Last week, whilst on holiday in Cumbria, I visited the Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick.
Now you, dear reader, may not think the humble pencil the most exciting thing in the world – but did you know that, in 1751, redcoats had to be stationed outside graphite mines in the Cumbrian fells because of the illicit and violent trade in this precious substance? Or that, while NASA spent years trying to create a pen that would work in zero gravity, the Soviets simply gave their cosmonauts pencils? Or that Charles Fraser-Smith – the inspiration for Q in Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories – secretly employed staff at the Cumberland Pencil Company during World War Two to create a hollowed-out pencil that could contain a rolled-up map and compass? Or that the word lightfastness – officially my favourite new word – describes the process whereby the resistance of a pencil to fading is tested?
Neither did I, until last week. And I got a free pencil with my ticket. A great little museum.