Early thoughts on the Puluz ring LED portable photo studio.

One of the challenges of running a fountain pen blog, is taking good quality photographs of the pens. We want our images to be well composed, sharply focused, with faithful colours and well lit.

Aurora 88 and Aurora Optima, now photographed with a lightbox.

It is very convenient to use the camera on a smart phone, which allows uploading of photos to the blog’s media library through WiFi, without connecting the camera to a computer to download the files. Smart phone cameras have improved enormously, in resolution and many other features.

It is easy to forget that our subjects need to be well lit, particularly if indoors using available light. A case in point is the photograph of my pen cups in my last post, The state of the pen cups, September 2021, where I over-estimated the quality of the lighting in the room and used an image which had areas of dark shadow.

One solution is to invest in studio lighting or a ring-flash for your SLR camera. Another more practical option for the amateur, is to try a portable “light box” with LED lights, powered by a USB cable.

My good friend Jon of Pensharing.com, provides advice for members on his website for photographing their pens for hire and recommends investing in a simple light box and a tripod. I bought a light box about a year ago, a self-assembly cube of white plastic, which had rows of many bright LEDs in the front and the back of the top section. The problem I soon found was that it was difficult to avoid reflections of all of these LEDs in the pens. Also the model I had bought was rather a faff to put up and take down, which also deterred me from getting it out much.

This weekend I found myself looking again on Amazon at the vast range of such lightboxes available. I wondered whether a model with a ring of LED lights might be easier to use. Also, I wanted to try one which was smaller, and more convenient than the one I had bought. The name Puluz was one that I kept noticing. Also, they had one in their range, which was small (about 9 inches across), had a ring LED pattern, boasted three different colour temperatures, an adjustable brightness, six different coloured backdrops, and cost only £14.99. Impressively, it arrived within a day of ordering.

The Puluz 9″ Ring LED light box. (“And the award for best turntable in a supporting role, goes to…”)

Description.

The Puluz “Mini Photo Box” is an open-fronted box measuring 23cm or 9″ wide. It is made of a white semi-rigid plastic. The five sides are all joined together and fold flat into a bag. To set it up, you just need to unfold it and assemble it into the box shape, clipping the sides to the base and to the top. They cleverly slot into each other and so there are no separate parts needed. It comes with six coloured backdrops, in black, white, blue, red, green and yellow.

The lighting comes from 72 LEDs arranged in two rings around the top (where a round flap can be opened for direct overhead shooting). One outer ring provides a cool, bluish light and the other, inner ring provides a warmer, orangey tone. These are powered by an attached USB capable, which needs to be connected to a power socket, PC or a portable USB power bank.

The two rings of LEDs, both lit

In use.

The box, the cable and the backdrops are all supplied in a handy white tote bag and weigh very little, making a very portable piece of kit.

The light box is straightforward to assemble and this takes only a couple of minutes. If you want to use one of the backdrops, you just hook it on to the tabs. It is easier to do this before you fold it all together.

The USB power cable is fixed in place and about 2 metres long. About half way along the cable is the control switch. This has an on-off button. When plugged into a power source, but not switched on, a blue light glows to show that it is in stand-by mode.

There are three more buttons: the middle one alternates between the three colour temperature options, which, in simple terms, give you a lighting which is white, orange or blue (or which can be expressed as cool or warm tones). The other two buttons are plus and minus, to go up or down through the 10 brightness levels, in whatever colour you have selected. And so you have choice of 30 different settings all together.

On/off switch, plus colour selector and brightness controls.

To power the lightbox, I first connected the USB cable to a mains plug (usually reserved for my mobile phone). This is fine if you have a power socket nearby. But the control switch might then be dangling off the edge of your table. A more convenient method is to plug the cable into a rechargeable USB power bank (not supplied). I had an old one, with a 2,200 mAh capacity and charged it up for its new duties. With one of these, you can take your light box out and about, and use it anywhere without being tied to a power socket. I do not know how long a charge would last but there are models now with much higher capacity.

I spent a bit of time experimenting with the settings. The different colour tones are achieved by activating either the inner ring, outer ring or both. So far, I tend to prefer the white light (using both rings), but I found that when using the green backdrop, my Samsung Galaxy S10’s camera was a bit confused when trying to sort out the white balance. The green flickered between yellowy-green and bluey-green. Things were easier with the white backdrop. I have not tried the other backdrops yet.

As for the brightness settings, whilst you can see the lighting getting brighter or darker as you click through the steps, I found on looking back at my test photos, that it was hard to see much difference in the image, because the camera automatically compensates. Perhaps going for a mid-level brightness is the answer and then decide whether you need to go either brighter or darker from there.

Photographing pens.

I tested the lighting first on my Aurora Optima, whose red Aureloide barrel would reflect the LEDs. Even though the LEDs are in a ring, you still find ugly reflections on the barrel, if you photograph the pen sideways on. You can reduce this to some extent by having the pen diagonal to the camera, but it is hard to eliminate it completely.

Unsightly reflections. Before adding a lamp shade.

It occured to me that what was needed, was a light shade, to block off the LEDs and instead deflect the light to the white sides of the light box where it can be reflected down softly, rather like using a bounce-flash pointed at the wall or ceiling instead of your subject.

The hack.

I cut out a circle of white card, having drawn around a plate. I then cut out a small wedge shape, like a piece of pizza, then drew the sides together so that the disc was pulled into a cone. I tied this to a pencil, which I then used to suspend the disc through the hole, just below the LED’s.

My home-made lamp shade!

I then re-took the photos of my Auroras and found, to my delight, that the harsh reflections were eliminated and I now had the capability to take pen photos, day or night, with lighting under my control!

No unsightly reflections! Using home-made lamp shade below the LEDs.

Conclusions.

It is early days, but provided that the LEDs and the control switch don’t break, this is a very useful accessory, for photographing fountain pens, or jewellery or other small items. It is modestly priced and with a little practice and experimentation, can help produce some excellent photos to enhance a blog.

Another practice shot, using primary colours to check white balance.

Personally I think it would be better still if it came with a simple lamp shade, perhaps made from the same material as the lightbox and with a means of attaching and removing it. This makes a vast improvement if photographing pens or other reflective items.

With my custom lamp shade in place.

All photos taken with Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone. All pens photographed in a Puluz Ring LED mini light box.

The state of the pen cups, September 2021.

It has been a quiet month on the blogging front. This niggles at me occasionally, as being wasteful, rather like having a car parked outside but not driving it. I do also have a car parked outside which I am not using much either. We currently have a situation with queues at petrol stations, as a shortage of fuel deliveries led to some panic buying.

For a change today, I thought to round off the month with a short tour of my “currently inked” fountain pens. I have fifteen, spread across three pen cups at home. This number is fairly typical for me. I enjoy the variety, but also wish I could be more minimalist and just have a couple on the go. Having the simplicity of just one pen and one ink, is a fantasy that I sometimes create by going thus-equipped to a coffee shop and spending an hour writing with whatever I have taken with me.

I should point out that the fifteen inked pens at home is not quite the end of the story and that I counted a further four fountain pens in my pen cup at work. These are a Parker Duofold, a Cross Bailey Light, a Moonman S5 with oblique broad nib and a Pilot V pen with red ink. The first three are filled with blue black, black and blue ink, respectively. These meet all my needs at work – for writing notes, signing letters and documents or amending drafts.

At home it is a different story as I am constantly picking up a pen and writing a paragraph or two just for relaxation and the sheer joy of the flow of ink on the paper, hence the variety. So here they are, roughly from left to right:-

The pen cups – a snap shot of my currently inked.

Pilot V pens in black and purple. These are both quite a few years old. For a long time they lived in a separate pot behind the sofa and were seldom touched. I felt that I should bring them into circulation. They write adequately, never hard start and seem to last forever (particularly with such little use). The downside is that the ink bleeds through paper badly. Also the colour of the purple ink is now well past its best.

Italix Captain’s Commission, Fine italic. This is a gorgeous pen, which did not cost a lot. At the time, I think it was under £60.00 and included a hand-ground nib, which writes like a dream, incredibly smooth and with generous flow. I since bought a couple more, with the same nib as gifts. Mine is inked with Onoto Mediterranean Blue.

Waterman Expert, Chrome cap. My history with Waterman Experts goes back to the 1990’s when I bought my first one, in marbled blue lacquer and used it for years at work. I added a couple more, one black and one red although I never made as much use of them as my blue one, as the nibs were not so joyous. And then a couple of years ago I bought this handsome blue model with a chrome cap, in a gift set with a pen case and some ink. I did a little bit of tinkering with the nib, with some brass shims to improve flow and now it writes wonderfully. It has been my journal pen, with Serenity blue cartridges for the whole of September. Like many of my pens, it is one of those which I could manage with on its own.

Moonman S5s, with oblique broad and with medium nib. This little pen has been a revelation, turning my pen world upside down. It is a clear demonstrator, eye-dropper filler and comes with three nib units which can be swapped around. The oblique broad is my favourite and seems well suited for my lefty overwriter, slanting handwriting. It is super-smooth, gives a nice line variation and is not too wide (given that the nib is held at an angle so you do not get its full width most of the time). It is fun to fill, holds masses of ink, is supremely comfortable and costs only £27.50. I just love it.

Platinum Plaisir. I bought this pen on impulse and out of curiosity, when browsing in Selfridge’s stationery department a few weeks ago. It is very good at not hard-starting, with its Platinum slip’n’seal inner cap. It writes well enough and would make a robust EDC but I have not been sufficiently excited to want to write with it for long periods.

Lamy Safari, yellow. What can I say? I do not consider myself a fan of the Safari as I dislike the faceted section. And yet I have a dozen or so of them in all different colours, with a Vista, some AL-Stars and even a Lamy Lx. They are well made, write well and are inexpensive. And the different colours make them strangely collectable. Yellow is my favourite. I had one which got ruined by absorbing the black dye from a pen case, but recently I bought a replacement, tempted by a 25% discount in Rymans. It writes very nicely and is also filled with Onoto Mediterranean Blue. No pen cup is complete without one!

Aurora 88. This is most probably my favourite pen, one of a very small number on which I have ever splurged more than £300.00, (and this was heavily discounted in a summer sale) but has everything you could wish for: black resin barrel and section, gold plated guilloche cap, 14k gold nib, (easily removable), ebonite feed, piston filler and a large clear ink window. It is very comfortable and very handsome. Filled with Aurora Blue.

Aurora Optima rossa, OB nib. This is my latest significant purchase – in which I was hoping to combine the joy of my Aurora 88 with the joy of my Moonman S5 oblique broad nib! It is a lovely pen and I am very happy with it but to be honest its OB nib does not perform any better than the Moonman’s. It probably needs to wear in a bit more. But the materials are beautiful to look at and to feel.

Montegrappa Fortuna, black. This is my only Montegrappa. It is a steel nibbed pen, not quite “entry level” for the brand but fairly basic. It came with a very enjoyable medium nib but I bought a spare nib in Selfridges in a Fine and now have this in the Fortuna, which is beautifully firm and precise. I have it inked with Pelikan Smoky Quartz, which seems to suit it well.

Montblanc Meisterstuck 146. This is a 1970’s model with a wonderful soft broad stubby nib, an ebonite feed and a large grey ink window unlike the current models. It was a generous gift from a pen friend in Australia and is one of my best writers. I use only Montblanc Royal Blue in this one.

Cross Bailey Light, white. My fondness for these pens is well known, to anyone who follows this blog. Shortly after they were first introduced, I devoured all the available colours. The white model I have kept for waterproof inks – such as Rohrer & Klingner Salix iron gall ink or, as currently filled, Noodlers bullet proof black. This ink was a purchase from the London pen show last July and I am delighted with it. It seems very well behaved and has a pleasing silver-grey-black tone. I love that you can use a highlighter over it, or use it for addressing envelopes for wet weather delivery!

Diplomat Traveller, lapis raspberry, medium nib. This little pen is the smallest in the Diplomat line up, but still sports a very pleasing steel nib. I was extremely fortunate to stumble across this when it was reduced to £5.00 in a Rymans sale. Once you adapt to its slender girth and shortish barrel (it does not post) then it is a real treat. Mine is paired with Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo – the lovely magenta ink like no other.

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demonstrator. And so finally, to this pen which was a London Pen Show purchase in July. Of the four pens that I bought that day, it turned out to be the one I have enjoyed picking up and using the most. This was due, to a large part, to my pairing it with the Noodlers bulletproof black. It has a fine nib, which, being Sailor, equates to an extra fine in European terms. It has a lovely, pencil-like feedback. But it writes like a pencil in more ways than one: the line from the Noodlers ink from this very fine nib also looks like the work of a sharp HB pencil. Used on the smooth satin-matte finish of the Leuchtturm A5 journal paper – and then with the ability to go over your notes with a highlighter, you will appreciate what a delight this is.

And so there you have it – a quick canter through my current random selection of pens in use. Here in London we are now blessed with two pen shows a year, having both a Spring and an Autumn show. The Autumn event is on 10 October 2021. Whilst my needs are more than satisfied by what I have on the table right now, I expect to be there and will probably be tempted by something.

Early thoughts on the Aurora Optima Rossa fountain pen.

This week a new Italian beauty came into my life. Was this sensible? How did this happen? Does it end well? Read on to find out.

It was exactly one week ago today, that I placed an order for an Aurora Optima. This was rather sudden but not entirely without reason. The splendid Aurora 88 that I bought two years ago became one of my favourite pens. I had been curious to try an Optima which has the same range of nibs, same piston filling system but housed in a body with rather more of that Italian flair. I knew it to be a favourite of Laura, whose blog fountain pen follies I greatly admired. (See her review here). But the triggering factors were (a) I noticed that it was available with an Oblique Broad nib and (b) it was in the Iguanasell summer sale with 20% off.

The wait was an anxious time. I fretted over whether I had made the right nib choice. Would it be suitable? Would it be to my liking? Would it be too broad, too firm, too feedbacky, too dry? I know of only a handful of pen companies offering pens with oblique nibs now, including Montblanc and Lamy. Aurora pens are not readily found in shops in the UK. It is therefore necessary to take a chance on ordering online and to hope that you pick a suitable nib from the 11 options. Iguanasell do offer easy returns if you change your mind.

The pen arrived, from Spain via FedEx, in just four days which was impressive. My order, placed on a Saturday, was despatched on Monday and with me by Wednesday.

The unboxing.

Once the pen arrives the anxieties of the wait are soon forgotten. The package was in a sturdy brown cardboard box, protected in bubble wrap. Inside this, was the glossy black Aurora cardboard box, with a fold-down flap at the front. Finally, inside this is the large, black gift box with a hinged lid and a padded black interior. The pen rests on a black padded tray, in a cellophone sleeve. A little metal badge proclaims 14K solid gold nib. Under the tray is the booklet, comprising the instructions for use, care guide and guarantee (two years against any defective materials and workmanship). It is certainly a very impressive and presentable package and gives confidence that you have bought a top quality item.

The Aurora Optima rossa in its gift box.

Design and construction.

The model I chose features a barrel and cap made of red “Auroloide” which is Aurora’s name for its modern celluloid material, cellulose acetate. Some more information about this can be found in Pen Review: Aurora Optima Auroloide by Matt Armstrong of The Pen Habit . It has a marbled or variegated pattern which looks very pretty as you turn it in your hand to see the different tones. It is also slightly translucent so that, when held against the light, you can make out the shape of the nib inside the cap. There is a darker area in the barrel when the pen is inked although it is not so obvious as to be unsightly.

The cap has a glossy black plain finial. There is a sturdy and firm metal pocket clip ending in smooth hollow ball of folded metal. It is very functional but I would worry about letting it spring back violently against the cap in case of cracking the material.

The red temptress.

The cap band is a feature of the pen, with two rows of Greek key pattern filled in black, between which are the names AURORA at the front and ITALY on the back, in smooth and shiny relief against a lined, textured background. The cap ring blends very smoothly with the cap.

The cap unscrews in about one and a quarter turns. The threads of the Auroloide cap meet the threads of the black resin grip section.

Removing the cap, you find Aurora’s famously in-house made 14k gold nib, (Rhodium plated on my model), an ebonite feed and a long comfortable grip section. This ends in a large clear ink window, with chrome rings either side. The ink window is concealed by the cap when the pen is closed, which I find tidier than having the ink window visible when the pen is capped.

The barrel, in red Auroloide, has some text engraved, a feature that I like very much. This has the Aurora logo with “AURORA ITALIA inside and the words “FABBRICA ITALIANA, DI PENNE A SERBATOIO. This last slogan can be found on advertising images of old and translates, I think, to something like “the tank pen” or “the pen with a reservoir.” As an added bonus, the words can be read with the pen in the left hand! This is a rare and joyous thing. (Good luck finding any left handed pencils).

The barrel engraving for lefties!

At the end of the barrel, is a black resin piston knob, separated from the Auroloide by another chrome ring.

The Auroloide is produced from coloured pellets. I am not certain whether it is then injection moulded to make the barrels and caps or whether it is formed into solid rods which are turned on a lathe. I expect someone can help me out on this. In any event, there are no discernible seams in the barrel, cap or section and the finished product is beautifully smooth and polished.

Filling system.

The pen is filled from a bottle by turning the piston knob, to expel the air and then draw up ink. The piston operates very smoothly.

The instructions advise letting go of three drops of ink at the end of filling, turning the pen upright and then turning the piston back to the home position to draw up any surplus ink. This will help if you do not want the feed too saturated after filling. Personally I do not find this essential as the feed seems to do an excellent job of regulating the flow of ink to the paper.

The Aurora piston filler has another feature, a hidden reservoir or reserve to use if you “run out” of ink. Simply operate the piston up and down again and the reserve is released into the feed and you have enough ink for another page or so, to keep you writing until you can get to your ink bottle.

This reminds me of the feature in Parker Quink cartridges, called “tap tank” whereby you were to give the cartridge a gentle flick to dislodge the ink reserve and let it run down into the section. In the Aurora, with its large ink window, a reserve seems a bit unnecessary as you are unlikely to get caught out with no ink when you have an ink window. Unless changing ink colour, you do not need to wait until it is empty and can refill before a trip. I worry that the hidden reservoir means a trap for ink when you are flushing the pen, although operating the piston a few times, with the nib immersed in warm water should be enough. For a quicker clean, you can unscrew the nib and feed unit and wash them separately or leave them to soak overnight, but you need to take great care not to grip them too tightly to alter the alignment or tine gap, or damage the delicate ebonite feed, when doing this.

According to Aurora the pen needs no special maintenance, other than to flush the pen with warm water if you are to change ink colour or if the ink should stop flowing. They advise that the pen be kept with nib pointing up if travelling by car or aeroplane but “If you bear this little advice in mind your Aurora will be your faithful writing companion throughout your life,” a very appealing sentiment.

Size and weight.

I measured the pen to be around 127mm long when capped, or 123mm uncapped. The cap posts very nicely to bring the length up to around 152mm. The girth is about 14mm maximum at the barrel.

The pen is light, at around 15g uncapped (including about half a tank of ink in my case), plus 7g for the cap or 22g in total.

At 123mm, the pen is longer than it looks.

In Matt Armstrong’s review, he mentions his initial disappointment at finding the pen “so short”. The pen does appear short but I think that, to some extent at least, this is an optical illusion, caused by the coloured Auroloide being sandwiched between a very long black section and black piston knob. The girth is quite wide, which might also make the pen look short and chubby. On paper, an uncapped length of 123mm is not unduly short. I have been using the pen unposted, very comfortably. When compared with other pens, it is interesting to see that that the uncapped length is not so different from a Montblanc 146 or a Montegrappa Fortuna, and these are not usually accused of being short pens. In any event, Matt’s pen “grew” to become one of his top five pens.

Size comparison with the Pineider Avatar. See how the Opitima’s black ends and wider girth exaggerate the shortness.
Some more size comparisons: with Diplomat Excellence, Montegrappa Fortuna, Cross Peerless 125, Montblanc 146 and Pelikan M800.

The nib and writing performance.

One of the main draws of this pen for me, was the option to choose an oblique broad nib. For the past 9 months, I have been enjoying an OB nib on a humble Moonman S5, a Taiwanese eye-dropper pen costing just £27.50 (including two other nib units!) and have found it to be wonderfully suited to my way of writing. I have been curious to try another OB from Montblanc or Lamy although with some trepidation in case these might not prove as great for me as the Moonman! Finally the opportunity to buy the pretty Optima came along and I took the plunge.

The Aurora OB nib is a left-foot oblique, a stub with the tip cut at a slant of about 15 degrees. Aurora nibs are known to be firm (except the flex nib) and to have a distinctive feedback, which is not to everyone’s taste.

Aurora 14k gold, Rhodium plated, OB nib.

My last experience, of the 14k gold medium nib on my Aurora 88 was that it was smooth but a little on the dry side and not as wide as I had expected. However I had been able to adjust it myself to widen the tine gap marginally, which made just enough difference and now it writes wonderfully. Filled with Aurora Blue, the ebonite feed keeps the nib in a permanent state of readiness.

Ebonite feed, a rare luxury.

The OB nib on my new Optima was great, right out of the box and has not needed any such tinkering from me. Under the loupe, there was a very slender gap between the tines, even at the tip which promised good flow with no pressure required. The line it produces varies according to the angle of rotation: the principle is that you hold the pen at a constant angle, with the tip of the nib flat on the paper (the “sweet spot”) and then enjoy effortless line width variation according to the direction of the stroke. If you make a cross stroke, left or right then you get the thinnest possible line. If you move directly down, you get the widest. There are degrees of thickness to be had between these extremes according to the angle. I found that I could produce about 5 different thicknesses, from 1 to 5. In ordinary writing you might not see the extremes of this range 1 to 5 but more likely a more subtle range from about 2 to 4.

Range of line widths available from OB nib.

The edges of the nib are a bit sharp, as an italic nib. Care is needed to keep the nib on the sweet spot for smooth writing and so the corners do not dig into the paper. As the nib is Rhodium plated, it is hard to tell where the gold nib ends and the Iridium tipping material begins, but I hope that the nib will hold up well and last me a good long time.

The nib was chosen for my specific needs when writing in my “lefty overwriter” mode, a rather awkward habit which involves rotating the paper 90 degrees anti-clockwise and then writing with my pen over (above) the line, rather than below it. This style evolved for me as an alternative to bending my wrist to avoid smudging and has been called by some people, “writing up-hill”.

A few favourite stubby nibs: Sailor Pro-Gear slim music nib, Aurora Optima OB, Moonman S5 OB, and Italix Captain’s Commission Italic Fine.

I have practised writing in an underwriter style too when occasion requires but experience tells me (including copying out Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations) that I cannot write very uniformly in this style and my ascenders and descenders tend to lean all over the place.

Conclusion.

I am enjoying my new toy. I am happy with my choice of OB nib. It may be that an OM or even an OF (both of which were available) might have suited me too and it would have been good to try them all in a bricks and mortar shop, as you can with Montblanc’s range at their boutiques. Compared to my Moonman, I am glad to say that that the Aurora stands up well in comparison (with its 14k nib, ebonite feed, piston filler and Auroloide body and exquisite finish and elegance) but I love them both.

New pen, with some old Aurora catalogues.

A London odyssey and early thoughts on the Platinum Plaisir fountain pen.

This weekend, with Covid restrictions having eased in the UK of late, I enjoyed an excursion into London’s West End for the first time in many months and visited a few of my favourite haunts.

Beginning at Choosing Keeping, a wonderful store for stationery, I found that they have an exciting range of fountain pen inks, including Pilot Iroshizuku, Sailor, and Rohrer & Klingner, a refreshing change from the usual chain store selection. I was able to handle a Sailor Pro-Gear Slim Blue Dwarf limited edition pen, of which they have plenty in stock with a range of nibs. This is a great shop for attractive journals and for boxes of Japanese pencils too.

I visited some guitar shops in Denmark Street. Rose Morris has a good range of Taylor acoustic guitars on display. Another shop across the road sells Martin guitars. For mandolins and a huge variety of other stringed instruments, Hobgoblin Music in Rathbone Place is a gem and it was good to have a browse. I discovered and bought my baritone Ukulele there a few years ago.

Also in Rathbone Place, is Park Cameras, where I tried some Nikon Monarch binoculars and compared them with the Zeiss Terra ED, 10×42, of similar price. Either would be an upgrade from my current Nikon Prostaff 10×30 binos although I am very happy with them and they are excellent value.

Walking along London’s Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon, weaving through the crowds of shoppers, it was good to find things getting back to normal. A lot of American Candy stores have appeared in Oxford Street, which I do not remember seeing before. At John Lewis, I had a look at the stationery department on the lower ground floor. The island of fountain pen display cases seemed to have shrunk a bit from days of old, but the usual suspects (Cross, Sheaffer, Waterman and Parker) were all there.

Finally I reached Selfridges. The Fine Writing department is also on their lower ground floor although it had moved position sometime before the pandemic. Montblanc has its own area. A short glide down on the escalator and you enter a world of Montegrappas, Graf, Caran d’Ache and other exotica.

There is also a stationery corner for more ordinary items and it was here that I found a row of Platinum Plaisir fountain pens, hanging on a rack in a selection of colours, with matching coloured packaging. It was the first time I had seen them in a bricks and mortar shop. My usual source for such items would be Cult Pens.

Not having tried the Plaisir before, and given that they were only £13.00, it was simply a question of choosing between black, dark blue, red, orange, citrus yellow, light frosty blue or silver. All had the same Medium (0.5) nib. I went with red.

Platinum Plaisir. It is very red.

Description.

The Platinum Plaisir is an aluminium pen, making for a more attractive and durable body than Platinum’s entry level plastic demonstrator Preppy, but with the same nib and a feed which is visible through the transparent grip section. You get a strong metal pocket clip, a shiny chrome cap band and a barrel which is not covered with text and bar code.

The cap pulls off, needing a very determined effort, made more difficult by the hard-to-grip finish of the barrel and cap. The cap features the Platinum “slip and seal” sprung inner cap which supposedly allows the pen to be left inked for up to a year without drying out.

Unboxing. Each colour pen has its own colour package but not one that you would want to keep.

The pen came with one Platinum black cartridge but no converter. Cult Pens sell Platinum converters separately in either silver or gold coloured finish but with a notice that whilst they will fit inside a Preppy or Plaisir, ink will only be drawn into the feed and not the converter and so you may need to fill the converter separately, outside the pen. Another filling option is to purchase an adaptor to enable use of standard international cartridges.

With cartridge inserted.

Size and weight.

The Plaisir is a good medium size, at 142mm long capped, or 122mm uncapped. The cap posts well bringing the length up to around 151mm whilst still remaining very light. Capped or posted, it weighs about 17.5g with a cartridge, or uncapped 9.5g and 8g for the cap alone.

The nib and writing experience.

The steel nib is of the wrap-around variety, like a Lamy Safari nib. It has no breather hole. The nib set-up looked promising under the loupe, with nice symmetrical tipping and a visible but minimal gap between the tines right down to the tip. I pushed in the supplied black cartridge. It popped in decisively and ink immediately splattered onto the feed. I put pen to paper and it started to write almost straightaway. Ink flow to the nib was consistent and ample, even for lefty-overwriting but without being too wet.

The M05 nib. Plenty of tipping.

The medium nib with rounded tipping provided a very smooth writing experience. It has a little bit of give but no “tooth” to give feedback. Like a Preppy nib, it works well. On the Leuchtturm and Rymans notebook papers I have tried so far, it did not skip but might struggle with very shiny papers. It did not have the same “Wow” factor as the medium nib on my Platinum Curidas which seemed more crisp and stubby, but as a general purpose writing tool at this price it provides a very adequate service.

The writing is as you would expect from a round tip medium nib. A fine line can be obtained from the reverse side.

Likes and dislikes.

Before being critical, it is worth remembering that this is a £13.00 pen which is probably about as good as it can be at that price.

At first I was a bit disappointed by the cap being so hard to pull off. However this is probably necessary to help create an air tight seal around the nib in conjunction with the slip and seal inner cap. It does shut firmly with no wobble. Also, I have a knack for this, to minimise the effort and avoid mess: grip pen firmly with thumb tips side by side and parallel to the barrel; then push two forefingers against each other in a controlled pull, and stop as soon as the cap clicks (not ripping the pen and cap apart and sending ink splashing on clothing and surroundings etc).

The proprietory ink cartridges are a bit limiting but there are other options as mentioned above. Also the nib, whilst smooth and reliable, is rather bland and basic.

On the plus side, you get a good sized pen, competitively priced, well made in Japan, with durable metal body, in a wide choice of colours, a grip section which is not marred by facets or a sharp step, which writes reliably, with the admirable slip and seal capping feature, all making for a pen that is robust and ready to be carried around as an EDC or chucked in a bag without worry. It is a good rival to the Lamy Al-star, for those opposed to faceted grips.

A good true red, high gloss finish.

Before getting the tube home, I walked over to see the new Marble Arch Mound, a green hill that has been created in a corner of Hyde Park, next to Marble Arch. It has been in the news this week as the project costs ran to double its initial budget, finishing up at £6 million and the minister in charge at Wesminster City Council resigned. It is not, as I first thought, a huge mound of earth but a hollow structure made from scaffolding poles and then with an outer shell and covered with turf and real grass. An external metal staircase allows visitors to climb up to a viewing platform at the top. It is well worth the climb to gain a new viewpoint over the London skyline. It is a temporary installation and currently free to visit although tickets are booked online.

A view from the Marble Arch Mound. Looking down on Park Lane, with the London Eye and the Shard on the horizon.

I do not doubt that it must have taken a lot of work to design and create this empty hill. I am glad that I was able to go up it without pre-booking (it was late afternoon) and that it was free. Also, it made the new Platinum Plaisir in my bag seem even better value for money.

The London Spring Pen Show: my haul.

Well, what a lovely day this has been. Sunday 25 July 2021 and the first pen show since March 2020, before our first lockdown.

Instead of the Holiday Inn near Russell Square, the event had moved to a new venue: the Novotel London West, at 1, Shortlands, Hammersmith, London W6 8DR. This provided many advantages, being four times larger than the previous room, 150 nicely spaced out tables and all vendors in the same room. Most importantly, it felt roomy and safe, with ample space between the aisles, cool and airy, less crowded, and generally more relaxed, notwithstanding the face coverings and hand sanitisers.

Having seen a short video of the hall being set up, from Penultimate Dave on Instagram the night before, I was looking forward to the new venue. I had got out some spending money – although for the most part, dealers were taking card payments to avoid handling money.

Very soon, I started to see familiar faces. Most of these friends, from pen meets and pen shows as well as some from Instagram I had not met in 16 months and so there was an air of reunion on top of the usual buzz of excitement for the pen show itself.

It was a real joy to see all these folk again, as we emerge from a series of lockdowns and there was much to catch up on, in how life had treated everyone as well as sharing pen news and comparing notes on our shopping priorities for the day.

One thing was plain to me before today: I did not need any more fountain pens – or ink or notebooks for that matter. I brought along a few of my lesser used pens to re-home with Jon of Pensharing.com where they can be put to better use than by me in recent years.

I have been largely successful in fighting the constant temptation to acquire more fountain pens this year, aside from a few modestly priced acquisitions such as the Moonman S5 (I have three now) and another Cross Bailey Light in dark green. I am slowly realising that adding more pens will only reduce the use that I can make of my current hoard, plus I tell myself that I am unlikely to find any pens, within my budget, that provide a more suitable writing experience than many of those that I already have.

In my armoury against temptation, I brought along a pen-roll of 8 of my currently inked favourites which included my Aurora 88, Montegrappa Fortuna, Cross Peerless 125, blue Diplomat Excellence A plus and the humble Moonman S5 with its oblique broad nib which works so well for my lefty overwriting.

My other weapon was to remind myself of just how difficult it had been to maintain an earned income over the past year and how much chargeable time I needed to expend to receive the percentage that ends up in my pay packet! With these thoughts in mind I hardly needed to go to step three which was going to be writing an essay entitled “I do not need a new pen because….”

Having said all of that, I was still excited to see the tables and in particular the luxurious editions from Onoto, whose Magna Classic range has been on my grail pen radar for a while. I also had a good browse at the Aurora table, and at John Hall’s table, from Write Here of Shrewsbury and admired his Scribo pens. These included the latest colour called the Mariana: swirly dark blue, green and black tones representing the ocean trench. I am still yet to pull the trigger on a Scribo, which, although obviously desirable and gorgeous, is priced at the outer reaches of my comfort zone. Also, even with the less soft of the two nib options, I fear that the nib may be a bit too delicate and flexy for work and my day to day writing sessions. Maybe one day.

John Hall also had some of the lovely new Sailor Pro-Gears on display in the blue with translucent orange ends called “Sunset over the ocean” and I was tempted to buy a second PG slim with music nib as I so much enjoy my black and gold model.

In between making several laps of the hall, stopping for numerous conversations with friends and friendly dealers and a break for lunch, the outcome was that I still came home with four new and very useful fountain pens, coincidentally equalling the number that I gave away and so remaining “pen neutral” without increasing my fountain pen footprint (if that is a thing). Here they are:-

Jinhao 100

This, a little guilty pleasure, is an homage to the Parker Duofold Centennial, in the classic “big red” body colour and silver coloured nib and fittings. In my defence, I do own two “real” modern Parker Duofolds although of the “International” size, slightly slimmer than the Centennial and so this Jinhao will scratch the itch of having a full size version. It is a cartridge converter pen (unlike the early button fillers of the 1920’s) and aside from lacking the Parker’s current 18k gold nib, otherwise offers a similar shape and size. Jinhao steel nibs have, in my experience, been smooth and enjoyable and I am hoping that ink flow will be consistent in this one. I have not yet inked it up.

A Jinhao 100
An attractive and nicely set-up Jinhao nib.

Narwhal Schuylkill, Marlin Blue (fine).

This is my second Narwhal, also from Derek of Stonecott Fine Writing, the first being the limited edition one year anniversary model in red stripe ebonite with a gold coloured medium nib. In contrast, today’s purchase, has an irresistible, blue swirly body with silver coloured fittings and a fine nib. Their nibs come a little wider than their stated grade (my medium being more like a broad) and so I went for a fine this time.

Narwhal Schuylkill Blue Marlin. A stunningly pretty and fascinating material.

I was thrilled to find that on rotating the pen, the patterns revealed what with a little imagination, could be a leaping bright blue Marlin in the resin! Given that this is large size, piston filling pen at £55.00 you get a lot of pen for your money.

Watch for the blue Marlin, just below the ink window!

Diplomat Excellence A2, chrome plated fountain pen (steel medium) and ball pen set.

The Diplomat Excellence is one of my all time favourite pens. I have a Marrakesh and a rather less common blue and black harlequin edition and now today picked up a handsome shiny chromium plated guilloche patterned model. As my previous Excellences are both fine nibs, this medium will be a useful addition and was on sale from John Twiss with a matching ball pen for a very favourable price.

The underrated Diplomat…this time in chrome guilloche stripe pattern.
Diplomat Excellence A2, chrome plated.
Superbly comfortable, with heft, girth and no step.

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demonstrator, fine.

Finally, also spotted on John Twiss’s table, was this Sailor. Sailor nibs are a grade finer than their western equivalents and hence a Sailor fine is like a western extra fine. I was keen to try one – being firm and precise and toothy- but had always hesitated at buying a gold nibbed Pro Gear just to see if I like such a fine nib. However, this steel nibbed pen, in an attractive blue demonstrator version, seemed a perfect opportunity to experience some Sailor fine nibbage at an entry-level price of £35 (and John kindly reduced this as I bought the Diplomat too).

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demo, fine steel nib.
That deliciously crisp fine Sailor nib.

So, those are my purchases. So far I have only inked the Sailor and am thrilled with it. I first dipped and then filled it with Noodlers bullet proof black ink, which was my only other purchase of the day. I had heard good things about its water proof qualities for highlighting or water-colour painting over.

The Sailor again.

I do not want to ink up all four new pens in one day. That would seem like opening all one’s Christmas presents at once. I have flushed them all with water and had a good look at their nibs with a loupe. All look promising and I have no concerns. I am very happy with my purchases, even though my resolve was not as bullet proof as my Noodlers ink.

An extremely full bottle of inky black goodness from the Pure Pens table.

But today was not just about the purchases but about seeing friends again after a long absence, with a palpable sense of thankfulness at coming through the pandemic (so far!) and the renewal of hope in this step towards normality.

Today’s haul, group photo.

Cross Bailey Light fountain pen: an update.

Those who know me or follow this blog may be aware that I am a fan of the Cross Bailey Light fountain pen. I posted some early thoughts on these inexpensive fountain pens, on 19 October 2019 soon after buying my first one.

I had bought the grey version, which had appealed to me most from the colours then available. In the following months I bought one of each of the other colours too, being royal blue, black, white, coral and turquoise (which they call teal).

My plan, you might have guessed, was to use them with different colour inks. I bought the optional Cross push-in converters with each one, except the black pen which I planned to use with my stock of Cross black cartridges. I used the white pen with Rohrer & Klingner Salix, iron gall ink.

I used the royal blue pen at work for a while, with Waterman Serenity blue. This is in many ways an ideal office tool, with its quick pull-off cap, comfortable body and smooth, firm nib. The girth of the pen is ideal for me. It is also long enough to use comfortably without posting the cap, but you can post the cap securely if you wish.

Sometimes it is not what a pen has, that makes it a success, but what it has not: in the case of Bailey Light, the grip area has no step, (a sharp-edged drop in diameter from barrel to section), no facets (such as the Lamy Safari) and no slippery metal to deprive you of grip and control.

Whilst soft, expressive nibs may be enjoyable for those who can use them well for beautiful leisurely calligraphy, I personally find the Bailey Light’s hard nib better for work, when I need something nicer than a ballpoint to sign a letter or make some notes. (As a left-hander, when I want line width variation, I use a stub nib, like the oblique broad on my Moonman S5 and not a flex nib).

I had no trouble using the Bailey Lights with the push-in type of Cross converter. A few people reported in the comments on my blog post, that they could not get the converter to go in. Their problem turned out to be easily remedied: they had not realised that there was already a cartridge wedged in tight at the back of the barrel. If you do not realise it is up there, and try to screw the barrel on over a converter and a spare cartridge, obviously the barrel will not fit.

Rather confusingly, Cross makes both a push-in and a screw-in converter and tells you on its web site to use the screw fit version for the Bailey Light. But the Bailey Light does not have the benefit of a threaded collar to make use of the screw-in converter, but the screw-in converter can still be used: just push it home securely.

As well as the fountain pens, there is a ball point pen available in the same range of colours. I bought a grey one to try. It has the same pleasing aesthetics as the fountain pen and is operated by twisting the cap.

Cross Bailey Light fountain pen with matching ballpoint.

It came to my notice some months ago that Cross had introduced some new colours to the range of Bailey Lights, including a dark green and a burgundy, both with gold plated nib and furniture instead of the silver coloured finish of the originals. I had seen these online. The fountain pens with gold coloured trim tended to be priced slightly higher at around £25.00 as opposed to £20.00 for the silver trim, but still very good value in my opinion.

The Bailey Light fountain pen: new colour scheme of green and gold.

What with the lockdowns, being busy at work and with limited shopping excursions to our local John Lewis, it was not until last weekend that I found myself there with a first opportunity to see the dark green Bailey Light in person.

A dark green fountain pen with gold coloured furniture has a special association for me, reminding me of my mother buying a Parker with a gold nib for me, from Arthur Bird’s, our local Ickenham stationer, to take to my new school in 1970. So I simply had to have one of Bailey Lights in this colour.

A particularly enjoyable medium nib on my green Bailey Light.

I also bought a gel pen to try, in the burgundy and gold, which looks really gorgeous! The gel pen writes well but needs to be held more upright to write smoothly, whereas a fountain pen can rest in the web of the hand.

A gorgeous burgundy and gold plated gel pen (before removing the protective blob from the tip).

Having laid out above, my credentials as a reasonably experienced user and fan of the Bailey Light fountain pen, I have to report that I have experienced my first problem! My green and gold model would not accept a converter, for some reason. It was not that I could not put the barrel back on, but rather that the converter would not attach securely to the pen. I tried pushing one onto the section as I have done many times, but it would not stay on. I also tried the screw-fit version (just in case there had been some change to the pen’s specifications) but this one could not even get close to the feed. This was disappointing as I had been looking forward to inking the green pen with a blue black ink for a vintage vibe.

Currently, I am using the green pen with the included Cross black cartridge. This pushed in nicely, with the usual “pop” as the seal punctured. The black ink flows well. The nib writes very nicely (firm, smooth and with ideal flow) and so I am reluctant to send the pen back.

My green pen, which will take a cartridge but not a converter, it seems.

But being unable to use a converter in this pen would mean being tied to buying Cross cartridges. This is a costly way to buy ink, at almost £1.00 per cartridge – rather like paying pub prices for a glass of wine when you could buy a bottle. Also, you are limited to Cross Black or Cross Blue and have the plastic waste on your conscience.

I am hoping that there is a simple explanation of why I cannot attach a converter to my green pen. If and when I find out, I will let you know. If anyone else has had a similar experience and knows the answer I will be glad to hear it.

The fountain pen, ballpoint and gel pen family.

Update: 22 July 2021.

After using my green Cross Bailey Light with a cartridge for a while, I thought I would have one more go at fitting a Cross converter. I found another, push-in converter. Pulling out the cartridge, I first marked how deep it sat in the converter by holding a thumbnail against the cartridge at the point where it disappears from view behind the metal collar, and then placing it beside the pen, to measure how far in it had gone into the section.

I then pushed in this converter. Lo-and-behold, this one did go into the section and to the same depth as the cartridge as it should, meaning that it was sitting over the coupling. It did not grip very securely, but securely enough to work, I think.

For completeness, I tried again fitting a screw-fit converter but still this type would not fit into the collar. However I was very happy that I can use my pen with a converter after all. I guess that the converters that I had tried previously may have just have become loose at the nozzle.

Early thoughts on the Diplomat Traveller fountain pen.

Just occasionally I manage to find myself in the right place at the right time. On passing Rymans stationery shop in Hampstead recently, I noticed the large red “SALE” sign and returned a couple of days later to investigate.

The pen display cabinet showed some very generous discounts. I could not resist a Waterman Hemisphere and Parker Urban fountain pen, and a Sheaffer Prelude ball point pen in Cobalt blue with rose gold trim (for which I have the accompanying fountain pen) all heavily discounted. The helpful lady shop assistant, somehow sensing my appetite for pens, told me that she had more pens at the back which they did not have room to put out on display. Would I like her to get them out to show me? Yes please!

She reappeared with a few Diplomat Traveller fountain pens, in a pastel turquoise or purple which I now know to be called Lapis raspberry. On checking the current price at the till, she told me that the raspberry one, usually around £20.00, was now just £5.00, putting it firmly into the “no brainer” category of purchases.

The Diplomat Traveller in Lapis rasperry

I have not had one of these before. I recall being shown them in John Lewis, some years ago when they used to sell Diplomat pens, and being told that they were popular with business people as they could be slipped into a suit pocket without disturbing the line of the cloth. There are merits to slender pens.

A very nicely set-up nib, performing perfectly out of the box.

The Traveller is the smallest of a series of three pens, its larger brothers being the Esteem and then the Excellence. I had acquired the other two. The Excellence A Plus, with its smooth steel nib, heft, wide girth and twist cap ranks as one of my GOAT fountain pens.

Diplomat Traveller, Esteem and Excellence for comparison.

The Traveller, in contrast is much smaller and slimmer pen, with a smaller nib. The barrel is only around 10mm at its widest, and the plastic grip section tapers from 9mm down to 7mm. The length is 135mm capped, or 117mm uncapped. The cap does not post securely.

However, the metal body feels robust. The matte finish is pretty. I like the distinctive Diplomat finial of black petals on a white background. There is a strong metal pocket clip. It comes in a metal gift box.

The cap is a snap-on one but is reassuringly firm, fits flush with the barrel with no wobble and has a plastic inner cap.

Filling is by standard international cartridge or a converter (not included, although I borrowed one from another of my Diplomats).

These seem made for each other.

Diplomat were established in 1922 (as the nib reminds us). The brand is commonly described in the pen community as being much under-rated. It is rare to find them advertised or for sale in shops in the UK yet everyone who has one appreciates the quality and excellent nibs. There is a five year guarantee and the booklet tells us that the nib of every fountain pen is tested and professionally run or “written in” by hand. We can all think of a few brands that could benefit from this example.

At home, still glowing from my good fortune, I held a gathering of my Diplomats, to compare their dimensions and have some group photos. I had planned to ink the newcomer with Waterman Tender Purple but at the last minute spotted a bottle of Yama-budo and went with that instead. It is a good match.

Summoning all my Diplomats

Conclusion: likes and dislikes.

The Diplomat Traveller is undeniably a small and slender pen. Over the years, I have discovered that I generally prefer larger pens, like the Diplomat Excellence, Cross Peerless, Aurora 88 or Montegrappa Fortuna (to name a few from a brief glance at my pen cups). However, to criticise the Traveller for being small misses the point of the pen, which is to be a small and lightweight, convenient and portable pen when on the move. Still, it is slightly disappointing that the cap does not post.

On the plus side, you get a sturdy and well made pen, with a very smooth steel nib, the convenience of using standard international cartridges or a converter and some fun colours to chose from. It is ideal to carry in a bag or shirt pocket. You would be hard pressed to do any better for £5.00 (while stocks last at Rymans in store or online).

Writing samples with Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo.

Travelling with ink: Blackwood Forest

One of the things I hope for when travelling, is a desk by a window, with natural light and preferably a nice view. Perhaps this desire comes from spending my working days in an office with no natural light.

Having come through a particularly busy few months at work, I was looking forward to a long weekend break in a forest cabin. Set in the heart of Blackwood Forest, Hampshire I am not sure if this still counts as part of the New Forest, but I am on holiday so who cares?

Picking some fountain pens for the trip is one of the pleasures. However this time I found myself a bit torn between (a) the usual urge to bring a selection of pens to enjoy, with different nibs, different inks, different sizes, weights and materials or (b) to go minimal, travel light and just pick one pen, perhaps even one that I did not like very much, to get more use from it. In the event, the usual option of bringing a selection was the winning one.

The final eight.

This was my first experience of a forest cabin holiday and I had not expected our cabin to have such a “Wow” factor on arrival. Imagine my delight on finding it to have such a spacious living room/ kitchen/ dining room with an entire wall of windows, looking onto the beech tree forest, beyond the decking (with table and chairs, and even our own outdoor hot tub).

Our forest cabin

I am a morning person and enjoy my writing most in the morning when my brain is fresh and rested. That tends to be the time I find best for journaling, usually off-loading the events of the previous day. One of the ironies of journaling is that when life is at its most busy and eventful you have the least time and energy to write about it, but if you are freed from the pressure to get through endless to-do lists of tasks, you have plenty of time to write about very little. I then like to refer to my lists of writing prompts, neatly and alphabetically saved on a notepad app on my phone called Colornote – often comprising a few words or phrases which I can come back to and write up when I feel like it.

Our cabin in the woods.

I set my alarm early, hoping for some time when the household (that is my wife and mother in law who was holidaying with us) had not yet risen and I could sit at my window and pour out thousands of words like an imagined Ernest Hemingway, the creative juices running at full throttle. Obviously that did not happen. But I did enjoy some light tinkering with the pens, reminding myself which ones I had brought along, which inks they had and then having just enough time to summarise each day in a few brief headings. Sitting out at the table on the decking, enjoying the tranquility was restful and restorative.

A short drive from our base, was the city of Winchester, which we visited for a sunny afternoon’s excursion. My wife spotted a stall at the outdoor market with leather goods including some lovely notebook covers, for A5 or A4 notebooks. I use both sizes but have been looking unsuccessfully for about five years for a nice leather A5 size cover, after passing up a chance to buy one once in the Cotswolds. I did once buy a cover which did not work for me as it featured a pen loop which got in my way and had bulky and unnecessary credit card slots which meant that pages would not lay flat. In short it was unusable and was returned.

In contrast these market ones from “redleathers”, an ethically sound business run by Kirk Newton, (@redleathershandmade) were attractive, simple and functional. Unable to narrow down my choice between a dark green and a cherry colour, I opted for both.

Oooh! New leather notebook covers.

Another pleasure for the stationery enthusiast in Winchester, is Warren & Co, a stationery shop at 85 High Street, selling a good selection of stationery and pens mostly from Lamy and Cross, plus inks from Parker, Waterman, Cross, Pelikan and J Herbin. The display of Lamy pens was comprehensive, with racks of Safari and Al-Stars, Vistas, Nexx and then glass cabinets of Studios, 2000s, CP1s and even a few Imporiums. I toyed with the idea of buying the Aion again as the dark green edition looked so appealing, with either M, F or EFnibs, but I had found the black one too slippery to grip and gave mine away. I resisted and told myself that I had been down that road before. As it was almost time for the shop to close for the day, I left without buying anything this time but it is a wonderful shop to visit and was a real joy to see so many pens in the flesh rather than just online for a change and to chat with the charming proprietor.

Warren & Co of Winchester.

Back in the secluded forest, it was fun to put notebooks in the new leather covers. The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 books fit in very well and I shall enjoy using them.

We enjoyed a very restful weekend stay – with good food and walks and let the forest work its magic in sending us home rested and refreshed.

With my trusty Nikon Prostaff 10×30 bino’s.

And as for that desk by the window, the truth is that I did not sit there writing all that much. Sometimes it is nicer just to lift up your eyes to what is around you. Perhaps it is one of those things where the anticipation is better than the reality. There will be time to reflect and to write when the holiday is over.

A new era for marriage registrations.

On May the Fourth this year, while many on Instagram were marking Star Wars day in their posts, there was another event which might have slipped under the radar. This was the coming into force of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act, 2019.

I awoke to a 6.30am radio news item from the BBC that for the first time, mothers’ details would also be included in the registration of a marriage, this being just one of the changes introduced by the Act, hailed as the biggest modernisation of marriage registration since 1837.

A Register of Marriages, with a bottle of Registrar’s ink and my two Parker Frontier fountain pens.

I mention this as for the past 10 years, I have been the Authorised Person from our church in Golders Green, London, to register marriages taking place at the church. I was quite proud of this role, although a little apprehensive at the responsibility involved to get it right. The Guidebook for Authorised Persons, issued by the General Register Office at that time, ran to 40 pages. I was particularly worried about the lengthy procedure to be followed in the event of a mistake being made in the registers after signing. Whenever registering a marriage, I drafted all the entries on a separate sheet first, in the same format, looking out for any unusual names and ensuring that addresses would fit in the required boxes.

I learned what I could from a brief conversation with a departing minister. I also attended a couple of annual workshops for Authorised Persons, hosted by our local Register Office which were helpful and lively, and included such topics as sham marriages, entered into to derive some advantage in immigration status for one or other of the parties.

I enjoyed familiarising myself with the conventions of recording details in the marriage registers, such as writing clearly and legibly, avoiding fancy flourishes; using capital letters for surnames and entering the groom’s details above those of the bride. I was excited to use Registrar’s ink, an iron gall blue black ink, from Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies. I find the way that it darkens from a grey blue, almost to black, endlessly fascinating in a way that other more fountain-pen friendly blue black inks can not match.

I soon learned that Registrar’s ink needs to be used within about 18 months of opening a bottle and exposing it to air. After this, it gradually loses its colour and ends up a weak grey. I found this out by using an old bottle of ink at the church, which was past its best. However, I would never get through a 110ml bottle of ink in this time. I decanted some of the ink into a bottle to use at home and had to buy a new bottle when it had lost its properties.

In the very first marriage that I registered, arriving at the church very early to prepare, I found from the printed orders of service that the bride’s middle name differed from my notes and so was glad to have spotted this. Being early reduces last minute panics.

Registrar’s ink, apart from being permanent, is not kind to fountain pens and it pays to flush the pens promptly after use. I was told of one minister shaking a fountain pen to get it started and splashing Registrar’s ink on a bride’s white dress.

Ours is small church and over the past decade, having very few weddings, I was called into action only a handful of times. Mostly my role was to submit the quarterly returns to the Register Office, declaring that the number of marriages in the past quarter to be “Nil”, or if there had been one or more weddings, copying out all the details again by hand, and certifying these, in Registrar’s ink on the returns form.

Now, the new procedure means that the old Marriage Register books, completed in duplicate, are redundant. I was instructed to cross through all unused entries and to hand in one of the books to the local Register Office along with any unused stock of marriage certificates (drawn up and issued to couples on their wedding day), or any surplus quarterly return forms. The other copy of the Marriage Register remains at the church for record purposes.

Under the new procedure, paper marriage registers are withdrawn: it will no longer be necessary to fill out all the details of the marriage by hand in a Marriage Register. Instead, couples will be issued with a Schedule printed in advance. This will be checked and signed by the couple, the witnesses and the Authorised Person on the day of the wedding (still using Registrar’s ink). It is later returned to the Register Office, for the details to be uploaded on the electronic register.

I am relieved, that this occasional duty has been lifted from me, even though I was so seldom required to perform it. The anxiety of entering all the details quickly and accurately, twice in the Marriage Registers and then once more on a Certificate, whilst the wedding couple and their supporters and photographer waited in excited anticipation, was stressful to a non-professional Authorised Person, in a way that is hard to describe. For Authorised Persons, the changes are:-

  • We are no longer required to register marriages;
  • We no longer issue marriage certificates;
  • We no longer need to complete quarterly returns;
  • We no longer have to undertake corrections in marriage registers (these instead being carried out by registration officers).

One young bride-to-be has already commented to me that the new system seems a bit of a shame and less romantic in a way but a sign of the times. Perhaps it is the end of an era, but the dawn of a new one.

Other colours are available.

It is probably safe to say that blue is my preferred colour when it comes to fountain pens. A quick glance at my pen cups shows blue pens to be the most prevalent. And looking back at my pen buying over the past few decades, I have generally gone for a blue, if there was a choice.

The pens above, from left to right are:

  • (1) Campo Marzio Accropolis;
  • (2) Cross Peerless 125;
  • (3) Cross Bailey Light;
  • (4) Diplomat Excellence A Plus;
  • (5) Parker 51 aerometric;
  • (6) Pelikan M205, blue demonstrator;
  • (7) Pelikan M800;
  • (8) Platinum Curidas, Abyss Blue;
  • (9) Sheaffer Prelude, cobalt blue with rose gold trim;
  • (10)Waterman Expert, (1990’s).

I have had no regrets about choosing blue for any of the above. The Cross Peerless, in quartz blue, is possibly the most handsome pen that I own, along with my Aurora 88 (black and gold) and the Pelikan M800. Nevertheless I remain tempted by the Peerless in titanium grey, imagining how nice this would be with a burgundy or dark red ink.

It is not just fountain pens in blue that I prefer, but inks too. Whilst I have accumulated a stash of ink of many colours, blues are by far the most numerous and of these, I tend to fall back on the same favourites time and time again, including Waterman Serenity Blue, Montblanc Royal Blue, or Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue. When I want a blue black, I usually reach for the Diamine Conway Stewart Tavy.

I have a fair number of other colours too. I sometimes feel like trying a turquoise, but usually seem to go off it before the end of a fill. But flushing a pen does not always have to mean jettisoning the remaining ink, when there is an option to use it in a mix.

Occasionally I experiment with new (to me) colours to broaden my horizons. This year I have been enjoying one pen and ink combination per calendar month for my A5 page a day diary. In April, it was a Moonman S5 filled with Diamine Scribble Purple – which looked, to my eyes, rather less “Deep Purple” and more “Black Sabbath.” I was looking forward to the May changeover However, rather than ditch the remaining Scribble Purple, I simply added some Robert Oster Fire and Ice, plus a little Serenity Blue, and found that I had made myself a very acceptable blue black. I was happier with this than with either the Scribble Purple or the Fire and Ice on their own.

One of the many things that I love about the Moonman S5 is its ability to receive top-ups of ink from half-spent cartridges or converters in pens that I want to clean, or ink samples, into its clear demonstrator eye-dropper barrel. The see-through acrylic lets you keep an eye on the reservoir for any signs of inks clashing.

A rather fetching pencil.

Recently, visiting a delightful stationery shop in Eton, I found a display of the Lamy Crystal range of inks, which I had not tried before and bought a bottle of Lamy Azurite, which looked promising as a vibrant rich blue, although I had not done my homework and had not appreciated that it also has purple leanings. I also bought the classic, Pentel P207 (0.7mm) mechanical pencil, which is a pleasing blue. I think my blue credentials are clear!

Lamy Azurite, Crystal Ink.

I suppose that we all learn more about ourselves as we get older. One conclusion for myself is that I would not mind too much if I had to restrict myself to a royal blue ink, in a blue pen. I just never tire of that.

Gratuitous final image of a back-lit blue stripe M800.