What's up at Ravens March.

Vintage pens-Handmade books-Silly statements

Archive for November, 2010

Birthday Resolution

Posted by Dirck on 30 November, 2010

I can’t recall and am too lazy to check back on whether I’ve joined the crowd of deeply clever people who have commented in the correct season on the foolishness of resolutions.  Today being my birthday, though, I’m going to go ahead an make one anyway, and it is likely to stick.  It isn’t unattainable (“This year I shall climb the highest mountain on each continent, including Antarctica, without oxygen or shoes!”), nor foolishly self-afflicting (“I will give up on alcohol and chocolate!”).  It is, in fact, a resolution to put myself to slightly less trouble.

The charm of a resolution to be lazy is that it plays to the strength of any human.  If I may paraphrase an infamous man, the urge to be still is the great leveler, for great princes and simple peasants all like a good sit.  In my case, I am removing a line of mental distress as well as a physical chore.  I’m cutting back on the pens… slightly.

My recent declaration that I am feeling a comfortable satiety with the pens I currently have is not without its troubling aspects.  Do I grow jaded?  May I expect one day to rise from bed, trudge to the bathroom mirror, and say to my eidolon, “Pens?  Eh.”  I don’t expect to, but I also didn’t expect the fever of acquisition to ever break, despite Buddhist contemplation and politico-economic leanings.  To forestall this possibility, then, I commit my resolution:

I will not use a new pen every damn day anymore.

I expect this will cause a tiny amount of backlash amongst my surprisingly numerous readership (a score or more!), some of whom I’m sure are mainly driven by curiosity regarding the pen of the day.  Well, henceforth, it’s going to be the pens of the week– two or three at most, and not necessarily swapped out right on Monday if I’m particularly enjoying the ink/pen combination, or it’s a pen that’s easier to write empty than to flush.  This frees me of the quotidian task of deciding the day’s pen, as I can now make a decision at leisure over the weekend.  It also lifts the curse of pen-cleaning somewhat, as I won’t find myself at the end of a fortnight looking at a towering heap of partially empty pens and wondering if I can cut down the average flush-for-storage time of seven minutes without setting up an inevitable feed clog.  I can also get a better grip, so to speak, on which pens in the collection I want to concentrate upon, and which are no longer required.

Of course, I’ll not use the same pen two days in a row.  That would be crazy!

Today’s (and likely Friday’s) pen:  Parker “51”
Today’s (ditto) ink:  Noodler’s La Couleur Royale

Post scriptus:  This is not, by the way, a subtle means of sniffing around for birthday messages.  I’ve already been embarrassed by an imbalance in that department on Facebook, and I’m not sure I can face any more evidence of the kindness that lurks in the human breast.


Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Local Boy Who Went Far

Posted by Dirck on 29 November, 2010

My community, in the geographic sense of the word, has suffered something of a loss.  I am not, I hasten to point out, speaking of a sporting event which was conducted to decide the momentarily transcendant team of Canadian football, and which I understand the local boys went far (800km or so) only to not win.  I speak rather of actual mortality– our long-departed son Leslie Nielsen has gone to meet his final reward.

I have no reason to be particularly affected by Nielsen’s death apart from the whole Dickensian line about mankind being my business.  I suppose I’m having a reaction to the repeated mentions on CBC this morning, variations on “You probably remember him best from Airplane!…”  Not true.  I remember him best from Forbidden Planet, from the first phase of his career when he was a dramatic actor (and a film with a surprisingly Canuck-heavy cast).  What made his performances in Airplane! and the various Police Squad great was his foundation in the earlier form of film– a time when the hero was a stoic, upright pillar.  The comedy in those later films comes not from him bounding around and making faces, and when he tries that sort of thing the comedy fails.  The comedy derived from his absolutely straight, unselfconscious reading of utterly ridiculous material, and the difference between some of his earlier works and the later stuff is the fact that the writers and directors meant to be funny.  This is not my own observation, but one I heartily agree with.  A problem with the current crop of parodies is that there’s so much self-aware winking at the camera in the source material that it’s hard to tell the difference between it and the parody.

I suppose I’m also somewhat mopey because the passing of this person who was prominent in the background media of my life counts as a notably loud tick from my own countdown clock.  Which is a lamentably narcissistic way of viewing thing, of which I am slightly ashamed.  Thanks for the laughs, Leslie, thanks for yelling at Morbius, and thanks for standing as a shining example that starting out in a slightly uncosmopolitan prairie town is not an impediment to achievement.

Today’s pen: Conklin Glider
Today’s ink: Lamy blue-black

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Dirck on 26 November, 2010

Mere domesticity today, as last week I was bragging about my masculine virtues and I should redress the balance.  For the evening meal on Tuesday, since I had some free time to cook, I made chicken stew.  Actually, I’m going to say chicken fricassee because it sounds more like something in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and is technically correct.

I more or less follow the recipe in The Joy of Cooking, but in the event under consideration lacked bacon.  I offer to the world this, as an alternative; before browning the chicken, throw in a pile of pearl onions and carmelize them.  When the stew is done, they are nothing but a universally distributed flavour, and hardly even a sense of texture remains to them.

I suppose this falls under this item from last week’s list about knowing more ways of cooking than a grill….

Today’s pen: Pilot Elite
Today’s ink: Wancher Matcha (the green one).

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Dirck on 25 November, 2010

I will not, in contrast to habit and inclination, use the title as a springboard for a rant about the shortcomings in modern morality (even in the face of the shocking behaviour of people old enough to know better who threw themselves between me and paying for my lunch).  Unlike yesterday, this is indeed a post about me.  The ego swells out of all compass here in the uncompressed void of net-space, does it not?

In the previous Age of Man, I mentioned something here about my inertia in selling any little bit of my collection.  I have now overcome that inertia.  I have a pen going currently unregarded on the for sale section of the Fountain Pen Network, at an entirely reasonable $65, which will presently be posted into the rough’n’tumble of eBay.  I currently have two pens on the go there, an early fat-TD Sheaffer Statesman and a Parker Vacumatic Major.  These will be leaving me this weekend, and I’ve already sent off my “Geometric” Duofold to someone who thought my “Buy It Now” price was a better bet than a full auction.  More will follow in the near future.

What drives me to this extremity at last are a confluence of internal and external forces.  Externally, the colossal credit card bills associated with the ultimately futile (although spiritually necessary) veterinary efforts upon Miranda are starting to grip, and the liquidation of some assets is the smart response.  Internally, I appear to have reached some kind of pen criticality, where the mass of pens available produces satisfaction of a sort, and I start to think in a very real way about what I should think of as My Pens, and what is simply stuff I picked up to see if it suited and should now move on to more interested parties.  It’s an interesting shift of gears, and one which (like aging) one doesn’t expect.  I begin to imagine a time when I might be content with not more than 20 or 30 pens for use, and this morning’s round of selection rather proved the point– I found I was coming back to the same few over and again, discounting some that I haven’t used in an age because I couldn’t find it in me to use them only because I haven’t used them in an age.  I know their nature, and it’s not agreeable anymore.

I’ll keep some as oddities, of course, rather than for actual love.  I’m sort of set on collecting a full set of Parker numbered pens (post-1941, though, as I know my financial limits) which will see me hang onto the Parker 25 against inclination.  I’ll also continue to wonder if there’s not something better in the world that I’d like to have as well, and will persist in the intake.  But less vigourously.  There are new worlds to conquer, but I become sated with the empire I already own.

The really nasty, self-serving part of this entry lies here:  I’m advertising like a wretched dog.  Those eBay listings, which run until Saturday morning (Central Frigid Time) are here and here.  If this keeps up, I’ll have to change my name to Dibbler.  Wanna nice pen?

Nice pen, pipin’ hot! : Sheaffer Imperial II (a relatively recent arrival with the correct cap, unlike the one down the link)
Maybe somethin’ ta drink with it?  : Herbin’s Poussière de Lune

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sins of the Repairman

Posted by Dirck on 24 November, 2010

It’s not me.

I’m not, I should say, without stain, but I try to keep it low key and confined pens kept in my own hands.  That is to say, if I mess up while recussitating some poor old thing taken in off the streets, it instantly drops out of the “I might sell that one day” consideration.  I also, when practicing some new technique (new to me, for the most part– most tricks are now known), set the pen aside to make sure it’s going to keep working.  I have once transgressed in this area, with the insertion of one of the “Fountainbel” non-permanent sealing devices for an older Sheaffer vacuum filler– a tried item of technology, but not well-tried by me.  Nothing has come of it, apart from ongoing sensations of trepidation and wrong-doing.

Given this sense of how things are to be conducted, I am therefore somewhat baffled at some of the things that come into my hands.  When it’s a pen I have bought, it vexes me less for some reason than when it’s a client’s pen.  I suppose it’s because when I buy a pen, I tend to look for one that obviously needs some attention which I can provide– I’m stepping forth with eyes open and, figuratively, sword in hand.  If it’s a client pen… well, they’re not fixing it themselves, are they?  They didn’t look at the pen in question and say, “Of course, I’ll have to pay that nice chap over at Ravens March $X to actually be able to use this thing.”  Generally not, anyway.

In Monday’s installment, I mentioned wrestling with a Snorkel.  “Wrestling” is only slightly hyperbolic, as it had a lot of nonsense hidden under the hood.  Considering that the client’s complaint was simply one of it not writing nicely, as if the tines were a bit too close together, it was not unlike opening your door at Hallowe’en to be confronted with an actual bloody-handed murderer; not a happy thing, even it you happen to know kung fu.

The Venal Sins

  1. Crud in the point.  The actual complaint, really, and it turned out to be a little bit of dried ink stuck in the slit.  Big deal.  A moment’s attention with the loupe and a bit of .001″ brass sheet (or is it .0001″?  It’s just shy of foil, in any event) and the problem is solved.  I’d have been deeply embarrassed at selling a pen with gunk in the point, but it may well have come out on its own, and I mentioned on Monday the unwilling nature of the Snorkel line with reference to cleaning.
  2. Non-spec point seal.  This is possibly even less objectionable than the previous item, since there’s not a lot of sources for the straight goods (I go to this fellow for them).  The only reason I’m replacing it is that the hole in the middle through which the snorkel itself passes is rather too tight, and might lead to binding and user frustration– a good greasing might cure it, but I’ve got the straight goods so why not use them?
  3. Rubber cement.  This is the fault of Pen DIY Guru Frank Dubiel, of whom I have previously spoken, and for someone whose only reference work is his slightly exploded book it would seem the right thing to do.  The problem with it is that it really doesn’t work that well.  I have myself, in my early days at this game, applied some as a back-up to the existing gasket that lies between the blind cap and the filler tube, and if that were all this chap had done I’d not mention it.  However, I was picking this pseudo-snot off the threads of the section as well, and out of the connection between the section and the point-holder.

Tua Maxima Culpa, Artifex!–

  1. That’s not talc.  When I took this pen apart, happily very soon after collecting it from the client, I found it was full of water.  “What ho, there must be something wrong with the sac,” said I and probed into the sac protector with the head of a pin.  It stuck.  The sac has turned to goo (this is the technical phrase for the phenomenon).  Howso?  Well, there is a tendency to treat baby powder, which was once made of talc, as if it is talc.  It’s actually, in most current formulations, corn starch and fragrance.  I used this exactly once on my son, because damp corn starch is an extra degree of mess in a diaper.  I have never used it in a pen, because I did some reading, and I’ll repeat what is common knowledge– the fragrance aspect of that stuff attacks rubber.  The ex-sac that I got out of the protector, which now soaks in alcohol to get rid of the remaining residue, was uniformly grey and spongy where it was still in any way solid.  Not only a hard-to-treat mess inside the protector, but the spring which helps to extrude the snorkel has gone slightly rusty, and a little more delay in opening the pen would have seen all the metal interior components coalesce into a single useless mass.  That’s the sort of thing that is hard to forgive.

Hate the sin, love the sinner?  I have a little trouble keeping the two separated.  It’s obvious that whoever did these things was trying to do the job properly, but a little bit of knowledge can be like four-wheel drive– you get into much worse trouble before you realize you need help.  Unfortunately, unlike the fellow up to the door-handles in bog, a half-smart repairman may never realize that he’s in trouble.

Today’s correctly-refitted pen:  Parker Vacumatic

Today’s ink, constantly checking up on my work: Herbin’s Terre de Feu

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »


Posted by Dirck on 23 November, 2010

I’m just sticking my head in early to say that I won’t really be sticking my head in properly today.  You’ll recall I mentioned a fun night out with the parents which ended with my mother’s foot in a cast.  Well, today she gets that replaced with something that theoretically provides a hope of mobility, and my father would like some help getting her wheelchair out of the house in a manner other than a tribute to Richard Widmark.  I’ll be back tomorrow.

Today’s sturdy pen:  Parker 50
Today’s cautious ink: Quink blue-black

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Harry the Hat, and Snorkels vs. the Modern User

Posted by Dirck on 22 November, 2010

A two part entry today, because one bit doesn’t have a lot of meat on it.  Harry the Hat was in town over the weekend, and he conned me out of some money.  How did he manage this?  By being brilliantly funny.

I speak of Harry Anderson, who is generally remembered the judge from Night Court, and who did a show at the local casino.  Apart from proving that I might go into that place while still conscious, his presence also convinced me to buy some slightly overpriced drinks and some grossly overpriced appetizers.  I am not grumbling, though, because his show was worth every bit of it.  To judge by some audience response, some of his references were understood only by the table I was sitting at, and I suspect I was the only one in the place that knew what his passing reference to Borsalino referred to that which sat upon his head most of the evening, but that’s the crowd and not the man.  The city may be coming along somewhat, but it is not yet quite sophisticated.  The only disappoinment in the act was the absence of the Hat-Pin gag, and his tribute to Erich Weiss more than made up for it.  Also, to please the master of the Noughtilus, I will mention that Harry sported a white pocket puff throughout the exercise.

On to pens, then.  I was wrestling with a client’s snorkel a bit yesterday, and fell to thinking about pen use back in the heyday of the pen, versus the ways of the modern users as I know them.  The Snorkel, which is a brilliant if over-engineered way of getting ink into a pen, is the ultimate expression of the way pens used to be treated, and this makes it a slight trial to the modern user.

Consider the mechanism– a tube to draw ink from the bottle, and then to conduct it to the feed.  In fact, Sheaffer even called the feed in a Snorkel “the secondary feed”, the primary being a little item hidden inside that tube.  What’s the big deal?  There isn’t one, if you follow the ways of fountain pen use in the bygone days.  You bought a pen (note the singular form of the noun) and a bottle of ink (ditto), and you were set.  Fill from the bottle at regular intervals to avoid the pen running out.  When that bottle of ink ran out, you were like as not going to get another of the same, repeat until the pen breaks or you find yourself no longer composing letters but merely decomposing.

The Snorkel is magnificently set up for this lifestyle, and if you are that kind of pen user will save you a quantity of time in the wiping of the front end.  Most modern users, though, tend to change inks from one fill to the next.  For this, the Snorkel rather sucks in a figurative rather than literal sense.  The “secondary” feed is a devil to flush, and a decent cleaning is an evening’s leisure or a very serious twenty minute’s work.  The Parker 61 is a similar item of its time.

I do not for a second suggest that the Snorkel lineup be avoided.  I just think it’s a good idea to know that you have to somewhat accomodate yourself to the habits of the pen.  Which is true of any writing instrument, if you think about it hard enough.

Today’s pen:  TWSBI Diamond 530
Today’s ink:  Herbin Vert Empire
…which comes about through my son demanding a great deal of attention this morning.  The TWSBI was handy, being the at-home standby pen, and just happened to have the same colour of ink in it as I used on Friday.

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

TMI! (Terribly Manly Index)

Posted by Dirck on 19 November, 2010

As opposed to my usual Friday squib, I spent some free time yesterday responding to an article found on the Esquire website, regarding what a “real man” should know.  While I’m not particularly worried about my masculine qualifications, one does occasionally like to beat his chest and make grunting noises.  I’ll also mention that I’m not given to perusing Esquire, but was directed to this article by someone else’s blog.

Two quick comments about it before I start, or rather questions.  First, is the role of the male in modern culture so ill-defined that we need a constant parade of things like this?  I suppose it is, since the “advice” is so frequently at odds from one to another, if not in direct opposition.  This one, at least, I can mainly support in its criteria.

The other question is, what possesses me to pull back my Great and Powerful Oz curtain?  I’ve laboured somewhat to remain semi-mysterious, made elusive references rather than frank admissions, all the stuff that one of my generation does in the mistaken belief that it’s a safer way to conduct oneself on the lawless lanes of the internet.  What possesses me to respond to something that isn’t actually asking for responses, and show various actualities of the human that lurks behind this electronic mask I’ve composed?  That’s one I don’t have an adequate answer for, apart from an apprehended urge to show off and a foolish certainty that, really, I’m not giving away anything important.  Not until the bit at the bottom about credit card numbers, at least.

So, here we go.  I’d suggest having a look at the original article first, as the author sometimes provides useful context.

The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master

1. Give advice that matters in one sentence.

Well… sometimes.  Taciturnity is not necessarily a virtue.

2. Tell if someone is lying.


3. Take a photo.

Despite the evidence of the pictures on my site, I will claim this skill.  I’m just rather better at landscapes.

4. Score a baseball game.

We have here the first indication that this was meant for a US reader, which will become more obvious later.  That aside, I have to let this point go—while I can certainly say, “Well, that fella got all around the bases, so one point for his team,” that’s not what the author of the piece means.  What he means is all the pointless trivia that keeps people from destroying themselves through ennui when trapped at a baseball game.

5. Name a book that matters.

“Matters” is a tricky, subjective thing.  Let’s try a shot-gun approach:

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton; The Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scripture; 1984, George Orwell; The Value of Nothing, Raj Patel; First and Last Things, H.G. Wells; A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright; The Geography of Hope, Chris Turner; War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy… I think that covers enough bases.  Actually, I’m going to toss Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) in as well.  Bible, Koran, Talmud and Torah are all rather too obvious.

6. Know at least one musical group as well as is possible.

No.  I know some interesting Rolling Stones trivia, but my wife knows enough about HIM to cover the whole family, so I don’t try too hard.

7. Cook meat somewhere other than the grill.

Does a Salmon Mousse count?  I’ve not tried Beef Wellington yet, as it looks like a pretty low hassle/reward ratio.

8. Not monopolize the conversation.

Except where pens come up, and I can still reign myself in.

9. Write a letter.

I chortle.  I triumph.  Next, please.

10. Buy a suit.

Yes, in the “know how” department.  “Afford to” is elusive, given my current criteria, which sort of demand a some bespoke tailoring (52 tall, and high arm-holes in the vintage style—not to be found on racks).  I’m still counting it.

11. Swim three different strokes.


12. Show respect without being a suck-up.

Of course, but not blindly—an old veteran who saved a box of kittens from a burning building can still run through his credit if he tries hard enough.

13. Throw a punch.

I never quite got the chi-curdling taiji “no-inch punch” sorted, but that aside, you betcha.

14. Chop down a tree.

Only once, and the theory of the under-cut proved sound.

15. Calculate square footage.

This should be rather further up the list.  How do you get out of grade-school without knowing this?

16. Tie a bow tie.

Not since my wedding, but I’m sure it would come back to me.

17. Make one drink, in large batches, very well.

Egg nog, which is hard to make in less than gallon batches, and a modified Manhattan (replacing the fruit with a liqueur I decline to mention in public) which I seem incapable of making at a rate of less than a pint per person.  I doubt the fellow that put this list together meant zymurgy as such, which leaves out my meads and ciders.

18. Speak a foreign language.

As the originator writes, Pas beaucoup. Mais faites un effort. I can follow simple conversation in Dutch and almost in French, I can tell when the subtitles are missing something the Germans said in a film, and I can explain to a Korean that I’m a Canadian rather than an American.  I can also say “I do not speak your language” in several, including Latin and Japanese.

19. Approach a woman out of his league.

I cheat at this—I’m happily married, and when speaking to a woman the id and/or spinal reflexes are not allowed near the controls.  The secret for you lads who are still looking is: do not let the id or spinal reflexes near the controls, no matter how they screech.  Treat her like a person, and all will resolve itself well.

20. Sew a button.

Yes, when the kid’s asleep.  Needles and toddlers don’t mix.  Don’t forget to wrap the shank!

21. Argue with a European without getting xenophobic or insulting soccer.

Ah, here’s where the US origin of the list comes clear—read the content that originally followed this point:

Once, in our lifetime, much of Europe was approaching cultural and political irrelevance. Then they made like us and banded together into a union of confederated states. So you can always assume that they were simply copying the United States as they now push us to the verge of cultural and political irrelevance.

Silly bugger.  Given that my dad’s a European and we’ve had the odd contretemp, I think I get to score this one.  I am left wondering why so many internet users in the US think no one outside the US can see what they’re up to.

22. Give a woman an orgasm so that he doesn’t have to ask after it.

Good heavens, man.  Where’s your propriety? Oh, right, it’s Esquire.  Well, my own propriety is intact, or as much as it can be from just posting the thing (which is strangely obscure for a professionally-written sentence), so I decline to answer.

23. Be loyal.

As with respect, yes, but not blindly.   

24. Know his poison, without standing there, pondering like a dope.

 Brand, amount, style, fast, like so: Booker’s, double, neat.

Oh, so there’s no room for a moment of mood nor location?  Pint of Palliser Porter at the local, a Manhattan at my parent’s house, wine at the in-laws… it’s variable.  What kinds of single malt do you have?

25. Drive an eightpenny nail into a treated two-by-four without thinking about it.

I like to think a little where my thumbs are on the line.  But definitely don’t over-think it.

26. Cast a fishing rod without shrieking or sighing or otherwise admitting defeat.

When it comes up, I cast the lure.  Casting the rod seems an admission in itself.  Fishing leads to having a fish with a facial injury in your boat, though, and I’ve pretty much given it up.

27. Play gin with an old guy.

Gah.  Card games.  I don’t get this one.

28. Play go fish with a kid.

…nor this one.  I may make an effort when my son is of an age.

29. Understand quantum physics well enough that he can accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass straight through the table when dropped.

I get into a lot of trouble when I start actually picturing the dimension that’s at right angles to the common three without sitting down first, and I get a lot of comedy mileage out of Heisenberg.  The quarter will not pass through the table if you’re looking at it.

30. Feign interest.

At The Regular Job, it sometimes is the only alternative to flinging a stapler.

31. Make a bed.

Oh, come on.  Yes.

32. Describe a glass of wine in one sentence without using the terms nutty, fruity, oaky, finish, or kick.

Yep.  Sadly, the word fungoid sometimes offers itself.  I would suggest the same requirement stand regarding beer, which if you’re not stupid about selection can have some interesting complexities.

33. Hit a jump shot in pool.

I respect the table and its owner too much.  Pass.

34. Dress a wound.

Yes.  But not recently, hoorah.

35. Jump-start a car (without any drama). Change a flat tire (safely). Change the oil (once).

These are a bit diverse to count as one point, but in order: far too often, spring and fall for the rotation, and yes, just once.

36. Make three different bets at a craps table.

No.  Mainly because I don’t feel like handing my money to a casino.

37. Shuffle a deck of cards.


38. Tell a joke.

Yes, although I tend to prefer shaggy dogs or subtle bon mots.  The middle ground tends to be little childish.

39. Know when to split his cards in blackjack.

No.  See #36.

40. Speak to an eight-year-old so he will hear. Concentrate instead on seeing the child as a person of his own.

This seems obvious to me.

41. Speak to a waiter so he will hear.

Ditto.  Waiter = person, and never mind that they and your food will at some point be together where you can’t see them.

42. Talk to a dog so it will hear.

Not a lot of dog experience.  I’ll lose a point here.

43. Install: a disposal, an electronic thermostat, or a lighting fixture without asking for help.  

This does make one feel very manly, or at least capable.  I was puffed up like a toad for days after installing a ceiling fan unassisted this spring.

44. Ask for help.

I have mentioned time and again the need to know your limitations—just like Harry Callahan says!  The original author states the position well: Guys who refuse to ask for help are the most cursed men of all. The stubborn, the self-possessed, and the distant. The hell with them.

45. Break another man’s grip on his wrist.

Well, yes, but if you’re a subtle taiji guy, you don’t want to break that grip.  Stare into the abyss and it may stare back; grab the wrong guy’s wrist, and you’ve given him a handle made out of your fingers.

46. Tell a woman’s dress size.

I will admit defeat on this one, as it seems a good deal more arcane than quantum physics.  How, exactly, do you have a size 0?

47. Recite one poem from memory.

Ah, the failing of the literate memory—I know where it’s written down, so why recall it?  There is one, by a Canadian author, which sticks because it’s deeply uncomfortable, and I’m not going to inflict it upon you.  Read it if you must, but don’t blame me.

48. Remove a stain.

Ink from shirt, wine from carpet.  Check.

49. Say no.

Very useful with a 2 year old about.

50. Fry an egg sunny-side up.

The best thing I ever heard about frying an egg was that it was best thought of a poaching in oil—you’ll get a better result if you use lots of oil (or butter—admit its superiority in flavour) and have a spoon by you to ladle it onto the top of the egg.

51. Build a campfire.

With or without matches?  I’d rather do it with, because making a fire-drill is rather drawn out, and the effort to get a cinder is immense.  I also seldom carry flint, steel and char-cloth with me, although that is a pretty gratifying way of doing it when it works.

52. Step into a job no one wants to do.  

As infrequently as possible.

53. Sometimes, kick some ass.

You know, if you’re doing other stuff right, this never comes up (except if it’s meant to be fun).  Pass.

54. Break up a fight.

See previous.  I don’t hang around with the sort of people or in the sort of places where I’d get a chance.

55. Point to the north at any time.

Except sometimes, in an unfamiliar basement.  Otherwise… well, duh.

56. Create a play-list in which ten seemingly random songs provide a secret message to one person.

I’ll not take a point on this one, since I think I could manage it given a lot of time and effort, but not in a brisk, timely manner.

57. Explain what a light-year is.

If the person I’m explaining it to isn’t a complete idiot.  Still, there are those who think it’s a measure of time, aren’t there?

58. Avoid boredom.

My wife and I marvel at this.  You’ve got enough free time to be bored?  Are you out of books?  Nothing needs a button sewn on?  No letters want writing?  All messes cleaned or tidied as needed?  Well, that sounds like a smashing opportunity to get in some proper meditation.  Bored?  What the hell is that, anyway?

59. Write a thank-you note.


60. Be brand loyal to at least one product.

I am disinclined to this sort of thing.  If pressed, I will admit to Lucerne Egg Nog being my choice over other brands, but that’s because they haven’t screwed with their recipe.  I’m not going to use it if I don’t like it.

61. Cook bacon.

The list’s author recommends baking, which works, but if one wants the grease for frying an egg or as a base for Pannekoeken met Spek, there’s still the pan.

62. Hold a baby.

Yep.  Lots.  He’s not a baby any more, and it’s more of a work-out.  That’s balanced by the loss of the apprehended terror of dropping.

63. Deliver a eulogy.

Chances are one day I’ll have to, but I haven’t yet.  No point.

64. Know that Christopher Columbus was a son of a bitch.

I have a history degree.  This is sort of an {insert name here} statement.

65-67. Throw a baseball over-hand with some snap. Throw a football with a tight spiral. Shoot a 12-foot jump shot reliably.

Well, there’s three points down the drain.  I’m going to claim one back for using a longbow with a 65-pound draw for target shooting, though.  Ball sports just don’t do it for me.

68. Find his way out of the woods if lost.

Um… do I know for a fact no one is looking for me?  If I’ve blundered my way into the problem, then I believe I can find my way out (I know where north is, right?).  If it’s a plane crash or similar, then you stay with the damned wreckage, and even if you have just blundered your way into trouble, do something to make yourself obvious then stay put.  It’s the continued wandering that gets you into trouble.

69. Tie a knot.

Boy scout, me.  I still remember reef, hitch and hangman’s knot well enough… although I have not actually used the last—it’s just a useful way of remembering how to secure a coil of rope or extension cord, similar to the second method of whipping a rope shown here but using one end to wrap around the coil.

70. Shake hands.

Remembering always that some cultures don’t go for this, and others drag it out amazingly.  I generally let the other person lead.

71. Iron a shirt.

Good lord.  How can you be out in the world and not know this?

72. Stock an emergency bag for the car.


73. Caress a woman’s neck.

A specific woman, yes.

74. Know some birds.

There’s some unexpected visitors to the feeder in front of the living room window.  Including an unlikely saw-whet owl, but that was only once.

75. Negotiate a better price.

No thanks.  I ran my own little retail enterprise once, put the prices as low as any kind of reason would suggest, and developed a loathing for the kind of person that though that I had room to maneuver and would not pay the sticker price.  Buddy, if you want to buy it at wholesale cost, open a store and order a crate of the things like I did—the cost you’re trying to negotiate away is my next meal.  On a car or a house, perhaps I might, but on common retail items, it’s not worth feeling oily.


My tally runs to 57, which I’m pretty comfortable with.  Most of the missed items I feel no shame over, as most of them I’ve consciously rejected.  The chap whose blog directed me to the article was pleased with 39.   What’s missing, of course, is tying a non-bow-tie, using a fountain pen, properly shining your own shoes, and using a non-electric razor.  Oh, well.  A real man is supposed not to complain in the face of adversity.

Today’s slightly Freudian pen:  Sheaffer Legacy I (as close as I come to a Pen For Men)

Today’s mostly masculine ink: Herbin’s Vert Empire

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Go Slow?

Posted by Dirck on 18 November, 2010

Something I frequently read is people recently come to fontain pens who marvel at the amendment in their writing.  “The pen makes me slow down and take care of how I write!” or something of that flavour.

Pardon?  Slow down?  I don’t follow.

Part of the charm of the fountain pen is that it is very undemanding in terms of the writer’s energy input.  Barring problems with the point and feed, ink tumbles out of it the moment it touches the page, and whatever friction there is between pen and writing surface is mitigated by the lubrication the ink provides.  The effort in writing with a fountain pen is essentially no more than overcoming the inertia of something which weighs less than many songbirds.  How does this contrive to slow you down?

I’m of the opinion that what these folks are percieving as a slow down is just an absence of the sort of feedback they used to get.  All those muscle groups competing for attention in the effort to keep a ballpoint held down hard enough to get any marks out of it at all and then get it moving into letter-like shapes suddenly quiet down, and you get to think about what those letter-like shapes actually look like.  You can control the pen and start to reduce the “-like” to managable proportions.  The pen doesn’t make you slow down.  It allows you the leisure to reflect on the action you’re performing, and decide whether “fast’ or “pretty” is preferable.  If the act itself is uncomfortable, then “fast” becomes the default– get it over with.

I generally try to write in a legible manner, because writing is meant to be communication and it only reaches that goal if someone else can read it.  When it’s just me wanting to snap down a thought, when I don’t expect anyone but me to be in on the decryption… well, my handwriting descends into the depths of abomination, just like any ball-point user’s, but it’s as fast as my arm can go and still make something with any hope of being read.  I slow down because it is my will, not the pen’s.

Between deciding that this would be my topic for the day and actually getting underway, I ran into the following on the Fountain Pen Network:

Hi my name is Kev(19 yrs) and im a complete novice when it comes to writing with a fountain pen.

I decided i wanted to start writing with a fountain pen a couple of weeks ago when i saw my grandad writing with one, he has beautiful writing and is able to write letters with a fountain pen as fast as i can with a ballpoint, yet his look amazing and mine look like a chicken scratched all over it.

See?  I’m not just making this stuff up!

Today’s pen, capable of sprints: Wality/Schrieber 52
Today’s ink, safer than the stuff in a Formula 1 fuel-tank:  Noodler’s La Couleur Royale

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Git ‘Er Dun (in).

Posted by Dirck on 17 November, 2010

I don’t recall precisely (in part because of the magnificent tumble I just took in The Regular Job’s icy parking lot) where I was reading yesterday of someone having been initially disappointed with a newly-arrived pen who undid the disappointment by… means overly aggressive, to my mind.  Reformation by abrasion, no less,  which is not unlike trial by ordeal— can be shown to be effective, but far from ideal.

Hopefully I’ve alarmed you into attention with my hyperbole.  The problem being addressed is a scratchy point, and the mechanism of “repair” is abrasives of various power.  If you do a quantity of wordwork, or perhaps apply yourself to repainting cars, you’ll probably have various grades of sandpaper lying around, and freqently (for this is a thing I’ve seen over and again on fora and blogs) the fact that people have this stuff handy is the very reason folks take their pens’ lives in their hands.  “I’ve heard of grinding nibs, and here I am with a nib and some stuff for grinding… heck, this isn’t going to take any time at all!”

I’ve heard of appendectomy, and here’s my buddy with undiagnosed abdomenal pain standing in a knife-filled kitchen… heck, this isn’t going to take any time at all!  You see the problems, yes?

Let’s start with diagnosis.  Scratchy pens are generally a result of uneven tines.  For a simple example, stand with your hands out in front of you, fists clenched, like Superman swooping down to bust through a wall.  This is rather like what the tines of the pen look like.  Now, if you move one hand just perceptibly higher than the other, you have replicated the situation of a pen which is intolerably scratchy.  Consider for a moment the scale of this– how much bigger than a pen-point are your hands?  Scaling down “just perceptibly” to that extent should indicate that you absolutely need some kind of magnification to see the problem.  I find a 10X loupe does the trick most of the time.  When grinding is really indicated is when the tipping is actually unevenly applied– in my model, it’s not a case of one hand being higher or lower, but bigger.

Next step, remediation.  Grinding is removing material.  You cannot put that back, so think twice about diving for the abrasives.  Usually this sort of problem is best addressed by gently bending the tines relative to one another until the tipping is aligned.  What this takes is patience, magnification, and in some cases dismounting the point from the section, because the feed can interfere with the bending.  This is, of course, nothing to be undertaken lightly, and it’s still a better idea than grinding.

…because even if grinding were the right thing to do  it’s a good bet that you don’t have the right stuff to grind with.  Down at the hardware store, you’re apt to find sandpaper up to 1000 grit (bigger numbers, tinier bits of grit), perhaps up to 2000.  That’s pretty good for standard household purposes, but once again consider scale.  The coarsest thing I’ll take to a pen point is 6000 grit, and then there’s the fine stuff to finish up with.  You may actually have this sort of thing around the house if someone is serious about nail care.  What’s this?  Well, yes, I do occasionally touch up a point when gross manipulation fails– this past weekend I did a little grinding on a point that was still scratchy, despite being observably aligned through a 35X magnifier.  A little grinding, something in the order of four seconds total work.  Use too heavy a grit, or go too hard, and you are suddenly looking at the need for a new point, and that is a pretty substantial expense, new pen or vintage.

The last point– do you actually know what you’re doing?  My tiny, non-braggable skill in this realm came through practice on a lot of unrecoverably damaged and entirely undistinguished points.  I still don’t think I’m good enough to suggest people pay me for it.  The guys that are actually good at it have a lot more practice under their belt and a much longer waiting list.

I’m not against DIY, of course.  If I were, I’d never have a load of repair tips permanently attached to the top of this blog.  However, I’m more of an advocate of understanding your own limitations.  Duct tape and a hammer are not, I’m sorry to say, a complete tool kit, and “the right tools for the job” is a motto that can save a lot of heart-ache.

I think I hear Homer Simpson calling out, “Booooooring!”  Well, that’s fine.  He’s not much of a role model anyway.

Today’s pen (writing on re-aligned tines): Waterman Champion
Today’s non-abrasive ink: Herbin’s Poussière de Lune

Posted in General Blather | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »