Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Pen Museum in Birmingham: Care about it

Last December while traveling around England, we found ourselves in Birmingham and were looking through a travel guide for things to do in town. Cadbury World was there! Heavens to betsy, how I love chocolate. Sadly, the one day we were there was one of the days they weren't open.

Pressing on through the local tourism guide, I think it was Gregg who spotted the Pen Museum. Being a fan of pens, he knew it would be something I'd be into. As much as I like a good pen, going to the pen museum was something I likened to the box factory Bart Simpson's class visits on a tight budgeted school field trip. (I was delighted upon telling my friend Matt about this, he immediately said it sounded like the box factory)

It's not the part with the boring box factory tour, but it's funny anyway.

The guide book said the pen museum would take 90 minutes. We scoffed at the notion. We called to make sure that it was open, after all, how busy could a pen museum be? If Cadbury World was closed, why not the Pen Museum for lack interest? As it turns out, they were open. We set off on foot, thinking it would take about 30 minutes. It ended up taking an hour, which made us a little cranky. Way too much effort for a pen museum we were headed for with cynicism.

As we entered, the whole museum seemed to be contained in one room. 90 minutes! HA! Try 10 minutes. Or so we thought. The museum was serviced by three volunteers who seemed very happy to help us. We accepted their offer for a tour and so our journey into the history of the pen began. I'll just state now that this focused only on pens with metal nibs, not going into the ball point pen or anything like that.

After the revolutionary war with France had ended, the smiths who crafted weapons were left with not much to do. They headed up to Birmingham as there weren't all the labour and union restrictions up there, so they were free to find work which they were struggling to do in other parts of the country. While there, they observed some machinery used in the manufacturing of buttons which they thought could be adapted and used in the making of pen nibs.

Now here is the critical part of this story. Prior to this time, quills were the only way to write and they were very expensive. One quill cost about £1.25 in today's money which is about the equivalent of what it cost to feed an average family for three months. Yes, folks, three months to feed a family for one pen! Needless to say, since no-one could afford it, only doctors, clergymen and other wealthy people were able to write.

Some pen nib box art from my wall. I bought these reproductions and put them on my wall. They are directly in front of my computer.

Once the pen nib revolution occurred, pen nibs became very inexpensive with one woman able to handle 18,000 pen nibs in a 10 hour shift! There were four processes to complete a pen nib, each woman handling one process. Women typically worked these machines as their smaller hands and good dexterity was ideal for working with these precision machines. Men had other jobs like preparing the metal and such.

Beware the satanic pen!

So once the pen industry took off, literacy spread like wildfire as now EVERYONE was able to afford the tools to be able to learn how to write! At one point, 75% of the world's pen nibs came from Birmingham! The eventual arrival of the ballpoint pen wiped out the pen nib industry in Birmingham. Only a few companies operate on a much smaller scale with nibs for fountain pens.

I guess you can fight off Satan with this one.

The thing about this whole story that irritates me is the disinterest and the "How boring," looks I've received upon telling this story. People don't seem to realise that even if reading this blog is boring, you are only able to read it thanks to the spread of literacy which we take for granted and for the industry in Birmingham which made it happen! If you still think this whole thing is of no interest, you're an ungrateful douche bag.

In the end, we spent about two hours (more than the suggested time) because we loved all the artwork on the old pen nib boxes. I took a gazillion pictures of them and I also got to make my own pen nib using the old machines! We also watched a video which included a tottering old lady who use to work the machines. One of the volunteers was blind and typed "Merry Christmas" and our names on Braille on cards for us.

Pen nib art. Everything down to the little leaves are made with nibs. Even I conceded that this is a bit excessive.

A very delightful and educational outing, one which I treasure no matter how much of a dork it makes me.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friend dating

Making friends in school was relatively easy. Somehow, you'd find some people to hang out with and they became your friends. The first friend I made in high school was simply because when I walked out of the classroom for recess on the first day, looked at everyone as they came out and asked the least threatening girl if I could hang out with her. She said yes.

Since then, most friends are made by circumstance. You have to sit next to them in class, you work together, or meet through a common interest and so on. But when you get older, these instances stop presenting themselves as much. You might go to a bar or some place and be casually introduced to someone and hit it off, but unless you have something to give them or an event you both want to go to, how do you cross that line to ask them to be friends? What if they just see you as a casual acquaintance? Is asking for their email, MySpace or phone number coming on too strong? They were just looking for conversation while they drank, not a life-long FRIENDSHIP. Back off!

There's this girl in my acting class whom I really like. Whenever there is a break, we seem to have a lot to talk about, she seems really nice, and we seem to respect each other's acting skills. But since we've not really talked about anything we like to do socially, it doesn't seem to go any further than that. I feel like I want to ask her for her email or MySpace, but I don't know what for, and then I feel like I'm trying to ask her out and then when I think about it like that, I feel extra stupid. And what if we hang out and then we have nothing but small talk going for us? Sounds like a bad date.

I met a girl once, the girlfriend of someone I just met. I was new in LA and had no friends and I was looking! We exchanged details and agreed to meet up for coffee or something. She was one of those people who don't laugh I blogged about, which already had me a bit scared, but I was desperate. But when the coffee date finally came around, she's broken up with her boyfriend and was all mopey and just wanted to talk about that and it was just like a bad date. I never called her again.

Maybe since I never dated before I got married, I am making up for that experience with friends. Or maybe I'm even more socially retarded than I thought. I *heart* MySpace.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

This Paris Hilton thing is depressing me

***NOTE***I usually like to illustrate my blogs, but in this case, no one needs to see another picture of the skanque. I'd make one with horns and stuff but I'm at work without my photo editing program. ***UPDATE*** Now that there are some pictures of Paris sobbing, it's finally worth looking at her.

I wanted to resist getting into the Paris Hilton thing. I'm sure there's a gazillion blogs about it already, but I'm just feeling so depressed by the whole thing that I thought I'd reach out for validation (or invalidation, whatever you see fit) about my feelings.

Was it wrong of me to be relishing the last month in the knowledge that Paris was going to jail? I don't think so. Comeuppance is all that we could have hoped for all this time for this spoiled trollop. Britney's been a complete mess all this time which has been most enjoyable, but Paris seemed to be getting off scott-free.

I was pretty disappointed when I found out her 45 days had been reduced to 23 and she was going to a not-so-grimy prison. I later heard it was more prison like than I thought, so that made me happier. I also was told she was strip and cavity searched, so I was glad that she was being treated like everyone else. You know, getting anally raped with a torch. Is this wrong to be glad that all these things are happening to someone? I don't think so, because she was just getting the standard punishment for what she did and I'm glad for anyone to be accountable, but perhaps the salivation, claps and titters it caused in me were a little over the top, but how could it not?

Then today, I log on the news that the stupid spoiled whore is under house arrest, was never cavity searched, is having a party tonight at her house and got let out for psychological reasons. She was close to a nervous breakdown. What the flying fuck is that about? Since when did people get let out of prison for that? Prison breaks people. It's kinda known for that, but in her case, they let her out? I'm sure crying and acting crazy wouldn't get any of us anywhere if we were in prison. Anyway, it's not just annoying me, but actually depressing me. Not to the point of curling up into a ball in bed, not eating and sobbing, but just feeling like the world is a completely awful place and if it imploded, it probably wouldn't be that bad because we're not heading towards a bright future. I know it seems dire, but it is a sign of the bad times are living in.

Am I going too far? Ag, I'm sure you think I'm going too far. Anyone else?

***UPDATE June 8*** Well, it's nice to see that even if there are a few people trying to get this spoiled bitch off, that the general consensus of the community is to keep the ho down. No matter how much they've force fed her down our throats, the public has spoken and we only watch her because we hate her. The judge has put her back in the slammer and people are dancing in the streets and rejoicing.

I was listening to Randi Rhodes earlier and she was going ape shit because this Paris bullshit was news. I whole-heartedly agree, but the fact is, since we've had to suffer through Paris for so fucking long, today was the payoff. Let us enjoy this day and then let us go back to declaring war on the assault on reason tomorrow.