The new diary. Paperchase A5 Diary, Day to a Page review.

It has been a habit of mine since I was 18, to keep a diary. For the last few years my preferred format has been an A5 book, with a page a day. A daily ritual is to write this, using a fountain pen, typically straight after breakfast, recounting the events of the previous day. This little ten minute appointment for myself, is really valuable.

However it is not always easy to find a suitable diary. Last year I used one from Rymans but was disappointed to discover that the line spacing had been reduced to 6.5mm in 2018, from 7.91mm in 2017. Also, with the new diaries sometimes sealed in clingfilm, you do not have an opportunity to see what the line spacing will be before buying. For 2019, with Rymans’ diaries still being sold in clingfilm, I looked eslewhere. In WHSmith, there were A5 page a day diaries but the line spacing looked far too narrow for my liking.

And then in Paperchase, I found a few 2019 diaries left on the shelf, in A5 page a day format. The cover with its pattern of blue and yellow flowers and rainbows of blue, yellow and light green was not my ideal, but was undeniably cheery. The price was £14.00 but turned out to be reduced in a sale, to £9.75. I was set up for the year.

Happily, the line spacing is a wonderfully generous 8.4mm per row (10 rows = 84mm) which suits me fine. This give 21 rows per page. The book feels nice in the hand, with a sort of linen cover. I am not sure whether it really is linen, but it feels pleasantly textured and grippy. The covers are flexible but protective. It is well bound, with stitched binding, dark blue endpapers and one blue ribbon page marker.

It turns out that it is not quite a day to a page. On Saturdays and Sundays you get only half a page. Thus, for two out of every seven days the description ‘Day to a Page’ is untrue and misleading. It is almost as if Paperchase is saying ‘What you do in your leisure time is of no consequence.’ However, I forgive them on this occasion as the book is so nicely made plus it was generously discounted in the sale.

The real joy is the paper: 100gsm off-white paper that my fountain pens love. It is smooth, but if examined under a loupe, there is some texture there which gives purchase to well polished nibs and provides a lovely feedback. I have been using the diary with a Parker Reflex (pictured), medium nib and Conway Stewart Tavy blue black ink. This inexpensive pen is a light weight and effortless writer. The writing experience of this combination of pen, ink and paper is such a joy, that it is a great way to start the day.

First impressions of the PenBBS 355.

It is almost embarrassing to be posting a new pen review, quite so early into the new year and so recently after totting up how many pens I acquired last year. But hey ho. This is not even my first pen purchase of the year. I purchased a Kaweco Dia2 from a friend at the London Pen Club on Saturday, as I like mine so much and wanted another for my Kaweco extra fine nib.

Today I received the new PenBBS 355. I first came to hear of this, at the same pen club meet just last Saturday and ordered one from Ebay seller Ross Cooper, (Rossco pens) of Bristol. Coming from the UK there was no long wait for the pen to arrive.

PenBBS 355 fountain pen.

Meanwhile I had watched a few YouTube reviews, particularly about the intriguing filling system. Put very simply, you push a plunger down and then draw it back up again to fill the pen. It is the perfect pen for someone who wants a huge ink capacity, and/or who finds a typical twist converter too easy.

First impressions were favourable. It is a very clear acrylic demonstrator, feeling solid, a decent size and with a screw cap. There is an attractive clear finial at each end, rather like on the Opus 88 demonstrator, but smaller.

Note the shaft, with threads to engage in the plunger once pulled upwards. Unlike the TWSBI Vac 700 this does not cut off the ink supply to the feed.

There is no inner cap but instead the cap is molded so as to seal off the nib when the cap is screwed on fully, with a ledge which meets the rim of the section precisely.

The metal clip is an attractive shape and usefully tight but flexible. There is a broad shiny cap ring, with the brand name PenBBS at the front and the model number 355 on the back.

The nib is a steel bi-colour design with some gold colour plating over most of the exposed part. Through the clear grip section, you can see just how much of the nib lies beneath the grip. I checked my nib with a loupe and was pleased to find that the tines appeared level, the tipping symmetrical and the nib slit slightly tapering from breather hole to tip, just as it should. Mine has Fine nib but a Medium is also available.

The pen is about 147mm long when capped and 130mm uncapped, which happens to be my ideal pen length (anything more is a bonus).

Now to that filling system. I had been rehearsing this in my head for a couple of days whilst waiting for the pen to arrive. The pen is not called a Bulkfiller officially but appears to be similar to the esteemed Belgian Conid system (although I have never owned one). The idea is that it has a plunger, filling the barrel with ink, rather like a piston filler but without needing so much space for a piston mechanism and thus leaving more room for ink.

The pen comes with no filling instructions or papers. Here, in simple steps is what you do:

  • Unscrew the blind cap (about five twists, anti-clockwise);
  • Pull up the piston rod, to meet the plunger;
  • Continue turning the shaft anti-clockwise, gently, for about three twists, to screw it into the plunger; screw it in only loosely;
  • Push the plunger down; this might be quite stiff the first time, as the plunger will have “clicked” onto the black end piece.
  • Draw back the plunger, filling with ink; click the plunger back on to the end piece. (On a YouTube video, the reviewer’s pen made quite an audible click but mine has very little resistance);
  • Now turn the shaft clockwise, (disengaging the piston rod from the plunger) and then push the rod back down to its resting position;
  • Finally screw the blind cap back down again (about five twists clockwise).

There are variants on this if you wish to draw ink up and down more than once, or if you wish to release some ink before you finish. I have not yet experimented with this.

A little word of caution: do not screw the rod into the plunger too tightly or else you may find that it will not unscrew again when you want to push the rod back down and instead, the whole plunger rotates inside the barrel. Needless to say, this happened to me at my first attempt (luckily without ink) and I had to remove the plunger mechanism in order to unscrew the rod. To do this you will need a wrench to fit the flat sides of the end piece. No, the TWSBI wrench does not quite fit. I ended up using a ridiculously large adjustable wrench to grip the end piece, whilst carefully rotating the barrel. It then came out quite easily and is a fairly simple mechanism.

What the plunger mechanism looks like if you have to remove it. Quite easy for periodic cleaning and applying silicone grease.

The nib writes smoothly and is fairly firm but having a little line variation. But the Fine nib is perhaps closer to a western extra fine. With its voluminous ink capacity I can see one fill lasting many months, so chose your ink with care.

Update, 11 January 2019.

In the caption to one of the photos above, I said that unlike the TWSBI Vac 700, the shaft does not seal off the ink supply to the feed, once screwed down. I think I may have been wrong on this. Having inked the pen, it does appear on closer inspection that the end of the shaft does form a plug, in a clear acrylic ring at the bottom end of the ink reservoir. When inked, you can see that the ink does not swill around below a certain point. This is quite a useful feature, as it should reduce the chances of “burping” or blobbing or of ink leakage from pressure changes when flying. It would mean that you need to unscrew the blind cap a little and raise the metal rod, to refill the feed from time to time.As I said, the pen came with no instructions and so it is a case of finding out for yourself.