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Archive for October, 2010


Posted by Dirck on 29 October, 2010

I being a little blank today (a long story I’ll likely tell Monday, penless tho’ it is) and having very little time, I called my wife and said, “Recommend a Hallowe’en movie.”

She offered two:  The 1931 Dracula, and the 1963 version of The Haunting.  She says of them, and I agree, that they are films which require that you sit quietly and allow to work upon you.  I believe I recommended the latter last year, too.  I will also plug the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast’s presentation of The Haunter in the Dark— turn down the lights, pretend the computer is a cathedral radio, and have an enjoyably creepy night in, or at least get in the right mood for a Hallowe’en party.

Today’s long dark pen:  Waterman 52
Today’s deep dark ink:  Noodler’s Starry Night (in which anything might be lurking)


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Two Seasonally Scary Stories

Posted by Dirck on 28 October, 2010

I could talk about my lunchtime walk to add some real terror to the proceedings– a load of only-just snow falling on wet surfaces is the kind of slippery that slavers for the hips of the elderly, and I can see elderly in the non-too-distant future clearly enough to be slightly concerned.

I typical internet fashion (or that of the inimitable Count Floyd), my title is rather misleading, as the first story can only be considered scary if very poorly synopsized, as in a cable-box write-up:

CH247  8:00  – Totally unprepared man finds himself confronted by a faceless giant, truimphs through quick wits.

…and it really happened!  Some time ago I commented upon a rather protracted pair of deliveries.  In the case of the one to Newfoundland, the recipient was told as his local post office that a refund was possible as the kind of postage I’d paid for promised delivery in not more than three days, and since that part of the island hadn’t been battered into an earlier age by a hurricane the previous week there was no reason for me to not claim that money.  After some dithering (the “quick wits” bit) I contacted Canada Post (the giant) and after fighting past the telephone robot (‘faceless”!) spoke to a very nice lady who all but insisted that I get that money back.  Triumph!

My next stop after finishing here is Paypal to refund the client the value of the cheque I just got from Canada Post.  I may have handed them the money, but he paid me.

The other story is merely eerie, rather than scary and like so many stories like it proves nothing and will not move anyone from their current position on matters invisible.  Tuesday, as I arrived home, I found myself hoping that the door wouldn’t be too seriously locked (my wife prefers the deadbolt on, in the interests of personal tranquillity), since I had a lot on stuff to carry in and crummy weather to do it in.  As I stepped from the car, I heard the sound of the door opening and closing on the house and was thus assured that entry would be easy.

It was also unattended.  Wife and son were at the back of the house by the time I got in, dealing with a diaper issue.  When they emerged, she asked if I had been waiting long.  A little bit of comedy dialogue ensued, in which it came clear that she thought I had arrived rather earlier and found myself thwarted by the outer door being held shut by a hook my son had playfully dropped in its eye while she got the mail.

“Why did you think that?”  Well, the door was locked, and it was obviously me that rang the doorbell.  “Nope.  Never touched it.” 

The doorbell clearly rang.  Also clear was the single set of footprints on the stairs in the snow which had fallen between the noon mail and my arrival– my own.  Slightly, helpfully eerie, and I can’t decide whether the better quasi-explanation is an invisible third party in the house looking out for our comfort or an unexpected and unconscious degree of clairvoyance and telekinesis on my own part.  I think I prefer the former, despite a certain sheepishness it is bound to engender at shower time– in fictional accounts, this sort of spectral watcher can be benign indefinitely, while psychics tend to end badly.

Today’s ghostly pen:  Sheaffer Craftsman Balance
Today’s gory ink:  Noodler’s red-black

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The Vampire Bat (Frozen Solid and Fryed)

Posted by Dirck on 27 October, 2010

Because yesterday’s weather was rather over-seasonal, with masses of snow running along at rather greater than the city speed limit, my son was not taken to his gymnastics class yesterday.  In seeking other diversions, my wife and I realized that he was entirely rapt in his pursuit of recreating in wood the story lines of his favourite Thomas the Tank Engine episodes, and we could, with care, watch something Hallowe’enie.  The simple criteria of “nothing that will tramatize the lad” lead us towards black-and-white productions, and while what we ended up with was pre-Code, it certainly didn’t upset any non-adult equilibrium.

We watched The Vampire Bat, made in 1933, and it was… pretty much exactly what we were after.  Creepy, obscurely-European settings.  Direction influenced by the shoals of German expressionists that were lurching about the US at the time.  Acting that bounded between hammy and casual.  Lamentably, a recurrent odious comic relief character who fails to die.  The one thing it lacked was a rubbery, unconvincing bat on a string, and as this was subbed for by actual fruit bats, that’s hardly a crippling absence.  I’m not going to do much more than recommend it (time is short as I spent some of this lunch break buying a nearly-adequate winter outfit for the Tiny Tyrant) and offer a link to the decently-written and well-considered review which actually prompted me to look at the thing in the first place.

There are a couple of things that I want to touch on, the first of which is entirely aside from the point of the picture.  Melvyn Douglas at one point asks Lionel Atwill how much blood there is in a human body, and the latter replies that there are six liters.  At which point I somewhat lost track of the narrative as my jaw, in falling to the floor, had dismounted my ears.  From an authenticity standpoint, of course a doctor in an undefined mid-European town called Kleinschloss (“Little Castle”, if we accept it as Germany) would speak of volumes in metric like that… but the writer of a small US studio’s penny dreadful would know or care that this was the case?  Amazing!

The other point is Dwight Frye.  I may start judging people on their reaction to that name alone, especially in late October.  You will likely remember him best as the madman Renfield under the sway of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, and in that role he had to play a few minutes of buttoned-down estate agent.  In this, he is raving at full throttle every minute he’s on camera.  Well worth the price of admission, especially the bit when he denies the inherent evil of bats, declaring them instead nice, soft creatures, like cats.  That’s a looney I’ll have to tea any day of the week.

Today’s pen:  Parker 21 Super
Today’s ink: Wancher Imari (which is a very nice near-indigo, and agrees quite well with the pen)

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Posted by Dirck on 26 October, 2010

Not only is it wordplay, but it has the jolly semi-ethnic tone of something from the mouth of Boris Badenov.  Who was argueably inspired by Peter Lorre (in my mind, if not in fact), which gives us the Hallowe’en connection for the day.

Yesterday I mentioned a hesitation in recommending Wancher inks, and apparently put at least one person into a holding pattern through doing so.  This misgiving is not solely founded in the potential for humourous (to the UK-English speaker) mispronunciation.  It is rather founded upon the characteristics of the ink itself.  To be blunt, it is somewhat given to feathering on the sort of cheap paper one most generally brushes up against in the course of the day.  I find I am in opposed in this declaration by a review on the blog which initially inspired me to try the stuff in the first place, and they are not substantially worse in this respect than Herbin inks, but I view this as the great failing of the Herbin line so being only marginally moreso is hardly a virtue in my eyes.

In addition to feathering, I find they tend to show through paper rather more than others.  In my first trial, I was using a paper which I generally consider proof against this sort of behaviour, and found that I dared not use both sides.  Switching to a 100% cotton paper which is not only double-proof against show-through but indeed nearly proof against ink altogether (I can really only use my wettest pens on it), I discovered a final downside with which the previously-linked reviewer agrees– on paper it can’t plunge through, the stuff takes an age to dry.  I wrote out a page, turned it over to write out the back, and found that the sheet beneath now had a ghost of the entire previous page upon it.  I could understand had it just been the last few lines, but this was the whole page, bottom to top.  A very old-school ink in this, as this is the sort of behaviour that prompted the invention of the desk blotter.

Having said these nasty things, I’m actually still going to recommend the ink, with caveats.  Coming from east Asia as it does, it is probably optimized for very fine and reasonably stiff pens, and I’ve run it through broader or flexible ones in discovering the excesses.  In a fine pen, and with a little care, they’re very pleasant colours in very useful bottles, and they cost very little… if you buy more than one.  Shipping was the majority of the cost for the four bottles I got, and it’s the same whether you get one or several.  One bottle, nominally costing $3.50, would cost a North American purchaser about the same as one of something like the new Pelikan Edelstein boutique inks, while four are still pleasantly inexpensive.  I’m not sure how many one might get before they’re forced to ask for more shipping money, but as they’re 50ml bottles one will last a while.

I mentioned yesterday that you can find them on eBay, but there is also a website which happily explains the names of the colours.  The one I haven’t tried is the black, since even before I started on this rainbow of inks kick I’m on I might make a bottle of black last a decade.  I expect it’s a black ink, possibly even a black ink.  I shrug and dismiss it.  I may come back and edit in some pictures of the stuff, as I’d foolishly hoped to have ready for today, but given my record of following through on such things in the past, you’d best not hold your collective breath.

As an afterthought, I throw out a lifeline to the poor person who hit this site with several variations of a search seeking direction on how to fill an Eversharp Skyline– work the lever several times in slow rhythm, stopping when bubbles no longer rise as it’s pulled away from the body.  All but the earliest models have a breather tube, so the filling style is more like that of a bulb-filler or a Vacumatic than a regular lever-filling pen.

Today’s not-very-wet pen: Reform 1745
Today’s on-topic ink:  Wancher Matcha

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Colour Me Goofy

Posted by Dirck on 25 October, 2010

This weekend was mainly devoted to vacuuming and otherwise arranging the house to avoid a guest spot on Hoarders or Buried Alive, with a breif run out into the world to see what we might turn up in the way of Hallowe’en fun.  The discoveries in this direction were limited, as although we did find a couple of stores with gratifying devotion to the funnest day of the year we also discovered that a pre-made Hallowe’en costume for a someone between 24 and 30 months of age costs about $50.  We will instead exercise our creativity somewhat for our son’s first (and extremely limited) outing.

While at a local arts supply store collecting some Fimo from which my wife can make some accessories for her projected costume, I slightly undid some of the aforementioned effort to forestall a visit from Kim and Aggie— I bought some ink.  That, plus some ink which arrived in the mail on Friday, brings the total of bottles for the week to six.  325ml of ink, enough to fill a small soft drink bottle.  I’m sure this will help with the minutes of indecision I face each morning regarding what the day’s colour should be.

What, then, did I get?  The local store had apparently gotten in a shipment of Pelikan inks in the largish 62.5ml bottles, and from these I picked out brown and violet.  The latter I am trying to bring myself into liking– it was a perfectly acceptable colour for a chap to use in the 1940s, and several of my correspondents don’t scruple to use it, so why should I hesitate based on vague modern expectations of it being a colour for middle school girls and fellows in the entertainment industry?  Likely something to do with not quite having severed all ties with current society, I suppose.  The brown is a little ruddy but otherwise good, although I am impressed with the cheek of Pelikan’s ink-naming branch:  “Brilliant Brown”.  I like brown inks, but it’s not a colour I’d apply that description to, really.  “It twinkled with the brilliant brown of a glistening….”  No.  I’m not finishing that thought.

The other inks are an interesting combination of glee and disappointment, which I will define in more depth later, as I see my clock is winding down for this lunch-hour.  The brand is Wancher, you can find them on eBay, and if you’re absolutely alive with impatience to order them before I explain my misgivings, you probably won’t be doing any lasting damage to either pocket-book or pen getting some.  The colours are nice, too.

Why, though… why do I buy yet more inks?  Even more baffling that I have bought yet more slight variations on colours I already have in abudance.  I can now devote time I might have put towards a nutritious berakfast wondering which of several just-distinguishable blues to put down a pen.  If I were looking for sinister explanations, which at the end of October is my default setting, I might look towards some kind of mind-control ray, or the early stages of zombie infection.  Perhaps next Sunday I will lurch from house to house, my son and his candy bucket in tow, moaning at each door–


Today’s deranged pen:  Parker Vacumatic
Today’s mad science juice:  Pelikan Brilliant Brown (guard your eyes!)

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Seasonal Viewing

Posted by Dirck on 22 October, 2010

If you look back at October of last year, you’ll see me going on at some length about the strange joy I take from Hallowe’en.  It being my short Friday post, I’ll take a moment to add a movie suggestion that I think will enhance your lead-up to the special day.  I was lucky enough to have some son-free time in the past week to look at The Burrowers and I highly recommend it, although it may be the exact opposite of a feel-good movie.  That link goes to a reasonably spoiler-free review, and if your local video shop hasn’t closed up due to competition from the wholly-inadequate Netflix (it does not offer The Burrowers, but suggests The Borrowers as a valid alternative which it is not) it likely has a copy since it was an indy horror film and thus apt to be cheap to stock.

Today’s slightly spooky pen:  Lamy 2000
Today’s somewhat spectral ink: Herbin’s Poussiére de Lune

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Death of a Thousand Cuts

Posted by Dirck on 21 October, 2010

I will only be borrowing wit if I observe that life it itself a fatal condition– one can only endure it for so long before the patient expires of the strain.  There are a few items of strain which are telling upon me today that demand attention

Shoes:  A little while ago I bought a couple of pairs of nice-looking shoes at a second-hand shop.  I have been anxious to take some of the pressure of my one pair of decent shoes for some time (a couple of the clothing-related sites in the sidebar insist that one much never wear a pair of shoes two days in a row).  I discover that the sizes indicated are not quite what I’d expected, and that popping a shoe on for a moment is not the way to check that it fits.  The black wing-tips fit well enough, but that’s what the previous pair were.  The keen brown Oxfords, on the other hand… nearly fit.

I am looking at some shoe-stretchers, for future use, but through the kind of pig-headed stubbornness that has brough humans to try and live in parts of the world they’re clearly not adapted for, I have chosen to adapt the shoes to my feet by wearing them.  As I did this, I remember with some regret past scornful remarks regarding the social pressures that lead women to wear deeply uncomfortable shoes purely for fashion.  There’s me, doing essentially the same thing, and the reward thus far has been raw spots on the sides of my smallest toes, and a line of abrasion across the larger metatarsals.

I also recall belatedly that women who wear very fashionable shoes over years find that the shoes do not conform to the foot, but that the foot is shaped by the shoe.

Car:  I spoke previously of the van being laid up.  A couple of weeks ago we found ourselves stranded while shopping.  The tow service indicated that there was something amiss with the battery.  I had it replaced the following Monday.  Last weekend, the same situation, but this time no boosting would serve.  The verdict at the garage was a dead starter.  Expense piles upon expense, which in the wake of the recent veterinary troubles gives me a little pause.  As a final (I hope) insult, I found yesterday morning that one of the headlights had burnt out.

This is mere stressful stuff, but there was an actual physical attack.  I had borrowed my mother’s car for the couple of days the repair lasted, and because I needed to transport my son it was necessary to install a booster seat.  A word of warning about the rear doors on Lumina sedans– they have an unexpected prominence at the upper outboard corner.  In the British usage of the 1950s, I badly nutted myself, and while I didn’t stagger into the house with my face a mask of blood, I do have a hard-to-explain gouge on my forehead well above my right eye.

This brings me nicely to…

Son:  Yes, parenthood is stressful, blah blah, it’s the common experience.  I will admit that most of the damage the lad is doing to me is mental stress of my own generation, but what really worries me is that, while he happily receives kisses from his parents, the only kisses his delivers are the Glasgow sort, and these with terrible power and accuracy.  I doubt there will be an adult in his life with a straight nose by the time he’s 4.

Language:  Last week I made all sorts of noise about the misuse of language by a bank.  I find that the mellifluous Stephen Fry opposes at least some of my rage, and in such an elegantly expressed way that I can hardly deny him.  Except by saying there is a difference between artful playing with language, and lazy misuse; I can’t prove it, but I feel it deeply.

So, there we are.  Like the father in The Last Remake of Beau Geste, I am dying nicely, but expect to see the next Hallowe’en, at least.  Since, apart from a sore forehead, I am feeling generally in good health, I will suggest a different analogy to the relation between living and dying than the simple inevitability I started with.  Life is very much like falling off a building: there’s a miserable jarring stop at the end which is what really does the damage, and the longer it is, the more interesting things you get to see and the greater a chance you’ll work out how to make a graceful landing.

Today’s pen, somewhat subject to entropy:  Waterman Phileas
Today’s ink, perhaps to last the ages:  Diamine blue-black
This combination is another source of stress, by the way– the pen seems to deeply object to all Diamine inks it encounters, as previous evidence supports.

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Legacy… of Evil?

Posted by Dirck on 20 October, 2010

Hallowe’en approaches, and I will take any opportunity to cut up sinister.  On Monday I was using a newly-received Sheaffer Legacy, and I suggested that I had some things to say about it.  Well, here we are, and I’ve nothing else to maunder about for the moment.  Let’s have a look at our topic:

Sheaffer Legacy

This pen is almost a reaction to the slender pens of the 1980s which I was discussing on Monday, and in this it’s an interesting exercise in history repeating because it was also meant to be a descendant of the PFM, itself a response of sorts to the very thin TM pens of the 1950s.  I bought this pen, in fact, because my brief contact with a PFM had left a lingering desire; this is a close approach to that pen and rather more affordable.

There are a couple of differences that give me a little bit of trouble.  The lesser, which is no doubt Buyer’s Remorse wearing its own Hallowe’en disguise, is the filling mechanism.  The PFM was a Snorkel-filler, while the Legacy uses a Touchdown system of sorts.  Normally I’d rejoice in this, as the Snorkel, despite being super-cool in action, is a bit of a trial to refit, while Touchdown pens are about my favourites to fix.  “Of sorts” is the hang up, because it’s a Touchdown/cartridge pen.  The sac and protector of the TD system are a mere converter, removeable by unscrewing the section, but there is still the blind cap at the tail to work the filler while it’s in place.  This troubles me because I’m not a great fan of cartridge pens (which is mere prejudice which I can rise above) and because the nature of the converter renders replacing the sac extremely difficult.  This is not a great objection, as the sac is a long-lived synthetic model (these converters have red fore-pieces), but it is still an objection.

I have also read that the tail-seal for the filler is very hard to replace, as the blind cap is not held in place by a simple screw as previous TD pens were.  Another minor objection.

Third minor objection lies in the material of the body.  It’s not plastic, but laquered brass.  Just like the miserably overweight yet scrawny objects it followed.  Happily, the pen is of a substantial girth, so the combination of problems which made my hand hurt last weekend are not present, and it’s not over-weighted, but it certainly follows a modern sensibility that a pen must be heavy to be valuable… because prolonged writing will be done with something else. The PFM, which crammed full of the springs and gears of the Snorkel filler, was still a light pen of which no doubt would even occur to you were you about to write a long letter. The Legacy provokes the doubt, if not the actual suffering.

I am still happy with this pen, this trio of flaws not having formed a common cause enough to overwhelm the pen’s good aspects.  The TD filler does in fact work.  The point is as pleasant to write with as a Sheaffer should be… although a little misalignment had to be seen to when I unwrapped it, pointing to some quality control issues in the company even before it decamped from Fort Madison.  It is attractive enough, and the sort of lumbering visual presence that will make even those indifferent to pens take some notice.  That little step at the trim ring below the section does not signify when writing, something I have been a little concerned about.

The name, Legacy, was apparently a direct reference to the PFM connection.  In this, it is successful in a limited degree.  It smacks vaguely of the various late medieval European kings who claimed some connection to the Roman empire in an effort to legitimize their ambitions– they could sort of put on a good show, but it still wasn’t quite the way it was managed in the old days.  Still, as a pen on its own terms, it’s quite good, and I’ll put in a plug for the place I got mine from– Peyton Street Pens well deserves the high eBay feedback it’s got.

Today’s pen:  Parker “17” Lady (purely coincidental– it had merely laid fallow a long time, and I’m wearing a vest that calls for a short pen)
Today’s ink:  Herbin’s Bleu Nuit

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{insert clever here}

Posted by Dirck on 19 October, 2010

Told you I wasn’t here.

Today’s hectic pen:  Conklin Signature
Today’s frantic ink: Noodler’s red-black

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Fashionably Scrawny

Posted by Dirck on 18 October, 2010

With the exception of Friday, last week was one of very thin pens.  I have contemplated previously on the interface of pen and hand, but this past week made the matter rather less academic.  You see, I had some correspondence which needed attention over the weekend, and here were there pens full of ink.  Most days I only do a few pages of writing, but after nearly twenty pages altogether I have one word to say on the subject of ultra-slim pens of a certain age.


I note that the offending pens are all of a certain grim era, the late 1980s and early 1990s.  This is not, referring back to the graph of pen sales, the nadir of the fountain pen, but it is after the point which saw the common appreciation of the fountain pen go from writing implement to fashion accessory.  Sure, it writes, but you’re not expecting to do much more than sign a credit card flimsy or jot down a telephone number at the disco.  Prolonged writing is for… something else, I guess.

Remember that these pens are not only quite thin, they’re also relatively heavy, as the bodies are made of metal.  I can write a lot longer with the Waterman 12 or some other hard rubber pen that I can with the fashion pens, although they’re all much of a sameness in terms of thickness.  The combination of holding fingers very close together while supporting a brass tube is the real generator of misery.

I don’t think that any of the pen makers of the time avoided this particular trap– certainly Sheaffer and Waterman had their own entries.  To judge by that graph, this little trend didn’t do any real harm to fountain pens in general, and perhaps it even helped them start getting back on their feet.  That said, I don’t think I’ll be writing anything above a page with one again in the foreseeable future.

Today’s non-slender pen:  Sheaffer Legacy I (which is on its maiden flight today, and I will likely have a few thoughts to share later in the week)
Today’s ink, low fat only by chance:  Pelikan 4001 blue-black

Afterword:  I am not particularly fond of my van.  It is heaping expense and inconvenience upon what was never a healthy relationship, and assuming it is available to me tomorrow I’ll be cramming a number of things into the lunch break that should have been done from 2pm yesterday until 8pm tonight.  If I appear here at all, it is likely to merely be a statement of the day’s companions.  If anyone has a Toyota Previa or early Honda Odyssey in good function that they’re willing to trade for a Ford, I’ll gladly oblige with both the van and references to some mental care professionals.

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