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”.





His Nibs

19 01 2021

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

Source: Wikipedia – Copperplate

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

Source: NotJustACard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bevy of nibs

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

So, from left to right, the nibs are:

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

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

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

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

 

Write on…





It’s Not Fair!

8 07 2020

It’s not fair!

He got more than me.
Why does she get first choice?
Why wasn’t I invited?
All the best ones have gone.
He’s in my chair.

Nobody ever suggested life was fair.

I got to sleep with a full stomach whilst others couldn’t sleep because theirs were empty.
I did get to meet you.
I got to see your nose crinkle the way it does when you smile.

No, it’s not fair. But it is worth having.





It seems one can’t have too many fountain pens after all!

17 06 2020

My very first fountain pen was a plastic bodied Parker 45.

11 year old me thought it was soooo fancy because it had a gold, medium width nib and a stainless steel cap (more properly “Lustraloy”). To this day, it writes with a sublime smoothness, though it has suffered from the slight collapse in the section that stalks the Parker 45 due to the cap’s clutch being a little too aggressive for the plastic section’s softness. Unfortunately my handwriting could never do it justice, but I still love that pen.

My contemporaries at school often had the more modern-looking (late 70’s – all things are relative) Parker 25 with it’s all metal Flighter design.

img_1608

Parker 25 Flighters (i.e. steel bodies) – unfortunately not a mating pair

Over the years I’ve come to realise that there were in fact many variations on my basic black Parker 45, and amongst them was indeed an all-metal Flighter. There’s also a Flighter with a black plastic end, but my preference had always been for “the full metal jacket”. Today, The Pen Workshop near Aylesbury, UK delivered my dream pen. Paul Baker there kindly listened to my preferences and found the perfect match. He even located a pen with a section that shows minimal caving, and managed to find me one with a fine nib. The cap has the all important “Made in England” imprint and a lack of letter stamps puts it as likely pre-1980. I think I’ll just gaze a bit longer before inking it up.

parker45

New Old Parker 25 Flighter, c1980

Pen number two started out as simply an “oh, that looks nice” moment whilst perusing for the Parker. It has a gorgeous green marbling which I ultimately found irresistible. Never having heard of the Wyvern brand previously, I did a bit of research and discovered that my parents actually used these Wyvern Perfect Pen Nº 81’s back at high school in the early ’50s, and so with little more than that connection and a desire to own a small bit of British pen history, I added it to my shopping cart at www.penworkshop.co.uk.

Wyvern is long gone now, closing its factory in 1955. Founded in Leicester, the Wyvern Pen Company was named after the mythical creature that appeared in the crest of the borough. According to Wikipedia:

A white (Argent) wyvern formed the crest of the Borough of Leicester as recorded at the heraldic visitation of Leicestershire in 1619: “A wyvern sans legs argent strewed with wounds gules, wings expanded ermine.”

Production of pens began back in the 1890s and Wyvern made several models as well as manufacturing nibs for other pen companies and promotional pens for a variety of campaigns.

The barrel still has the faint imprint of “WYVERN Perfect Pen Nº 81” despite its ~70 year age. I hope I look this good when I’m that old!

wyvern

WYVERN Perfect Pen Nº 81 in green marble finish





The End

16 06 2020

The quick brown fox – dropped dead.

Just like that.

Heart attack they say. Too much jumping.

The lazy dog forgot to go to the funeral. Not much of a friend when it mattered.





Ever Wondered About That Fox?

10 06 2020

It’s widely accepted that the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. But what compels it to do so? It must surely be true since it’s been recorded countless times in countless hands. It was recorded in The Boston Journal, in an article titled “Current Notes” on 9th February 1885, so it’s been going on at least that long! And it’s present tense, so presumably it does so on a continuous basis.

And what of the dog? Why does it put up with such behaviour? I’d get pretty narked if some feral Reynard kept using me as a hurdle whilst I was trying to get some well-earned Zeds after a hard day staring up a tree looking for squirrels. It just seems so rude.

img_1609

Why oh why?!

The famous phrase is of course a pangram – a sentence using every letter of the alphabet at least once. In my younger years I recorded instead that a quick sly fox jumped over the lazy brown dog. It’s not however the most efficient sentence to record every letter in a gramatically correct sentence. According to the mighty Wikipedia several relatively well known alternatives are ranked thus:

  1. “Waltz, bad nymph, for quick jigs vex.” (28 letters)
  2. “Jived fox nymph grabs quick waltz.” (28 letters)
  3. “Glib jocks quiz nymph to vex dwarf.” (28 letters)
  4. “Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow.” (29 letters)
  5. “How vexingly quick daft zebras jump!” (30 letters)
  6. “The five boxing wizards jump quickly.” (31 letters)
  7. “Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz.” (31 letters)
  8. “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.” (32 letters)
  9. “The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog” coming in at 33 letters and slightly more efficient than the usual the dog version.

There has not (as yet) been discovered a “perfect pangram” containing only 26 letters and containing no abbreviations or other non-words, such as “Mr Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx”.





Blink of an Eye

9 06 2020

The steady tap of the door banging on the wall as the wind caught it forced its way into his dreams. Shivering in the early damp air, he pulled the old picnic blanket up to his chin and drew his legs to his chest to try and fend off the cold.

His teeth chattered as he struggled to cough up the night’s bile, and his sullen gaze took in the view outside the glassless window. He’d been glad to find this place as night had fallen. He’d not made as much progress as expected and was still several kilometres shy of the town.

The rain had begun almost as soon as he’d laid out his few belongings to what must originally have been a kitchen floor in the farmhouse. He’d selected this room because it had a stone floor and he could build a small fire without fear of burning down his shelter for the night. He couldn’t risk the fireplace with its chimney and the danger of signalling his presence to others. Best to keep a low profile while so far from help.

He’d found some children’s books in one of the bedrooms as well as a broken cot. They’d made good fire starter and fuel, and he’d drifted off to sleep with a hot drink inside him. He made a mental note to keep a lookout for more tea bags. His last one was barely even discolouring the water now, it had been used so often.

Staying in the shadows, he cautiously stood up and looked more methodically at the road and fields through the shattered window. As he’d expected, there was nothing. No movement at all. As the short night’s rest fell from his mind, he became aware of three things in no particular order.

He was hungry. A cup of hot near-tea was all he’d had in 36 hours.

He desperately needed to let it out too – a full bladder affected his thinking

But there was something else. Not quite as clearly defined. Just an unease. What?

He forced himself to scan the view again. This time in the opposite direction to impose a more careful processing of what he saw. Nothing. Nothing moved. The lack of ease was now palpable though. He slowly slunk back from the window’s edge and bundled his blanket and other items back into his backpack. Another note for the future – look for a bag a little less conspicuous than his current neon pink Hello Kitty one. Still, it did the job, and its plastic shell kept his few possessions dry.

What? What was wrong? He’d lived as long as he had by trusting his guts when they told him danger was close. The door had stopped banging in the wind and the air was now quite still. That was it – there was no sound! Out in the countryside, early in the morning, the air should be alive with birdsong. It was silent, as if holding its breath in anticipation of the next chess move.

Pulling on his mis-matched hiking boots and tucking the laces inside to save having to lace them up, he eased himself back to the window. This time to the opposite side so he could see the angles hidden to his previous position. There! He just caught the faintest trace of cigarette smoke rising in the now-still air and drifting away on what was left of the breeze.

They’d found him. He knew there would be at least two others. All armed. This was the only building for half a kilometre. If they were here, they surely knew exactly where he was.

As he eased back into the shadow, he became vaguely aware that his legs were buckling under him. As the high velocity bullet exited the back of his head, his body bounced a little as it hit the flag stoned floor of the kitchen.





Inspiration

12 05 2020

Six years ago, Mrs E bought me a course at UBC entitled “Creative Writing”. It was led by the talented Mr Ripley Paul Belserene. One of his teachings was that we should write something every day. The idea was to keep the metaphorical door open so that when we were ready to write something of note, it had a ready channel. To support the exercise Paul taught us to use all manner of arbitrary prompts to begin the writing.

I’ve never been one to struggle to fill space with ramblings, whether verbal or written (as you’ve likely already noted), but I smiled with recollection of the lesson as I was shuffling some oddments around my desk this afternoon. I wasn’t actually tidying as such. There’s no fewer items there than when I began, though their influence on the world’s weather patterns is now subtley different. Then I picked up my newly rediscovered school pen and opened the very exercise book Paul had given me in the class. (“This is my exercise book. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”)

And I began to write…


 

Objectified. Stood in the corner at the party, glowing warmly to all the guests, but being stared at like a mere possession. True, you’ve only been part of the household since we met on my last trip to Europe. You’d moved there after spending your early life in New York. But when I saw you across the gallery in Marais I knew right away that we’d be together.

You couldn’t come back with me. Paperwork! I was restless for days until I got the call and met you at the airport. The taxi ride home was a little awkward. I just stared at you the whole way. You’d made the change from New York to Europe in your younger days, and now you’d need to convert to Canadian ways. I was so happy you were making the change just for me.

And we’ve been together ever since. The weeks seem to stretch out. I barely recall a time before you were here. But I’m regretting inviting so many people over now. Too many of my friends are just staring at you. It’s demeaning. You deserve better.

Forgive me, my dear, but I think the only solution is to turn you off for now. Sleep well, my beautiful Miss Tiffany Lamp.

And the inspiration for ce petit quelque chose:

1c US stamp showing Tiffany Lamp – note the “USPS” at the top of the stand