Susutake pen

The Pen that Flew the Atlantic – Twice!

Ten years, it seems, is the official threshold for when a man’s wife takes ownership of the family jewels. Until then, ‘real men’ convince themselves that they’re in charge by pretending to wear the trousers of authority. With their skewed version of reality, they think themselves the alpha males who keep their good ladies on a short leash. The reality of relationships, I’m sure you’ll agree, is rather different. Women have been in charge from the beginning.

My marriage to Mrs H is a deeply loving one.  I’d be lost without her, especially now that she and I have a daughter. My wonderful wife is the single most beautiful, caring and supportive person I’ve met. Always putting others before herself, she has more patience and tolerance than I deserve. I am, I admit, a difficult person to live with. I’m a classic eccentric, living at the extremes of high mania and low mood. There’s no middle ground, only madness and sadness. Neurotically insecure at times, yet invincibly confident when I’m flying high, I battle my way through self-doubt by sustaining my high creative output. If I rest, or stop to think for too long, I’ll very quickly need Mrs H to pick me up again. How ironic for an author who encourages others to  ‘Stop – Unplug – Escape – Enjoy’. It’s what I always need, but sometimes fear. The bright light of brilliance keeps the darkness away, but it can be so very exhausting. Hence why I’m so impulsive with my purchases.  I’m attempting to cheer myself up, even though I know the pleasure will be short-lived. Always seeking to understand myself and improve my image, I hold faith that so long as I’m true to myself, and invest in my future, life will always get better. Mrs H sees things differently. Well she would, wouldn’t she? She does  the accounts.

Mrs H has forgiven me for my recent ‘investments’, even for my private ginger beer moment, and is home for good. But on one condition: that I destroy my  credit cards.

I am distraught, knowing that my spending vice is over. Gerald’s bongos have stopped and, as I approach mid-life, I feel like the old boot that lands on Mayfair after an eight-hour game of Monopoly.
Being the mature and responsible adult that Mrs H hopes for me to be, and knowing that there is only one way through a crisis such as this, I agreed to her terms and handed over my credit cards. As I watched her cut through them with scissors and throw them on the fire, I felt the crushing weight of ‘freedom’ press down upon me. But, whilst Mrs H thought that my spending spree was over, I knew that my biggest-ever purchase would soon arrive in the post. One last item, just for  old time’s sake.

Bum. Diddy. Bum.

There’s always been an ultra-special item at the top of my wish list, a luxury item that – should I ever win the Lottery – I would purchase as my ‘one thing to rule them all’. The item has changed over the years, but for the past five years it’s been constant, proving that it’s my ultimate – and totally unaffordable – desire:  a Sailor Susutake Smoked Bamboo fountain pen.

Handmade by the now-retired master pen maker Nobuyoshi Nagahara, each pen is crafted from unique and incredibly rare bamboo thatching that was salvaged from ancient Japanese houses prior to their redevelopment. The colouration of each pen is unique, developed from over 150 years of being gradually infused by the smoke from the open fire of the house. They have a pure gold nib, with the finest build quality in the world, are inscribed with the maker’s name and are presented in a kimono-style silk sleeve. Just what the avid fountain pen collector would want and exactly what an angler known for using bamboo fishing rods would desire. The price for such a beautiful item – so I am told – is ‘irrelevant’. But if pushed, I’ll confess  “it’s definitely not over two-thousand pounds – darling”. 

How sweet the lie can be when the reward is so great.

One has to react to one’s situation, doesn’t one? With no credit cards left, I’d have to be creative with my source of funds. For example: ‘just suppose’ Mrs H had put her life’s savings into our joint account so that she could purchase a new kitchen. What if someone borrowed that money with the full intention of putting it back ‘if’ its owner discovered it missing? What if the funds were invested wisely, say, in something rare and collectable? Like, and it’s totally off the top of my head, a bamboo fountain pen. Perhaps one of those Susutake thingies? You know, the ones with a gold plate on their side bearing the maker’s signature, which are smoked to a chestnut brown and have a unique bamboo node that provides the perfect balance and grip? Just like the one available from a dealer in America, that’s on ‘Buy it Now’ for a mere £2,300? It’s rarer than unicorn ivory, available for a limited time only, and there for the taking. What do you think? Now or never?

Bum-bum. Di-diddy-bum.

If we were to temporarily ‘reallocate’ funds to secure the pen, and ignored the warning in the maker’s name (No buy o shi-), would it have a positive or negative affect on my marriage? Hmm. Want to take bets as to whether my other half would find out?

“Live dangerously”, that’s my motto. (Actually, it’s more like ‘Shop – Unplug – Escape – And Face the Consequences’.) “In for a penny, in for two-thousand pounds.” 
The golden mist of opportunity rarely presents itself so vividly, so I decided to buy the pen. Mrs H was too enraged by the spending on my credit cards to worry about her own savings. She wouldn’t even look at our joint account, now would she?

Wives are unpredictable creatures. How was I to know that Mrs H would speak to a kitchen company on the very day that I transferred the funds from our joint account? Or that she’d view our online balance on the same day I received the shipment confirmation from the pen retailer in America.  How would I know that her scream would threaten an avalanche in the Himalayas, and that she’d immediately be on the phone to our bank informing them of an

“Effing Arstard” fraudulent transaction?


Have you ever had a silent conversation with someone when they’re on the telephone to someone else? It looks like a cross between sign language and charades, with the facial expressions of someone who’s just realised – mid-brush – that they’ve mistakenly put haemorrhoid cream on their toothbrush. There’s an eagerness to know, and an equal desire not to know, what’s being said. And so it was that I attempted to tell my good lady that our account had “not – been – hacked!” and that it was just a “simple misunderstanding”. Mrs H made her apologies to the bank, put down the phone and, with two arms reaching out for my throat, said, “Fennel, WHAT – HAVE – YOU – DONE?”

“Darling,” I said, trying not to sound too excited, “I’ve bought this pen. Well, not just any pen, it’s a-”

“Don’t tell me,” she snorted, “a pen that’s been on your wish list for ages and which you just ‘had’ to have?”

“Well,” I replied, “now you mention it…”

“But Fennel,” said Mrs H, lowering her hands, “That’s hardly a problem in the bigger scheme of things. Our joint account has been hacked by someone in America. There’s more than two thousand pounds missing. I’m hardly going to worry about you spending a few quid on a pen. Now, PLEASE, help me to find out what’s happened.”

“Er, Sweetheart,” I muttered, reaching out my hands to hers, “what if the pen was really, really, special? What if it was more important than the kitchen, or any amount of fretting caused by silly things like credit cards? What if it would make me, no, us, really happy?”

“Could it boil a saucepan of water? Or roast a chicken? Or wash clothes? Or clean plates without covering them in stale grease?”


“Then how could it possibly make me happy?”

“Oh,” I sighed, “what if it were made from a  super-rare smoky antique grass that looks like wood but isn’t wood and which is too good to write with but which would look amazingly good on my writing desk?”

“I see your point,” she said, crossing her arms.  “I’ll stretch to a fiver. But if you’ve spent more than that, then the only thing to stretch will be your ear as I bend it around your head. You’re hopelessly in debt, and I’ve got to pay for the new kitchen. So how about you stop bothering me? The bank and I need to figure out where our money’s gone.” 

It was then that I walked, head held low, into my study and picked up the order confirmation for the pen. I returned to the living room and handed the slip to Mrs H. She held it up to her eyes, read it, and then – well, I can’t fully remember. I saw stars, then everything went black, and the world stopped spinning.

That’s how I came to own one of the rarest pens in the world, albeit for a day, without ever having set eyes on it. The pen successfully flew the Atlantic, but was returned, unopened, by Mrs H. The reason for the return was stated as: “Idiot”.

We were given a refund, but we haven’t yet got our new kitchen. Well, I couldn’t let Mrs H be so reckless with her money, now could I?

This is a sample chapter from Fine Things, Fennel's Journal No. 8

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