Even later to the celebration of Ms Earley

28 06 2021

Five years ago, I wrote a small appreciation of the indomitable Mary Two-Axe Earley. Today google caught up. No matter – she’d just be pleased the cause was still being discussed.

Canada’s History: Mary Two-Axe Earley

Purple Prose

29 04 2021

Of late, I’ve been trying to use up the many ink samples I’ve acquired over the last year or so. My Kaweco Brass Sport currently has a very rich purple ink by Pure Pens called Flower of Scotland. It’s part of their Celtic collection. It’s manufactured by Diamine and I recommend it wholeheartedly if you like purples. As my mind idly caused words to appear in my journal tonight, I felt these were suitable for duplicating in type in these dubious pages.

Pure Pens Ink - Flower of Scotland
Source: Pure Pens

I think this ink would be very apt for some romantic poetry or prose from the Victorian era…

Winstanley slammed the door as he left the library. Emily took her kerchief from her sleeve and dabbed the unbidden wetness from her eye. After a moment to compose herself, she tugged on the bell to summon Higgins.

“Yes Miss?” he enquired as he materialised by the door.

“Higgins – Mr Boothman has decided to leave for town a little earlier than anticipated. Have the car brought round would you?”

“Of course Miss. Will there be anything else?”

“No Higgins. That will be all. Thank-you.”

“Are you sure, Miss?”

“I beg your pardon Higgins? What is this impertinence?”

“My apologies Miss. I did not intend to offend. I merely wondered whether you’d like me to arrange for Mr Boothman to be provided with an opportunity to consider his actions.”

“Higgins, are you suggesting doing Mr Boothman some kind of mischief?”

“Admitting as much would place Miss in a difficult position if enquiries were to be subsequently made by officers of the law Miss, so I shall make no such admission.”

“Very well Higgins. I greatly appreciate your loyalty and flexible honesty. Oh – and Higgins?”

“Yes Miss?”

“Take the spade…”

One Down…

25 04 2021

And if my typically obsessive nature plays out as usual: 499 to go.

Let’s back up a bit.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to find myself in Victoria, the capital of our lovely province of BC, here in Canadiania. Popular legend has it that BC moved its provincial capital from New Westminster on the mainland to Victoria on the island. (Originality wasn’t a strong suit in the days of colonial expansion when it came to naming towns and cities). The supposed reason, if you look at a map, is that Victoria is in the south of the island, and the 49th parallel passes well to its north.

Unthinkable to dispossess the province of its capital, so the Oregon Treaty extension in 1846 to the 1818 convention that negotiated the border betwixt Canada and the former colonies to the south follows the 49th line of latitude only until it gets to the Georgia Strait, then detours to the south, leaving Her Majesty’s island possession whole, to the north. A cute story, but the island colony was only unified with the mainland (i.e. became part of BC) and made into the provincial capital in 1866. True that the island colony’s own capital was still Victoria prior to then… but only from ~1854.

Source: Wikipedia

Further east – well into the mainland and not far from my home in White Rock, there are a couple of square kilometres of peninsula to the south of Tsawwassen called Point Roberts that dip below the 49th, and the US had no qualms about planting their flag on this scrap of land, so I think the reality of the island remaining whole is likely more subtle. Perhaps some more learned visitor to these pages can educate the rest of us further…

Source: Wikipedia – Point Roberts, WA State

So anyway – back from that vaguely meandering history diversion… and we were enjoying a quiet weekend in Victoria. I took the opportunity of visiting Munro’s, the book shop. Well – it would be rude not to really! The store was founded in 1963 by Jim Munro and his first wife Alice Munro… the well known Canadian author. (Echoes of a Monty Python sketch somewhere there!)

Source: Wikipedia

More to the point – it’s right next to Murchie’s tea shop!

I was recently fortunate enough to win a copy of a book from Charlie Rufus’ Indian Marmalade Company blog site. It’s a companion volume to the Grimm TV series (which I’ve been voraciously devouring in typically obsessive mode), which includes a character named Munro also. No relation, I hasten to add. One being literary, the other literature. (Or as I sometimes need to tell Mrs. E when she gets too invested in a TV drama- “it’s not real, you know!”).

I ended up buying a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ “Mediatations”, admittedly not in the original Latin, but I did also flirt with a copy of 500 Writing Prompts by Piccadilly. I regretted not buying it as soon as the opportunity was no longer possible. Such is life.

Yesterday though – I happened across a copy in my local Indigo bookshop, and this time I didn’t hesitate. The book is essentially an empty journal of “toothy” paper with writing prompts to encourage creative thought. 500 in fact (I know – shocker! Complete surprise, given the title.)

Source: Amazon.ca

It isn’t PERFECT paper for fountain pens, and my first attempt with Pilot Iroshizuku Asa-gao in the Fine nib of my Narwhal Schuylkill Porpita Navy did produce a hint of feathering, but it’s far from terrible either. I’d go as far as to say I quite liked it. The paper has a strong ivory tint, and I suspect the nature of the paper would preclude any sheen, though I’m hopeful of shading. We’ll see.

Source: Cult Pens – Narwhal Schuylkill Porpita Navy (Mine has much more chatoyance).

The paper’s quite thick, but even the pre-printed prompts have a touch of ghosting, so I wasn’t expecting great things from fountain pen ink. Not bad though. Not bad at all. I’m sure as I work through the prompts, I’ll find some ink/nib combinations work better than others, as is true on most papers. And the primary reason for purchasing it was actually the prompts to creativity… the opportunity for fountain pen use was just a (huge) bonus. The binding is interesting, attached only to the back of the book (“open bound”) and allowing the pages to open completely flat.

I can see this book being a useful kick-start for those moments when I’m staring, pen in hand, at a blank page begging to be filled with words, thoughts and above all else… ink! At my good wife’s suggestion, I opened the book randomly for my first exercise, resisting my tendency to work methodically through each prompt in order. Having freed myself from the need to work sequentially, I felt equally liberated from starting with the prompts offered on the first pages I opened at. Eventually, I settled on Name something you wish was “glow in the dark.” I offer you the results of my warped mind, more as proof I responded to the prompt than anything else:

It occurs to me that the world might be slightly more sanitary if animal poo, and dog poo in particular, was glow in the dark. Though by no means a fool-proof solution, it would at least reduce the frequency of stepping in something unsavoury whilst perambulating after sunset.

As for naming it though… that seems an odd request. I thought long and hard. My friend has a Russian girlfriend called Yulia – like “Julia”, but more exotic. By extension, I assume there are Yuliettes too. So, I therefore suggest to name this proposed glow in the dark item “Yuliette L. Shit”.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

14 04 2021

Apart from everything, you mean?

The latest belter from Quadra Island’s Mother Mother is “I Got Love”, with not a small nod to self-awareness and being comfortable with who you are.

They issued a very bland (near static) video with the song then asked fans to do their own, and send them in. With some truly inspired editing, they came up with this – a tribute to the humility of the band and the creativity of their fans. (Well – except me: I’m just posting the YouTube link!) There’s recognisable snatches of the UK, lots of Vancouver area scenery and small snippets of the band themselves mixed in with mostly fan-generated content. Watch it to the end to really understand the power of music.

Source: YouTube – Mother Mother, I Got Love

Of Blood, Dutch Bulbs and Market Gardening

11 04 2021

Funny old day. More co-incidences (which a little like with Vinyl Café‘s Stuart McLean, is really just an excuse for stringing scenes into a loosely coherent whole).

A couple of days ago I got an email from 23 and Me, which is often an amusing read. As their data volume increases and the statistical treatment and research gets more refined, the statements made about my DNA make-up slightly change over the years. Of course, it’s all massively skewed by the fact that most of their customers are from the US, though they do include other databases of DNA traits, and continually sponsor and include other analysis and research.

Over the years that they’ve had my spit to analyse, the percentage of my DNA has gradually become less British and more “French/German”. I think I’m up to 15% or so non-British now, and drilling down, they’re confident enough to say it’s a specifically French 15%, though they’re reluctant to specify it closer to one wine region or another.

I actually enjoy the thought that by sitting at home enjoying well-priced French varietals grown in our own Okanagan region my blood is gradually becoming more French. I’m sure my good friends from France, Olive’s parents, would be horrified to think one might become more French so easily. About the same as my dear departed pater would be that one could lose one’s Britishness so easily. (Though he’d possibly argue that Britishness is already a loss of Englishness).

Of course, nothing in my DNA has really changed (plus or minus damage from cosmic waves), but the data relating to its make-up and the origin of the various bits of it (technical term) has gradually become more refined. One of the things reported on is when those non-British elements might have entered the ancestral, er, bedroom.

According to the company then, my genetic heredity looks something like this…

Source: 23 and Me – Mixing of Cultures and Bodily Fluids

Neither of my parents have had their DNA tested, so I can’t speak with much certainty about how French, and even more surprisingly, Levantine genes entered my hitherto apparently parochial Yorkshire bloodline. Indeed, I thought my dear departed Nana was exotic when I discovered she was from Lancashire!

To be fair though, my mum’s maiden name is French-sounding, so I suspected the solution to at least the French question might lie in that direction.

It being a slow Sunday morning then, I called the UK to have a chat with the mater and see how things were faring back in God’s Own County. Snow, it seems. Somewhat ironic as I spoke to her from a sun-bathed, warm BC in “the great white North”! I was quite surprised that she knew next to nothing of her own family history or grandparents, let alone further back. She believed her dad was originally from London, but that was about it. (I vaguely remembered a conversation where he mentioned Leatherhead actually, but to most Yorkshire folk that’s just London as it’s south of Watford Gap and maps get vague there. “There be dragons”, etc…).

More coincidence/irony – Leatherhead’s as close to Guildford as I am to BC’s own Guildford in our own Surrey. (Colonists are rarely very imaginative with place naming).

With that line of investigation brought to a screaming halt, the conversation wandered around the usual filial subjects, including COVID, vaccinations, Brexit (actually – no, not this time), how I manage to spend so much money on cameras and pens, and gardening.

As I was chatting on FaceTime, I gazed out of the French window (coincidence?) and noted to mum that one of the tulips the local squirrels had spared this season looked to be only a few days away from blooming. We seem to get fewer every year, and I’m sure the little buggers chow down on them when I’m not looking. Sadly, Spiketta the Devil Dog has recently gone to the great kennel in the sky, so now they don’t even have her pedestrian chasing to contend with.

Spiketta – sadly no longer with us, along with the Canadian pennies on the bench

The mater related how on a trip to The Netherlands the parental units had bought lots of fancy tulip bulbs, but many of them had reverted to boring red after their first showing. Personally, I’m always grateful when my very basic horticultural ministrations result in an actual flower, no matter the colour!

Suitably reassured that mum was in as fine a fettle as usual, I briefly sat in on the conversation Mrs. E had been simultaneously having with Middle Offspring – currently studying in Den Haag. Since her grandma was about to celebrate her 80th circuit around the sun, I suggested perhaps some fancy tulip bulbs might be suitable, since Second Born had herself mentioned a desire to visit the tulip fields this Spring anyway. Nothing more socially distanced than standing in a field I’d have thought, but I suppose it gets popular this time of year. (Not a lot to see, the rest of the time!)

All this talk of tulips had reminded me of the hardships the Dutch had faced under occupation, late in the war – to the extent that they’d been forced to eat tulip bulbs. There had been a post D-Day plan to bring the war to a quick end by the Allies launching the largest airborne assault in history, in an attempt to capture the bridges over the Rhine in The Netherlands and liberate it.

The bridges in and around Arnhem were the target, and Operation Market Garden turned out to be one of the most ill planned operations of the war, with vast numbers of allied airborne troops being slaughtered and cut off due to poor support and intelligence. My grandfather was a survivor of the operation, and this was one of the points in history that helped us do a little genealogical sleuthing. Via Wikipedia, I discovered that his unit – 11th Parachute Regiment, 1st Division was actually formed in 1943 in Egypt, and I remember him telling me about his time in Alexandria, so that fit too.

I once had a business trip to Sicily and remarked to him of the bullet-holes I’d seen in the Palermo courthouse and my assumption it was from the Mafia. He divulged that he had actually fought in Palermo during the war and with a glint in his eye that perhaps the holes were even of his own doing. He didn’t voluntarily speak of his wartime experiences, but small remarks like this hinted at quite the trove of stories he might have told, were he inclined to do so. I was previously unaware he’d ever been to Italy, though have since learnt that airborne troops had extensive involvement though mixed success in the early assaults on Italy.

And so we came full circle. I found hints that his own father may have been in the army too. That he was probably born in Norfolk rather than London. We discovered things on my father’s side too, and Mrs. E’s – including a dark and terrifying Lancastrian connection! No hint of Asterix or indeed any other Gallic connection though, let alone a connection with the Levant.

Oh well – the Internet, like 23 and Me, is continually increasing the access to historical and research records. Who knows, one day I may even discover I’m related to the Syrian refugee family I helped a few years ago!

A Modicum of Success

6 03 2021

When I was a kid, I distinctly remember my mum having an old Be-Ro baking book in the kitchen drawer. The contents of the drawer were simply not always available. This was years before I began reading Terry Pratchett and had no idea about Anoia, Goddess of Things That Get Stuck in Drawers. I just accepted that the knowledge held within its honoured pages would not always be available to us mere mortals. Incidentally, I can report that Anoia relocated to our current kitchen drawers when we emigrated from the UK.

Years later, I grew up (sort of) and remembered that my mum used to make really good scones. Not the cotton-wool “biscuits” found over here in the colonies, but propper, stodgy – dare I say “claggy”? – scones fit for showcasing butter, jam and yes – even clotted cream if the occasion demands it. (Though best of luck trying to find Devon clotted cream this side of well… Devon.)

Being pretty confident that the sum of human knowledge is available somewhere on the Internet I set to, and discovered you can buy the current edition of the Be-Ro recipe book here for a mere £2.99. But it only seems to be available for UK addresses which is a little, er, “Brexit-minded” if I might say so! They do offer a few basic pastry recipes and some tips and tricks in a PDF, but not the elusive scone recipe. There was a Cornish pasty recipe though… so the PDF does have some merit!

So – off I set again, and discovered an online 1923 version at FlashBak.com of the rich scone recipe.

Source: Flashbak.com 1923 Be-Ro Rich Scone recipe

So while this may very well have been the recipe I grew up with, I’m not entirely sure I’m as comfortable with eating lard as maybe I once was. A little more digging and I found a more up-to-date version. It was even in colour, though whoever scanned it had annotated it with a comment about the egg being too “strong”?! Interesting that the recipe was now half the quantities and that the editors had felt the need to make several changes to the instruction emphasis, though it remains essentially the same.

Source: Pintrest UK: Be-Ro Rich Scone recipe

The only slight issue was that in Canada there is no such thing as “self-raising flour”. No problem: a teaspoon of baking powder to go along with the “general purpose” flour we get here, and we were off to the races…

Being a representative of the male of the species I felt it necessary to use every utensil in the kitchen as part of the process. We’d acquired them for just such a purpose, surely!

The only other tweak I made was to bake the experiment for only 8 minutes. Theory being I could always add more time in the incinerator oven if necessary, but not wind back the clock. It turned out that 8 minutes was just right for my own preference. The result was given approval from Mrs E and even son-o-mine. Result!

Can’t say I was too disappointed on the whole. So… tonight I went all in, and doubled up the numbers and went for it…

Though I do say so myself… I think I’ll be fine when the zombie apocalypse comes! 🙂

Even More of His Nibs

3 03 2021

Exactly a month ago I ordered a few different dip pen nibs from John Neal Books in the States. I’ve used them before, and though they’re a little quirky (like taking your money, including cost of shipping, then a few days later contacting you to ask how you’d like your order shipping), I’ve found them pretty well priced and offering a reasonably wide range of products from Brause, Mitchell, Leonardt and Gillott as well as Speedball and Hunt from this side of the pond. They send your nibs or whatever very well packaged and in little jewellery boxes to protect them in the post. A month seems like quite a while from North Carolina to BC, but it’s COVID times – all bets are off at present!

Today they turned up and I had a set of 10 new dip nibs to play with. All but one were new to me, and I looked forward to playing with them.

So what did Canada Post drop today, exactly? Well – quite the selection… from the top, going clockwise:

Hiro Tape 0.5mm. With an integral reservoir, this range is described as “more flexible than Brause nibs but stiffer than Mitchell”. This turned out to be irrelevant though, as we’ll see later. I bought it as an alternative to my Mitchell range of straight-edged nibs. I’ve already homed in on preferring the #5-#6 range of sizes and this, at 0.5mm promised to be in that range and like a fine stub, if such a thing exists.

Brause 180 0.5mm. Nominally another alternative to the previous one, and anticipated to be a little stiffer. I found it suited my heavy handed writing quite well. The reservoir gives a nice long writing time and with such a fine nib, it help stretch it further. I could see myself using this as a playful alternative to a fountain pen for letter writing.

Leonardt Principal EF. One for the flex/copperplate attempts I sometimes amuse myself with. I had to use a very light touch with it, but it was a lot less scratchy than my Hunt 101

Speedball B6. This is a good, solid, uninteresting writer. It puts down a lovely consistent line similar to my Moonman T1’s steel nibbed fountain pen. I was using Robert Oster’s Australian Syrah which seemed to be a little wet on the paper I was using. It would be a ready alternative to a fountain pen for long sessions of “normal” writing, and the reservoir coupled with the relatively fine line lasts quite a while on a single dip. Speedball define the tip as 0.381mm. This puts it in the EF range for a fountain pen, but with the RO ink, it was a generout F, I’d say.

Speedball B5½. This is the only nib I already had a copy of. I liked it so much I bought this as a spare. Slightly wider than the #6, at 0.8636mm. Go on – I dare you to measure that last decimal place on a cold day… Today’s ink/paper had it at a similar line width to the #6 and only slightly broader. Certainly not the x2 the manufacturer would imply.

Speedball B5. Specified at 1.372mm this puts down a thirsty line and needed frequent dips to keep it writing. It’s smooth though, and not a wet line per se – just very broad, like a marker pen almost. I’m looking forward to trying some shimmering inks with this one!

Leonardt Round: #5. This is a straight edged version of my Mitchell #5 which is specifically a left-handed oblique. I found it blotted quite easily and I think I need to condition it a little to be better behaved. Toothpaste, probably, to help with the surface tension. Stiffer than Mitchell and easier to write with given my heavy hand. Noticeably less scratchy.

Leonardt Round: #6. Similar story – a straight edged, stiffer version of my Mitchell #6 left oblique, and easier to master because of that. Didn’t suffer the blotchiness of the #5 and puts down a lovely variable line with normal handwriting. Though I’ve not tried yet, I’m hoping the Mitchell slip-on reservoirs will work with these nibs too.

Gillott 404. This is the easiest pointed nib I’ve tried to date. Coated black and similar to the Hunt 101 or Leonardt Principal in general design. Needs a lighter touch and much practice still, but this seems to be a good gateway nib to learn flex writing styles.

Brause 513. This is a smaller nib, not to be confused with the bowl-designed Hunt 513EF discussed elsewhere in these pages. It can produce very fine lines, and with patience I got it to write quite well. More suited to drawing though, I think.

OK – so what of the Hiro Tape? Well… when I came to use it I noticed a pretty major manufacturing flaw…

The tines were not cut evenly, and the nib slit was so off-centre it barely makes it to the end of the nib. I gave it a go anyway, but the nib was very finicky and not usable in practice. A shame though, because it promised to have been an even writer – slightly broader than the Brause despite nominally the same nib width (possibly due to the manufacturing flaw) – and a very pleasant line weight. I’ll try contacting John Neal, but since the nib is only US$1.06… I don’t expect much recourse*.

The Nib Nest is starting to look full and I’ve got another few nibs en route from Northern Ireland yet…

*Update: I let John Neal Books know about the defective nib so they could check it was a one-off and wasn’t a whole defective batch. They got back to me immediately and offered a refund or a credit. It was only a dollar or so, so this was impressive as the processing fees to them to recredit a Visa card would likely be more than the value of the nib. I thanked them for their excellent customer service and opted for a credit – nothing more guaranteed to make me return and spend more than great service and a company that values its customers.

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!