can still hear his voice saying it. Our memories are full of these odd little things.
I always thought he looked like Mr Pickwick (we had some Dickens illustrations on our wall so I even though I was young I knew what Mr Pickwick looked like). He was round in shape with a comfortable belly, wore small round glasses, was bald on the top of his head with grey hair growing at the side and back and had a ready chuckle. He was vigorous right up until his end and everybody called him 'Pop', not only the family, everybody. He was part of the community and at the end of the garden was a scout hut he had helped build.
Also (and here is the running link) he had been a member of the three As. I don't know in what capacity - as far as I know he was not a runner. I only have a memory of my father mentioning it, but there were no further details and there is no one left alive who I could ask. I am thus free to imagine it as one of his interests like the scouts or being a radio ham. I am also free to imagine that my taking-up running is a belated connection.
Just like that marbled pattern of my imagination, being good at athletics, being a competitive runner, running with grace and elasticity is beyond me. Instead I have to simplify things down, plod along at my own steady pace and be content. But you know what - there is virtue in simplicity.