I recently bought some interesting pencil sharpeners from Japan for two friends’ daughters who just embarked on their formal education a couple of days back. Sharpeners are just sharpeners, aren’t they? What could be so interesting? Well… I don’t have them in my possession now but from what I recall, it was a sharpener that allows 4 adjustments to the degree of sharpness, if you get what I mean. I chanced upon this unique design of a sharpener while looking for post-its (to tag my travel guide) at a stationery store in Den-Den Town and I couldn’t put it down; I so wanted to buy but have absolutely no use for it. That was when I thought of the two girls.

So this friend was thanking me for the sharpener this afternoon and our conversation drifted to how some primary schools do not allow the students from the lower levels to use mechanical pencils. I thought it might possibly have to do with grip or penmanship – not good for new writers to develop bad grip leading to poor penmanship. Which led me to my traumatizing childhood memories of writing with a fountain pen.

My primary school has quite a queer tradition – when we progressed to writing with pens towards the end of Primary 3 (a couple of months earlier for those with better handwriting), we had to write with fountain pens. And with that began our (and our mothers’) nightmares. Back in those days, fountain pen ink cartridges were not available, so in all our heavy schoolbags, we additionally had to bring an ink bottle to pump ink into our fountain pens when necessary. If you follow what I’m talking about, now try visualising 9-year olds trying to pump ink in school amidst friends and play. Ink blots on our uniforms and ink smudges on our hands were more than a common sight. Sometimes worse accidents happened like ink spillage in our school bags or an ink bottle falling off the table.

I hated writing with a fountain pen in cursive and being allowed only to use ink erasers for corrections (all compulsory, by the way) because I’m quite the messy writer. Back then I never understood why the school made us do this because I know my cousins’ schools didn’t make them do it but my dad was surprisingly very supportive of the school’s policy. He even invested in a Pilot fountain pen (considered rather expensive back then) for me when the rest of my classmates just used the Hero fountain pens they purchased in the bookshop.

It was only in Primary 6 when we were finally allowed to switch to ballpoint pens – I guess it was to prepare us for the PSLE. That was a huge relief to me because I really don’t write well with fountain pens. And still never understood why the school made us do it. It’s only a few years later that I appreciate what the school has done for us. I’ve always been known to be a person with neat handwriting throughout my life (and belatedly, I thought of my sister too! We went to the same primary school) and I think the years of writing with a fountain pen has really helped me very much with my penmanship.

Back to the topic of sharpeners: I hope the two young girls find them useful.


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