Sunday, July 22, 2007


I've been having a bit of a wallow lately in old books. Truth to tell, I haven't actually read a 'new' book in yonks. New to me, yes. New? Not likely. It's been a motley collection of Zola, George Orwell, Dickens and Harold Avery[^]. If you clicked on the link and read the page about him you know almost as much about him as I do.

Our school library had a few volumes of his. Even then, in the mid 1960's, they were old books. I can only remember the title of one of those volumes and that only because of the singular circumstance that I found a copy of one, 'The Triple Alliance' in a second hand bookshop in late 1968.

It became one of my favourite books so naturally Mum threw it out during one of her periodic cleanups[^] and for many years I checked bookshops, looking for the works of Harold Avery. Heck, I'd even forgotten the title and, if you'd asked me as recently as a month ago what the title was I'd have had no idea.

Indeed, a little over twenty years ago, I found a volume titled 'The Wizards Wand' by that illustrious unknown. Bought it on the spot with not a second thought. It turned out not to be a copy of my boyhood favourite but it was a good read anyway. In the light of my post regarding Harry Potter I should point out that, despite the title, it had nothing to do with magic; the wizard of the title was an inventor who had harnessed the new-fangled electricity to make his garden gate open by remote control!

A fortnight or so ago, just before our trip through New Mexico, I did a search on Harold Avery just for the heck of it. I've said it before and I'll probably say it again; the internet's a wonderful resource. There I found not just the meagre details of the mans life but, on Project Gutenberg[^], the text of none other than my boyhood favourite!

Almost at the end; I'm on the final chapter. Reading it again after more than forty years it's not quite as good as memory painted it. Always the way aint it? I remember being an enthusiastic fan of The Aunty Jack Show[^] during its first run in 1972. Sometime in the late 80's or early 90's the ABC ran it again and I, just as enthusiastically, watched the first episode. Watched the second. I used to like this? I didn't bother with the rest of the series.

I'm sure you've had a similar experience.

The last chapter of 'The Triple Alliance'[^] refers to inkpots. Up until about the age of eight we used pencils in our exercise books; our desks had these strange little holes at the front, on the right hand side, and ink coloured grooves to the left. We didn't know what the holes were for and I didn't wonder at the ink stains; they just were and at that age one accepts things without much question.

But in 1963, recently moved to fourth grade, we had to learn to write using a pen. It was then that we discovered the use of those strange little holes and why the grooves were ink coloured. It never occurred to us to wonder why the holes for the inkpots were only on the right; in those non politically correct days it was normal to try and force left handers to use their right hands! My own sister, Deb, a leftie, went through hell at school as they tried to force her to right handedness.

I think we were the last year to use pens dipped in inkpots; certainly, in 1964, we were expected to have our own Osmiroid[^] fountain pen.

The fountain pen was a great advance; once we graduated to it the only thing we had to do was blot the page before turning it; when we had pens dipped in ink and lacked the skill and experience to do better we invariably spilled ink in large blots on the paper. We were judged as much by the lack of blots on the page as by the calligraphy.

I still like using a fountain pen though I haven't actually touched one in nearly thirty years. Back in the days when I was writing music on paper I always used a fountain pen! I even drew the treble and bass clefs using one!

There was a minor privilege available back then. You remember my writing about school milk[^]? Being a milk monitor was good; being ink monitor was only so-so; but it was better than nothing. I spent a couple of inky weeks.

And yes, if you're wondering, I did stick the pigtails of the little girl sitting in front of me into the inkpot. The ink was there, the pigtail was there and it was the most natural thing in the world to put the one into the other. And now you know, more than two years after hinting at it, why I lost my coveted post as 'milk handler'.

I hope it was worth the wait! :-)

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