A London walk in a time of national mourning.

Today there was a special atmosphere in London. With blue skies and warm sunshine, thousands came to central London to see Buckingham Palace and The Mall, Green Park or St James’s Park, some to lay flowers in memory of HM The Queen. Others have come to queue to see her coffin lying in state at Westminster Hall, ahead of the state funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday 19 September 2022. It is a moving sight, even on television, with guards in splendid uniforms standing in silent vigil, 24 hours a day, whilst members of the public pay their respects.

For those wishing to see the lying in state, there is a huge queue stretching back to Southwark Park. The authorities are prepared for this to reach 10 miles long. There are constant updates online but at one time today there was an estimated queuing time of 24 hours, and as I write this the current estimate is 13 hours. A colleague of mine at work joined the queue on Thursday evening and reached Westminster Hall at around 7am on Friday. Total estimates were of 400,000 people filing past the coffin, over four days, some travelling from great distances to do so.

I did not wish to visit Westminster Hall but wanted to come to London to mark this rare occasion and experience the atmosphere. I began at Trafalgar Square and joined the many people walking along The Mall. There were a lot of families with young children, and many bringing flowers. Much of the area was closed to traffic. In the quiet without the usual traffic noise, I found myself noticing the architecture of so many grand buildings and it was poignant to see so many flags flying at half-mast.

The police were doing a good job of controlling the crowds. You could not simply wander about where you liked and could only cross some roads at special crossing points, and there were some one-way systems in place for pedestrians. People accepted this and cooperated, chatting to the police. There was a sense that we were all there for the same reason, united by our common loss.

We paused to watch a group of mounted guardsmen ride past, with a police escort. Often helicopters could be heard high overhead. There were tv cameras and reporters everywhere and it seemed as if the attention of the world was focussed on London at this time.

The Mall: preparations for the state funeral.

Because of the volume of people, we could not walk directly up the Mall to Buckingham Palace but had to cross St James’s Park and join long queues down one side of the road and back up the other for those wishing to go to the Palace. With even this queue likely to take a few hours I was feeling a little bit hemmed in by the sheer number of visitors, although there was no pushing and shoving. I decided to change direction and take a path of less resistance away from the main attractions.

Buckingham Palace from St James’s Park.

From Birdcage Walk, I continued on to Buckingham Gate passing the Rubens hotel (where I had enjoyed a weekend break a few months ago) opposite The Royal Mews. Souvenir shops had portraits of the Queen in the window with her dates. There were mugs with the Queen’s picture and dates 1926 to 2022 and messages such as “Forever in our hearts.”

I cut through to Victoria Street, where there was more space to walk normally and headed towards Parliament Square. I was sorry to note that the landmark department store, House of Fraser on Victoria Street had closed down. I ventured down Artillery Row and came to Horseferry Road and found a cafe for some lunch. A man at the next table had just been to Westminster Hall after queuing for 14 hours. A group of police came in for coffee and takeaway lunches, taking these back to their minibus.

At Lambeth Bridge I saw sections of the epic queue heading for Westminster, like a pilgrimage. Not being a part of this, I could walk freely along Millbank and see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as I neared Parliament Square.

Houses of Parliament.

It was extraordinary to see and hear Parliament Square without any traffic. I passed Westminster Abbey where all eyes will be on the proceedings in two days’ time. There are already stands erected for tv camera crews.

Big Ben in the autumn sunshine.

Once inside Parliament Square, there was a pedestrian one-way system again and so it was necessary to go with the flow. First though, I enjoyed sitting in the sun to write down some impressions of the day, with my new Tibaldi fountain pen and the “traveller” style notebooks from Flying Tiger. I like the Tibaldi more and more and appreciate everything about it, particularly the retro zest green colours, its generous size, firm nib and the ebonite feed.

My journaling companion today, the Tibaldi N.60.

A young woman busker named Harmonie London set up a keyboard and began to sing the national anthem and soon drew a big audience. Without the traffic noise, her beautiful voice and playing could be heard from quite a distance and her set captured the collective mood perfectly. Many videoed her with their phones.

I made my way up Great George Street, passing the impressive Treasury building, and along Horse Guards Road, before cutting across Horse Guards Parade to emerge in Whitehall and back to where I had started.

Whitehall at entrance to Horse Guards Parade.

Before returning home, I headed up to Leicester Square to visit Choosing Keeping at Tower Street, surely one of London’s most delightful stationery shops. I browsed the Japanese pencils, Tomoe River paper notebooks, and a display case of fountain pens including Sailor, Pilot, Lamy, Kaweco and Pelikan. Resisting these I still found myself buying a bottle of Rohrer & Klingner ink in a dark blue or blue black called Isatis tinctoria, their limited edition of 2021. In my relaxed state I had forgotten all the golden rules of ink buying, which are to ask yourself “Do I actually need any ink at the moment?”; “Do I need this colour?”; “Is this sufficiently different from all the other inks that I already have?” and “Would my spouse approve?” and “What is WRONG with me?!” However, it is lovely ink, and it is important to support such wonderful shops.

All in all it had been a remarkable and memorable day. And my phone tells me I walked 7.87 miles so that’s good.

My big red ink swab fest.

In recent posts, I have been looking at my fountain pen ink accumulation. Today it is the turn of my red inks to be in the spotlight.

I like red ink but do not use it very much. As somebody who uses mostly blue or blue black inks, it came as a surprise to see quite how many different bottles of red ink I have. This is due to the temptation to try new shades of red, combined with the fact that finishing a bottle, at my rate of use, takes forever.

Every fountain pen enthusiast needs at least one bottle of red ink. A Waterman Audacious Red, for example, would probably do. You cannot go wrong with Waterman ink. Rummaging through my ink drawers, I had forgotten that I owned a bottle of Lamy red and cannot now remember buying it. Others triggered happy memories – such as buying the Beefeater Red from KWZ Inks at the London Pen Show one year, or the Pure Pens Cadwaladr Red, also at the Pen Show.

The little bottle of Campo Marzio Bordeaux was purchased at the delightful Campo Marzio shop in Piccadilly which I recently heard sadly may not be there any more.

The Montblanc Corn Poppy Red was an ink that I had heard about a lot on the internet and had to buy for myself – probably from Harrods, whilst Graf von Faber-Castell’s lovely Garnet Red came either from Harrods or Selfridges in London. I was thrilled with Garnet Red when I first discovered it. It was just what I had been looking for as it had a very pleasing orangey brown hue to it. But when using it more recently, it seemed to have lost this feature that I particularly liked and seemed to have changed from how I remembered it, to a Burgundy. I fear that I may have accidentally contaminated my bottle by filling a pen which still had traces of another ink inside. Time to buy another bottle perhaps.

However, I later purchased a bottle of Montblanc’s William Shakespeare Velvet Red, a premium ink in a 35ml bottle, which I was fortunate to bag at a London Pen Show for a mere £10.00. This also has the special orangey hints that I had liked so much in the Garnet Red.

Today, to illustrate the differences (and also the similarities, to be fair) in my red inks I have swabbed them all. This was an exercise that turned my writing desk briefly into something resembling a science lab. I swabbed the inks with cotton buds, onto a spread in a Tomoe River paper note book which I keep for ink sampling. Also for good measure I swabbed them on a SemiKolon Grand Voyage journal, which uses a cream coloured laid paper and is, I was told, related to Leuchtturm.

Red ink swabs on Tomoe River paper.

I used a Moonman glass nib dip pen for the writing samples, although this is not a good representation of how an ink may appear from the more controlled flow of a fountain pen nib

While gathering my red inks together for this exercise, I thought that I would include a few ink samples that I was given, such as a scented ink by Campo Marzio, given to me by a dear friend in the fountain pen community and a sample of Diamine Sunset, a well regarded ink, given to me by Jon of Pensharing. The Onoto Passion Red was one of three inks, generously given to me by James Boddy of Onoto.

Red ink swabs on a SemiKolon Grand Voyage journal as well as a Tomoe River journal.

Ironically, the only pen in which I have red ink at present, (out of around 18 fountain pens inked) is an Online Campus Fluffy Cats edition, in which I am using the excellent Kaweco Ruby Red in cartridges, not bottled ink. I was therefore unable to do a swab but have included it in the spread nonetheless.

I am conscious of there being a great many excellent red inks that I do not have and am yet to try, such as Sheaffer Skrip red, or Diamine Red Dragon, to name but two, but you can’t have them all. It is the wanting that has led to my present predicament and I am already at saturation point and ready for any eventuality calling for a massive amount of red ink writing.

Some of my bottled red ink stash.

My current top 5 inks.

It is not very often that I take stock of what bottled inks I have. Until now, the most recent count up was in 2020, which I posted about in The Great Bottled Ink Count on 21 November 2020. At that time I had 65 bottles. It has since grown to around 82 bottles.

Whilst it is nice to have such a variety to choose from when inking a pen, there is also a nagging feeling that I have got more than I need and will never use it all. If we chop and change inks every time we fill a pen, and have multiple pens inked at once, we very rarely manage to finish a bottle. It takes sustained use and many repeat fills, to drain a typical 50ml bottle.

When I got all my inks out recently, it was hard to make them all fit back in their drawers again. Having them stacked on top of each other in drawers means that you forget what is underneath. It leads me to fantasise about having just one ink, or say one of each main colour. How much simpler that would be. The same goes for fountain pens and notebooks. Imagine having only one pen, one ink and one notebook. No difficult decisions about which to take! You can temporarily create a such a position by going on a retreat or even just going to a coffee shop, bringing only one pen, one ink and one notebook with you.

This was me last weekend, sorting the ink stash by colour.

I am unlikely to reduce my ink stash unless I have to. I am set up for life! But meanwhile it can be a fun exercise to reflect on which inks I would select, if I could keep only five of them. Currently, if it came to this, I would nominate the following.

Waterman Serenity Blue

An attractive royal blue ink, that is readily available, inexpensive, and behaves well. An excellent general purpose ink. It flows well in a pen, dries quickly, doesn’t stain and is easy to wash out of a pen. It can also help to clean a pen that has had something less well-behaved in it before. If I could keep only one ink, this would probably be it. But I would miss not having Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue.

Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine

This is blue black ink and named after the River Tavy in the county of Devon where Conway Stewart at one time was based. I first discovered the ink at a London Pen Show and it became an instant favourite. I recall later buying a spare bottle.

But the memory plays tricks on us. When laying out all my inks on view recently, I discovered that I actually had three bottles of Tavy. I had written their dates of purchase inside the lids: October 2017, March 2019 and October 2021. All were at pen shows. But when I opened the bottles recently to check how much was left, I could not understand why they were all full, or nearly full. And then I spotted an empty Tavy ink bottle on the book shelf behind my desk, and remembered that I had been through a whole bottle. It turns out that after that first bottle of Tavy, I had bought three spare bottles, not one.

It turns out that every two years I buy another bottle of Tavy.

Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red

This is a gorgeous orangey red, like a Venetian red and is a premium ink from Montblanc in a 35ml bottle. I was fortunate to find a bottle for £10.00 at a pen show. For a long time I used it exclusively in my Montblanc 145 Classique, although now I am a little more relaxed about letting other pens share it.

Graf von Faber-Castell, Moss Green

As green inks go, this is a dark, rich green which shades well, rather than the viridian shades of some others.

Pelikan Edelstein, Smoky Quartz

This ink was a free gift at the London Pelikan Hub gathering one year. It is a distinctive earthy light brown, very different from say the Montblanc Toffee Brown. It is described on the box as a softer ink and has a tendency to bleed through certain papers and so needs to be used with care but is a gorgeous colour and shades beautifully too.

As well as being very pleasing inks used on their own, these five also have the advantage of looking good on a page together, as if they all came from the same set.

But trying to decide which Inks I would keep and which I would part with, is surprisingly painful. I am clearly not yet ready to let go.

A look at my brown ink stash.

In my previous post, I rounded up my green inks to remind myself of what I had. It was also done in part to assess the task of how much ink I still have to get through in my life time. I think we all know that that is not going to happen! There were seven green bottles alone. And since writing that post, I found that I had missed one, a bottle of Pelikan Edelstein Olivine.

I thought that today, I would continue the exercise, and see what brown inks I have. And to avoid the risk of missing any, I got out all of my bottled ink and put them into groups, so no-one got forgotten.

Two drawers of inks from my storage chest of drawers.

As soon as you start this, you run into problems of classification. I had to make a few policy decisions, such as separating my blue ink into (a) royal blue (b) blue black and (c) light blues, including turquoise. As for the brown inks I had to decide whether to include Cult Pens Deep Dark Red, and Diamine Oxblood, or whether to put them in the reds or the Burgundies. Without getting too bogged down in deliberating, I put the Oxblood in with the browns, and Deed Dark Red with the Burgundy. I am sure many would disagree.

Making an attempt at classification.

And then, where do you group Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo? I put it with my Waterman Tender Purple, which was lonely in its Purple category of one.

Another category that consisted of only one ink, was orange. I put Diamine Pumpkin there. I had two pinks (although they were duplicate bottles of Pelikan Edelstein Star Ruby), three Burgundies, a surprisingly high number of nine black inks given that I do not regularly use black ink, and an even more surprising number of nine red inks. It is nice to have so many different shades and from different brands, but do I really need nine bottles of red?

For someone who does not use brown ink regularly, I have a respectable seven bottles. Pelikan Edelstein Smoky Quartz, a freebee from the Pelikan Hub one year, remains a firm favourite. It is great in my Montegrappa Fortuna with a fine steel nib. Another favourite is Diamine Cherry Sunburst, with its musical connotations as part of the Gibson Les Paul guitar series. I use that sometimes in the gold Lamy Lx.

The brown team from my ink stash. I forgot to include the Smoky Quartz in the picture.

Since getting into the fountain pen hobby, I have kept a record of pen acquisitions but have been in a fog of denial about the ink situation, having only a vague idea of what I have accumulated. Sometimes it is quite nice not knowing the numbers.

Given that for the most part, I prefer blue and blue black inks, it is rather surprising that I have gathered so many other colours, which tend to be for “recreation” and occasional correspondence with other pen and ink users rather than regular work use.

I think it was some time around 2014 that I fell into the rabbit hole, when the internet kindled my long-standing enjoyment of fountain pens. I lapped up Stephen Brown’s pen review videos and discovered a few blogs, and went to the London Pen show for the first time. And over that time, my bottled ink ownership has quietly grown from only a handful, to its current tally of 82 (including a few duplicates). I seem to have massively overestimated my life expectancy. And this is not even taking into account the stash of ink cartridges.

It is not all bad of course. I do get a lot of enjoyment and relaxation from my pen hobby. Even when not actually using my pens, I can unwind just by thinking about them and pondering some future combinations of pens and inks to try. As hobbies go, it is cheaper and takes up less space than many others I can think of.

Relaxation in a bottle.

Finishing my greens: a look at my green ink stash.

Like many others in this hobby with a passion for fountain pens, I have suffered from Gear Acquisition Syndrome and now find myself with an embarrassing number of pens, unused notebooks and bottles of ink. From time to time I need to remind myself of what I have “in stock.”

When my late Godfather (“Uncle Brian”) died, his wife Mary offered me his almost full bottle of ink. It was Cross Blue. I gladly took it to finish and have been getting through it in the pen that I use at work, a Cross Bailey Light. It is now on its tenth fill, since last December.

Unlike Uncle Brian, I have two drawers full of bottled inks in various colours and will never get through it unless I decide to paint the walls with it. Of course it is nice to have a good selection of different inks to play with and most inks keep well for years. (One exception is registrar’s blue black iron gall ink, which once opened, is best used within 18 months or so, before it starts to lose its darkening ability).

I may at last be reaching the age where my desire not to fill my house with extra possessions, can sometimes outweigh the attraction of the thing itself. As I try to to use and enjoy what I have, it can help to break this down into smaller goals. Green inks are a category of inks that I have relatively few of. I can count my bottles on the fingers of, well, two hands.

The Green Team, from my ink stash

The only one of these that I have finished, and which was for many years my only green ink, was a bottle of Parker Quink. I still have the classic bottle and its cardboard box. Sadly these bottled inks are sold in plastic blister packs now. My bottle has a faded price label and I can still see that it came from WHSmiths.

I did eventually finish this but had had it for so long that I could not part with the bottle.

A modern equivalent, for a good day-to-day green ink might be Waterman’s Harmonious Green. Nowadays, I like to write the date of purchase inside the box lid. Mine bears the date 26 September 2015 and I bought it in the Burlington Arcade, off Piccadilly in London. It is still a good two thirds full. However I am now using it regularly in my Delike New Moon, fude nib pen. It is a good combination for the marbled green acrylic pen. It is an inexpensive ink for an inexpensive pen.

My Delike New Moon, fude nib pen with its current pairing of Waterman Harmonious Green.

I have some more up-market green inks: Montblanc Irish Green and, probably my favourite, Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green in its attractive heavy bottle.

I have a 30ml plastic bottle of Diamine’s Deep Dark Green, which I bought at the same time as their Deep Dark Blue and Deep Dark Red. I used the Deed Dark Blue by far the most and finished the bottle, often using it in a TWSBI Vac 700 or Diamond 580.

Some less common greens are my Noodler’s Sequoia: a brim-full glass bottle containing 3oz of this green-black ink. Unfortunately, although I was very taken with the colour, I found it all but unusable for a lefty-overwriter as it is so slow-drying and smudges long after I would expect it to be dry.

Seven bottles. That is still a lot of writing.

At the London Pen Show one year, I picked up a cute little bottle of Conway Stewart green ink, made by Diamine. I do not know the name of the colour but think it was of the same series as Conway Stewart Tavy, which is a nice blue black. However I bought it more for the bottle, nice for travelling, than the ink.

Finally, I have a bottle of Krishna Inks Ghat Green, which is an attractive khaki green-gold. I did not use it much at first as I suspected it of causing unsightly and disturbing nib crud on my Montegrappa Fortuna’s steel nib. But I later gave it another chance, in my Sailor Pro-Gear with a 21k gold nib and have had no problems with it at all.

If you want to get through ink faster, using a pen with broad, stub or music nib will help. Or you could use it for drawing. For some years I could not settle to using a green ink as I would soon have the urge to flush it out and refill with a blue. But I now appreciate a green ink from time to time and it is well worth having at least one green-inked pen! I heard it said that there is, or was, a convention in the Royal Navy, of different colour inks being used by different ranks of officer. I have not been able to verify that. I do remember that green was the colour of correspondence from Rolex, if you got a typed letter from them in the 1960’s. It also makes a good colour for amending and editing typed drafts, rather than red.

A green ink can look attractive, particularly on cream coloured paper and paired with the right pen and can make a refreshing change from the usual blues. I don’t know when I will next finish a bottle or whether I will ever own just one bottle but I am at least trying not to buy more.

The thrifty ink-miser’s flush.

Sunday evenings are a good time for cleaning some fountain pens. Here, my pen cup occupancy had gradually risen to 18 currently inked. Cleaning a few is a quick and easy way of bringing the numbers down but usually at the cost of jettisoning some good ink.

Some of the current occupants of my pen cup: Aurora 88, Montblanc Meisterstuck 146 and a Cleo Skribent Classic gold.

“Deciding who goes and who stays” sounds like a line from Strictly Come Dancing when the judges are introduced. However in this case the decision is down to me. I selected four pens: a Lamy 2000 and an Italix Captain’s Commission, both inked with Onoto’s Mediterranean Blue which were ready for a change. Then there were the Diplomat Excellence and a Cleo Skribent, both of which I had two of on the go, and both with Waterman Serenity Blue.

The cleaning ritual.

I noticed that my Moonman S5 eyedropper pen was low on ink, last inked with Serenity Blue with a little Robert Oster Fire & Ice, which had produced a nice silky-smooth rich blue. This gave a pleasing effect on the page, from the smooth, oblique broad nib. Sometimes with luck an experimental mixing of inks produces an attractive blend, which is greater than the sum of the parts.

The Lamy 2000 gets an early bath. Careful not to lose the metal horse-shoe clip or the rubber O ring on the back of the feed.

It occurred to me that rather than dump the remaining ink from my four candidates for cleaning, I would instead empty it into the Moonman. This has the happy consequence of (a) topping up the Moonman for a good few months of use, (b) producing a new and unique colour blend, (c) allowing four pens to be cleaned and (d) making space in the pen cups and (e) not wasting ink.

For this exercise, I usually stand the Moonman in an old Aurora ink bottle. The pen has a flat end to the barrel and so will stand up on a flat surface on its own, but could easily be knocked over.

The Moonman S5. An ink bucket with a wonderful OB nib.

Of course there is always a risk that the mixed inks will not play together nicely and instead form a goo. I have not had this occur so far but if the worst comes to the worst, you just clean the pen and start again.

Newly filled Moonman S5

I love Waterman’s Serenity Blue: a well behaved, easy to clean, royal blue. If I had to be limited to only one ink, that would probably be my choice. I do sometimes have the urge to ink up a pen with a turquoise ink but for some reason, I soon tire of it and find myself not using the pen very much, until eventually I cave in and flush. Perhaps we all have this tendency with certain colours.

Tonight’s new blend. Tomoe River paper.

I had nothing against the Serenity Blue in my Diplomat Excellence, but fancied a change to a blue black. Same with the Cleo Skribent.

My other Cleo Skribent. This one remains inked and is my journaling pen for December.

Having told myself recently that I would not buy any more pens for a while, I recently found myself ordering an Online Bachelor calligraphy pen, when I saw that the supplied nib is the excellent 0.8mm stub. The pen is a clear demonstrator, cartridge-converter pen, rather like the Online College pens and comes with a converter. It is due to arrive in a few days and so I needed to make some space in the pen cup for the new arrival. Fingers crossed it will be a successful addition.

The Post Pen Show Post: London Autumn 2021.

Last week I wrote The Pre Pen Show Post, in anticipation of the show on Sunday 10 October 2021. Now that it has passed, it is time to reflect on the day.

In short, it was wonderful and I had a great time. My wife was to have come, but changed her mind on the day and so I was left to make decisions unaided. I set off cheerfully, taking the London Overground train to Kensington Olympia and enjoyed a stroll to the venue, at the Novotel, Hammersmith.

The venue, Novotel London West.

With UK Pen Shows in new but very capable ownership, membership of the Writing Equipment Society no longer gets you free admission but I heard that this might change. However, visitors were given a free tote bag with the handsome UK Pen Shows logo and names of sponsors, which came in handy for my subsequent haul.

I soon found there to be a special ink for the show, namely a bottle of Beefeater Red from KWZ Ink of Poland. I purchased a bottle immediately without pausing to check what colour red it was. It turned out to be a very pleasing one, a rich dark beetroot tone which strangely reminded me of my favourite wax crayon in the colouring box at primary school.

Beefeater Red, the new show Ink from our friends in Poland, KWZ Ink.

Also within minutes of arriving, I spotted an enticing table of Diplomat fountain pens at generously discounted prices and pounced on a couple of Diplomat Excellences, being one of my favourite steel nib pens of all time. I will not dwell on them here as I have reviewed them previously in this blog.

Two Diplomat Excellences. The one at the front has a nifty quick release screw cap.

Having come through a period of 18 months with very little social interaction, it was a treat to catch up with friends, about a dozen from our London Pen Club, over the course of the day, as well as to chat to the friendly vendors. The venue was bright, spacious and airy and this all made for a very pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere.

The main hall.

Others have written about how to prepare for a pen show, to get the most out of the day and some good tips are to (a) have a budget, (b) make a list of anything in particular that you want to look for. I like to bring a loupe to inspect nibs. You might want to bring a bottle of ink, a notebook, a little bottle of water to clean pens that are dipped, and some paper towels.

This time, I had not got any particular fountain pens in mind to hunt down and was aiming to “be good” and not get carried away in a spending spree, but to keep an open mind and see what was available.

Of the pens that I acquired at the London Spring Show earlier this year, the one that I had enjoyed picking up and using the most, turned out to be a Sailor Procolor 500, a steel nibbed pen about the same size as a standard 1911 and with a Fine (very fine) nib. It has been filled ever since with Noodlers’ bullet proof black. I had found this pen for sale on John Twiss’s table. I asked John if he had any more of these. Sure enough he had a few and I chose a nice sparkly dark red one, (now called the Shikiori), perhaps a good pairing for the Beefeater red ink.

Sailor Shikiori in burgundy with sparkles.
An exquisite steel nib on a Sailor Shikiori.

As for inks, I also bought a bottle of Aurora blue in the nice special edition bottle, from Kirit Dal’s Aurora table. I have become a fan of Aurora’s lovely fountain pens, since finally owning an 88 and an Optima.

I also picked up an extra bottle of Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy, a blue black ink that I am keen on, having bought and emptied previous bottles from pen shows.

My ink haul.

It is not the pens but the people that make a pen show: I enjoyed visiting so many tables, in particular John Hall of Write Here, John Foye (whose pen photos I enjoy daily on Instagram), John Twiss, Derek of Stonecott Fine Writing Supplies Limited who was selling pens from Narwal, Benu and Venvstas (pronounced Ven-oost-as), the Onoto table and Den’s Pens.

There were some tables that were new to me this time. Scrittura Elegante from the Netherlands, had a good display, where I handled an Edison Collier in the lovely burnished gold finish and saw some Opus 88 eye-dropper demonstrators that I had not come across before, as well as some Laban pens from Taiwan with German nibs in some attractive colours.

I spoke to William Shakour who showed me his impressive Titan fountain pen, made by 3D printing (which I do not understand). He had some rough grey, unpolished examples for people to test four different nib sizes, with Titanium nibs. I was intrigued. The pens are piston fillers with a huge reservoir. He had been working on making a slightly slimmer version but this meant having thinner walls on the ink reservoir, which he was able to show me.

At The Good Blue, I tried their unique design of flex nib pen, with a metal body and one flat side to stop it from rolling.

By late morning I was glad of a coffee break with friends Jon of Pensharing.com and Vijay – both of whom are on Instagram, where we had a catch up and tried a few of each other’s pens.

Vijay and I then went to find the nib units, being sold at John Twiss and Vincent’s table with titanium nibs and ebonite feeds in various widths and with a choice of Jowo or Bock fittings and even a choice of colours for the feeds! I chose a Titanium fine nib, with red feed and Jowo fitting, hoping to fit it in a large Opus 88 Demonstrator that I had bought three years earlier with a steel broad.

A Titanium nib in an ebonite feed and housing, Jowo fit. Very popular at the show.

After making several more circuits of the tables and testing my self restraint to its limits, it was time to go home. My final tally was three new pens (two Diplomats and a Sailor at irresistible prices), three bottles of ink (KWZ Beefeater red, Diamine Conway Stewart Tavy and Aurora Blue in the fancy bottle) and one Titanium nib.

Overall I was very content with my purchases. The choice is phenomenal and easily overwhelming, particularly if you are more used to a quick browse at the pen shelf in Rymans or WH Smiths! There are pens to suit all budgets. I came away feeling that I had got the balance about right and had not gone mad. You cannot go to a restaurant and not eat.

At home I tried out the Titanium nib in my Opus 88. I was a good match and the clear acrylic grip section allows the dark red ebonite feed to be seen and appreciated. I inked up the pen with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue (you need a colour that you will not get bored of in this pen) and the nib is a nice, feedbacky firm Fine. This was my first ever experience of having a Titanium nib so that is a novelty.

The new nib in my Opus 88, eye-dropper demonstrator. You must remember to put the pen’s rubber O ring on the back end of the housing.

Thanks as always to the organisers and vendors and fellow visitors who make these events so enjoyable. See you all again next year, if not before.

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.

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.