Small, but perfectly formed

17 01 2022

No, not Mrs E. – though the same could be said there too.

As copiously documented elsewhere on these pages, I have a thing for matte black pens. I also like unusual designs – well executed engineering, not blinged out monstrosities. I also fall foul of the marketer’s FOMO lure on occasion, but only if the price is not outrageous. Sometimes I’m disappointed (like with my Conklin LE Duraflex demonstrator, (No 200 of 898), which while operating perfectly adequately as a writing instrument is nevertheless a travesty of poor execution, with great globs and smears of glue being visible through the clear plastic).

Back in November as advert from ENSSO in California caught my eye. It was for a limited edition of their ITALIA model, made entirely in Copper. Lovely… sign me up. I’ve had a thing for copper patina ever since seeing the extreme examples on various buildings in the UK.

Only downside was that it wasn’t shipping until January. (I’m glad to report it’s on its way as I type.) Hopefully it won’t languish in the USPS system before getting handed over to Canada Post. There’s a stock photo of it here. But I’m sure you know how these things spiral out of control (you’re reading this page, after all!). You begin by looking at one thing, and end up looking at another. Before you know where you are, you’re looking at a neat looking “stealth” pocket pen for the very reasonable sum of US$35. And then there’s the discount for first time buyers, and well, you know…

Source: ENSSO

So anyway, today the ENSSO XS turned up, and it was not quite what I expected. Not in any bad way, mind – it is certainly full-on stealth… matte black section, barrel and cap. PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) Bock No 5 medium nib. Nary a photon escaping its surface…

But, well, it’s even smaller than I’d anticipated! When they say XS, they mean it! I guess I’d imagined something similar to an AL Sport. This is a machined Aluminium pen (and very well executed, I might add), and it’s tiny. This is basically the same dimensions as a Kaweco Liliput.

It came in a simple branded cardboard box with the pen, a clip, a single unbranded short cartridge (black of course) and a couple of O-rings. More about those later.


The pen is machined into a 12-faceted cylinder, with slight chamfering at the cap/barrel join to avoid any sharp edges. Both ends of the pen have a slight conical finish, perhaps a millimetre in height. The very end of the barrel has the only visible branding of ēnsso, and the entire pen is powder coated black. It feels very even and semi-industrial… perfect!

A closer look at the end of the barrel will reveal a slight recess that holds an O-ring in place… very firmly. Another O-ring is in a similar recess on the section and holds the cap in place through friction. Whether the cap is placed closed over the nib or at the back of the barrel to extend it to a full size pen, it is held surprisingly well in place, and there’s a definite engaged/not engaged transition with remarkably little slop between the two. The inside of the cap has a machined ridge/recess which makes for a very satisfying click whether the cap is being used to cover the nib or extend the barrel.

Time will tell how secure this friction fit remains, but the inclusion of two spare O-rings leaves me confident it’s a distant future me problem.

The box included a clip, and though I don’t feel the need to use it, I was impressed to see that it too was machined with the 12-sided design, and not relying on a circular clip to merely have the vertices of the cap to grip on. Given my usage habits, I do not fear this faceted pen rolling anywhere, nor do I feel the need to clip it to any pocket. Nice to know I could though.

ENSSO XS cap is designed to fit the 12-sided cap or barrel

The business end of the pen is a No 5 Bock steel nib (mine’s a medium), and is PVD coated black to match the aesthetic. The leaping mountain goat looks very sleek in all-black

No 5 PVD black Bock steel nib

The barrel takes a standard short international cartridge (I opted to christen the pen with Kaweco Smokey Grey rather than the no-name black it came with), and is not long enough to take even a Kaweco Sport converter. Nor for that matter is the similarly short Kaweco Liliput.

Comparison of ENSSO XS and Kaweco Liliput

The above photo compares the Liliput to the XS. You can see how the XS has a longer section, but shorter barrel. It is only slightly longer than the fully seated short cartridge, whereas the Liliput could at least theoretically hold a half-filled converter (though there’s little point).

In use, it’s slightly longer than the Liliput, despite being almost identical in dimensions when closed.

Kaweco AL Sport, ENSSO XS, Kaweco Liliput

The XS has the longest section of the three pocket pens I compared. In most other regards it’s similar to the Liliput, and I think it will serve as a convenient, unobtrusively carried note-taker rather than a long writing session tool. We’ll see… I’m quite adept at ignoring my most well laid plans.

What a load of…

16 01 2022

So today, via Language Nerds‘ blog, I discovered that the Flemish for “little round thing” is bolleke, used there allegedly, as a term of endearment. The original posting was on Skyparksecure.

Source: Language Nerds/Skyparksecure

The definition is backed by De Koninck, whose many fine beverages I’ve enjoyed on trips through Europe. Here they’re referring to the shape of the glass it is served in (every Belgian beer has its own glass shape to allow the beer to be enjoyed at its best).

Source: De Koninck

In Middle English, bollocks came specifically to mean testicles, likely by borrowing the generic “ball-shape” word from Flemish traders.

In more modern parlance it has come to additionally mean rubbish, or “unsubstantiated opinion that the utterer suspects as invalid”… the prior assertion of the word’s origin being just that.

As in many cases of English vernacular, it can also be used in the opposite, as a great complement, particularly when used in the context of canine genitalia. There are few complements higher than something being declared the dog’s bollocks. Oddly, though, this is originally an editorial term from newspapers, used to describe the now rarely seen opening introduction to a list “:-“.

Personal Values

15 01 2022

Don’t worry – this isn’t about COVID or anti-vaxxers. It’s about value and cost. A bit. Mainly it’s about me just typing stuff as it comes into my head. So – unfiltered naïveté mainly. (And the fun of hunting down all those rarely used characters on the keyboard).

I grew up in a less wealthy part of the UK, but I can’t say I really needed for anything. Sure, as a kid in the 70s I wanted for plenty… but I think I shared that with even the most wealthy of my cohort. And every kid before or since!

My parents did a pretty good job though, and I was fed, sheltered and watered as well as any plant. We’ll gloss over Bretford Nylons and pig’s liver (here‘s a fancy version I was never fed), and focus on the fact I am still an active, contributing member of society several decades later. Job well done, mum and dad!

But there was a practical part to my upbringing – and therefore subliminal education – that tended to appreciate “value”. This is often characterised and even caricaturised as people from Yorkshire being “tight-fisted” or at best “careful with their money”. Personally I see no fault in trying to get the best return from one’s hard-earned money. Especially as for many in the North, it was very hard earned.

But there’s a huge difference – and this wasn’t always appreciated by me at the time – between high value and low cost. Low cost items may not be high value. They may be “cheap” but poorly made, such as colouring pencils that break as soon as one looks at them too suddenly. Their value is therefore low, despite the low cost… you may well end up throwing them away and not getting much use at all.

Or, alternatively, they can be low priced simply due to the mode of manufacture and low raw materials cost. Paper tissues are incredibly low cost per sheet, but they are manufactured in the millions to be used once and discarded. Arguably discount tissues are good value, because they perform as expected despite the low price point… and arguably low expectations of any tissue. Paying 3 times more for a premium tissue doesn’t improve its effectiveness. Its value in use remains essentially the same, but its increased cost reduces its monetary value.

Similarly, many Japanese manufactured goods – say an electronic device such as a TV – can offer great value because for a given price point they may well offer superior build quality, features, or less tangible things such as warranty than other brands. That value is therefore relative to similar offerings at the price point, and not merely measured by its cost.

Value is a weird concept as one delves into it because it’s highly fluid.

Water (maybe “fluid” prompted the example) is incredibly valuable because, quite simply, without it we die! Aside from air, it’s hard to think of something with more absolute value! Yet we complain that the price of bottled water is too much in a café. The reason of course is contextual. At that moment, we’re in the café for recreational reasons (and in absolute terms reasonably well hydrated, despite any thirst we may perceive) – to enjoy a pleasant few moments with friends or perhaps to catch up on our studies and annoy other customers who can’t now sit down because we’ve taken up an entire table for 6 with our text books.

The water’s price is more likely a function of the brand label on the plastic bottle containing it. Whatever the reason, in a café, it’s unlikely to be a life-threatening situation in which the price of the water is a mortal matter. In other places, in other times, it is exactly that, and the price one is willing to pay goes way beyond any financial measure. Indeed there are countless lives that have been lost in order to attain or control even muddy, polluted water, where the alternative is the ultimate price: death.

Admittedly, an example in the extreme, but my take-away is that “good value” and “low cost” do not share a consistent relationship, and the value of an item, even at a fixed cost, may vary by situation.

So called luxury goods add a whole new twist to “value”. A peculiarly human thing, we associate value to the very concept of brand. A name, a logo, even a colour – it is amazing that simply by applying it to an article we can somehow increase its desirability (contextually) and therefore increase its perceived value. Someone in need of a bag to haul their groceries sees no additional value in a bag branded Louis Vuitton, over one branded Morrisons. Someone on the other hand who is keen to be perceived as glamorous when out and about may see huge “value” in the former, and an actual negative value in being seen with a supermarket carrier bag.

And so we come to fountain pens. A device that has moved from a workaday functional item in the 1920s to a less common or even luxury item in the 21st century.

There are those amongst us who perceive fountain pens merely as “coloured plastic sticks with ink coming out of (hopefully) one end”. Indeed – this would then apply to any number of technologies including gel pens and Biros. If you’re merely looking for something to write with – they’re all of equal value…

There are others that enjoy the history of the engineering discoveries that allows the ink to be delivered in a controlled, even manner; the chemistry in the various types of inks; the different methods of paper manufacture. Every mode of human activity has its nerds.

There are the “brand whores” who prefer Montblanc or any number of Italian brands because of the name, and irrespective of any design issues – confusing brand marketing with quality. Like those in North America who value Mercedes “because it’s posh” and are dumb-founded to find almost all taxis in Germany are Mercedes.

Each finds value through their own lens.

Then there are the pen users – and of course they may also reside in one or more of the previous arbitrary categories too. I consider myself one of these.

I enjoy writing with a fountain pen. I appreciate a nicely executed pen design. I love the way my Parker Vacumatic looks, I enjoy the history of its design… and I hate the way it writes. Not because it’s in any way defective, but I simply don’t like extra fine (EF) nibs… which is how this one was made back in the early 1940s. A thing of beauty, not inconsiderable financial value, but rarely used by myself and therefore unappreciated (unvalued) at some level.

At the other extreme, I own many sub-$20 pens that I love on all fronts and use regularly. They write well, they’re reliable, they feel solid, and I like the way they look. In the middle ground are some older Parkers, a couple of Opus 88s, Narwhal and many other new and vintage offerings. I enjoy and use all of them (even the Parker Vacumatic on occasion), but I have to admit that the lower cost ones most often offer the biggest bang for the buck.

Like the tissue, they do what is expected just as well as many higher priced offerings, and though they may not have the brand cachet of more expensive pens they often look just as good, display equally high design features and at the end of the day, lay just as bad an example of ones handwriting on the page as the most expensive Montblanc.

My most recent acquisition was a Jinhao 95, which slipped into the cart when I bought a Jinhao 9035. I have a few “types” when it comes to pens, and this one appealed to my love of stealth pens. I love the vintage green marble look as displayed on my vintage Mabie Todd, Wyvern and others. I love all-metal pens such as the Parker 25 and other Parker “Flighters”. I have an all-copper Retro 51 Tornado, for example, as well as a Kaweco Brass Sport. And then there’s the “stealth” style. These are all-black pens, ideally including the nib.

Historically of course many pens were all-black, though usually this was (still is, in fact) a high gloss black and often accompanied by chrome/silver trim or gold trim – often abbreviated to CT or GT in pen-parlance. Stealth style pens in contrast use a matte black finish to barrel, cap and section, trim that is black or no trim at all, and ideally a black PVD (physical vapour deposition) coated nib. Cheaper offerings simply paint the nib.

The Jinhao 95 I selected fit the bill perfectly, and was right at home with other pens of the style I already owned.

Jinhao 95, Lamy Studio, Hong Dian 517D

The overall finish is very similar to the black Studio LX I own, though the matte finish is ever so slightly more reflective. The metal parts are all a smoky very dark grey, including a firm, serviceable clip and “JINHAO” and “95” engraved on the cap’s lip. The cap has a plastic liner to prevent the nib drying out, and the seal is so effective that the cap makes a gunshot crack as it clips shut.

The nib is a standard Jinhao steel No 5 nib with the usual border decoration, horse and chariot logo and Jinhao F on it. As mentioned, this model comes with a black-painted nib, which is housed in a removable nib unit for ease of swapping by unscrewing. There is a slight step up to the barrel from the section, but it is smooth and inobtrusive to the grip when writing.

I inked my pen with Diamine’s Peach Punch, as obtained from the 2021 advent calendar. I find this particular ink needs a little dwell time or a wet nib to get the best from its shading capabilities, and that meant having to press a little harder with this stiff nib than I’d really like to. I have no concerns about damaging the nib, but it just makes for a less enjoyable writing experience. A wetter, more saturated ink or maybe a broader nib at some point might solve that. This totally serviceable but nail-like nib is my only (very mild) gripe.

The inner collar holding the standard converter and having the threads for the barrel to screw to is also made from the same smoky grey finished metal as the other fittings, giving a classy feel to even the hidden parts of the pen.

All fit and finish points are well executed – there’s no wobbly cap or uncertain threads. I’m sure the matte finish will not stand up unmarked to years of abuse, but then I’m not sure my much more expensive Lamy Studio’s will either! I paid around CAD$6 for this pen, delivered. (Well over $100 for the Lamy). That puts it in the price range of a disposable Pilot V-pen or an all-plastic Platinum Preppy. They are all excellent designs, built to a price, but the heft and feel of this pen is far superior to either, and is all metal. I myself prefer the look of this Jinhao, but at the end of the day, perceived value is a very personal and situational concept.

I can stop. Anytime I like.

15 01 2022

Habits come in many forms.

Some are good habits, like automatically washing your hands when you’ve been to the loo or, just as importantly – in the COVID times – as soon as you re-enter your home.

Some are bad habits, like smoking or incessantly tapping on the edge of your desk when you’re working at home (according to the lovely Mrs E.).

Some are fashionably very questionable in the 21st century.

The thing habits have in common (unless they’re the scratchy wool kind) is that they’re automatic subconscious actions or processes and very hard to unlearn. No. 3 offspring educated me to the unsupported “fact” that it’s of the order of 3 months to “unlearn” a habit. He read it on the interwebs, so it must be true.

Smokers are often heard stating some variation of “I’m not addicted – I can stop any time I want.” It’s the sufficiently wanting to that is often the crux of the issue, though even with that firmly in one’s sight, a true habit still takes much breaking and all too often is readily reacquired. The share-holders of Weight Watchers International bank on it in fact. Literally.

So – enter fountain pens. As a school kid somehow earning a local government scholarship to a grammar school (now a private school beyond the reach of many – yay capitalism), I was required to use a fountain pen. A few came and went – either through the natural rigours of teenage schooling, or occasionally from poor manufacture (looking at you Platignum… just sayin’).

As I grew older though, and entered the sixth form, I acquired a “proper” pen – a Parker 45 – and that saw me through the rest of my formal educational years including university. Being subsequently employed in the newly minted dark arts of computer programming (AKA “the 80’s” for those studying modern history) I had less and less need of an analogue writing stick.

I did occasionally reach for a disposable fountain pen – mainly for the chance to use outlandish colours like green or purple. These were still the days of sedentary Blue/Black Quink ink for fountain pens, but the wily Japanese were busily cross pollinating what they’d learnt from gel pens into more exciting alternatives (if not entirely environmentally sound ones) for fountain pens. It was literally decades before I realised one could refill/reuse a “disposable” fountain pen.

Then the years passed, as they always have. Mortgages got signed. Children got born. Continents got moved. Not in the tectonic way (though that happened a bit too), but in the BA flight 85 kind of way. Somewhere along the passage of time my wonderful father-in-law bought me a new fountain pen (Sheaffer Sagaris), which I religiously used every day for work notes.

Recently, COVID entered our vocabulary, and in a lot of tragic cases, our lives.

Working from home happened.

Profound grumpiness occurred.

A chance re-discovery of my old Parker 45 at the back of a drawer also occurred (distractions had been actively sought… even to the extent of tidying rarely visited backwaters of the newly emptied nest). This was pivotal. I now had TWO fountain pens at the same time. Two is a collection. So is more than two, it turned out. That was 18 months ago.

Today I have around 60 fountain pens. Some are relatively expensive ($250 in my case – though for some collectors that counts merely as entry level), but most are not. I do however use all of them, though obviously not all at the same time!

That many pens could consume a lot of ink, you might think. Well… let’s just say I have that covered too.

But of course if you’ve got a lot of pens and a lot of ink to go in the pens, you’d need a lot of paper to write on wouldn’t you? Well… so you’re getting the idea now why this began as a piece on addiction?

But I’m getting better. Honest I am.

I try not to buy pens now just because I like the look of them. I try and leave those for my family to get for birthdays and Christmas. But it’s not perfect. Without meaning to trivialise the situation of any reader struggling with a health-impacting addiction, I am, nevertheless still drawn to the “add to cart” button on many stationery web sites.

I try very hard to limit myself to one new pen a month, and thankfully my tastes are rarely expensive. But all-metal pens (what Parker terms “Flighter”), or all black pens (AKA “stealth”, especially if the nib itself is coated black) are a particular weakness.

In October, I read the often informative “mnmlscholar” blog, and he described a new pen he’d just acquired. This was the Jinhao 9035, a mid-sized pen made of wood. Neither stealth or metal, but… interesting! Jinhao is a Chinese brand, but I have to say that I now own several different models from their stable, and have found the ones I have acquired to be very well made and reliable. I do tend to go for their metal bodied options which may improve the leeway for higher build quality, but I also own no less than four of their 992 model which are clear plastic and just as reliable.

Whilst innocently investigating the 9035 pen on AliExpress, I discovered another new-to-me Jinhao model, the “Stealth” styled Jinhao 95. The pair of them came to a little over $12 shipped to Canada, and the compulsion was strong with me that day…

Well that was back in late October 2021, and much has happened since then. Including ordering one of a new 200 pen limited release of an all-copper Italia from Ensso, which may well be documented in a later blog post.

Source: ENSSO

Hopefully the delivery isn’t impacted by the recent train robberies in California, from whence it is coming!

Fast forward 2½ months, and on Friday the Chinese pens appeared in my post box.

Wooden Jinhao 9035 and “Stealth” Jinhao 95

To ease my (not very prominent) guilt a little then, I thought I’d share my early impressions of these newcomers to my collection. Maybe someone will find it useful, and at the very least it’s keeping me out of Mrs E’s way for a while as I write this.

Firstly the Jinhao 9035…

I opted for the walnut finish (on some sellers’ sites it’s referred to as specifically American walnut), though it does seem to be available in rosewood too. I’m no wood expert and can’t really comment, beyond a general statement that it’s a lovely colour and seems well finished with no scratches, gaping “pores” or other irritations. There’s also no evidence of what must surely have been a mechanical turning process, so kudos to the QA folks at Jinhao. It seems well smoothed, but not obviously varnished. It may have been treated with Danish oil or something, but has no obvious smell, and I fully expect it to “weather” as the grease from my fingers impact the wood over time.

As you may be able to see from the photograph above, the cap has a pretty standard Jinhao steel clip. It has a springiness strong enough to cause the ball end (formed from the plate steel) to scratch the wood underneath slightly. The clip is adorned with the company’s logo of a horse and chariot. I note that it is the right way round when the pen is held in the left hand… something I appreciate!

The lip of the cap is protected by a metallic ring, though the cap threads behind it are plastic and are part of the seal lining within the cap to prevent the nib drying out. This extends up to hide the inside fixing of the clip, which enters through a simple well-formed cut in the wooden cap. The metal lip of the cap provides a neat IKEA-style wood/chrome finish to the pen when the cap is closed and the cap extends around the barrel by a good millimetre or so giving a vaguely mushroom appearance when closed.

The business end of the pen is a standard Jinhao No. 6 steel nib, which is marked with a border pattern, their chariot logo, their brand name and a claim of being 18KGP, or 18 karat gold plated (carats are for diamonds if you were wondering).

I’m no metallurgist, so I’ll leave that one just hanging there, but I will say that I have used several of these nibs on Jinhao X750s and even bought the simple nibs to replace other No 6 nibs on Moonman, Noodler’s and Narwhal pens. I find them slightly springy, wet and generous and suit my writing well. I have yet to struggle with a single Jinhao nib – though I do tend to avoid their lower end Lamy knock-offs and most of their plastic offerings. I find these No 6 nibs particularly reliable and though I’m sure statistically there must be some duds out there, I’ve yet to get one that needed anything special before using it “out of the box”.

Though I inked up the pen with Lamy Turmaline before checking (my bad… too excited) I’m pretty sure the nib isn’t in a screw-out nib unit, and would require pulling from the section housing along with the feed. I’ll try and remember to confirm that once I dismantle it for cleaning.

The section itself is a little shy of 2cm in length and is bookended by chromed rings. It’s very similar in style and feel to the X750 section, but not the same. The metal ring at the barrel end of the section hides the join and merges with the threading on the barrel to engage the cap. The cap closes in 1¾ turns for those who are particular about those things. The metal here engages with the aforementioned plastic cap threads and gives a firm closure and no noticeable play in the cap once closed. The threads are square cut and unobtrusive when gripping the pen for writing. They also form a transition to the step-up of the barrel, which might be seen in the above photograph.

The pen comes provided with a standard Jinhao converter. Again – apologies for inking it up before checking whether the nipple is of the narrow or broader “standard”. Though both will take arbitrary International Standard cartridges, there is a little less forgiveness when using a third party converter. I believe the difference is 2.6 mm or 3.4mm. Not a lot, but enough to cause leaks with some converters. Again – I’ll try to remember to update this post when I dismantle the pen.

The collar by which the section screws to the barrel is metal and seems well made with no sharp edges. It is engraved with the brand JINHAO in capitals and model 9035 in italics. The collar is around 12mm in length and securely holds the converter in place. About 5mm of the collar are threads to engage the barrel and are finer than those holding the cap in place.

The wooden barrel itself is unlined, save for the metal insert which is threaded to receive the section and engage with the cap. It seems roomy and well finished on the inside, with no visible splinters or cracks.

All in all, the example I received seems well finished, with no rough edges or bad joints. This has been my typical experience with Jinhao, and I am amazed they can make them for the price they are sold.

I don’t post my pens, but the inner threads of the cap – even though they’re plastic – would not be kind on the wood of the barrel over time, I suspect. I briefly tried though, and the cap seems to be firmly held by the friction, if that’s your thing.

OK, so to illustrate my assertion that I can indeed stop any time I like, I’ll call that it for this post and talk about the Jinhao 95 in a separate outing to the keyboard. Until next time…

Polyamory is wrong!

9 01 2022

I just started to read The Prodigal Tongue by Lynne Murphy. She’s an American academic living in the UK (Specifically England actually) and writes from an interesting perspective. She acknowledges the often unproven or even plain wrong sentiments by many Brits that “Americanisms” are diluting the language, but gently shows examples of how in reality many examples are simply the language naturally evolving. On occasion the “Americanisms” turn out to be from Australia or New Zealand which I appreciated as they’re often ignored as places perfectly capable of generating their own variants of language (or yeast extract).

Prodigal Tongue by Lynne Murphy. Source – Book Depository

Anyway – only just started, but I thought I’d share the following:

Polyamory is wrong!
It is either multiamory or polyphilia but mixing Greek and Latin roots?

More fun and games here.


15 12 2021

WordPress tell me they’ve been hosting these humble scratchings on my behalf for a whole decade now. I’m a little taken aback by that, to be honest. It seems only a couple of weeks ago that my very good friend suggested I write a blog as a means of expressing myself and dealing with what Capote’s Ms Golightly calls the mean reds.

Gratuitous photo of VanDusen Festival of Lights 2021

We were on a business trip to Brazil at the time… my first time to South America, and where I discovered caipirinhas. And so, on 13th December 2011 I put finger to keyboard and became a blogger… whatever that meant!

My fist tentative toe-dip was called So Many Opinions, So Little Time…, and re-reading it just now I am embarrassed. Yes, by the arrogance I displayed and still share with any blogger: that someone else might actually read their musings; yes by the clumsy anti-French jibes so common of those jealous of others (especially their skill in bread baking); but most egregiously… for the typo. Yup, I misspelt “metric” 10 years ago and never noticed. Perhaps if someone had ever actually read the page in the intervening decade, I might have felt the pressure to address the issue! Now, I think it needs to remain – a testament to my total lack of sexual encounters given. But shorter.

But hey – this is therapy, so blog on I did. For a total (thus far) of 1,101 postings, or about one every 3 days. Which, considering I “dried up” from February 2018 to May 2020 isn’t that bad as a method of self expression (though often the expression was one of total confusion and denial)! I guess COVID was a factor in my 2020 rekindled interest in self-expression, but who knows? Who, for that matter, cares?

The interwebs, we are told, are kitten-powered. I loathe cats. They’re vindictive little buggers and would smother you and eat you for breakfast if they thought they could. In fact, here in BC, cougars can and occasionally do.

Cats – see? Give me a dog any day… and talking of that, here’s a gratuitous photo of my ex-dog back in Christmas 2012 when the idea of a clown being president or a return to the horrors of a global pandemic the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Spanish Flu 100 years ago seemed laughable.

If you got this far – I thank-you. It’s strangely comforting to know that there are others out there who will read almost anything, just on the off-chance they may learn something new or have an opinion changed or at least questioned. Here’s to the next decade… if we haven’t set the world on fire by then!

It’s normal, right?

27 11 2021

As I got older, and strived to get wiser, I came to realise that “normal” is a much-misused word when applied to a group of items with constantly changing characteristics.

People, say.

At best, it can only be applied to a fixed group in a set circumstance for a set period of restricted observation time. Enough philosophising – despite being left-handed, B blood type and any number of other labels that are deemed unusual (I have more than the average number of legs too – think about it…), I’m pretty content with who I am most days, and almost always at ease with my current obsession, whatever that may be.

Since COVID, I’ve rekindled my interest in fountain pens and associated accoutrements. In the before-times I had a monogamous relationship with my pen. As a school kid I had a series of Platignum offerings, most often Silverline, which true to form ended up getting broken due to the typical build quality of most British manufacturing in the 70s (looking at you TR7, as well as pretty much the entire Leyland range!)

As I progressed towards the lower sixth form (via the “Transitus” – it was that kind of school), my parents bought me a Parker 45 with a gold M nib, which I still have to this day. College saw me dabbling in many dark arts, including gel pens which I continued to use as I began my work life, before discovering disposable fountain pens (which I recently discovered needn’t be so disposable after all) in all manner of lurid colours which suited my off-beat style at the time. Strictly one at a time though…

Several years ago, my lovely father-in-law bought me a Sheaffer Sagaris with a fine nib which became my every-day work pen, never failing me once. Having previously been an M nib user (and even on the fat side of that, with the UK-made Parker 45), this F was a new experience which I struggled with at first. It became a firm (no pun intended) favourite though, and my only gripe now is a self-inflicted loose-ish cap due to my incessant popping on/off of the same. Hey – I don’t smoke. Don’t judge…

And then COVID… and everyone’s world changed. “Normal” meant nothing at all any more.

And then I saw a Parker 51 on Craigslist… which led to another, and then a Vacumatic, and then a burning need to find a replacement nib for a Parker 25 I was given years ago, and then I discovered AliExpress and the awesome upper-end offerings of Jinhao, and then… I realised it was simply too late to pull up. I was in deep and the door had shut tightly behind me. This was my new normal!

Drawers full of ink for every possibly occasion (but as Barenaked Ladies’ “Life, in a nutshell” teaches us – it’s never enough!); more fountain pens than I can shake a stick at (and I have access to pretty large sticks in BC!); newfound uses for After Eight tins (10 30ml Diamine ink bottles fit perfectly); shotgun cartridge boxes (they neatly hold 25 5ml ink samples); 35ml film storage boxes (perfectly fit 10ml J Herbin ink bottles)… you get the idea.

Nestle After Eight tin fits 10 x 30ml Diamine inks perfectly.

So here we are, well into the COVID times and I find that anywhere between 6 and 10 concurrently inked fountain pens is now totally “normal”. Oddly (for too much “normal” just isn’t well, normal), I now use a “disposable” Zebra pen for my work… though truthfully that is just a different room of the house these days. For me-time though – I currently have the following selection all inked up with lots of places to go (to completely mangle a Meatloaf song).

Current Desk Companions in a repurposed Dollar Store makeup brush tidy

  • First off, we have my latest acquisition. This is a lime green Opus 88 Picnic with a medium nib. It’s an eyedropper and at 2ml takes a healthy amount of ink. It only sports a #5 JoWo, but is a lovely smooth writer and has a bit of bounce to it. Love it! Very comfortable size in the hand. Currently inked with the last few drops of my Pure Pens Celtic Sea sample. The thing about eyedroppers is that they’ll easily accommodate an entire sample bottle, so it’s useful to use a graduated syringe to make sure you leave a little for later if you want to try it in another pen too. The Opus 88s look like piston fillers but they actually have a Japanese-style valve to close off the feed if you’re nervous about your pen “burping” if you ever get to sit in an aeroplane ever again!
  • Next in line we have a Pilot V-pen, currently with Platinum Classic Citrus Black. I’ve refilled this nominally disposable pen a couple of times now, and it’s a great option for a grab it and go choice because it’s so cheap and robust. I tend to leave iron gall inks in it for writing envelopes, though citrus Black doesn’t really work well for Canada Post. Once I write it dry I’ll likely refill it with Noodler’s Bad Belted Kingfisher, or some other more mainstream water resistant colour. I chose to “customise” it by using rubbing alcohol to clear the branding off the barrel and making it a pseudo-demonstrator.
  • Opus 88 Demonstrator with Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. This has been in the line-up for a few weeks now. Another lovely Opus 88, and with a fine nib and a whopping 4ml of ink capacity, it’s taking an absolute geological age to write dry! It’s a real unit though, so make sure you try one in the flesh before you commit if you’re attracted by its undeniable good looks but have a small hand – it’s a large, if light, pen.
  • Jinhao 911 with their hooded EF nib, which at 0.38mm is a solid F in most people’s view. I bought this because of its looks. It’s like a skinny, Flighter version of Parker’s classic 51 (the original – this is a click cap. The 51A is a more literal “homage”, as the name might suggest. Their 85 model is a dead ringer for a Flighter version of the new Parker 51 at a fraction of the price, and a screw cap). It’s always been a solid performer but at less than CA$5, I feel comfortable using it with unknown quantities when it comes to inks. At the moment it has Noodler’s Ink’s Bad Belted Kingfisher in it. I recently bought this on the island during a lovely visit to Island Blue art shop. I have a few waterproof/resistant inks, but they’re all a bit funky, colour-wise. I decided it was time I strove for that “normal” again, and started to look for a blue or blue-black ink I could use for envelopes, having had a couple of letters only delivered by the near-forensic efforts of the Royal Mail. They were somehow getting drenched between my address here in a rainforest and my recipient on the wet British Isles. A wonder more letters don’t get delivered completely washed out, really! As with other Noodler’s inks I’ve tried, it feathers in anything like an M nib unless using coated paper. This 0.38mm nib is definitely on the broad side for most envelope papers I’ve tried with this ink, but it’s a nice enough colour and seems to resist the water once it’s properly dried and combined with the paper fibres. A thinner nib/better paper should be better.
  • Platinum Preppy with Platinum blue/black cartridge. This is the thinnest nib I own, except for my Vacumatic. Once the cartridge it came with is dry I think this will realistically become my Noodler’s envelope-writing pen. I bought a converter to use with it, but being only an EF/0.2mm nib (about half of Jinhao’s “EF”), this nib is taking its time to drink the cartridge dry. It tended to hard start when it had been left unused for any time at all, hence why I store it nib-down. Doesn’t have any issue otherwise. Not bad for $4.50, but very plasticky compared to the – cheaper – Jinhao’s solid build quality.
  • Lamy AL Star with Lamy blue cartridge. Another pen that’s been in rotation for a while… I think it’s because I don’t find the supplied blue ink particularly appealing, so it doesn’t get much use. It’s totally problem-free, and I do like the B nib (I love the all-matte black livery of this pen, including coated nib), and I look forward to trying it with a more interesting ink.
  • Finally, I pulled an old favourite back into circulation. This is an old Parker Vector. I think it’s called a “sport” because of the black rather than more usual silver trim. M nib. Made in the USA. Currently filled with Noodler’s Navajo Turquoise. I bought a sample about a year ago when searching for a good turquoise ink. It’s pleasant enough, but given the issues I have with other Noodler’s inks and the fact they only sell in 90ml bottles, I think I’ll stick to Sheaffer.

Since I mentioned a couple of different Opus 88 models and referred to their sizes, I thought I’d add this useful graphic I spotted on FaceBook a while ago. Please check out the Opus 88 page, if you’re a FB user – they have some awesome products, and as you may have read elsewhere in these pages, their customer service is absolutely amazing. I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Taiwan a couple of times for business and I can tell you if I ever get the chance to go back, I’ll be bringing an armful of their product home with me next time!

Original posted on FaceBook by Opus 88 and created by Dan Cincu

Challenge Accepted!

6 11 2021

I was very restrained yesterday, and and focused on 5th November being Guy Fawkes night rather than Fountain Pen Day. Living in Canada means that with the exception of a single random firework being set off in the neighbourhood (more likely a Diwali lingerer), there was not much chance to celebrate with fireworks, treacle toffee, baked potatoes and accidentally roasted hibernating hedgehogs whilst willfully ignoring the fact you’re burning the effigy of a man involved in a failed catholic plot to overthrow the British government in 1605. Ah… such warm childhood memories. Literally – those bonfires could be huge!

But today my resolve broke and while accompanying Mrs E. on a trip to Richmond, I fell into the MUJI shop. The time of year meant they’d replaced many of their usual stationery offerings with diaries, and having just got my Rhodia A5 one I wasn’t even tempted.

Image Source: Cult Pens

I was however tempted by their 5-pack of exercise books, tantalisingly labelled as “anti-bleed-through”. Challenge accepted!

MUJI “anti-bleed-through notebooks”

For a mere $4 what could I lose? (OK… $4, I suppose!)

The notebooks are B5 (defined here by MUJI as 179×252mm rather than the “proper” ISO size of 176×250mm – still close enough in the grand scheme of things), which is slightly taller than a common-in-Canada Hilroy/MEAD exercise book, and a tad narrower. The aspect ratio is comforting to me as someone who grew up in the UK because it fits the usual 1:√2 aspect ratio of A4 and other ISO defined A/B/C-range sizes, ubiquitous everywhere but North America.

The notebooks are a useful 30 sheets/60 pages, which is a little ungenerous, but then again, they do have nice protective card stock covers with 5 different coloured spine tapes for additional protection. At first, I thought the books were simply perfect bound (glued) rather than the usual “saddle-stitch” of cheap stapled exercise books or actual stitching of more up-market offerings, like Clairefontaine . On closer inspection (full iPhone zoom through a loupe) I noticed that it’s actually 15 individual signatures, notched and then glued. The notching allows the glue a slightly better grip on the spines of the signatures.

Blurry close-up of the spine, showing the folded sheets and the glued spine.

This method leaves a very neat, square spine, and allows a very square final product. The other benefit with not having all 15 sheets folded in a single signature is that the pages lie flat, wherever you are in the book.

The paper is quite smooth with a feel I’ve come to associate with Japanese brands, though this claims to be Indonesian. I’d guess somewhere in the 80gsm range. If you like tooth, this may not be for you.

Pages have 6mm rulings with tick marks top and bottom if you need to add columns. I have a feeling I may find this a little too narrow for my writing – especially with broader nibs which I prefer for their aid with shading, but we’ll see. It’s not a deal breaker… there are plenty of other nibs in my collection.

So, the bottom line though: how does it handle fountain pen inks?

Well – nothing scientific or anything, but here’s what I happened to have inked at the moment. I wasn’t overly impressed with how the Diamine Holly sheened with the “test” line (i.e. not much), so I went a step further and “swabbed” a few of my more sheening inks, to see how the paper faired more generally. I’m not a fan of waste (those Yorkshire genes), so I use a plastic chopstick for swabbing, rather than the more usual Q-tip. I find that surface tension allows a reasonable amount of ink to “stick”, but it almost all transfer to the paper, and you don’t end end up wasting much as you clean things off in water, as you do with throwing a still sopping wet Q-tip in the bin.

Currently inked pens to hand, plus some sheeners.
Rear of page showing some ghosting where ink had sat pooled for extensive period. Flash photo makes it seem worse than real life.

I found the paper shows shading and sheen pretty well, ghosting only when you insist on leaving a puddle of ink to dry. There was no bleed with the nibs/inks I tried.

The only very slight issue I can report is excessive drying times with usual culprits like Noodler’s Apache Sunset. Olivine was 70 seconds to fully dry the writing from a B nib, but I gave up counting with Apache Sunset. For CA80¢ a book though… who’s complaining? I’d definitely buy these again, and look forward to using them as my “day book” to capture thoughts and ideas, safe in the knowledge that they’ll handle whatever pen/ink I happen to have to hand.

This item is part of the “MUJI afforestation effort”, with typically enigmatic labelling of “PLANTING TREE PAPER” on the packaging, allowing communities to directly choose and benefit from the trees they cultivate. In this case Indonesia.

Today’s cast of participants:

  • Opus 88 Demonstrator with Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. This was a birthday present from my wife and arrived with a very slight, but noticeable fault on the cap. I was blown away with the level of service both Cult Pens and Opus 88 themselves demonstrated in putting it right, and both have received my further business subsequently as a consequence of that behaviour. The ink is a nice enough teal I got as a sample from InkyPaw in Canada about a year ago. Since then, they seem to be struggling and don’t respond via any of the usual avenues (email, phone, web form, …). I’m afraid I can’t recommend them as after months of no replies I recently had to resort to my credit card company to get a refund from an undelivered order. The ink is a solid enough performer, as are all Pilot’s Iroshizuku range I’ve tried so far, but it was just a bit meh, colour-wise.
  • Pilot V-pen with Platinum Classic Citrus Black. I ran this CA$3 pen dry about a year ago, and it’s had a couple of refills since then. They were on offer at Walmart, and I liked the fact they were essentially throw-away if I wanted to carry them in my coat pocket without fear from theft or losing them. The steel nib is still a Pilot though, and it writes perfectly, if boringly. Once dry though, I didn’t see why it was necessary to throw a perfectly functional pen body into the landfill, and there’s always the “re-use” option before the “recycle” one, so… I turned to YouTube and found they are stunningly easy to refill! I essentially followed the steps in the link I put in the pen name, but found a thick elastic band and fingers were more appropriate than a folded tissue and a pair of pliers for removing the nib and feed. I went one step further and used acetone (nail varnish remover) to remove the branding from the barrel, and created a lo-fi demonstrator. Citrus Black is a lovely quirky ink and the iron gall creates some awesome darkening as it oxidises on the page. On this MUJI paper, the effect was immediate, though I have had papers where it’s like writing with lemon juice until the reaction takes place, several minutes later. That can be hard to use if the paper’s not lined, but it’s not a common thing. It’s one of a few water resistant inks I have, but this one is more for the colour than being able to use it on envelopes.
  • Platinum Preppy with Platinum blue/black cartridge. This was an impulse buy when ducking into the Vancouver Pen Shop to avoid the rain (my story and I’m sticking to it – especially if Mrs E. is reading…). I’m a habitual user of M and B nibs, with occasional forays into F or stub if the mood takes me. I have a few EFs from Chinese vendors which are actually typically 0.38mm and solid Fs in practice. This purchase is loudly proclaimed as 0.2mm to avoid any issue of what letter you might like to assign (though they also helpfully add a suggested EF in the corner for the undecided). It came with an included Platinum cartridge (obviously… not Pilot as I claim in the writing test on the page, above!). I bought a converter to subsequently use, but being 0.2mm, this nib lays down an almost homeopathic amount of ink, and I feel I’ll be long gone before it exhausts this included cartridge. Despite its undeniable mid blue colour, this is in fact a blue/black cartridge, and is also allegedly water resistant.
  • Lamy 2000M with Noodler’s Ink Apache Sunset. This is the stainless steel version of the classic Lamy 2000, and weights slightly more than Mjölnir. I find it esthetically wonderful and calming just to look at. Without the ink window it just seems generally more refined than the standard model. Mine has a medium gold nib which I actually find tends more to a B and is wetter than a BC morning. It is the perfect instrument with which to apply shading inks to a page, and Apache Sunset is just such an ink. I have mixed feelings about Noodler’s inks, but Apache Sunset is glorious in its shading, given a suitable paper to work with. It shades from quite a deep orange all the way to pale lemon yellow. It’s quite well-represented in the text I wrote in the image above. I have had it bleed through many cheap notebook papers, but this MUJI notebook had no issues at all.
  • Kaweco AL Sport with Diamine Holly. I like metal pens and pens with something a little off-beat to them. The stonewashed blue version of the aluminium Kaweco Sport was a perfect fit, and I treated myself to one a year or so ago. I bought it with an EF nib, but found it a bit scratchy (Kaweco are notorious for inconsistent nib quality). Only a week or so ago, I swapped in a medium nib, and it’s now a thing of pleasure. I’m a bit of a sheen whore but fancied a green/red rather than the more common blue/red sheen and so treated myself to Holly originally from Diamine’s 2019 advent calendar. Now available on its own in full bottles, I think I’m well sorted until long after I die. I’ve only been using it a week or so, but it has performed admirably on several different papers and seems well suited to the M nib in the Kaweco. It did sheen on the MUJI paper as I did a one-line write test, but provided way more shading than I’d seen before. This triggered my concern that perhaps this paper aided shade at the cost of sheen… hence the later sheen tests.
  • Lamy AL Star with Lamy blue cartridge. Despite it being a very common first pen, I’ve never owned a Lamy Safari or its aluminium brother, the AL Star. I’ve penabled Mrs E. with a small coterie of them in recent times, and decided it was time to get my own. As well as enjoying metal pens (Parker 25, Parker 45 Flighter, Kaweco Brass Sport, Retro 51 Tornado Lincoln etc…), I also have a thing for so-called “stealth” pens. These are all matte black… including the nib if possible. That is the case with the AL Star. As well as a coated black nib, it also has a black clip rather than the usual steel coloured clip on the AL Star. Ticked all the boxes and fell into the shopping cart. You know how that can happen… I opted for a B nib with a view to having another option for high shading inks and though broader than the Kaweco M it’s not as broad as the unreasonably broad Lamy 2000M medium! At present it’s just got the free cartridge that came with the pen, but it has a converter ready to go once that is empty. The ink itself is unremarkable, and a bit unsaturated to my mind, but a decent performer. Not my cup of tea, but I could see it being a decent school option if fountain pens were still used. Alongside Parker’s Quink or Waterman’s Serenity Blue.
  • Lastly we have another Lamy AL Star this time with Pelikan Edelstein Olivine. I was looking for other already inked examples to test the paper, and so borrowed one of Mrs E’s Lamy’s. This one is a deep purple, originally to go with Diamine’s Deep Dark Purple special from Cult Pens. Now though, it’s inked with Pelikan’s Edelstein Olivine – one of my collection of dark greens as I search for the perfect “British Racing Green”. The pen also has a (silver coloured) B nib, excellent for showing off any shading inks, such as this Olivine.

So – very happy with the paper’s performance re shading and lack of bleed or ghosting, and all-round lack of feathering. All that remained was to go back and prod a bit more at my niggle about the so-so performance with Holly’s sheen. I decided to “go for it” and blather the rest of the page with some high sheening inks to see what it could do, as well as test the “anti-bleed-through” claim that originally caused me to buy the notebooks. I dug out the plastic chopstick I use for swatching new inks and set to work…

I tried 4 inks. Three I know usually sheen well, and one that should… but never has. Perhaps this paper will be the one?!

  • Diamine Holly. When laid down in volume, this performed really well and displayed the sheen I expected, quite prominently. In normal writing, it was more subdued, but it’s definitely present and with more shading than I’m used to seeing.
  • Krishna Jungle Volcano. I have always found this to be a disappointing orange that shades to a muddy grey rather than displaying the promised “high sheen” of jungle green. Can’t recommend it, and this paper doesn’t let it perform any better than others I’ve tried.
  • Diamine Bloody Brexit. I’ve always found this ink a solid performer and it sheens with lots of red/magenta on this paper too.
  • Organic Studio’s Walden Pond Blue. This ink is nearly all sheen! It is nominally green, despite the name, but sheens so much, it is essentially a metallic magenta when dry. It’s like Holly’s bigger sibling, with hardly any of the base colour visible once dry.

Looking at the reverse side of the page once everything had dried, there’s a little ghosting where the sheening inks had been laid down thick, and possibly a touch of bleed for Bloody Brexit… but this was hardly a realistic use case, and the text lines had no ghosting at all, even on the slow drying Noodler’s or Edelstein. The photo above actually makes it look worse than it is, due to the effect of the flash.

I think this notebook is well worth the pittance MUJI are charging as a workhorse notebook for fountain pen users, and the sheening inks do in fact perform, if not quite as readily as the shaders.

Simply not true

26 09 2021

It is a commonly held view amongst the English – or more correctly “the British” – that the Germans have no sense of humour. Likely a cultural defence mechanism exaggerated for propaganda during the war. Like the story that carrots help you see in the dark to hide the fact that RADAR was helping night fighter pilots shoot down a high percentage of Luftwaffe bombers at night. Not quite sure how allegedly superior British humour (and the apparently contradictory stiff upper lip) were supposed to help win a war, but hey ho… government decisions rarely make sense or bear up to later analysis, even now. (I should know – we just had an election.)

Despite many from my own generation – born in the 60s – having made (and sometimes un-made, or simply left in the box) German-speaking friends over the years, the unproven assumption has largely been perpetuated through a complete lack of willingness to learn the language sufficiently well to accept that German speakers have just as much humour as the rest of humanity. I’d have to say that the Scandinavians share a humour just as “sneaky” and unexpected as the British, but then many of us share common ancestry and dubious dress sense too. Personally I draw the line at wearing cow horns on my head though. (Except on special occasions in a consensual situation.)

Americans on the other hand share (mostly, and despite institutionalised incorrect spelling of most words rightly containing ‘u’) the same language but have somehow managed to wring most if not all the humorous potential out of it and are left believing that Chaplin-esque “Mr Bean” is downright hilarious whereas Brits now grow out of it pre-puberty, not to return to such “in your face” humour until early senility. Even then, they don’t require a laugh track to tell them when the funny bits are happening. Mention the plumage of the Norwegian Blue or say someone isn’t in fact the Messiah but actually a very naughty boy and you’ll be met with a confused expression rather than a knowing chuckle. Somehow this side of the pond has settled for a largely literal, visual or “dysfunctional family” sit-com type humour.

Still with me? All that nonsense and deliberately inflammatorily selective example-drawing was just to introduce the fact that I’m currently enjoying “Crime Scene Cleaner” – the English subtitled version of German black comedy series “Der Tatortreiniger” – from the library. Originally produced between c2011-2018 and running to 30+ episodes in all.

Hapless Schotty encounters situations in each episode’s crime scene cleanup as he brings his expert cleaning skills and dubious world view to different extreme circumstances. There are no gruesome body parts for those of you with squeamish sensitivities – though I did find all the Teutonic cigarette smoking a little jarring. 😉

If you can get your hands on a copy in your local library… and still have a DVD player on which to play it… highly recommended.

EDIT: I have just been informed that the BBC are broadcasting a British remake called simply “The Cleaner” starring Greg Davies (The Inbetweeners) in the leading role. I haven’t seen it, so can’t comment on whether the wry humour of the original has been maintained.

Diff’rent Strokes

28 08 2021

So these two nuns are walking through the woods, discussing high philosophy and ambling along the leafy path.

Around the corner a young man comes running towards them, wearing nothing but a smile and a pair of running shoes.

One of the nuns has a stroke, but the other is too slow.

So a funny thing happened last December.

Funny weird – not very amusing (a little like that hand-tooled vintage joke I remember from a 1980’s era Rag Mag from my youth).

There I was, painting the living room all wrong, under the studied guidance of Mrs E. when I found myself having to duck and weave to avoid the unseasonably strong sunlight coming in through the bay window getting in my eyes. By and large I was successful in placing the several window frame bars betwixt my eyes and the fiery nuclear holocaust we can “the sun”, and merrily continued painting the wall with undercoat. Mostly, even if I may say so myself, “staying inside the lines”.

Then as I turned to re-load the roller with paint, I was aware that my vision was a little off on the right hand side. That had been the side nearest the window, and I initially put it down to the temporary blind spots we get when we’re incautious and look directly at the sun. As I stood with my back to the window though, I became more alarmed as I realised my blind spot wasn’t clearing up after the few seconds one might expect.

It amazes me now to think back and recall that, being of a scientific bent, my first instinct was to characterise the issue fully. Not panic (I saved that for later), but to move my head around with hands up and test the nature of this phenomenon. In a nutshell, I could still fundamentally see (which was actually quite confusing), but the right half of my vision had gone. “Hard down” you might say. Anything to the right of my nose was invisible, but my brain was doing its best to fake that it knew what was there, so I wasn’t initially aware that that was the issue. (A bit like getting startled by a question in class when you’ve been dozing… No? Never happened to me either. Honest). So this was key, because I’d figured out I had the same issue with both eyes, 50% gone in both eyes, not 100% gone in the right eye.

A quick call to “first born” – now a fully in-harness practicing optometrist – by Mrs E., and the tentative diagnosis was “stroke”. If both eyes are effected, it’s likely the data analysis rather than the image acquisition, which would more likely affect one eye, or both eyes in different ways. The trick here was to call my own optometrist for an official analysis. This results in a referral letter which speeds things up later. By doing a “proper” eye test, including comparing images of your retinas with older photos, they can categorically exclude eye issues, further pointing the finger at “the noggin” and damage therein. (Downside is my insurance only pays for one eye test every 2 years, so I got dinged for this emergency re-test).

The most irritating part of the optometrist visit was the tech moving me from equipment room to equipment room by saying “follow me” – totally ignoring the fact that I could only see half of what was in front of me. This was made all the worse because they’d insisted on dilating me which makes your eyes next to impossible to properly focus if there’s more than a few photons in the room! I ended up shoulder-checking an expensive-looking (I think) wall-mounted TV which was on the right hand side and I hadn’t seen until it leapt out and attacked me. Thankfully it was well secured and didn’t fall down or crack. Probably.

By the time I was officially tested, my vision loss was restricted to the upper-right quadrant in both eyes. First born had tried to reassure me that my sight would return. Probably. Mostly. Though she hedged her bet by saying “there might be some loss of sensitivity”… er, OK, so not really, then?!

Essentially I now had documentary proof from an expensive bit of kit (with a crappy thermal till-roll printer from the ’90s) and a letter from a licenced optometrist that in her opinion I’d likely had a stroke or potentially a tumour and should be admitted to ER.

Vision loss top/right in both eyes

So, as expected, the letter got me straight in to ER with barely time to warm up the chair in reception, despite others having been there long enough to have taken root. One dear lady in the reception area was on the phone to a friend discussing her schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder and how she really knew when she was herself. Given my new introduction to brain damage, I found this accidentally overheard conversation frankly petrifying. What else might have come loose in chez Elephant?

Once into ER proper I had a few holes poked in me, a few vials of blood taken (I asked if I could have it back when they were done with it, which just seemed to confuse the poor phlebotomist who was plainly not used to dealing with Yorkshiremen) and an IV fitted “just in case it’s needed later” (it wasn’t, though it gave me hours of fascination watching the small amount of blood slopping about in the tube), blood pressure taken, ECG, etc.

After about 5 hours or so of sitting in a chair in ER while COVID patients were shuttled into “warm rooms”, I was taken for a CT scan, and about an hour after that a doctor told me I’d probably had a minor stroke. OK, so 6 hours to be told what I knew when I came in. Still, the experience proves the old adage that time heals all things. Over the space of those 6 hours my eyes had un-dilated (I’m sure there’s a more fancy word for it) and my eyesight had slowly returned. The only actual treatment I’d had was to be left quietly sat in a chair – don’t underestimate it!

At about 9:30pm, having successfully avoided any further painting and decorating for the day, I was prescribed some blood thinners and sent on my way with a promise I’d get a call from a cardiologist and the stroke clinic in due course.

So – no mention of whether I should be driving, when it’d be safe to go back to work (I’d taken a couple of days off because I was finding it hard to look at a screen for very long), or whether this was the start of something major.

Thank goodness the Internet is so full of (mis)information! Otherwise I’d have been short of possibilities to scare myself with…

Happy to say that several months on and nothing else has fallen out of the wheelhouse. Normal service seems to have been resumed.

Scary, but I was lucky, it was actually a transient ischemic attack (TIA) .

Take the symptoms seriously:

FAST Stroke Recognition
Experts use the acronym FAST to remind people how to recognize the signs of a stroke and what to do. FAST stands for:

Face. Tell the person to smile. Watch to see if their face droops.
Arms. Have the person raise both their arms. Watch to see if one is weak or sags.
Speech. Ask the person to say a simple phrase. Listen for slurred or strange-sounding words.
Time. Every minute counts. Call 911 (or your local equivalent) right away.

If you or someone with you shows any signs of stroke, don’t wait. Quick treatment is crucial to survival and recovery.

Call for emergency services. If the symptoms pass quickly, you might have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a brief blockage of blood flow to your brain that often comes before a stroke. Don’t ignore this warning sign.