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Archive for December, 2012

Clearing the Books

Posted by Dirck on 31 December, 2012

Well, here we are at the purported end of the year (I know it would cause difficulty, but I find disconnecting it from the solstice slightly absurd), and we should all be looking into how to be a better person in the upcoming arbitrarily delineated 365.25 day unit.  For my part, I’m going to try to abstain from getting into detailed debates on Facebook about whether or no Disney films promote sexism.

Another useful thing that the year’s ticking-over offers is a chance to abolish some debts, monetary, moral, karmic or otherwise.  A chance… but we must acknowledge that the means of doing so can be elusive.  I remain firmly lodged in the statistical norms for household debt in Canada and have not to my knowledge won the necessary lottery to get dislodge… although I’m pleased with the proportion of that debt which accrues to a credit card.  Debts of work I’m rather more generally pleased with, since over the weekend I got within one pen of catching up with the client work-load; the only person I owe pen repairs at the moment, really, is myself.

There is a peculiar debt that many people in the modern milieu don’t ever touch upon.  I had thought that I was entirely on top of it, too, until the turning over of the post-Christmas detritus allowed us to start attacking the pre-Christmas detritus, and I made an embarrassing discovery.  I found that I was not in the black in terms of owing people letters.  There, amid some distressingly un-disposed-of items, lay two letters that should have left the house with me at least a month ago… and which I’d convinced myself had in fact done so.

Only two, though, and the heaps that concealed them have been worked down to the point of assurance that the number won’t increase.  While the letters are now in the hands of the post office, I still find myself in a position of owing something in connection with them.  I owe an apology to Lani and Ambrosia; the blame lies on me, and while I’ve undone the failure I can’t undo the delay.  Sorry, sorry, sorry.

…and on that penitential note, a Happy New Year to all.  Remember to drink lots of water if you’re drinking lots of other stuff, and that a snowbank is not a good place for a nap.

Today’s pen (standing in for the toga-wrapped outgoing year, on account of its astonishing age): Evans Dollar Pen
Today’s ink: Herbin Perle Noire

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Hope for the Future

Posted by Dirck on 28 December, 2012

Today’s video is a rather young chap who is just showing off his three modes of writing (and not one of them the 5th, I’m pleased to see).  I’m yoinking this off Youtube because I think it’s an excellent example of someone who is growing up in the current renaissance of fountain pens to whom it is merely a option amongst equals.  Laudable, if somewhat lacking in discernment; he’s young, his joints will let him know where superiority lies one day… although I note with real joy that he’s got a very light hand on that Parker of his.

Bravo, John whom I’ve never met!  May you never find yourself wanting for ink.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Legacy
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Lie de Thé

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Downing Several Fifths

Posted by Dirck on 27 December, 2012

The title might well refer to the state of perpetual tipsiness my parents aim to induce in their sons during the festival of festive festivities. In fact, I’m almost tempted to stop right here, and I won’t take it amiss if the reader says, “Aw, parentally endorsed drunkeness… how sweetly traditional!” and moved on to some other blog.

Shortly before Christmas, I got the 2013 catalogue from the Fountain Pen Hospital.  This is a large magazine of a publication, similar in its dimensions and glossiness to National Geographic, and I will digress so far as to mention that such a heap of paper is put together and sent out to them what asks for free is very happily suggestive of the seaworthiness of the Fountain Pen Hospital’s economic ship.

The National Geographic analogy is also applicable in that, if you use the term with whimsy firmly in place, it acts as a source of covert pornography for a certain fraction of the population.  Applicable, although requiring a little imaginative energy to maintain; ol’ Yellow Back, in this era of internet and cable TV, is no longer really a prime source for frustrated teen boys anxious to discover what topless women look like, and the catalogue is feeding a different sort of lust entirely.  Rather than showing pictures of people in distant lands engaging in aprication, the Fountain Pen Hospital Catalogue presents pictures of pens from distant lands engaging in the lifting of price-tags.  I’m not blaming FPH for the prices, mind you; apart from having to pay their way in the high-priced precincts of Gotham, they’re mostly just passing on the MSRP.  However, because of the stratospheric numbers on some of those prices, the chances of people like… well, me ever getting them is much the same as a visit to Opus T. Penguin’s retirement home on the Planet of Back-Rubbing Bikini Babes (the reader may insert whatever ridiculously sexist sphere they wish, of course).  Thus, for tantalizing without the least chance of consummation: pornography.

There is, however, some rather offensive material in the latest installation of this catalogue, and since part of the reason for this little screed of mine is to complain bitterly about stuff the bugs me, I’m going to share with the world.  I do not complain about the $5,900 Krone Winston Churchill limited edition on the back page, which is frankly less silly-looking than a lot of that company’s similarly priced output.  Nor am I any more than amused at the Sailor 100th anniversary pen going for $11,900.  However, turning to the Parker page, I find offense and dismay struggling for supremacy.

I gave what I think is a reasonable first glance at Parker’s “5th Mode” pen a little over a year ago.  Since then, others have been chiming in, and the general thought (so far as I can distill diverse and frequently contradictory voices into a single message) is that it’s nice enough to write with, it may a good thing for someone that can’t put up with the demands of fountain pen but want a really nice-looking and quite smooth-writing pen, but the refills are still foolishly pricey and quick to empty.  Parker’s managing magi apparently thing the 5th Mode is a must have, and from the perspective of the English-speaking world it’s now somewhat hard to discover any other sort of pen on the company’s website; we’re told by our fellows on the fora that Asian markets still find Parker admitting to the previous four modes, but for we anglophones it’s largely an exercise in “looking at hipsters kissing fake fountain pens,” to paraphrase one of the commentaries.

Thus, I find in the FPH catalogue that in addition to the original Ingenuity, a 5th Mode version appears for the IM, Urban and Sonnet.  Fair enough, one might say, and with a reservation I agree.  That reservation lies in the price.  The Ingenuity continues to be a $160 to $190 item.  The Sonnet is listed at $210, while the fountain pen version lies at $215, but the rollerball is down at $125.  The IM in 5th Mode goes for $80, which is $28 more than the fountain pen, and the Urban at $100 has the biggest differential as the fountain pen version is $64.

Why does this bug me?  Because, as much as I can smile and forgive those multi-thousand dollar pens, I can do so only because there’s some notion of craftsmanship around the back of those ridiculous prices helping to prop them up.  I hate to throw stones at the venerable zombie of the Parker Pen Company, but to suggest that a pen is worth roughly 30% more because this…

...a mere press-formed bit of tin...

…a mere press-formed bit of tin…

…replaces a precision-tooled feed and a point that must meet with certain necessary tolerances to work at all offends me more than I can politely express.  It’s like picking up the Nat. Geo. in hopes of finding a little innocent titillation, and finding instead a cannibal’s butcher shop.  So, I denounce them, I cast them down, and I join those on the fora who worry that Parker is about to sacrificed stupidly by its current masters.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Vac 700
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc royal blue

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Bundled Up Snug in Your Bed

Posted by Dirck on 24 December, 2012

We tend not, in our modern and shiny world, to consider Christmas as a night of spooks, haunts and spectres.  Sure, there’s the reform-minded spirits that drive old Ebenezer Scrooge into a frenzy of wealth redistribution (and may their efforts thrive) but they’re not alone.  One of the fruits of listening to the M.R. James Podcast is the discovery that a lot of his stuff, with its hair-monsters as one might expect in a Japanese movie and its vengeance-driven spiders and its whistle-powered hug-demons, is meant to be read at Christmas.

Since I’m too lazy to research even a little, I wonder if  this is a hold-over from some long-ago pagan propitiation of the solstice or if it’s just a clever way to get the kids from underfoot while the mysterious gifts from Santa, or St. Nicholas, or Father Christmas (in order of increasing gauntness and terror of aspect) are installed.  Did some druid one day say, “Y’know… this is kind of icky.  What say next year we just take it in turns telling scary stories and call it good, even if no one actually dies of fright,”  or was there some bright Victorian parent that realized that it’s a lot easier for a few candies to magically manifest in stockings if the kids are in a quivering heap, dead centre of the bed, with the comforter clasped about their heads?  I know that I’d certainly not put a foot off the edge of the bed if, at age eight, someone had read Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook at me.

And then there’s this guy:

Have a very stabby Christmas!

An honest-to-goodness vintage image, which even if you’re not in the “clown = scary” camp is a pretty distressing one.  Look at the gleeful way that homunculus is working away with his knife.  Who, that isn’t bent on a rampage of destruction, uses two hands on a knife, even when trying to work free a fragment of fruit-cake?  And when I say “fruit-cake”, I say so with a tone of doubtful hope in my voice, because I suspect what wee Pagliacci there hungers for is something more in the line of… human brains!

You know how it is; laughing on the outside, plotting grim deeds on the inside.

The first mistake is to make eye contact.

Knife and repast aside, that’s a flat affect if ever I saw one.  He’s smiling with his mouth… sort of, and if we make allowance for what appears to be an utterly inhuman tongue… but there’s only calculation in those eyes.  Utterly chilling.

Looking at the matter positively, though– as much as I like the idea of the world being merry and gay (use the word however you wish) in the face of the bleakest season, I should hate for a reduction in the amount of M.R. James’s tales that might stem of an entirely un-dark Christmas.  Also, we might be without The Nightmare Before Christmas, either in its animated form, or in the earlier poetic incarnation:

By the way, if you’re as much a Christopher Lee fan as I am, you’ll absolutely want to lay hands on his heavy metal “Little Drummer Boy” (“Silent Night” is a little less fun, but not without merit).

Now, because I don’t want to be totally contrary to the received spirit of the season, I offer a couple of non-skeletal, terror-free items.  First is a link to a somewhat late gift-idea, which may not even bear more than a sense of having properly applied one’s powers in the direction of charity– Shawn Newton is running another raffle to drum up some scholarship money for a deserving urchin.  Since we are, indeed, out of work-houses, how can you decline to give?  The prospect of possibly getting a nice pen out of it is a mere sweetening of the deal.

And from nice pens, let’s move to pens being used nicely:

And that is it from me until after Boxing Day. Don’t do you livers too much injury in the next couple of days through either booze or fatty treats, forgive your family in their lesser failings, and try not to worry about that damn clown.

He knows when you are sleeping!  HE KNOWS!

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Legacy
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Lie de Thé

Post Scriptus– I find that I’m not the only one considering the terrors of the season; there’s a BBC article on the very same subject.  Strangely, while touching on Zwarte Piet, they miss entirely that most Jamesian of Christmas critters, the Krampus:

This is just about the least distressing image on the Wikipedia page regarding Herr Krampus.

This is just about the least distressing image on the Wikipedia page regarding Herr Krampus.

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Laying In Some Skills

Posted by Dirck on 21 December, 2012

Roboto-san has been instructed to post this exactly one hour (local time) after the “predicted” end of the world.  If you’re reading this, please join me in snickering.  If you’re not, then you’re probably just as surprised as me.

This is a follow-up of yesterday’s entry, and I’ve gone to the trouble of looking up the meaning of 万年筆の達人, as much for my own curiosity’s satisfaction as yours. “Master of Fountain Pen” is the translation I’m going with, which is not entirely out of line with yesterday’s guess… or so pride insists.

Today’s amazing demonstration of skills is not the repair of pens, but enhancement. Abalone inlay is something I’m not always a fan of (the relatively random for seen in old Balances is still about my favourite), but it is without a doubt a remarkable art.  This is the sort of thing that gets people like me to somewhat soften their stance regarding the statement, “Sure, it’s a nice pen, but can it really be worth that much?”

Today’s rather more pedestrian pen: Parker VP
Today’s ink: Pelikan violet

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Mannenhitsu-Do..in’ It Right

Posted by Dirck on 20 December, 2012

Since I’m not actually here, I’ve instructed my robotic minion to provide you with this rather amazing (if protracted) video of a living embodiment of mannenhitsu-do’s hidden principles.  The use of a chisel at one point is particularly startling.  Sadly, I read very little more Japanese than the average North American, so I don’t get much more out of the title than “Fountain Pen (Repair?) Man” and nothing at all out of the rest of the text and dialogue.

Part of me wishes I had some of his equipment.  A more realistic part points out that I’d end up turning a lot of gold pen-points into a mere vapour while damaging my eyes with arc flashes .

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Triumph TM
Today’s ink: Iroshizuku Fuyu Syogun

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Indiana Jones and the Counterfeiter of Whimsical Intent

Posted by Dirck on 19 December, 2012

Just because I’m away doesn’t mean I can’t offer some fun.  Someone with a great deal of time and probably money they had no other outlet for sent along a vast artifact to warm the hearts of adventure film fans to the University of Chicago; Abner Ravenwood’s notebook and associated doodads.  Sent?  Or possibly slipped it into the mailbag on campus when no one was looking.  However it came to be there, it’s a charming bit of nonsense and a magnificent gift of fun and low-grade mystery to the world at large.

Today’s pen: Parker VP
Today’s ink: Pelikan violet

 

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It’s Later Than I Think

Posted by Dirck on 18 December, 2012

I’ve just fought my way back from depositing the last of the pre-Christmas returns of pens to clients, and “fought” is the word.  The swarming of crowds intend upon getting that just-right gift, combining with extremely sullen weather, makes getting out over the lunch break a real challenge.

The worst part; I have to become a component of the swarming crowds.  The month has slipped away from me, and the 25th being a very firm deadline, there’s a few things I really have to get at.  This is, then, yet another apology to the readership for not appearing here and making my strange pronouncements with my usual myrmidon regularity between now and the anniversary of Scrooge dancing with is nephew’s wife.  I’ll almost certainly look in, and I may even have a handy robot put something up for your amusement, but between the demands of consumerism, family, and Regular Job seasonal lunches, I can’t promise I’ll be here to grumble in person.

I was hardly here today.

Today’s festive pen: Sheaffer Triumph TM
Today’s rather sober ink: Iroshizuku Fuyu Syogun

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Stone Age Tools

Posted by Dirck on 17 December, 2012

The friend of whom I have often spoken here, she who is responsible for half of the Duofolds I own, has produced another prodigy.  Actually, she’s produced two, as she’s got an absolutely elegant burn on her left hand from a horrifying incident of incautious bacon-cooking.  The good prodigy, however, is a pen related item from a past decade:

Those pictures are strangely familiar to me....

Those pictures are strangely familiar to me….

Not, alas, one of these shoe-boxes full of rare old pens one infrequently hears about, but a reference book printed in 1989.  If I had entered upon my real interest in fountain pens at the same time as I got my first Waterman, rather than loafing along as a simple user for another decade, this is the sort of thing I would have been clinging to for data.

…and, holy cats, am I ever glad the internet has come together!  The contents are, for the most part, a monochrome continuation of the cover; images extracted from period catalogues, arranged with the single lines of data for each pen shown.  That data is the model name, a small coded description of the materials, and the then-current price for a particularly good example, something like: Werther Gladiolus, BCHR, LF, GPT $75.

It’s painful to think how much work this thing must have been to put together, just in terms of gathering the images, let alone arranging the whole thing and getting it printed.  Have I put a lot of work into my site?  Sure.  But if I find I’ve made an error, I can just go in and fix it.  If some item becomes outdated, I can update… and I’ve not made any effort at suggesting authoritative pricing.

Even moreso, though, coming at it from the other side– in a non-digital setting, one might hear of this thing’s existence in a distant and unfashionable town, one might thereafter find a copy, and then… well, it’s a bunch of black and white drawings.  Which is not necessarily complete.  Or, as in the case of mis-using Sheaffer price-codes as model indicators, not necessarily accurate.  I’m previously declined the title of Luddite, but this confirms me in that with a flourish of trumpets.  The power to discover this sort of information, and to correspond directly with those who might have access to primary sources, or even to lay digital hands on those primary sources, is something I embrace with both hands.

I appreciate the gift of this book, for all that it’s not hugely useful to me; the limitations of the physical format and the insistence upon “vintage” pens means that it doesn’t cover anything made after about 1960.  It may help with tentative identifications of some less popular items, after all, and there are plenty of pictures of pens, which will keep me out of trouble.  The light it casts on the hard, hard road of the pen collector in the days before the internet, though, gives me a new appreciation for those who went before me, and renders me deeply grateful for this vast, swirling resource, however full of contradictions and semi-random conjecture it may be.

Speaking of contradictions and semi-random conjecture; I’ve got a pile of new pages on the site.  That’s probably the sort of thing I should make a habit of mentioning here, eh?

Today’s pen: Parker VP
Today’s ink: Pelikan violet

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What’s in YOUR Carol?

Posted by Dirck on 14 December, 2012

I don’t imagine I’m much different from the common median of humanity in this, if (hopefully) in few other things: there are some Christmas carols I quite like, and some that make me wonder if pulling my ears off is too large a price to pay to make it stop.  Rather than the usual Friday film, I offer a link to a chap who has done something whimsically proactive about one that puts grit in his gears through its preserved-in-amber racism.  Here then, is a chance to learn a little something about a song that really could do with being retired, Nat King Cole’s rendition notwithstanding.

Today’s merry pen: Italix Parson’s Essential
Today’s frosty ink: Diamine Steel Blue

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