A few months later than planned and in its new location, we finally had our first pen show for around a year and a half. Now migrated from the Holiday Inn near Russell Square to the Hammersmith Novotel, there must have been uncertainty over how the show would go. Less so over the new location and more down to the personal comfort factor now we’ve just come out of lock down and entering what is considered the ‘new norm’.
I’m not sure if there were many concerns about the new location. The show had out grown the Holiday Inn before I started to attend, and while that location is closer to the centre of London and better for lunch possibilities (I will miss Pizza Sophia), the Novotel is outside the 364 days per year London Congestion Charge Zone (for the moment) while still being near a tube station and a high street with the usual chain options. Room wise it is a big step up. The original plans had for more vendors than before and while some had dropped out resulting in tables being removed, this resulted in a large break out area, so the table spacing we saw will be the same in the future. This means plenty of room to move around and the vendors having larger tables. Air con was a lot better as was the lighting, though you were still cursed by the orange/warm tint muting colours and masking the subtleties of the pens. Net result I found myself using the torch function on my phone to look at various items. Still the location is a big improvement.
With the numbers I am sure the organisers will be slightly disappointed but also happy that people still came. A lot will have kept away due to the virus and various vendors were either missing (especially the International ones) or there with a cut down number of staff. A few attended with just the one person rather than the normal two or three. I suspect quite a few of the vendors will have viewed the event as a day out of the house/shop rather than a commercial success due to a lack of sales or business.
So how did my show go? I did start with a small shopping list and on this occasion the aim was to keep my spending to a minimum. My original plan was to speed round the tables to see where everyone was and to keep an eye out for show specials and anything that grabbed my eye. I would then seek out people to catch up with, including some vendors, as pen shows to me are as much about the social aspect as the gathering of large quantities of temptation, then I would seek out the items on my list, followed by a more casual wander round. All with lunch at some appropriate time, again normally with others for a social catchup over food. To quote the late and great Douglas Adams, ‘The best laid plans of mice’.
So I was near the end of my initial wander round when I came to John Hall of Write Here. The route was actually planned as I tend to catch up with John when we meet and so it would be a good start to the social aspect of my show experience. Thing is John was by himself on this occasion and I realised that my chatting would prevent him from dealing with customers. Not a good thing, and so I heard myself asking ‘would you like an extra pair of hands to help out’. Now it should be pointed out we’ve known each other for about 4 years primarily through the shows and our chatting normally starts as I’m paying for a pre-order, so it’s not an offer I could have made to other vendors. John accepted my offer and thus may day was set. Talking to and assisting people, keeping an eye on the table, and some how being too busy to finish the catch up. Woops. I must admit it was enjoyable being on the other side of the table for once and I hope I was actually of help, rather than John just being polite to me at the end of the day.
So what did I get to learn from being on the other side of the table. Most people do seem to ask before picking up a pen to look at or dip test, but not all, and you can develop a certain level of paranoia over the latter as some of the pens needed to be kept clean (as some materials can be stained and with the more expensive pens you do not want to take the risk as nibs can occasionally be damaged). Another thing I discovered was just how many people do not realise that if you dip test a nib you do need to make sure you wipe/tap the excess ink off the nib before writing. There were a few people who expressed surprise at large line width because they were writing with a pool of ink visible on the nib. Finally, did you know that the capillary capabilities of the feed on Sailor pens is very good? After some one had dip tested a pen I would wipe down and clean the nib. Except on some of the Sailor nibs this seemed to be a never ending process almost as if there was an invisible feed between the bottle and the pen.
The big question of course is did I still manage to succumb to temptation. Did I buy anything, after all I was looking and handling some very tempting merchandise during the day. Well I resisted the Sailor King of Pen Pro Gear Sunset over the Ocean, which in the flesh with a light shone on it was absolutely stunning (where as under the hotel lights it only looked ok and on the photos I think it looked slightly naff). From my shopping list I bought a …. size #17 latex sac for a pen I’m looking to repair and failed to find a suitable alternative nib for it (a 1950s ‘Unique’ pen – been told a Wyvern nib from that period may work). You may wonder if that was all as the only other thing I was looking for was a bottle of ink which no one had brought with them (and that was only a nice to have, not a must). Of course by the end of the day there were a couple of Leonardos in my sights, the aforementioned KoP which I could not afford on this occasion and … – a ScriBo Piuma. I would like to point out that despite temptation I did not hide this pen so it could be mine later on, and was part hoping that it would be sold during the day to save my wallet. Alas it did not and it did not.
So all in a good, though quiet show with an unexpected twist with the way my day went. I actually failed to catch up with more than a few people, just waving at some and missing others entirely. The new location worked well and shows a lot of promise to the future and while vendors will have suffered I know they will be back in October. I’m looking forwards then.
I feel the need to offer thanks. To the organisers of the show, for sticking with trying to host the spring event, including the risks of the new location and of the need to reschedule multiple times. To the vendors as many of them will have known that financially it was a risk and attendee numbers were expectedly low. To those who did attend as I do know many who would have liked to be there but presently could not risk due to their own ailments or those of dependants, and finally to John Hall for taking the risk I would actually be of help rather than just chatting away during the day.