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Archive for August, 2012


Posted by Dirck on 31 August, 2012

A couple of what we might call short films today– these are Sheaffer’s big Christmas advertising campaign for the PFM. I find them interesting for several reasons. These days, an ad this long is very nearly an infomercial, and the only one I can think of that’s a comparable length is flogging acne cream; one gets a notion of the changing sense in ad men of where money is to be found (aspiring and slightly gender-insecure middle age guys then, extremely vain young people now). Also, given how much money this pair of ads and the associated print campaign must have cost Sheaffer, the relatively low sales volume of the PFM must have seen some very nervous Don Drapers banging down the martinis at Sheaffer’s agency. Finally, and this is more of a personal observation, I cannot say how happy I am that the prospect of an annual Jimmy Durante variety show is absent from my life, even at the cost of there being no fountain pen ads on the television.

Today’s possibly less macho pen: Waterman Executive
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Éclat de Saphir


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The Bravery of a Coward

Posted by Dirck on 30 August, 2012

Preface: cholesterol where it should be, BP 122/86.  Hooray for science!  Now, on with the regular malarkey–

I’ve recently grown a co-worker.

Wait… that sounds wrong.  A co-worker has developed at the Regular Job.

No, that’s a little more sinister than it should be, still.  There is a new co-worker in the department.  That’s got it!  I mention this because she is rather tattooed, and the tattoos have gotten me thinking.

This is not going to be a curmudgeonly screed against the habit of tattoos, since such things are already thick upon the ground and not at all agreed with by me.  The only reason I don’t have a tattoo of some sort myself is that I can’t quite conceive an image I’d want stuck to my own frame in perpetuity.  I’m also not going to cry out about women getting tattoos, since I don’t hold with pitting genders against one another, and also because there are various tattooed women in my circle of acquaintance whose opinions I otherwise value and would feel a bit of an idiot trying to formulate a foundation for saying, “…but they’re dead wrong about the ink.”

In point of fact, the contemplation of tattoos in general left me a little sheepish.  Here’s the reasoning; I have in past, both here and in more direct conversation, approved in a general way of personal expression.  I have lamented the habit (apparently quite on the wane, huzzay) of wearing flannel pyjamas to go out in public, but that’s in part because it strikes me as a manifestation of giving up on oneself.  More positive self-expression I’m all for, where it doesn’t actively offend.  This is an attitude which I must adopt, as it is an important bolster to my habit of wearing fedorae, sporting waistcoats, and writing with fountain pens to the exclusion of just about everything else.

The mode of expression is the source of the sheepishness.  Clothing and writing implements are, while relatively overt, not particularly permanent.  I stride about in my cuffed trousers, being pointedly anachronistic and feeling good about myself (cuffed, wide-legged trousers help a lot in this; vintage fashion is a boon to the large-thighed), but should the day come when I find I tire of being goggled at by scruffy youths in ridiculous caps, or just find the inconvenience of stowing the hat when at lunch or a doctor’s appointment wearing, I can shed the encumbrances.  The hat goes in a box, the tie into a drawer, the waistcoat into a closet, the pen into the Cavern of Keeping, and I become unremarkable.

The tattooed can shed their distinction, too.  After protracted and painful surgical interference.  I might, I suppose, congratulate myself on having the internal grit to adopt modes of self-expression that require an ongoing effort to keep in place (vs. the once-only effort/expense of the tattoo), but because I’m also self-judgemental, I find it more apt to view it as a persistent lack of commitment.  Yes, I am still using fountain pens, but I haven’t had one installed in place of a finger.  That would be real commitment to the chosen mode of expression.

There is also this:  I don’t value the opinion of the goggling scruffy youths, nor rely upon them for my living.  I understand that even now there are some that view tattoos as a mark of an unreliable reprobate.  Another of the few virtues of  current job is that they don’t hold this prejudice (although a lamented ex-co-worker might argue the point; the tattoos may have had some fertilizing role in the ending of her employment here).  I’m not brave enough to jeopardize my career opportunities with a permanent mark of idiosyncrasy, and I think if a job interview looms any time in the future, the hat is apt to stay home.  Craven suit-wearing poltroon that I am.

…and now, I find I must conform to the dictates of the time, which I keep with a non-permanent, easily removed wrist-watch.  I’m incorrigible!

Today’s non-obligatory pen: Pelikan New Classic
Today’s entirely external ink: Pelikan Brilliant Brown

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Checking the Numbers

Posted by Dirck on 29 August, 2012

I’m off to the doctor to see if the counter-cholesterol medication he’s had me on is doing its thing.  Because I very nearly forgot the appointment, I have nothing to offer as an alternative.  Sorry!

Today’s pen: Waterman Executive
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Éclat de Saphir


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How to Have (Another) Argument

Posted by Dirck on 28 August, 2012

Some time ago, I offered a little example of how one has a decent and productive argument, with myself in the role of The Fool.  I’ve recently been involved in another of the little dramas life on the internet can become, in which there are three players rather than two, which the pre-Shakespearean stage would likely have touted as A Mechant Endeavours to Make Good.  My role for this outing is that of The Reasonable Customer.

…and here I decide to not make a fake script of it, because I only have so much time and

Sound of a tucket without; ENTER Reasonable Customer bearing A Small Brown Parcel

R. Cust: Lo, ’tis the long-awaited Cathay Marchendize!

…is as time-consuming to type as to read.  So, I get this parcel from Hong Kong, which I’d been expecting for a while.  I’d on a whim spent somewhat more money on postage than a pen, which was an unusual Chinese maker’s take on a Sheaffer Thin Model, rather than the usual semi-reproduction of a Parker 51/61/21.  When I opened the package and found a completely different pen, I was somewhat nonplussed.  Since the pen I was expecting wasn’t particularly expensive nor a true rarity, I was momentarily inclined to just let it drop.  However, the pen I was looking at, an all-steel, semi-hooded job with a rather clever converter, looked like rather more pen than the one I’d ordered, and the postage on the package was definitely more than I’d sent along.  I formed a suspicion that two parcels had been sent out the same day, and the wrong address was put on each of them.

There are people of my acquaintance who would open this correspondence with an accusation:  “You have sent me the wrong pen, you dummy.”  The obvious response to that sort of approach is, “Oh, yeah?  Well, you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny!”  Confrontation wasn’t what I sought.  The note I ended up sending started with congratulations at the good job of packing up the pen, and then in as non-confrontational a way as possible, with emphasis on how common to all humans the trait of fallibility is, I laid out what I’d actually got and what my suspicion was.  The finish was essentially a request; how might we collaborate to get this thing sorted out?

The response was entirely civil; the suspected mis-labelling was certainly the way of things, the pen I had in hand was indeed a rather better one than the one I’d ordered, and unless I was absolutely desperate for that Shefferesque item, he would be just as happy to see me keep it.  It would, after all, avoid an extra exposure of all the pens to the mails, save me and the mysterious Other Customer some trouble of stopping around the post office, and save Merchant at least one dose of postage (he was still on the hook for getting Other Customer another example of the better pen).

There was a bit of an internal debate at that point.  It wasn’t what I actually wanted… but it was an interesting pen, from a manufacturer I had not run up against before (of course, in China, they are legion).  I assented to just hanging onto what I had and leaving him and Other Customer to hash things out.

Compromise.  If you want to point to an effective lubricant of human society, you hardly need look any further.  I could have insisted upon my Cheap Pen, and I could have gotten absolutely no satisfaction.  Compromise is not, as some would suggest, a terrible thing.  It’s an admission that not every situation will be ideal, that merely human failings are not necessarily active wickedness, and that sometimes not exactly what you want is as good as it will get.  Those who have read Watchmen, or seen the film, will see exactly how much joy someone unwilling to admit to compromise gets out of life.  With the power of compromise, I can convince myself that I’ve made the best of a very marginally bad situation, I saved myself a lot of screeching and elevated blood pressure, and I added a tiny grain to the “Happy” pan of the great balance of the world; somewhere in Hong Kong’s towering mazes, there’s a chap who for a moment had the relief of seeing a possibly complicated problem evaporate even as it presented itself.  Wouldn’t we all like to be able to perform such eradications?

Today’s pen (which is one I had expected): Pelikan New Classic
Today’s ink: Pelikan Brilliant Brown

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Childhood’s End?

Posted by Dirck on 27 August, 2012

There’s a troubling weekend just passed; two extremely diverse elements of my childhood pantheon passed with it.  I speak of course of The Amazing Mumford and The Conqueror of the Moon.

While “First Man on the Moon” might seem to give Neil Armstrong a bit of a leg up in the area of importance of contribution to humanity, but given the length of Jerry Nelson’s career and the vast swarms of people who have been affected by the Muppets he put his energy into, I’m content to mount them on the same pedistal.  I should have been very pleased to have shook the hand of either, and the loss of that possibilty is a definite debit in the great accountancy of the world.

I was contemplating these deaths yesterday in alternation with the upcoming sweeping up of my son by formal education’s foremost and thinnest edge, and as I am a human, a growing part of this contemplation became infected with, “…and how does that affect me?”  The title of this entry is one of the heads I was pondering; is personal maturity, in its less satisfactory interpretation, a function of one’s childhood celebrities dropping out of the human race?  Is it driven by the need to stay a certain distance ahead of one’s children?  If the former, I’ve been getting progressively grimmer since 1983 when David Niven gave up the ghost (another line of philosophizing is needed as to why I consider David Niven a hero of my childhood…).  If the latter, I’ve had a bit of an extra run at immature freedom of care, since fatherhood came to me so very late.

There’s probably something in both, but I don’t think either or the combination is definitive.  It is possible for one to remain youthful of outlook long after both procreation and the funeral of the last person one thought of, “Gosh, I’d like to get that person’s autograph.”  Jerry Nelson, one suspects, was not given to dragging himself to work each morning nor shuffling home at the end of the day and regaling the household with complaint about the co-workers.

For my part, I’m going to see if I can retain a certain whimsical childishness in my make-up, even as my son’s growing requirements for a household disciplinarian call upon me to be occasionally stern.  I will certainly tip my hat again tonight at Mare Tranquillitatis, where lies a fallen US flag, to mark in a completely irrational manner my respect for a man who stood there (although quite in keeping with the family’s wishes), and I expect at several points in the future I will laugh in a Bela Lugosine manner at the conclusion of counting out something.  Even if it is my own growing pile of birthday candles.

Today’s pen (not the sort that gets Ascent Stages returned to duty): Waterman Executive
Today’s ink, a rather immature colour: Herbin’s Éclat de Saphir

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Spies Invade Aurora!

Posted by Dirck on 24 August, 2012

Actually, I have a sense that Aurora knew they were being filmed.  This is a segment from the series How Its Made, and it’s one of the better that I’ve seen.  I will note that resting your fingers on the mouth of the ink bottle like that will usually result badly marked fingers, and also that it’s a good thing a human glances at the point/feed alignment.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Admiral Balance
Today’s ink: Diamine Evergreen

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Disturbed in Spirit

Posted by Dirck on 23 August, 2012

Let me preface: all is well now.

Last night, my son came into the living room shortly after dinner.  He was coughing, wheezing and scratching at his neck, and looking rather unhappy.  Heigh-ho for the emergency room!  It appears that he’s become allergic to either peanuts or prosciutto.

Apart from the observation that an emergency room will always include a belligerent drunk who can’t possibly follow through on his threats of violence, I don’t have much to offer today; spirits slightly a-flutter, and not so much sleep as I’d have liked, so I’m bowing out for today.  I will, though, point out for the use of American visitors who may be of mixed opinion on socialized health-care; three hours in the ER, electrocardiograph and pulse-ox monitoring throughout, two doctors, three different medications, for a total cost of… I pay a little more sales tax than you do, and that includes the parking.  Give it a think, folks.

Today’s pen: Parker Vacumatic
Today’s ink: Noodler’s Walnut

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Flexible: Points (to consider)

Posted by Dirck on 22 August, 2012

I am not about to go into some abstruse romp on pens with loose points.  Rather, I’m about to go into an unnecessary repetition of a nice little consideration of the relationship between pen and writer, and why so many folks seem disappointed with their expensive fountain pens.  You might want to read the inspiration here.   You might also not bother returning here, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

The flexibility meant by the author I’m presuming upon has nothing to do with the pen.  Rather, it’s a plea to the collected writers of the world to be open to amending their approach to the pen.  The pen has little power of adjustment in and of itself, and even with the intervention of a technician is limited in how different it can be.  The person holding the pen, however, has a great deal of capacity to react and adjust.  Those who are rigid in their approach to a pen will inevitably have a great deal of difficulty in finding a pen which suits them, while those who are willing to amend will find a whole world of pleasant pens.

This was something that had been drifting around at the back of my head for a long time, but I’d never made an attempt to articulate it.  Part of my problem, if it deserves that name, is my inclination to chase vintage pens at a low price.  There is a long-standing semi-myth about fountain pens, in which they are formed to the habits of the owner and will never suit anyone else.  I say semi-myth, because it’s not entirely wrong, but it takes a long time to make these changes and it hardly renders the pen incapable of being wielded by another.  Unless the previous user was a particularly deformed, it is usually just a matter of hold the wrist thus rather than so, or aligning the point yea relative to the index finger rather than the other, and an old, high-mileage pen writes as sweetly as ever it did.  Like someone raised by yogis, I’m not just trained in flexibility but have a little trouble understanding that others might lack it.

I should have gotten a conscious grip on the matter, though.  There’s the constant griping about new and expensive pens in forums, while my experience with modern pens (a few of which aren’t humble) has generally been good.  Before I set myself up as capable of doing such things, I’ve had clients ask if I could do anything about the dreadful scratchiness of the pen they’ve sent me, and a bit of diagnostic scribbling on my part revealed no evident malice; the pens returned home, a note written with them, regretting that I’d done nothing because I could find nothing that needed doing.  It took someone else saying it aloud for me to realize how things stood.

Some pens are more willing that others, of course.  I’ve mentioned the Parker 45 as being notable for not liking to roll.  An old, highly flexible pen, will never tolerate a heavy hand.  The Lamy Safari will take almost any abuse and is willing to write at funny angles nearly to the point of perversity.  But, as I said before, whatever the pen’s limits are, it can’t step beyond them.

As I have set up as being capable of addressing such problems, I am of course reducing my business by urging people to not send me their pens when I say that maybe they need to examine their own approach to it before sending it off.  However, since if there’s nothing I can do with it, I send it back at my own expense, I’m actually saving myself and potential clients a quantity of unnecessary postage, and pens an unnecessary trip through the mails.  The first step in communication with a fountain pen should start with learning to communicate with the pen, and as the author I cite says (who is a rather talented amender of points himself), a lighter hand is best for a writer’s hand.

So, lighten up, get flexible, and learn to communicate.  It makes life easier.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Admiral Balance (remarkably tolerant of roll and pitch variation, now that I check)
Today’s ink: Diamine Evergreen

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I Shall Use Only Waterloo Station(ery), Too

Posted by Dirck on 21 August, 2012

I have now and again mentioned the foolishness of generalizing from a very small number of data points, and also the foolishness of making resolutions.  Well, here I go, indulging in foolishness:

I shall not buy second-hand pens from France any more.

There was the memorable though remediable disappointment of my Parker 75.  Yesterday there was more of a fright than a disappointment.  A modern Waterman, yet another member of the vast tribe of tube-shaped pens of the 1980s, which I’d ordered late last month, appeared in the mail slot.  The fact that it could pass through the mail slot was the initial indication of trouble.  A properly packed pen, which lounges at the core of a series of soft and hard protectives, can’t get through a standard letter slot.

Then there was the nature of the wrapping.  This pen was, indeed, in many layers, but the outermost had been added in transit.  It was a large transparent plastic envelope, on one side of which was printed an apology from Canada Post, which in short said, “This thing fell apart in our hands.  Here’s all the bits we could find.”  Easily visible through the plastic were vast rents in very thin paper envelope which had been the outward layer when the pen embarked on its way.  That’s a combination of elements to drop one heart into the boots.

Within this mismatched pair of envelopes was a small and distressingly flattened cardboard box.  I will admit to taking a few moments to gather myself before cutting through the tape that kept the cardboard together.  In a horror film, this is the bit where the Final Girl is slowly opening the closet from which mysterious rustling noises have been heard….


We may all breathe a sigh of relief.  The pen is, to all appearances, in as good shape as when it departed from France.  However, there’s the evidence of disaster only just averted, and indeed averted by no agency one can comprehend, as the holes in the very thin envelope were certainly large enough for the contents to have dropped through.  This and the 75 move me to put France under an interdict.  I’m unwilling to subject my spirit to that kind of turmoil.  So far, this same effect has not attended my new purchases from that nation– no ugly surprises from the Pen Seller from France, no more than a single moldy bottle of Herbin ink– so it’s not a complete embargo, something I hope never comes about.  I don’t have the resources to throw a blockade around Toulon and Marseilles….

Today’s non-Gallic pen: Parker Vacumatic
Today’s non-ocean-crossing ink: Noodler’s Walnut

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A Warning to Handlers of the Curious

Posted by Dirck on 20 August, 2012

I’ve been on a bit of an M.R. James kick lately, and this combined with the slow descent of the sun from it’s summery heights reminds me that a seasonal event is creeping up upon us.  No, not Hallowe’en, however much I revel in that festival, but the start of the school year.  This has meaning to me for the first time in a long while, as my son is looking down the barrel of Pre-Kindergarten (a thing invented since I was in the system).  This reminds me of a little contemplation that came upon me while doing some dishes, which I mean to pass on to the academic world at large.

A brief pause, though, while I point out that this is not aimed at any specific academics that I know look in here.  It’s a general note.

The thing about joining the ranks of instructors in post-secondary education that is a bit of trap is that the person who does do manages it through having a deep and abiding passion for the subject.  This can be a good thing, as the passionate can inspire others.  However, there is a dark side, in that the consumed student of any given topic can grow amazingly tedious on that topic.  They forget, you see, that others are not quite along side them, and might not be sufficiently up to speed to appreciate the finer points of what’s under discussion.

From my own past, I recall with certain nausea the four weeks spent in English 100 on the word-by-word deconstruction of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“.  In my imagination, it swells to a vast epic, A Riming Ode to an Ancient Grecian Beowulf of Omar Khayyam, yet is hardly covers two pages, a mere 131 lines.  I bear a grudge towards peaches to this day.  My wife has a similar issue with Citizen Kane, as her Film 100 professor devoted the back half of a semester to it.  A fine poem, a decent film… but unless there’s an internal drive to delve, such picking at the minutiae is akin to sitting in a dentist’s chair in an industrial setting, while an elderly German fellow demands to know if it’s safe.

The regular reader here may at this point snort and ponder just how deep my hypocrisy runs.  I freely admit that I’m probably not the best person to address a small class on the topic of “writing instruments in the 20th century”… except I’m aware of this dangerous aspect of over-enthusiasm.  It’s easily reigned in if a tiny bit of cognitive cycling is applied during preparation of the class.  Also, those looking in here regularly are both entirely voluntary and not paying a huge sum each semester for the privilege of being bored while hoping for the odd moment of entertainment.  See how I grip reality with both hands?

So, there’s my public service announcement.  If the kids start to glaze over in class, it may not just be an effect of the modern age’s tendency to over-stimulation.  It may be that they’re not, strangely, so interested in the number of holes found in 18th century Prussian military horse-shoes, or the oils applied to the telescopes used by Clyde Tombaugh.  Save it for the 200 level courses.  It may be, in fact, better to teach what one is indifferent to; I’ll teach some Political Economy courses, and see about getting a political economist in to discuss non-sac-based pen fillers.

Today’s overexplained example: Sheaffer Admiral Balance (the very same Green Admiral mentioned last week)
Today’s ink, not being splashed about for a week and a half on Jules et Jim: Diamine Evergreen

Having dealt with the business at hand, a coda because I know several people here care about such things; Sam the foundling cat had his quietus on Friday, apparently almost as I was writing my little bit of trivia here.  My wife decided that time had come and got along to the vet without me; I feel like a bit of a brute for not having been there to support her, but she says he went easily.

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