A Stitch in Time

14 10 2020

OK, so that’s not quite right. The axiom really refers to making timely fixes to avoid long-term larger issues. In this case, it’s more a case of my OCD hating broken things that I know even my limited skills could address, if only I had the requisite parts.

Years ago in the UK, a neighbour gifted me a Parker 25, because, he said, I looked like I knew how to use “an ink pen”. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I graciously accepted the gift and left him to his pigeon loft. Once home, I was a little disappointed to discover the nib was in fact buggered*.

This was some 25 or so years ago. The pen was already old then, being at its height of popularity in the late 70s and early 80s. Though my interest in fountain pens was waning in those days I kept the pen in the expectation that I’d fix it one day. How hard could it be?

Well, scroll forward a few years and a continental move of the family and here we are in BC in the next century and already a good year or so into a “proper” look for a replacement nib for the iconic English-made Parker 25. It turns out that they’re not so easy to come by. In fact, for ages, the only “lead” I had was for a a rare green-coloured section complete with the nib. This was at the joyfully playfully named Battersea Pen Home. This was new old stock (i.e. old stock but never used), but a complete mismatch for my blue trimmed Parker 25.

I should at this juncture point out that I also have two other Parker 25s with a fine and a medium nib. Thanks to the excellent online resources below, I managed to identify the buggered unit as a Mk II (pre 1980) pen, with my others being Mk IIIs from Q4 1980 and Q1 1985.

After many rabbit holes (some expensive for only vaguely related reasons) I finally came across the Pen Museum in Hornsea, in my home county of Yorkshire, run by Peter Twydle, a very friendly and knowledgeable self-acclaimed “pen wizard”. He not only had a selection of Parker 25 nibs/feeds, but could also offer Esterbrook nibs. So – why not?

A quick email exchange and my credit card was a little lighter and the nibs were on their way via Royal Mail/Canada Post. Today the little beauties showed up in perfect unused condition. (I oped for a B nib for the Parker 25 to compliment the F and M I already had).

Straight out of the envelope -English-made (no sunburst) Esterbrook 3556 and Parker 25 B nib/feed

Even my basic skills could manage the simple friction fitting of the Parker 25 nib/feed and the simple unscrewing of the Esterbrook.

Safely installed in their new homes

I’ve recently been buying a few inks in sample sizes of 2-5ml, and only a couple of hours after getting the nibs one of my trial pens ran dry, offering me the opportunity to see what Noodler’s Ink Black Swan in English Roses could do in the B nib. Pleasantly less pink than the Australian version for sure!

I’m little more cautious with what I put in my vintage pens, so the Esterbrook will likely get a dose of either Quink (boring but reliable) or perhaps the slightly more jaunty Sheaffer Turquoise or “Peacock Blue” as it used to be known. I was recently surprised to discover when using it on Tomoe River (old) 52gsm that this actually showed some red/magenta sheen. Totally unexpected. Seems like a safe but fun way to play with my older pens.

*buggered: Technical term, meaning unusable in its current form.

One Shrump at a Time

5 10 2020

I am a fortunate man.

I have three children who by and large don’t seem to object to acknowledging me as their father and if not out and out affectionate at least occasionally generous in their actions toward me.

Last Christmas, FirstBorn demonstrated this filial generocity by purchasing me a voucher for a foraging workshop at Deerholme Farm on the island. We coordinated our vastly complex social calendars (well – she did: mine was empty except for a couple of dental check-ups and an annual appointment with my doctor’s finger), and picked a date in March, which we booked via the website.

Something exciting to look forward to through the early months of 2020. Remember those? The early months, when 2020 still looked pretty much like any other year. You know, forest fires, Ukrainian passenger jets getting shot down, locust invasions in eastern Africa. The usual…

But as March approached, so did “the new normal”. Suddenly, wearing a mask while you asked a bank teller to give you money was perfectly normal, and ferries to and from the island ceased to operate to help protect the inhabitants from the mainlanders and their pestilence.

I got a very polite email from Bill Jones, the owner, apologising to have to cancel the foraging workshops until the proverbial dust settled. As summer came and things tentatively poked their head above ground to see if it was safe to emerge, I got another email inviting me to rebook. This last weekend, in October, was the date that worked for me and FirstBorn, and we had high hopes of it being during mushroom season.

Of course, this being 2020, the weather suddenly got warm again and an Indian Summer dried up what should have been a bumper ‘shrooming season. Mrs E. and I headed over to the island for the weekend and on Saturday, undeterred, FirstBorn and I asked the Google lady to show us the way to Deerholme Farm.

Not somewhere you’d accidentally happen upon, it turns out! Definitely out in the sticks, in a lovely part of Vancouver Island. We even passed a couple of vineyards I’d hitherto been unaware of. Something for our next visit.

We arrived in good time and joined the other 8 people for the small, socially distanced event. We were sat outside, shaded from the steadily warming sun and educated in the mystic arts of mushroom foraging and not getting lost in the forest. Bill is a very colourful character (as was his language on occasion), and full of life stories and deep knowledge.

Oliver, the energetic greeter

As is typical on these niche events there were one or two people who felt the need to measure their “wedding tackle” against each other by asking random questions that other attendees at best found irrelevant and at worst annoying. Bill’s lecture included lots of tales of his own education “in the field” in Alsace and samples of the various mushrooms he’d documented in the take-away notes he’d supplied us all with.

After we were suitably pumped full of information, there was a very convivial lunch. The starter consisted of pickled nectarine, cylindrical beet, mushroom-infused hummus, and of course a sampling of sauteed mushrooms, with homemade bread made with mushroom powder to mop up the drips.

Bill Jones in his natural habitat

The main course was a congee with more locally foraged chanterelles, and we were much in need of the up-coming walk and tramp through the woods by the time we’d finished.

Congee in custom made glazed pottery

All these wonderful dishes, or at least their variants are documented with lovely photos in Bill’s large repertoire of cookery books, highlighting foraged food and North West cuisine.

Bill then took us for a walk through the local woods and byways showing us the various plants that could be eaten. Of course, the main attraction was the amazing variety of fungi that grew on his property, including the amazing lobster mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum), which is actually a parasitised fungus that smells, remarkably, like lobster! There were several other varieties including white chanterelles (Cantharellus subalbidus) and hedgehog, or yellow tooth mushroom (Hydnum repandum).

Lobster mushroom

One of the phenomena Bill showed us was when a new mushroom was just beginning to fruit and was pushing its way through the mossy floor of the forest. As you know, moss can be quite spongy and so can stretch quite a way before giving way to the fruiting body that we know as a mushroom. This allows the possibility for quite a marked hump to develop before the mushroom is visible to the naked eye. These mushroom humps or “shrumps” are highly sought as they indicate mushrooms that have a much lower chance of being mouse or worm-eaten or attacked by slugs, since they’ve yet to be exposed to the air.

Lobster mushroom making a shrump of itself

After a couple of hours of very pleasant meandering, we arrived back at the farm and were treated to a tisane made from grand fir needles with a splash of honey. It was refreshing and surprisingly citrusy. Highly recommended! Alongside that we had a wonderful crumble and homemade sorbet made from foraged fruit and berries.

White chanterelles

What a day! It was almost a year in the making, but it was an amazing Christmas present. The best part, of course, was getting to spend a whole day with my daughter.


EDIT: Bit of Lloyd Cole for musical accompaniment…

Source: YouTube