Almost an Anniversary Funeral Poem

28 02 2021

So 29 years ago, give or take a day, we got married.

Being the unorthodox folk we are, we chose 29th February 1992 as our day to tie the knot. In European* date format that was 29.2.92 which struck us as particularly neat and symmetrical. More to the point, it was a Saturday and the Registry Office had a free booking available.

The downside is that three of every four anniversaries don’t quite happen. Almost, but not quite. Whoever decided to make the Earth spin at a rate of 365¼ times the period of a trip round the sun is to blame – I suspect Dr Brian Cox had a hand in it actually (“It’s not just beautiful… it’s physics!”). It definitely smacks of a devious Mancunian plot. Leap years are a reasonably good compromise all being told, but it has its issues.

So anyway, we had a rather pleasant kerbside pickup dinner from The Keg as part of the Dine Out Vancouver festival. We could celebrate with a “fancy” meal (I had surf’n’turf) and safely keep our social distance. (To my utter horror the restaurant dine-in was expecting 400 people on the night! People – there’s a pandemic! Haven’t you been watching the news?!)

After a pleasant bottle of wine that had been cached for some time at the back of the fridge, and ploughing with some success through the unreasonably large dessert portions provided by The Keg, we settled in to watch Four Weddings and a Funeral on the Olde Worlde DVD player. We were amused to realise the film was made pre-mobile phone dependence. Extant alarm clocks and plot turns that only work without ubiquitous GPS were much in evidence. And several glorious Land Rover Defenders. Real ones, not the current travesties.

At the funeral referenced in the film title, John Hannah‘s character reads Funeral Blues by Yorkshireman W.H. Auden.

Not exactly what you’d call “romantic” given our almost anniversary, but it is a very moving poem, and Hannah performs the recital with a wealth of emotion for his character’s lost love.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

*Or most non-American places actually. Except Japan – who do it entirely their own way. Like many other things.

As with spelling “colour”/”color”, Canada is indecisive on the matter forcing many immigrants like myself into being cautious and using a longer format and spelling out the month to avoid misunderstandings in the first 12 days of each month.

Go on – write something!

23 02 2021

A “stream of consciousness” can so easily become a “river of shit”, don’t you think? Let me demonstrate, please do:

One’s deepest, most considered ideas, once brought to the light, may prove to be nothing more than the fetid miasma of an open sewer. But that’s OK. No, really, it is. An idea is just a point in space. Or time. Or something. It’s a point anyway. Transient. It’s not inherently good or bad, though I think it’s true that acting on some of them has historically been shown to be spectacularly bad. (Looking at you, Adolf!)

My point though (about an idea being a point) is that it can be used as a marker, an intellectual cairn if you will, en route to another idea. Or even a cluster of them. These may be better or worse, or just different to the one that preceded them. An idea is not a destination in itself. An idea rarely exists in a vacuum. When it does, it’s a dangerous thing, for that way lies madness. Or religion. Or other politically dubious views. Or all of the above.

An idea that can morph into other ideas though? Ah… that is powerful indeed. The ideas may be complementary or contrary, but the person who is capable of leaving one idea behind in preference of another is capable of change, of learning, of growth! Being unwilling to leave an idea under any circumstances is the sign of someone intellectually shipwrecked. Left clinging desperately to a familiar, apparently safe rock, and in so doing, denying themselves not only the risk of drowning, but also the chance of reaching dry land.

Ideas can be sampled, compared, adapted or rejected, but to tie oneself unquestioningly to an idea is to close down novel thought and the chance of growing into something new and remarkable.

To be willing to at least sample ideas you think you’ll reject is to be open to persuasion. It’s a risk for sure. It may mean your current beliefs can no longer pass muster. But not to listen… to assume the new idea is wrong… that is cowardice. It means you dare not give other ideas – potentially contradicting your own – the simple chance to persuade you that you are wrong. It means you inherently believe your current “truth” is fragile and you’d rather believe that than risk believing something more persuasive to you. Consider the implications… it’s equivalent to a parent saying “because I said so!” as irrefutable proof of being correct.

But I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, of course. 🙂

Points in space. Or Time. Or something

Creating dots/grids/lines in MS-Word for journaling or letter writing

13 02 2021

So I went through one of my creative phases a few weeks ago and made some hand-stitched journals. They got progressively better, neater and usable. I gave them away though because the paper I’d used wasn’t particularly fountain pen friendly, so they weren’t too useful for myself.

Here’s the first attempt, complete with end-papers and bound in part of an old pair of jeans…

You can see that for the first try I just used some old graph pad and some printer paper in alternating signatures – just to get the hang of things. Unfortunately Canada – despite being nominally metric – subscribes to the US paper standards, so we typically get “Letter” sized paper at 8.5″x11″ instead of A4. There’s not a huge difference for most usage, but the A-series paper sizes are so much more well thought out, in that if you cut A4 in half you get A5… with exactly the same aspect ratio. Fold that in half and you get an A6 notebook… again: with the same aspect ratio. Quarter of Letter size is OK… but it’s just not as aesthetically pleasing in my view.

Along the way, I discovered that HP 28lb (105 g/m2) printer paper – readily available from Walmart and other places – is actually reasonably good for fountain pen ink. I gather there’s a 32lb version too, though I’ve yet to find any in my local shops. Even the cartridges of ink that came with my Pilot Parallel barely bleed through, and that’s saying something!

The next challenge came in pre-printing the pages of the journals to make them more use-specific. (Week per spread diary, hiking journal, wine tasting log, that sort of thing…) And at that point I got bored and shelved the project…

At Christmas, my lovely family bought me some really nice writing paper (Tomoe River for those in the know), which though a wonderful gift now constantly gives me a dilemma when I write letters. Will this particular recipient appreciate the way the Tomoe River brings out the shading in the ink? Or will they be struggling enough just to read my scrawl, and not even notice it was a fountain pen rather than a Biro?

Tomoe River is sold as A4, and this particular paper is 52g/m2, so pretty thin. It helpfully comes with a cardboard template sheet with a grid on one side and lines on the other. The paper is thin enough to see the guide lines through it, and some of us, believe me, need all the help we can get to write in a straight line!

It occured to me then that if I pre-printed very faint lines (or feint-ruled as it is in the UK) on the 28lb paper, I could use it more easily without it being as obtrusive to the recipient. I then went on to make grid and dot patterns because, well, I could! I enclose them for your delight and delectation – or ridicule, if you’re of a more negative persuasion.

Remember – be Internet safe! I didn’t put anything dodgy in these Word files, but to be frank – you don’t know me from Adam, so make sure to use a virus checker before opening the files.

If you’d like to explore other options for yourself, or prefer not to download files from unknown sources, the essential elements I used were as follows. You can obviously tweak them to your own needs:

  • Open MS-Word and set page margins to zero on all sides.
  • Insert a table and add a few rows – it’s not important how many. If you are creating a grid or dots, add a few columns too.
  • Set the row size option to “exactly” rather than “at least” and set the row/column dimensions you want for your lines/grid/dot-spacing.
    • I found 7mm worked well for me, but if you’re a small writer go smaller by all means.
  • Add additional rows and columns to fit as many as you need to fill the page.
  • Go to table properties and set its position to be centred relative to the page in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. This will centre the table on the page at print time.
  • Now things get style-specific.
    • For lines, go to “Borders” in “Table Design” and de-select the vertical lines on the outsides of the table. They’ll become dotted on the screen, but will no longer print.
    • For grid, you need all the lines, so do nothing.
    • For dots, go to “Borders” in “Table Design” and de-select all the lines – you don’t want any lines to print – you’re just using them to give accurate spacing. Now add a “.” character in the first square (or “+” or one of the Wingding characters if you prefer) and duplicate it across each cell in the row and then duplicate the row down to fill all the rows. You have a small amount of control of the dot location within the table cell by selecting left/centre/right/top/centre/bottom justification and cell margin, but make sure you do it on all cells to maintain the relative “pitch” set by the cells spacing. It’s not really necessary though.
    • I chose to make my lines/dots quite faint so they weren’t obtrusive once I wrote on the paper. Do this by selecting “Pen Colour” in the borders setting or text colour for the dots. I used the pale blue “Blue, Accent 1, Lighter 80%” and also “Orange, Accent 2, Lighter 80%”, but knock yourself out – make it as faint or bold as you like! I also made the lines dotted rather than solid, to make them even fainter. You can make them solid black and extra wide though, if that’s your preference!
  • Duplicate to a second page if you want to make use of your printer’s double-sided print facility.
  • Print! If asked, ignore the error about margins being out of range – the printer will print as much as it can and leave the minimum white space around the edge it’s capable of. If you prefer – print to PDF and print it on someone else’s printer if it’s better than yours!

The same principle will work on any paper size you may want to use. Just add more rows/columns to fill the page.

If you’re making refill pages for a loose-leaf journal, like a Filofax, start by creating a TextBox of the correct page size and putting the table in that. You can then guillotine or cut to the text box perimeter once it’s printed.

Use two columns with two tables in panorama mode if you’re going to pre-print pages for a hand-made journal. That’s my next project. Once I get around to it…

I hope you found this of some use. Let me know how you got on!

A Splash of Colour

4 02 2021

So it’s been quite some time since I booted up my photo editing PC, and I paid the price with a couple of rounds of Windows updates for my sins. Not to mention some guff about my mains adaptor being below par, requiring lower power modes on the poor neglected thing, and best of all – the clock being 2 minutes slow for about half an hour before it caught up. Plainly the wee beastie was in a snit and determined to make me pay.

After tea, it seemed to be in a better mood, and I got on with uploading several months’ worth of casual snaps I’d taken on my iPhone and camera. No “proper” pictures, but stuff I’d felt snap-worthy at the time.

One series I just found from way back in June I thought I’d share. “Accidental Art” is the best you could say. “Pretty Mess” is more accurate. These are literally photos of pieces of kitchen towel I’d been using to clean up messy nibs as I tried out differing fountain pen and dip nib inks.

Sing me a Temple of Coincidence in Canada

25 01 2021

Repeat visitors will be aware that I often post entries to this humble blogscape when I’m struck by a pattern or coincidence. (Or a bus, perhaps).

Yesterday I was finishing off binge-watching Temple and feeling a mounting discomfort as the main character made more and more decisions of dubious moral foundation as he sought his ultimate goal.

Source: IMDB

In episode 7, Mark Strong’s character was about to perform surgery on a patient when I noted the background music was Joan Armatrading’s 1976 Love and Affection. (Who could not be moved by the opening line “I am not in love – but I’m open to persuasion”?)

YouTube: Joan Armatrading – Love & Affection

This immediately transported me back with a memory of watching her live at an intimate concert at some venue in Milton Keynes in the mid-80’s. Might even have been a gym if I recall correctly. Anyway, I instantly punched Joan into Spotify to add her copious catalogue to my randomised listening.

Today I got to listen to her album “Me, Myself, I”, the vinyl of which I suspect is still in my mother’s attic. One of the early up-beat tracks is called Ma-Me-O Beach.

An odd name, thinks I.

This being the 21st Century and Google being such an easy temptation, I thought I’d see if I could find out the back-story. Ms Armatrading might have been raised in the Midlands but she had slightly more exotic beginnings in St. Kitts, and I fancied this was perhaps some harkback of her early life. Some sun-baked paradise cove in the West Indies maybe.

I was gobsmacked then to discover that there really is a place called Ma-Me-O Beach… landlocked in the middle of Alberta! Its Wikipedia entry even mentions Joan Armatrading allegedly liking the name as she saw it on a road sign (maybe she was lost?!).

Source: Google Maps – Ma-Me-O Beach, Alberta

Wikipedia tells us it’s a summer village located on the southeast shore of Pigeon Lake, in Alberta, Canada. It is located approximately 100 km southwest of Edmonton. Note it’s just north of “Westerose” too. I guess it’s a “summer village” because Winter’s coming…

It seems Ma-Me-O derives from the Cree word for “pigeon”, omîmîw (ᐅᒦᒦᐤ).

So there you have it… binge-watching Temple to Joan Armatrading and back to Western Canada.

More of His Nibs

20 01 2021

OK, so if you’ve been following, you’ll know I took receipt of half a dozen new dip nibs yesterday. If you missed it and want to catch up on the fascinating story, you can click here. If you didn’t miss it, you already know it was far from fascinating.

I’m sure I was not alone in keeping my nibs in a small Altoids tin with a bit of kitchen towel to try and keep them dry and rust free. Practical but not what you might call aesthetic.

A hint of minty freshness

I couldn’t help feeling though that perhaps my nibs were getting a bit muddled and even in danger of getting damaged. It was kismet then that I happened across an old blog posting by Anne Elser who described a “calligraphy nib book” she’d made.

Source: Anne Elser – Calligraphy Nib Book

I’d previously seen a similar concept using slices of corrugated card to sort and “file” calligraphy nibs, but Ms Elser’s version (allegedly derived from one used by her friend Victoria Lansford) was a step beyond.

Such good ideas take on a life of their own and want to multiply and develop beyond their origin. It’s a form of evolution. Really! It’s true – Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” for it (French for “same”) in his book “The Selfish Gene” back in pre-Internet 1976, and look what happened there! Ironic that the very word took on a life of its own.

Source: Lifewire

So I did a tad more digging and found Ms Elser had even gone to the trouble of creating an instruction sheet with easy to follow, er, instructions.

Source: Anne Elser – click to go to original page

So simple in fact that even I could follow them!

I happened to have a scrap of Coroplast (the stuff “for sale” signs are made from – get one from the dollar store if you can’t grab one from someone’s lawn sign) which I thought might be a bit more hardwearing than ordinary corrugated card.

It was comfortably large enough (Ms Elser’s plans call for a letter-sized piece, 11″ x 8½”), and I set to work…

Neat nibs

The standard pitch of the tubes was a little too large for the crowquill sized pointed nibs I had (bottom/right in the photo). They disappeared down the bottom and held on petulantly to the duct tape they found there. Having recovered them with the aid of a cocktail stick, I found a neat solution by snipping off a centimetre or so of Q-tip and putting that in the slot first. The cotton swab stopped the nib dropping all the way to the bottom of the tube and the rolled paper stick stopped the nib rattling in the tube too. It actually held it quite firmly so it won’t fall out when tipped up.

If I were to make another (an evolutionary step), I’d make the folder a little less deep. An inch (pieces 2 and 4) is too fat for the 4 tiers of nibs. Either that or add more tiers I suppose.

The other tweak I’d make would be to make piece 3 slightly shorter (by the thickness of the card) and place the “pages” slightly higher on piece 1 (by that same thickness). That would allow the final flap (piece 4) to sit on the inside of piece 1, flush beneath the “pages” and keep things a little neater.

All in all though – a quick and easy way of storing your loose nibs and more easily seeing what you’ve got.

His Nibs

19 01 2021

So, a very good friend once bought me some “dipping pen” nibs. You know – the type you put on the end of a wooden or plastic holder, dip in ink, and write with sumptuous copperplate or italic majesty.

Source: Wikipedia – Copperplate

I was particularly impressed by the thoughtfulness to source so-called “left-oblique” italic nibs to cater for my sinistrality. Mitchell, a UK manufacturer cater for we cack-handed folks.

Source: NotJustACard

Like many others before me, I quickly discovered that the nib itself is merely a tool, and the tool at the other end of the handle needs to practice significantly more than most are prepared to! Over the intervening years I have learnt much, such as…

  • That the nibs themselves often come with a rust-resisting waxy lacquer on them, when new. If you don’t remove this, then the nib surface remains hydrophobic… resisting water-based inks (like 99% of what you’ll probably try to use). This means the nib won’t be able to hold much ink and as a writer you’ll be frustrated, re-dipping your nib every letter or two. Hardly practical or enjoyable.
  • That there are many suggestions of how to prepare the nib by removing this lacquer. These range from simply sucking it for a minute to let your saliva dissolve the lacquer, dropping it in recently boiled water for a while (scientifically flexible duration), sticking it in a potato for a 30 seconds or so, or even passing it through a match flame a couple of times. (I don’t recommend this myself – see below). Personally, I always let my new nibs sit for a while and a half in rubbing alcohol. Any alcohol will do, though I don’t recommend your dad’s best single malt. it’s just a solvent for the wax. Acetone (nail varnish remover) will do too.
  • That the nibs are actually intended to be disposable. Professional calligraphers who make a living from wedding stationary often discard a nib after only 100 or so “pieces”. Say 30 invitations with address and return address. They’re typically made from relatively low quality steel and the “pointed nib” variety can be easily bent or damaged. Say by heating them in an open flame…
  • That there are more kinds of paper than there are shops selling them. Lovely-looking papers can unexpectedly be abysmal to write on with a dip pen. In photography, a technically good photo is a result of balancing exposure, aperture and film/sensor sensitivity. All three need to be in equilibrium. With writing the equivalent trio of influences is paper, ink, nib. With the appropriate nib and ink you can write on pretty much any surface. However, for any given ink/nib combination, by implication – only some papers will give good results. Beginners will do better with shiny papers – they allow the nib to glide more and tend not to “feather” as much (allow the ink to spread away from the written line along the paper fibres). A less pointy nib will not be so scratchy and therefore not be so unfamiliar. Once some basic confidence has been established there’s nothing stopping one pushing these parameters to find what really excites you.
Source: JetPens – Feathering

The biggest learning for me though was that amongst the huge plethora of nib styles there are a family with rounded ends. Not “tipped” like a fountain pen nib, which is smooth and rounded in 3 dimensions, but smooth enough to stop most clumsy beginners from skewering paper. Find one that can hold a reasonable amount of ink (in my case a Speedball B5½), and you can write just as easily as with a fountain pen, but with the advantage that you can swap ink colours in seconds. Sure, fountain pens are always going to have the edge when it comes to ink capacity (that WAS their reason for being developed), but swapping inks is definitely fun!

So here was a writing tool that I could play with, without worrying about becoming an expert at Spencerian calligraphy. I could just write normal letter, envelopes and stuff but with inks I wouldn’t want anywhere near my fountain pens. Not that they’re particularly rare or valuable, but I still have a soft spot for them. I don’t feel comfortable putting iron gall inks in my fountain pens for example, even though they CLAIM to be fountain pen safe. They can be pretty cool though and are waterproof – particularly good for those international envelopes. In fact… any envelope from BC’s “wet coast” can benefit from having its address written in waterproof ink.

Mid December, I ordered a few new nibs to expand my options and try some new things. I placed one order with Blots Pens in Northern Ireland, UK. I’m still waiting for that, but it’s only been 5 weeks, and Christmas got in the way. I know from a family member working at the Royal Mail that they were told not to even handle second class post, so they were plainly snowed under over the holidays.

The second order was from John Neal Books in North Carolina, US. That was ordered on 17th December and turned up today. The nibs were very well packed in an envelope inside a foam-lined box. Potentially previously used for jewellery. Very fancy. Relishing “the unboxing” I noted some odd though ultimately unimportant things…

Firstly the packing slip mentioned a “Commercial Catalogue” as it was a first order on my part. Zero value for the purposes of customs, but apparently weighing 0.1875lb. Pretty specific. And also not present. (Probably cheaper for me that way… could be tempting!)

Next, I noticed that the country of origin for one of the nibs (Leonardt #30 Drawing Nib) was written in by hand. Not odd in and of itself – perhaps it wasn’t known when the packing slip was printed. However, what was odd was that it said “Germany”. Despite its admittedly Germanic sound, Leonardt is a sub-brand of Manuscript, a well-known British company. To top it off, the nib quite plainly says “England” on it in block capitals (Birmingham likely wouldn’t fit)! OK, so I freely admit that this is very anal of me, but this is one of only a handful of calligraphy specialist dealers in North America. Surely they should know more about the brands they carry…

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised to see that whoever had packed the nibs in their neat little manilla envelope had crossed their 7 in the continental style. (Plainly I’ve read far too many Sir A.C. Doyle books in my time!)

I was eventually ready to open the little envelope and look at my new acquisitions:

A bevy of nibs

I was a little too liberal with my purchases (a large glass of Malbec was involved, I recall), and as you can see from the above image two of the nibs are narrower than the others. These were originally intended for mapping and technical drawing and require a narrower nib holder to the usual writing nibs. Oh well: an excuse to buy more writing paraphernalia…

So, from left to right, the nibs are:

  • Brause 66EF: Also known as the Arrow Nib. You’ll see the cut-outs at the side, and this nib promises a bit more “flex”. Nominally an Extra Fine nib, until you engage that flex. Looking forward to playing with this one.
  • Brause 511: Another narrow nib, intended for fine hairlines.

Despite being designed for a narrower nib holder, these two nibs do in fact fit – slightly uncomfortably – in both my plastic and wooden Speedball holders.

  • Hunt 513EF: Extra fine, as you’d expect from the name. Note the large bowl or “globe” as is embossed on the nib. This is to maximise the amount of ink suspended by surface tension and allow longer stretches of writing between re-dips. This is the big brother of the Hunt 512 that I already own. Both are bowled and both have slight tip modifications to reduce snagging on fibrous papers.
  • Leonardt #30: (Clearly embossed with its country of origin. Just sayin’…). Virtually identical size/shape “blank” to the Hunt 512, though formed slightly differently into final nib. Slightly smaller than the Hunt 513EF above, but roughly the same shape. More of a downward curve in the bowl towards the tip, and no modification in the final half millimetre like in the Hunt nibs. Could be scratchy…
  • Brause Ornament nib (0.5mm): This is the smallest of the Ornament range. It has a tip modification to offer a smooth round writing tip. In theory this should write similarly to an F fountain pen. It has an under/over reservoir to really maximise the amount of ink the nib can hold onto between re-dips. I bought this to compare to my existing Speedball B5½ nib which nominally has a 0.8636mm nib (Spot the American brand!), and essentially a B line in a western fountain pen nib. A Speedball B6 offers a 0.381mm line (pretty specific there!) which is more at the EF end of the spectrum. Looking forward to finding out.
  • Brause 76: Universally known as the Rose. Brause worked hard to recreate properties found in vintage nibs, and this is the result. Note the cut-outs again to encourage flex.

So – looking forward to giving them a dip in rubbing alcohol and seeing how they perform. I expect all but the Ornament nib to be challenging, simply because of my lack of experience. Come back later and see how it turned out, and thanks for getting this far!


Write on…

I don’t do Twitter

14 01 2021

I once went to a marketing presentation in Vancouver where Biz Stone spoke, and frankly, I never felt the need for Twitter less. David Usher was a much better speaker and didn’t sound half as baked.

I did however recently discover someone made famous on that platform. He’s even been referred to as the Poet Laureate of Twitter – a UK poet in the vein of Spike Milligan (who wasn’t Poet Laureate of anywhere, but did write “Rain“), going by the name of Brian Bilston – which may or may not be his real moniker, just for good measure.

Here’s one of his more serious works:


They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)
― Brian Bilston

Which I feel I should balance with the more typical light-hearted example below:


you took
the last bus home

i still don’t know
how you got it through the door

but you’re always doing amazing stuff

like the time
when you caught that train

― Brian Bilston

Many more gems to be had on his site.

Do you know?

11 01 2021

Do you know?
Do you feel it too?
Can you sense the world slow down?
We hold each other’s gaze, nothing more.
And time itself dare not pass between.

On Books

12 12 2020

“If you cannot read all your books… fondle them – peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.”

Winston S. Churchill