The tiny model shop in Golden Cross has turned into a tiny, exclusive pen shop selling beautiful, exclusive pen-related items. There's handmade paper (touched by at least fifty different hands) which they can put your own watermark in, if you ask them nicely and give them a lot of money. There are nibs shaped like pointing hands, love hearts, the Eiffel Tower. There are equisitely expensive-looking letter racks, card-holders, pen-stands, desk sets. There are ink wells shaped like glass pillows and roses, pots bristling with exotic dip-pens; pens for calligraphy, pens for love-letters, pens for drawing musical staves ... There are glistening, candy-bright Venetian glass pens. "Would you like to try one out?" asked the young European man behind the tiny counter, who seemed far too young for his waitcoat and antique pose, and pulled out a sheet of heavily textured cream laid paper and a small pot of iridescent tawny ink, the wax seal already broken (For a previous customer? Or just his own use?) and laid it out on his blotter. I dipped ("you need to dip quite deep for these," he said) and set the nib to paper, turned and twisted the pen, its glassy glide singing the curve, the dilute ink sliding from the twisted glass with unstopping liquid movement. I pressed harder, far harder than I'd dare with a metal nib, suddenly aware that in my hands was a pen with no give, no twist, no flex; a democratic heart despite its glittery, shimmery, decadent look; author of smooth and perfect evenness. I bend down to examine the line and realise that the ink I'm using is richly scented. He shows me the list; rose, musk, lily-of-the-valley, and a dozen others in delicate colours, the rich scents intermingling the fragrance of flowers and the heavier, dirtier smell of ink. I um and ah over the dip pens as he wipes the glass pen for me, and he apologises for the lack of choice; but he's going to Rome next week, where he says there are many fascinating nibs, just waiting for him to buy them. Musk ink and the glass pen; the choice of the elegant pornographer. Rose ink as a gift ("this one smells wonderful," he says, and can't resist untwisting the lid to prove it) and a small steel nib; but at the price he charged me I can only hope it doesn't turn out to be the nib.
Scriptum, Golden Cross (between Cornmarket and the Covered Market), Oxford.