This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

3rd May 2018 Vienna, Austria

#ViennaMemories #7: the “Robox” blotter

If you watch period dramas such as “The Crown”, where characters write letters with fountain pens, you may see on desks a lozenge-shaped or a semi-circular blotter. Their purpose was to absorb excess ink, particularly from signatures, so that it would not smudge if the paper came into contact with something else.

I like fountain pens; at work I use daily a “Pelikan” pen inherited from my father.  So I find the blotter useful. It is a great piece of design: a near-endless supply of blotting paper rolled around a cardboard core fronted with plastic (Bakelite? 1) and held in place by a rubber band which has to be replaced from time to time.

Like my Vienna-acquired wall clock, I bought the blotter, which has on its side in an interesting font the words “Robox” (or possibly “Robot”) and “bene”, at the Naschmarkt in Vienna in 1985.  It has sat on my desk for 33 years.

Working with a fountain pen and a bottle of ink, old-fashioned as it may seem, prompts reflections:

i) Do you produce a different quality of communication when you write with a pen and paper, as compared with a keyboard?  A hand-written note can have greater impact than an e-mail.  While my touch-typing skills are good, I find that the time I have to think when writing by hand, combined with the fact that if I make a mistake I will have to start again, affects the way I write.

ii) Writing with pen and ink also raises questions about sustainability. The “Pelikan” was manufactured around fifty years ago and shows no sign of wearing out. I like to think of this as a small contribution to the planet’s sustainability (cf the liqueur glasses I wrote about recently). Communicating via emails, Facebook or Snapchat saves paper; but any computer or mobile phone I had been using for the last 50 years would have been replaced a dozen times by now.  Perhaps there are also benefits in holding in your hands something which reminds you that not everything needs to be changed regularly or thrown away after a single use.

iii) Finally, aesthetics. Is the sound of a nib on a piece of paper, or the feel of a pen in your hand, qualitatively different from, or better than, writing on a keyboard?  Discuss.

I have been unable to find anything about the company “Robox” or “Bene”.  I did, however, discover the impressive-looking company “CEL Robox”, a UK-based manufacturer of 3D printing equipment. Take a look!

P.S. If anyone knows anything about the “Robox Bene” blotter – eg where and when it was made – I would be keen to hear from them.

1 In researching this piece, I learn that the formal name for Bakelite is polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride.  Never knew that.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.