Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Stinks #7

Christmas - a time for many things, amongst them New Toys. While I don't actually "do" Christmas, I have no particular objection to New Toys...


My, but the Kultur does look very bright there - it's not that bad. It seems to like the new Bilberry colour (a good deal better than it liked the Prime of Commons, anyway).

I would have absolutely given my right arm for the Sailor about, um, 25 years ago, which may explain the impulse buy. Also it was an economical way to try out purchasing direct from Japan, given my predilection for the Japanese pens. Went very smoothly, actually. The only possible difficulty I can see is when the amount paid gets into the realms of the Revenoo Men, who, I gather, are being particularly assiduous these days. Now it's not that I mind paying the duty, but it gets to me that I have to pay a handling fee etc when if I'd have been able to, I would have happily paid the duty up front and saved them the terrible trouble of dealing with HM Customs that the post office subsequently want to diabolically over-charge for. Sigh.

Ah, but let us dwell on nicer things; to wit, the Platinum #3776. Not that much to look at, I know ("Classic" seems the best description) but with Platinums (beyond the Preppy) it's all about the nibs. They're good nibs and this is no exception. But the great big stonking win is that, unlike say, the Parker Junior whose nib I like a good deal, if worst comes to the worst and it meets with disaster/I lose it I can just go and get another one (finances permitting - this one was a bit of a steal). The gods alone know how many Parkers I'd have to get through to find another one like the one currently in my possession. Not that it wouldn't be fun searching, but I'm all about not becoming a collector here, kids. I'm a user. And a user likes readily available, in current production things so they can just get on and use.

(Did that sound convincing? I thought that sounded convincing. I was totally convinced.)

May your edges be sharp, your splinters few, your tines aligned, and your fortunes good in the coming year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday Stinks #6

It's blowing half a gale out there and the gods have apparently left their sprinkler running. Nothing like watching the rain being forced past the window seals and splashing upon the fairy lights and there's nothing you can do to stop it; don't you just love this time of the year...?

Just the three inks on the go at the minute; the effects of the 13th were delayed a week here at Alf Towers, I had three unhappy pen events in quick succession this Friday instead, resulting in something of a glut of unscheduled pen cleaning. And bluer fingers than is quite usual... As a result:

A) I'm going to stop bothering to try to get along with the Hero 616 (Chinese Parker 51 knock-off homage), because it never returns the favour.
B) Cult Pens are very nearly the Lee Valley of pen retailing. (You may take that to mean they have excellent customer service and are likely to cause severe strain on the wallet. Not that they're Canadian. At least I don't think they are. I shall have to try subtly slipping ice hockey into conversation and see if they bite...)
C) Noodler's Prime of Commons is running out of welcome; being incredibly over-saturated is one irritating thing, not actually being blue-black can be viewed as an idiosyncrasy, but going through the incredibly dry Waterman Kultur like a dose of Syrup of Figs and throwing up into the cap of same? That's simply not going to make you friends here at Alf Towers.

Anyway, best of luck to all readers during this season of over-indulgence and social anxiety
Yuletide Felicitations to you all. 

I'll see you on the other side, or maybe even in the middle somewhere.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Moving Home

Looking for a new home is fraught with complications. You start out with a good solid list of all the features you want in your new abode, and then you launch yourself at the market to seek your dream. And gradually it gets chipped away and chipped away until you feel you've done pretty well if you get two "essentials" out of ten. Like, say, a roof.

Not that I'm moving house. It's much more traumatic than that; I'm going to have to move notebooks. The current incumbent is nearly finished:

Earlier this year someone described this blog to me as a peek into "Alf-world". Ah, no. This blog is a greatly restricted peek through the smallest possible keyhole into the heavily edited Alf-world Lite. This book is much closer to the chaotic mish-mash that is truly Alf-world. Possibly you imagine the closely written pages of a proper journal? Well, yes, there are some of those.

But not many. Mainly there's... stuff. All sorts of stuff. Stuff stuck in, stuff drawn (badly), reminders, quotes, ideas, and absolutely no rules about which way up the book has to be when I write in it. There's a rather good Italian term for something of the sort beginning with Z, but I can never remember what it is and besides I don't think I can aspire to snazzy Italian terms any more than I think it warrants being called a journal. So as the English explanation used the term "hodge-podge", I seized upon that instead.

As it's Christmas and a time for ghost stories and other scary things, have a heavily edited glimpse into the dark underbelly through the medium of the smallest possible keyhole:

Okay, you can open your eyes again now.

All of which makes finding a new home a little tricky, because it's part written, part scrapbook, part sketch book. Throw in the requirement for it to be fountain pen friendly that I now have, and you're immediately crossing off many, many options. And who wants to glue bits and bobs to decent (and therefore often expensive) FP friendly paper anyway? Then there's the hand-falling-off-the-bottom-of-the-page problem you get with these thicker notebooks which drives me nuts, but would a thinner exercise book type stand up to my scrapbook tendencies? Ruled paper is totally out, owing to the lapses into writing at right angles, but square grids can be over-bearing. The fashionable dot grids are a possibility, but that's a whole new world of limited options. Throw in the truly eye-watering price tags some of these notebooks command, and you end up going in a lot of circles trying to make a decision.

Or at least I do. But then I've never been terribly good at making decisions. You may have noticed.

But still, (almost) finished notebook - that's essentially going to be a completed project, isn't it? Okay, so its joinery is rudimentary (packing tape may have been called in to hold it together at this stage in its life), and the finish is decidedly patchy, but it represents some hours of creative endeavour. It's a project. Yup.

Yes, it is. Look, you can tell it is because now I'm dithering over starting another one. If that's not a classic symptom of Alf Has Finished A Project I don't know what is.

At least, as far as I can remember...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gift 'n' Mix

Even though any lingering affection for Axminster has drained almost entirely away these days, largely because they seem to be spending lots of money on being not as good as they used to be, I can't help but thank them for the unintentional amusement their Daily Christmas Deals have given me. For instance, nothing says Christmas like...

...a cement mixer.


A little challenging to wrap and lamentably late for some otherwise useful Christmas pudding stirring duties, but I suppose it could be worse. They might have put tinsel on it.

Rutlands, on the other hand, caused me much disappointment. "Gifts for Men" it said. I was hoping for manly Marigolds for doing the washing up, and maybe "101 Ways to Ask For Directions". It was all knives and hammers and axes. Which is really worrying, because I have knives and hammers and axes and last I checked, I am not a Man*. Do I have to turn them in to the authorities in exchange for a needlepoint kit and, worse, shoes?!

Okay, enough with the sarcastic gender stereotype stuff. I made the mistake of wandering into the toy aisles of the supermarket this week, and the clear delineation between pink and blue, fairies and spacemen, it depressed me. It hard enough being human without all these arbitrary ideas of what you're supposed to like based on your chromosomes. Also, they've totally ruined Lego. I was looking at the kits, and the number of task-specific blocks is so high a ratio I don't see how it would allow your imagination to wander very far from the original model. Not to say I wasn't briefly tempted to buy one in order to see for myself. Just in the interests of research...

*Although in fairness at least one pen purveyor thinks I'm an "Esq" and another extrapolated all the way from Al to addressing an envelope to Alan. What if I'd been an Albert, Alfred, Alastair, or Aloysius? I might have been really offended...

P.S. Apologies to Ralph; his comment on yesterday's post may have inspired me to, er, tweak it a bit. So when he joked, no it wasn't. But it might be now. (Oooo, mystery.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Duck and Recover

My progress through the virtual newspaper this morning was halted in an abrupt manner by an advert for Asprey, the jewellers. More specifically, an ad featuring a duck-footed silver egg cup. Not a retailer who can boast my custom, I have to admit, and on this evidence I don't see that changing if even if I do ever win the lottery.

Now I have nothing against the novelty egg cup. Arguably the boiled egg needs any help it can get in the presentation department. But whereas this kind of duck-footed egg cup rendered in ceramics is somehow quite acceptable, and even, dare I say it, cute.


This is, frankly, slightly scary.


I'm pretty sure that one would actually walk off with your boiled egg, and probably trample the toast soldiers to death while doing it...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Short Story

Fountain pen enthusiasts seem extraordinarily keen to bring a Dremel to bear on their assorted writing implements. Speaking as someone who would hesitate to bring a Dremel to bear on anything more important than a rusty nail, this terrifies me. But sometimes they have a point (sometimes medium, sometimes broad, occasionally oblique), and this is one instance that I mentioned I'd tell you about.

Take the rotring Artpen. Please, take it... At least that's been my feeling about the things for many years. I've had a couple of them since my school days, but could never really like them. They're a bit stingy about letting any ink out at all, the rotring ink itself is pretty Meh (the only time the black seems truly black is when it's all over your fingers), and the length of the thing is inconvenient and makes the pen unsuitable for anything but arty-farty posturing.

Of course, now I've learnt how to make fountain pens give of their ink when they're reluctant do to do, that's point one solved; as far as ink goes, as I seem to have one or two assorted bottles of that, and have joined the insane ranks of the syringe-wielding ink cartridge refillers, so that's that thoroughly solved. Which leaves the long, tapering length of the thing. Which is a pain in the proverbial. Its little white rabbit tail waves about in the corner of your eye, it won't fit in your pocket comfortably, and you absolutely cannot use it in public without drawing attention to yourself. If only something could be done...

Somehow, it had never occurred to me to cut a few inches off it. What can I say? My modification of tools came after my Artpen years, and it simply never crossed my mind. But now? Nurse! The screens, the Dremel and the cut-off disk. This won't hurt a bit.

Take one Artpen body, thusly. Wrap some tape around it at the point of cuttage, to give you an outside chance of getting a straight line. If you want to use a converter, make sure you allow enough room for it. (Okay, confession time - I probably cut it a little shorter than advisable, but I so hate that taper I wanted as much of it gone as possible.)

Fire up your Dremel and cut. Confounding all previous experience, I seemed to luck into a cut-off disk that actually wanted to stay in one piece long enough to use it. Amazing.

With the magic of image manipulation, you can see the ghostly trace of what once was there. Woooooooowooooo. Spooky. Or not.

Application of a suitable graduation of abrasives will clean and polish up the cut end, but you do get left with a bit of a hole. I tried "popping off" the white end of the cut off bit to fill it, but it's reluctant to "pop". I got there eventually, but another time just cutting the white bit off with the black plastic still attached would be easier. Don't know what adhesive rotring uses to adhere those white scuts, but it's good. Popping the newly liberated white blob inside the barrel and pushing it up into place worked fine, and a blob of my less nuclear-bomb-proof epoxy keeps it in place.

Eh, voila, a rather less conspicuous pen, and one that will actually fit in your pocket if you feel the need to be arty on the go. I also rubbed off the Artpen logo on the side to make it a little more grown-up; either meths or white spirit did the job - can't recall which.

As it happens, I have two - one a medium and one an italic 1.1 - and can swap them between the original body and the new portable version as inclination strikes me. I'm not absolutely sure why I'm keeping one body original, to be honest, except for a nagging feeling that I ought to. This circumstance may yet change.

Now why rotring themselves won't offer a shorter body for the Artpen is something that has puzzled pen users through the ages. Lots of people don't like them as they are (and had the wit to chop the end off a lot sooner), but other than that they're actually a jolly good pen for the money, and now I like mine considerably more than I did before.

And that Dremel cut-off disk is still in one piece. Which, frankly, I find a good deal more disturbing than pen surgery...

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Got the Sac

So last week I shared my haul-ette of venerable-ish writing implements and how, like an old war horse, my nostrils flared at the whiff of rust removal and tool redemption.

Now the two Parkers were a simple task; they just needed cleaning. Those aerometric sacs Parker made are, I won't say indestructible, but very resilient, and they proved to be sound. So after a lot of flushing with this 'n' that, thinking I'd got it clean, then finding another gob of ink had worked loose, and so forth, I go them inked and writing. The green Victory benefited from a light nib smoothing and now writes very nicely with a generous ink flow, while the Duofold Junior is a joy and feels like an extension of my hand. I can rather see why people like Parkers now; clearly the old uns' are entirely different animals from the ones of my previous acquaintance.

But the button filler of mysterious manufacture was always going to be more of a challenge. As I said, I'd already managed to straighten the seriously bent nib tine - not at all a professional job (there is now a "wrinkle" in the nib) but entirely functional, which it certainly wasn't before. But the sac had ossified and needed replacing (Good word that, isn't it? Ossified. Not one you get to use often), so suddenly I had a shopping list: sac of the correct size, shellac to stick it, French chalk to dust it and keep it moving freely against the pressure bar and interior of the barrel. Order(s) placed. I ended up having to go to two places - I thought I was okay for the shellac, but when I realised how old my shellac is now, I got cold feet and decided it was better to remove possible adhesive failure from this learning process.

So yesterday I was finally all equipped, and set about my task. The "nipple" was already cleaned of old shellac (and you know what fun crusty old shellac is...), so I lined everything up to work out how long I had to cut the sac. They come over-long, and you trim to size. I erred on the side of caution a bit, I suspect, and then trimmed a bit more because I thought I could get a straighter cut. I couldn't - rubbery ink sacs, it turns out, try to bounce knife blades right off rather than be cut to pieces. Who'd have thunk it? So I probably needed around 60mm, and probably got 58. But that's okay.

I expected the actual sac fitting to be fraught with angst, like any and all glue-up jobs ever attempted in the history of man, but it was laughably simple. Beginner's luck? Now it's probably worth mentioning I got the sacs before I had the shellac, so I trimmed the sac to length and left it in situ overnight, which I think helped to give it the idea of what it was expected to fit round. The shellac comes in a nail polish-a-like bottle, so a quick swipe of the (not-overloaded) brush round the nipple put a nice even film of shellac in place. Then just come at the thing at a slight angle so you get one edge in place, hold that, and flip the rest on. The liquid shellac acts as a bit of a lubricant, so it's actually easier than the dry runs I did. Make sure the sac is in line with the rest of the pen and it's evenly stretched and 'tis done. I'd been worrying about doing this for days, and it took twenty angst-free seconds, tops. Huh.

While I had the shellac, I also masked off the loose cap ring and syringed some shellac in there to get it to stop spinning. Seems to have worked okay.

Then you have to go away and not fiddle for at least half an hour. Anxious not to mess the job up, I was ├╝ber cautious and gave it several hours. But the call to ink was very great, and eventually I had to succumb and get to the reassembly stage. First dust the sac for the aforementioned purpose of stopping it sticking to pressure bar or lever; darn stuff gets everywhere. Also, why do I always seem to end up with hobbies that require having to buy suspicious packages of fine white powder...?

At this stage, reading up before hand is about to pay big dividends. You'd naturally assume that you slide the pressure bar in, slide in the sac attached to the section, and screw the section up tight. And... no. That's apparently A Bad Idea. So first I screwed the section closed with the sac in place. Bye bye, little sac. Please work....

At the other end of the barrel, the blind cap was off and I'd already removed the button with some padded needle-nosed pliers (another nervous moment). Now in goes the pressure bar, through the buttonhole. Clever, huh? Also important to put it facing the right way so the bar will press against the sac correctly. In this instance I'm cautiously sliding the pressure bar in with the sac in front of it, nearest the camera.

Then comes the button, which slips over the top of the pressure bar and is a press fit into its hole. A cautious press, and the definite breathy sound of a squeezed sac. Yip! (Early days to be a full "Yippee")

Now at this point I should have pics of completed assembly, maybe the filling with ink, and such like. But the need to get the thing filled and to try it was too much, and I rushed on, camera forgotten. And, happy day, she works!

A nicely generous flow of ink, and I was greatly chuffed that, unsolicited,  my mum declared it to be "smooth". She rather likes it, actually; I may have to watch that... I'm still tentatively going with a medium stub as the nib type, although I do seem to often view as medium nibs that others happily designate as fine.

So there we go; my first pen repair. As with tools, I seem to favour the lived-in look rather than all shiny and new. But heck, the thing has survived a fair few years; it can show them with pride, can't it?

And yes, I'm absolutely certain doing this is addictive. No cheap, unloved fountain pen in need of rescue will be safe...

Monday, December 02, 2013

Monday Stinks #4

Now how on earth did it get to be December so soon? The festive season will soon be upon us (may the gods have mercy on our souls) and the merry sound of ripping paper and "Oh, you got me socks. Again," will ring through the chilly air.

Now if I'd remembered it was December, I might have chosen festive colours - red I have, but green is lacking. You've no idea how long it took me to bite the bullet and put the Syrah in the Dubonnet  Red Esterbrook; finally decided that if it was going to stain, at least it won't show. But frankly that rich red spilling from that red pen is such a satisfying thing, to hell with the caution.

As expected, the Umber was kicked out of the Serwex flex and the copiously flowing habits of Cult Pens' Deep Dark Brown is proving very successful, and doesn't it shade rather nicely? My opinion of this ink has spun on its head simply by putting it in a different pen. Actually the first three colour/pen combos are starting to feel like keepers.

Yes, the Preppy is still going - but that's another one sporting the Sapphire Blue. I suddenly fancied having another go at a nib grind, so took the 0.5 nib to a cursive italic (It's like an ordinary italic, but its language is appalling...). Now I should have started with the 0.5 size really, but trust me to go the wrong way round and do the more tricky 0.3 first. Ho hum. Anyway, I'm moderately pleased with the result; it's taken a rather dreary and blobby medium and made it a much more interesting writer.

And yes, we do have something of a preponderance of blue on the go at the moment. That is mainly what comes of having several old pens inked and not wanting to risk anything more exciting in them. If the sacs on those two "new" Parkers aren't as sound as they appear, I'd rather they leak something fairly tame and easy to clean...