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.

Joshua Lee Turner and Allison Young: first night review.

Although this blog is usually about fountain pens, today’s post is off-topic, to reflect on an excellent gig at London’s Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush, on Friday 15 July 2022. This was the first of a seven date UK tour and was also the first performance of this new duo to a live audience.

Joshua is well-known from YouTube as one half of the duo The Other Favorites, with Carson McKee. His videos have seen him collaborate with numerous other talented musicians, including Allison Young whose own work includes singing with the Post Modern Jukebox band.

I have raved in this blog before about The Other Favorites (An evening with The Other Favorites, and Another evening with The Other Favorites: this time it’s virtual). I continue to do so, to anyone who will listen. It is hard to think of any other musician as versatile as Josh, not only as a multi-instrumentalist but in crossing pretty much every musical genre, plus being a song-writer and having the IT skills to produce and promote his work.

My wife and I arrived unfashionably early at the venue. The doors were still shut and there was no-one about. A passing couple stopped to look at the poster of Joshua and Allison on the front door, and asked us if this was who we had come to see and how we had heard about the event. “What type of music is it, Americana?” This put me on the spot. How do you pigeon-hole Josh Turner who can not only turn his hand to, but excel at so many types of music from pop, rock, country, folk, bluegrass, singer-songwriter, gypsy-jazz, great American songbook standards, and more. I thought of Allison Young, whose videos of songs such as “Crazy” and “Fever” I had seen – and came out with a fumbled response of “Jazz”. “But that’s not a jazz guitar” said my enquirer, pointing to the Spanish guitar in the poster. “No, but he can play any stringed instrument you put in front of him”, I gushed. I hope that they came back and bought tickets.

As show time drew closer, a decent sized queue built up behind us. Many in the know had gone to the bar next door before the show. We chatted to another couple: Dave had been watching The Other Favorites on Youtube for a considerable time but not made it to a live show before.

With no allocated seating, we were able to pick the front row. It was our first concert since lockdown restrictions were lifted and good to be able to enjoy live music again.

Josh and Allison took to the stage, each holding a guitar. They launched into “Shadows on the Wall”, also the opening song on their recent EP entitled “May 9-12” comprising six tracks written between those dates. Josh told the audience that they had realised as the tour approached, that they did not have many songs, – due in part to not quite believing that the tour would happen. They had recorded new material, not that we would have known they were new, as the songs from the EP blended right in with the rest of the set, as if they had been performing them for years.

What took place was an evening of pure joy and a masterclass in musicianship. The two performers remained on stage together throughout, although a few of the numbers were solo. There were some teething problems with Allison’s mic initially which crackled and popped. Josh paused in playing to give the mic a deft tap, which cured the problem temporarily until it was soon replaced by the sound engineer. Allison appeared not in the least fazed by the episode, which endeared them both to us all the more.

Josh’s finger-style guitar playing always amazes me, in his musicality and confident mastery of the fingerboard – be it on an acoustic or his starburst Fender Telecaster seen in many videos, or his ukulele, all of which featured in the show. There is never a beat missed or note out of place as he uses these instruments to their full potential. (I am thinking here of my own baritone ukulele, and a new mandolin, which would love to be played properly).

Allison’s voice is beautiful and has a timeless warmth and quality which was showcased perfectly on such classics as Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”, or Diana Krall’s “Autumn in New York” as well as “Fever” and “Crazy”. She cites Patsy Cline as a major influence. Her natural charm, expressive movements and the twinkle in her eyes in performing all of these, brought them to life. She also sang and played a few of her own songs not yet recorded, which can be a test for an audience but were well received.

Josh played some songs from his back catalogue. “Nineteen and Aimless” was a song he had written about being nineteen and aimless. He honoured his 93 year old grandmother, in playing an instrumental that he had arranged at her request back when she was only 91, an impressive and foot-tapping rendition of “St Louis Blues” and was the envy of all the wannabe guitarists in the room. But it was his song “Cross-eyed Love” with its rousing speeded up, drop-tuned, gallop at the end, which brought the house down.

Josh and Allison played a guitar instrumental duet on La Valse d’Amelie, Yann Tierson’s “Amelie’s Waltz” from the 2001 French language film Amelie. Josh told us that both he and Allison were fans of the film. This slow piece was one of my wife’s highlights of the night.

They played over 20 songs in all. After the encore as the lights came up, two ladies sitting behind us asked how we had heard of the event. I explained that I had seen it online (and jumped on the tickets). They asked me if I played an instrument. I said that I played guitar, or used to think I could! Watching Josh is humbling but I admire these great musicians with so much ability and potential, following their dream.

I looked up Hoagy Carmichael afterwards. On Wikipedia is says that he “was among the first singer-songwriters in the age of mass media to utilise new communication technologies such as television, electronic microphones and sound recording.” Sound like anyone? To this Josh and Allison have harnessed Youtube and Instagram. As Josh put it, social media is not all a hell-hole. Good things come out of too, such as how he and Allison came to “follow” each other, to meet, record videos and the EP and now put together this tour. Josh had made good use of the lockdown to write and record an album and perform some livestream gigs all from his New York apartment. Allison had also been writing.

As I left the theatre, into the sultry warm London night, I had a spring in my step and was still grinning at the joy of the evening and the knowledge that such talent exists in the world.

Edit: 23 July 2022. Below is the setlist (compiled from a combination of my list made during the show, a photo of the list on the stage floor, plus the website Setlist FM.

  1. Shadows on the wall;
  2. Do I ever cross your mind (Dolly Parton);
  3. Lucy;
  4. Stardust;
  5. Plastic Jesus;
  6. Secondhand store;
  7. Fever; (Peggy Lee)
  8. Nineteen & Aimless;
  9. St Louis Blues (instrumental);
  10. Aquellos Ojos Verdes; (Spanish song)
  11. Samba Ukulele;
  12. Winter’s come and gone;
  13. La Valse d’Amelie; (Theme from the film “Amelie”)
  14. Autumn in New York; (Diana Krall)
  15. Til the stars turn cold;
  16. Where in time;
  17. Cross-eyed love;
  18. I fall to pieces; (Patsy Cline)
  19. Tiny Vases;
  20. Crazy; (Patsy Cline)
  21. We’ll meet again; Vera Lynn
  22. Hollow Wood.

Travelling with ink: Forest of Dean.

For our mid-summer break this year my wife, mother-in-law and I spent a week in the woods. This was not camping, but staying in one of the comfortable, self-catering cabins on a site run by Forest Holidays.

Whereas last year we had chosen a location near Winchester, Hampshire, as recounted in my post Travelling with ink: Blackwood Forest, this time we chose the Forest of Dean, Gloucestshire, and also went for a full seven days rather than three. It proved to be a good choice and we had also picked a week of warm sunny weather.

With the happy prospect of having some time to write, I enjoyed picking the line-up for a week away. After much deliberation (or dithering) I settled upon the yellow Aurora Talentum (my most recent pen purchase), a vintage Montblanc 34, Esterbrook Estie, Delike New Moon, and a Duke 552 bamboo barrel pen. Also I brought the Lamy 2000 multi-pen, a Sailor multi-pen/pencil and finally a Pentel 120 A3 0.7mm pencil, making eight writing implements in all.

The 8 writing implements for the trip.

To write on, or in, I brought a fresh Leuchtturm A5 notebook for daily journal writing, another A5 notebook for everything else, one A4 notebook (good for planning and drafting) and finally a small Silvine pocket notebook – which is always handy for jotting down addresses, phone numbers, directions or any notes made while out and about.

The fountain pens were inked with various colours but I decided to bring only one bottle of ink, Pelikan 4001 Konigsblau and so if any of them needed refilling, it would be royal blue or nothing. In the event, I did refill the Talentum mid-week. Whilst I like the Konigsblau, I did notice that the pen seemed to write a little drier and with less lubrication than with the Montblanc Royal Blue that it had started with. But it is useful to have a drier ink sometimes, to compensate for pens that might otherwise write very wet.

Our cabin was very spacious and slept six people, (as my sister and her family were to join us for part of the week). The open plan sitting/dining room had a large oak table with floor-to-ceiling windows and was a lovely bright place to sit, especially in the early morning when the room was cool. It did become very warm in the afternoons but we were generally out then.

The living area. There is a hot tub (with a chair lift) outside.

From our base, it was about a two-mile walk, through tranquil forest paths, to the stunning views from Symonds Yat rock, looking down on a beautiful section of the Wye Valley.

The Wye Valley, at Symonds Yat.

Our nearest small town was Coleford. Here in a local newsagents, I was pleased to find some A5 notebooks called Companion, with nicely textured soft covers in bright colours, and 240 pages of unlined, 80gsm cream paper. I knew of these from purchasing one in blue last year in a post office in Surrey. It turned out to be very pleasing and I wished I had picked up the other colours (red and yellow). Here was the chance to rectify that oversight.

Coleford town centre.

For a larger town, we were about 20 minutes drive from Ross-on-Wye. Whenever visiting another town and exploring the shops I do keep one eye open for any fountain pen shops. It is rare to find one of course, although Ross-on-Wye has a WH Smiths. I had a cursory look at the Fountain Pen section, in particular to see whether they had the newish Parker Vector XL, which I had seen recently in London – not that I would necessarily have bought one, but just as a bit of research. I was not to find one all week.

New notebooks to add to the stash.

A similar distance drive took us to Monmouth, another pretty and colourful high street, and lined with bunting for the Queen’s platinum jubilee, and with some attractive side streets and river views and plenty of history, although not the best choice for fountain pen shopping.

Monmouth’s famous medieval gate tower, on the Monnow Bridge.

A bit further afield, along scenic country roads, we also spent a day in Ledbury, Herefordshire. This is a very attractive town, famed for its half-timbered buildings and historic market building and some nice independent shops for books and clothes, but I did not find any specialist fountain pen shops in evidence.

Ledbury’s market building.

On our last full day, we visited Tintern Abbey, the impressive ruins of a Cistercian monastery beside the Wye River with wooded hillsides making a picture postcard backdrop. Once there, it seemed silly not to drive on for the short distance to visit Chepstow.

A view inside Tintern Abbey

Here, I did find a shop called First Stop Stationery, with displays of Lamy, Schreiber and other pens and a large glass display cabinet for the more expensive pens. On closer inspection, these were from Cross, Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Lamy, Pilot, Faber-Castell and possibly some others. Some notable examples were the Waterman Carene, Faber-Castell Ondorro, several pilot Vanishing Points, a smart Lamy Accent in the glossy black with ringed section and even the newly revived Parker 51 gold nib version which I had not previously seen in the flesh although I was not sufficiently tempted to buy one. I did at least buy some Parker cartridges in blue black.

A row of houses on Castle Terrace, Chepstow.

In our final hours of retail therapy, we headed back up to Ross-on-Wye where I had spotted a mandolin a few days earlier, in the window of River Music, in Broad Street. It was still there. I had felt in need of a mandolin, having accidently broken my old one recently when falling off a stool, whilst passing items up to the attic. It had fallen down the stairs, in its soft gig-bag but the neck was broken in two and I adjudged it to be a write-off.

The music shop had a display of ukuleles and a banjolele but it was the Tanglewood mandolin in “Wine red” that tempted me. I am very much a beginner and can play only a few chords, but recently have been captivated watching musicians such as Sierra Hull, Josh Turner, Sam Bush and Chris Thile and whilst they are all in another league, there is a lot of fun to be had from making music, trying to improve and getting to know your way around the fingerboard.

The shop owner told me how he had lowered the action on this instrument, by paring off some wood from the base of the bridge so that the strings sat closer to the neck. He had done a good job, making it much nicer to play, but without overdoing it so that the strings buzzed on the frets. This was a real bonus, rather like buying a fountain pen when the nib has been expertly tuned. At a similar price to an Esterbrook Estie, you get a lot for your money, (although he had me at “Wine red”). And so it was to come home to London with me.

A Tanglewood mandolin in Wine red.

It is probably just as well that there were not more fountain pens shops in this lovely part of the world and I am glad not to have purchased any more. But when a mandolin calls you, somehow nothing else will do.

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.

Another evening with The Other Favorites (this time it’s virtual).

On 23rd May 2020, I joined a live stream concert given by The Other Favorites, the duo Carson McKee and Josh Turner. This was their third such venture and was streamed from Josh’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York, conveniently timed at 2.00pm eastern time, being 7.00pm for us watching in the UK.

The Other Favorites: Carson McKee and Josh Turner.

This was available to anyone who signed up via Crowdcast with a voluntary contribution, who then received a link to join the stream.

Some readers may recall that I was highly impressed with The Other Favorites, having found them on YouTube last year. I then got to see them at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush last August and wrote a review here.

I saw Josh Turner in London again in October in Graceland Live at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, with a band and The South African Cultural Choir UK. The first half was given to performances of selected Paul Simon songs up to the 1986 Graceland album interspersed with lively pieces from the choir. In the second half, the company performed the entire Graceland album with Josh on guitars and vocals. It was truly special to hear this classic album brought to life so vividly, 33 years after its release.

The Other Favorites were to have been touring again this year but this was not possible in view of the pandemic. Performing a livestream session from home enables musicians to generate some revenue during these times and also provides welcome “live” entertainment for fans also in lockdown.

I continue to be amazed by this duo. From a rainy afternoon in Brooklyn, with the sound of an occasional car horn from the street below, they gave a very professional performance. Carson McKee played acoustic guitar and seemed the more relaxed of the pair, giving such a steady rhythm guitar and warm vocal performance that it looked effortless. Josh meanwhile began on his Martin acoustic for the first five songs before switching to a Fender Telecaster for the next five and then a banjo.

Josh now on banjo.

They played for an hour with a good mix of original material and covers, then gave a Q&A session for another half hour, answering questions from the chat messages. The original pieces spanned their ten years of playing and writing together. “Flawed recording” was one of their earlier songs, whilst “Nineteen and Aimless” was the opening track from Josh’s 2019 album As Good A Place As Any.

Once again, their performance demonstrated their genre-hopping versatility which takes in singer- songwriter styles such as James Taylor, jazz, bluegrass and Americana murder ballads and, with equal gusto, Abba’s Mama Mia. Josh’s guitar and banjo work on these is sublime, but never over-the-top. Listening to these young men, it is not unreasonable to compare their talents to a young Paul Simon or James Taylor.

The songs that they played are listed below (not including the rendition of Happy Birthday for Josh’s mother), to which I have added links to some of the YouTube videos. I am not sure if I have the title correct for number 7 but it was one of the standout pieces of the night and is one to watch out for.

Setlist:

  1. Angelina (original)
  2. Sixteen tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford)
  3. Little Sadie (Crooked Still)
  4. The Ballad of John McCrae (original)
  5. Table for One (original)
  6. Nineteen and aimless (original)
  7. I feel a certain change comin’ round (original)
  8. Hey Good Lookin’ (Hank Williams)
  9. Low Country (original)
  10. Moonlight in Vermont (Frank Sinatra)
  11. Nine Pound Hammer (Merle Travis)
  12. Mama Mia (Abba)
  13. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (Richard Thompson)
  14. Flawed recording (original)
  15. Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash).

Edit. 5 January 2022. I now know that song number seven is called Colorado Cowboy.

What we learned in the Q&A.

Asked whether they ever heard from artists they covered, they mentioned Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. They had also performed with the Backstreet Boys. However, Josh had never met Paul Simon or interacted with him in any way, which was surprising given Josh’s involvement in the Graceland show last year as well as the Simon & Garfunkel story, theatre show.

Asked when they had started in music full time, Josh had worked in retail for three or four years after college, building up some revenue from Youtube and Patreon but it was not until it became feasible for him to tour repeatedly that he gave up his day job, in late 2018. For Carson, it was as recently as late 2019 that he stopped work in an Apple Store.

Josh clearly is keen on the technical aspects of recording and streaming to the web. Asked about their set-up for this show, Josh turned the camera on some of their gear, showing the mics all going into a Zoom L-8 mixing/recording board (given by Zoom after they had appeared in an advertisement) but I then got lost as he explained the signal path through the compressor and computer software, for the audio and video.

As for their dream venues to perform in, Carson named the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and the Troubadour in LA, as the most iconic for him, to which Josh added Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana, being at his old alma mater.

Josh had studied music theory at high school and at college. We did not see his classical guitar work this evening (or the mandolin, lute, keyboards or percussion instruments that he sometimes plays in his videos). Asked about artists he admired, he listed Glen Campbell and Chet Atkins. However, in answer to a suggestion about appearing with mandolinist Chris Thile on his show Live From Here, Josh dismissed this as being way too intimidating as Chris Thile and his approach to music “is on such another level.” So even our heroes have heroes.

The Other Favorites do plan to host another livestream towards the end of June. They also mentioned a planned comedy project in the pipeline, where we would get to see Carson exercise his acting chops. Their long history of playing together has produced a great body of work on YouTube and they keep getting better and better. Just as I finished re-watching the livestream, YouTube brought up a song that they had recorded, singing in Japanese!

Early thoughts on the Pilot Synergy Point 0.5 rollerball.

The Paperchase store near my office no longer has a glass display cabinet of fountain pens. Its fountain pen offerings are now limited to a good selection of Lamy Safaris and Al-Stars, Kaweco Perkeos and Faber-Castell Grips, although it is good that these are still available. I enjoy browsing around the shop and often buy notebooks there.

Whilst visiting the shop one lunchtime recently, I came across a cup full of Pilot retractable pens, in a mix of blue or black, called the Synergy Point. These are not new pens but were new to me. I now gather that in other places they are called the Pilot Juice Up.

The Pilot Synergy Point.

To my naked eye, the writing tip looked so fine that I thought it was a fineliner, although it is in fact a tiny rollerball and one of Pilot’s gel pens. I liked the look of the pen, with its rubber grip section and rather superior metal nose cone. I bought one each in blue and black.

Features.

So, this is an inexpensive, retractable, gel pen, with a fine point. It delivers a smooth line (depending upon the type of paper you are using) with minimal pressure. Pilot’s catalogue entry states “A unique pen which, thanks to the innovative “Synergy tip”, combines a fine line with a very smooth writing experience.” Although labelled as 0.5mm, this is the tip size. The line width is said to be 0.25mm. It is also refillable, (using Pilot’s BLS-SNP5 refill).

Synergy Point, 0.5mm tip gives a 0.25mm line.

The gel ink in the blue version, is a pleasing shade of blue, which dries almost instantly and is also waterproof and so does not smudge.

When the tip is retracted, the push-button does not rattle, but it goes slack once the tip is deployed, which means that the button will rattle if you shake or turn the pen up and down. Also, there is an indicator window at the top of the barrel, just below the clip, comprised of five square dots, arranged like on a dice. If you look closely these are white when the nib is retracted and then go dark when the button is pressed down. As an indicator of whether the tip is out or not, you are better off looking at the tip itself or even the position of the button.

The pocket clip is plastic and rather soft and bendy and so not very secure and best not relied upon.

Size and weight.

The pen is about 140mm long when in writing mode. It weights about 12g. The girth is about 9mm. However the rubbery grip section and stepless barrel design make this a comfortable pen to use. The metal nose cone also places the centre of gravity further down towards the tip.

The writing experience.

The comfortable rubber grip, combined with the weighty metal nose cone and the lack of any wobble from the very narrow writing tip, all make for a feeling of precision when you are writing. Also, very little downward pressure is needed, although you do need a little to avoid skipping.

Some writing comparisons.

I have tried the pen on about half a dozen different notebooks. It is best suited to smooth papers without much texture as you do not have a large tip area to ride the bumps. However the ink flowed well. On all the papers I tried, any showthrough was minimal and there was no bleedthrough, even on papers which often struggle with ink. For example an Agenzio notebook (from Paperchase) has paper which suffers bleedthrough even with Waterman Serenity blue, but not with Montblanc Permanent Blue, Sailor Kiwa-guro or Platinum blue black, all of which are waterproof inks. The Synergy Point now gives me another bleed-free option for this brand of notebook.

A new option for bleed-prone papers. The Synergy Point on an Agenzio by Paperchase soft cover A5 notebook.

Disassembly and refilling.

At first, before checking online, I tried to unscrew the nose cone. However I later learned that the pen unscrews at the barrel, and you just hold the grip section in one hand and the smooth plastic barrel in the other. It was tight the first time and I was worried about destroying the pen, but was encouraged by seeing photos online of the two parts separated. I anticipate that the refill will last for ages but it is good to know that refills can be purchased.

Unscrews at the barrel, not the nose.

Likes and dislikes.

Plus points are the attractive design, sturdy build (aside from the flimsy clip and the rattling button) and the unusually fine writing tip for fine work. Having a waterproof ink is also useful. The familiar retractable design is obviously convenient and practical.

On the negative side, there is the feeble pocket clip and the rattling buttton. Also I would have preferred not to have a permanent bar code and a 13 digit number on the barrel but these are minor issues.

Pricewise, the blue model registered £4.25 on the cash till but then the black one registered as £5.00 which was slightly annoying. I would expect them to be the same price, whichever figure is correct, but it seemed fruitless to pursue this.

Conclusion.

I use ballpoint pens a lot for notes at work and a gel pen makes a pleasant alternative. The writing looks nicer and there is typically less pressure required yet you have all the convenience of a ballpoint pen. It is not a substitute for a fountain pen, which is still far ahead for line variation, shading and general writing pleasure. But the gel pen is a very useful writing tool to have and has its own merits.

Early thoughts on the Parker Ingenuity, Core Black.

First, I appreciate that this is a fountain pen blog. The Parker Ingenuity is not what most people would call a fountain pen. “It is a pen, Jim, but not as we know it”.

Instead of applying ink to paper with a nib, this uses Parker’s “5th generation” cartridge refills, and is a fineliner, or fibre-tip pen.

Construction and design.

The model I have, called the Core Black and gold, is a large pen, in metal with a glossy black lacquer finish and gold plated fittings. I believe the gold areas to be PVD coated, rather than plated, although I read that this process creates a more durable finish. On the outside the pen looks quite traditional, even rather vintage perhaps, with a gold coloured finial, Parker arrow and cap band, which bears only the name Parker and logo. The gold colour disk in the finial feels textured and on closer inspection appears to have a spiral groove, like a vinyl record.

Parker Ingenuity, Core Black and gold.

I gather that the Ingenuity has been around now since 2011, in various designs, featuring the 5th generation refill housed under a distinctive metal hood, which looks rather like a fountain pen nib. The underside of this looks rather like a feed, with rows of fins but these are not part of the pen but are part of the refill. They are also clean and dry and not inky!

The gently tapering barrel has a flat end, with another gold coloured disk but this time it is smooth and shiny.

Cap and barrel decorative disks.

The cap pulls off, quite stiffly and is pushed back on, with a click. When closed, it is snug and flush with the barrel. It can be posted securely but not very deeply (only covering about 16mm of the barrel) but the pen is long enough to use unposted.

Removing the cap reveals a long, metal, gently tapering and grooved grip section, then a raised rim (for the cap closing mechanism) and then, rather controversially, what looks like a fountain pen nib but is not, all in the same gold finish.

Grip section. The “nib and feed” perform different functions from those of a fountain pen. Note the angle formed on the writing tip.

The “nib” bears the Parker name and some elegant decorative pattern, and there is a slit, between two tines. However, this is not a nib at all and protruding at the end of it, is a fineliner tip, with about 1.3mm of the tip showing beyond a metal collar.

So, this is a fineliner then, but there are some differences. The metal hood is instead a housing to lock the refill into the same position every time. When a refill is inserted, with its feed-like fins, it will rotate itself into the correct position and can only go in one way round. The tip will therefore always stay at the same writing angle.

Also, if you apply pressure as you write, there is a little give or flex available but the refill is then braced against the metal hood. If you hold the pen vertically and apply pressure then there is some bounce, from a spring located in the back of the barrel.

The section unscrews from the barrel. Plastic threads on the section meet more plastic threads on the inside of the metal barrel. I found the date code “IY” just after the plastic threads, which I believe denotes the third quarter of 2016 (the system being that “Y” is the 7th letter of QUALITYPEN counting from zero and that the “I” means that there is one quarter of the year remaining). I read that the Ingenuity was revised in 2015 and so mine is one of the later versions although I do not know what changes were made. Now that we are in 2020 I would like to see a new Parker with a Q date code, the first letter of the date series.

With cartridge removed. Note the feed-like fins on the cartridge, to locate it in a constant position.

5th generation refills.

Replacement fineliner cartridges for the Ingenuity are made only by Parker. Also they are available only in black or blue and in two widths, Medium and Fine.

The writing experience.

This is a fineliner with a difference. First, it is contained in a much larger, heavier, more luxurious body. The black lacquer and the gold PVD coated section create an air of luxury. It is supposed to be like a fountain pen but without the fuss and so is presumably not targeted at fountain pen enthusiasts who actually like the fuss.

Writing sample with a blue medium refill.

Secondly, the idea is that the refill will very quickly adjust to your angle of writing and will then form a flat writing surface, for smooth, lubricated, effortless writing. This is interesting for a fineliner. We are all familiar with the Parker Jotter ball point pens, the refills of which are designed to rotate each time the button is pressed, so as to allow for even wear on the ball. With the Ingenuity the opposite is true: it does not write with a ball but with a fibre tip point which is intended to adjust to form a flattened surface at the writer’s angle (like a fountain pen, but much faster) and to always present that same edge to the paper if you hold the pen consistently.

Thirdly there is supposed to be some interraction between the refill and the metal hood, bracing the tip against the “tines”and allowing some pressure to be applied although it would take a lot of pressure to get the tines to flex.

Weights and measurements.

This model is around 140mm closed, 127mm open, and weighs a substantial 43 grams with a refill inside. Uncapped, it weighs around 29.5 grams (including refill) and the cap on its own weighs around 12.5g. I find the size and weight very comfortable.

Likes and dislikes.

I must admit, that when I first encountered the Ingenuity some years ago, with a high price tag, I took no interest. It was only upon seeing this one at John Lewis in the January clearance sale, at well below half price, that I was tempted to finally give one a try. As well as the very generous price reduction, John Lewis offers a 35 days period in which to return the item, so there is little to worry about.

Dislikes:

  • At full price, this is an expensive pen, arguably perhaps, too expensive for what it is. The bit that writes costs only about £6.00 and so you are paying a lot for the cap, barrel and section.
  • The refills are made only by Parker and so we have to hope that they go on making them. Also they are not as readily available as Parker ink cartridges or bottled ink.
  • The refills are available only in two colours, blue or black and in only two widths, Medium and Fine. (Bear in mind though that once the nib has adjusted to your angle, you can always turn the pen over and get a thinner line by “reverse writing”).
  • The cap is quite stiff. (Open the pen with your thumbs parallel to the barrel, not at right angles to it, that is my advice), which may detract a little from its practicality for quick notes, or any short writing session. Perhaps soft-capping is the answer here, when making occasional notes.
  • The biggest issue however, is the tendency of the ink to feather and to bleed through on some types of paper if you are not careful, especially if you hold the pen in one place and let it linger on the paper.

Likes:

  • This is a good sized pen, comfortable and pleasant to hold.
  • The textured grip works well and the pen does not slip in the hand.
  • The PVD gold coating is attractive and gives a luxurious hard-wearing finish.
  • The tip very quickly molds to the writer’s angle of writing and so becomes more smooth and lubricated. I hope that this is achieved by a compression of the fibres and not by wear, otherwise the tip is going to wear down to the metal collar very quickly.
  • The pen writes effortlessly and gives a pleasant line, more attractive than ball-point pen and also requiring no downward pressure.
  • There are times when it is not very practical to use a fountain pen and the fineliner might be a good alternative.
  • There are some papers which, although smooth, have a draggy resistance when using fountain pens and I have found some paper which provides a much better writing experience with the Ingenuity than when using a fountain pen.
  • You can very easily switch refills, between blue and black and they all come with a clear plastic cap to prevent them from drying out.

Conclusions.

I would not have bought one of these pens at its full price. Having bought it, I did encounter some “Buyer’s remorse” initially. However this soon passed as I got to appreciate the pen and it has swiftly grown on me, as I enjoy the smooth writing experience, which is even smoother on some papers, than my fountain pens.

This turning point came when I convinced myself that although the pen was (even at less than half price), still more expensive than I thought reasonable, it was perhaps not so much more. The full list price of this model is over £190.00. I could not see why it was so much more expensive than, say, a Parker IM in black lacquered metal with a steel nib. However the Ingenuity does have a large area of PVD gold coating, and is also a much larger pen.

Size comparison: Parker IM, Parker Duofold International and Parker Ingenuity Core Black and gold.

So instead of harbouring thoughts of returning the pen, I invested in a few more 5th generation refills (which were on a special offer from Cult Pens, with 20% off). The pen came with a single black medium refill but I bought a fine tip version and also a couple of blue ones.

The pen has aroused my curiosity. I am interested to see how the tips will wear after extended use and also, for how many pages the ink may last. Paired with the right paper, this is a useful and enjoyable pen and I am glad to have overcome my prejudices and finally bought one. It will not replace my fountain pens but it is a useful tool and can be pleasurable to use, on suitable paper.

Quite girthy and hefty, for a fineliner.

An evening with The Other Favorites.

This week I had the pleasure of seeing The Other Favorites play a gig in London, as part of their current USA, Europe and UK tour. So as an off-topic warning, this post is not about fountain pens but is to tell you about this remarkable duo, for the benefit of any yet to discover them.

The stage is set. Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London 20 August 2019.

The Other Favorites are the American folk and bluegrass guitar duo, Josh Turner and Carson McKee. Currently both based in New York, they were friends in school and have been putting out music videos on YouTube since 2007. These, even the very early ones, show an astonishingly high standard of musicianship and include a wide range of pop and rock classic covers as well as some of their original songs.

I first stumbled across them on YouTube, about five months ago, where I had been watching finger-style guitarists Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel and Richard Smith. Josh Turner, not to be confused with the country/gospel singer of the same name, has to date produced over 300 videos and attracted some 77 million views.

As happens with YouTube, it keeps plying me with more of their videos to watch. I have watched well over a hundred, many of them several times over.

Of course, there are plenty of good guitarists out there but what I find unique about Josh is his versatility. He is a multi-instrumentalist playing various types of guitars (folk, classical, electric, gypsy-jazz), banjo, mandolin, a lute, electric bass, drums and keyboard.

Secondly, he seems equally at home in a wide range of musical styles, from folk, pop, bluegrass, classic rock, Latin pop, jazz and swing, plus classical music for guitar. His videos feature many other musicians and singers too. And he has a very pleasant singing voice and a wide vocal range, such as on a cover of The Beach Boys’ Auld Lang Syne, where he sings all the parts. Other good examples of his video work are David Bowie’s Starman and Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play, on which he plays almost all the parts.

Combine all this virtuosity with a high technical ability at performing, recording, mixing, editing and producing and his natural ease and likeability on camera and you have a rare combination of talent and ability.

Carson McKee too has a great singing voice and is a superb acoustic rhythm guitar player and occasionally can be found on percussion. Josh and Carson’s voices blend really well together and their harmonies sometimes put me in mind of The Everley Brothers among others.

In May I discovered that The Other Favorites were playing in London, on 20 August at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush. I jumped on the tickets and was greatly looking forward to seeing them live, as I continued catching up on the videos. They are currently touring with Reina del Cid, a 31 year old American singer-songwriter guitar player and Toni Lindgren, guitarist who also have a huge following on YouTube for their regular videos on Sundays, called “Sunday Mornings with Reina del Cid.”

The concert did not disappoint. Bush Hall is a former dance hall dating from 1904 and made an ideal, intimate venue. I am guessing that the audience was of about 300. Sound levels were just right and I was sitting about six rows back, close enough to see their facial expressions.

Carson McKee, Reina del Cid, Josh Turner and Toni Lindgren

The show began with a set of nine songs from Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren, joined on stage by Josh Turner for one song, to play electric bass, on Woolf. This was her song about Virginia Woolf of whom she was a big fan having read all her books and diaries.

Next Josh and Carson took to the stage. Their first song, “Angelina”, put down a marker of just what a high standard of guitar work we were in for. This was followed by “Solid Ground” memorable in their video for being recorded at the coast with surf crashing on the rocks right behind them. Next, Carson introduced “The ballad of John McCrae”, a murder ballad that he had written, explaining that the tradition for such songs had come to the States from the UK and that the juxtaposition of dark lyrics with jaunty melodies “tickled his funny bone”.

They then played another original, one of their earliest songs made together in 2007 called “Flawed recording”, the tune and lyrics of which stay with you.

Next they shifted gear to give a blistering performance of Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” equalling in my view, Richard Thompson’s own rendition when I saw him in London a year or so ago.

Then they played another of their originals, “The Levee”, another one which is enjoyable to watch on their videos on guitar and banjo with great playing and vocal harmonies.

Carson had learned to play guitar from his father and jammed at family get togethers with his father and uncles. Bob Dylan had been a big influence. They then played one of their favourite Dylan songs “Don’t think twice it’s alright”.

This was followed by a beautifully pure vocal harmony for the Irish song “The Parting Glass” with no instruments. Then, in another change of pace they followed this with a rousing performance of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, another of their covers which is a must-see on YouTube, for Carson’s spirited vocal delivery, Josh’s guitar solo and for the way they fall about laughing at the end.

At this point, they were joined on stage for the rest of the evening by Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren to play as a foursome, adding two more acoustic guitars and female vocals which was a joy to behold. They sang “Morse Code”, a rather delicate and sad song that Reina and Josh had also recorded together for a YouTube video.

Josh released his first solo album, in April 2019 called As Good a Place as Any, with all songs written, produced, mixed and mastered by himself, at home. (Just pause, and take that in). The next piece was “Nineteen and Aimless” which is the first track on his album.

The foursome then played Patsy Cline’s “Tennessee Waltz” followed by “The Weight” by The Band – making good use of the four voices for the cumulative rising harmonies in the chorus.

It was then almost time to end. They were brought back on stage to enthusiastic applause for an encore and played “Dooley”, which can also be seen on their videos followed by “Stuck in the middle with you” from Stealers Wheel.

It was a very impressive show. Given that they were well into an extensive tour, the show still seemed fresh and intimate and they were genuinely glad of their supporters here in London. I got to meet them all at the merch desk!

If you missed them this time, then Josh hopes to tour another show later in the year when he will perform the entirety of Paul Simon’s Graceland album. And meanwhile there are plentiful videos to catch up on as well as his solo album which can be heard on his web site.

Edit.25 August 2019: for a handy list of songs they played with links to each song in their videos, visit setlist.fm and see their Paris show of 18 August which had much the same content.

Off to explore a new Galaxy.

I suppose like many other people, I had become addicted to my mobile phone. Not for phone calls, but for all the other features, particularly looking at Instagram, WordPress and for music, comedy and fountain pen stuff on YouTube.

Since July 2015, I had been using the same Samsung Galaxy S6, purchased on a 2 year contract. When that ended, I took out a SIM Only contract for 12 months and then another. So for almost four years, I had accumulated a lot of stuff on this device.

The end, when it came, was swift. On Friday evening, the last thing I remember watching on the phone was a video, which YouTube had thoughtfully suggested would be of interest to me, of a a man called Luca playing U2’s With or Without You, all by himself on an acoustic guitar with three necks (the guitar, not Luca). But when I next looked at my phone, it had become very hot and would not switch on. I tried to restart it, holding down the on/off button plus the volume down button simultaneously, for over 12 seconds. Nothing. I tried recharging it. Still nothing. There was no indication that it was even charging.

On Saturday morning, after several more unsuccessful attempts to revive my phone, I took it to the local EE shop. The phone shop guy was unable to revive it either. As the phone was out of warranty, the option of sending it away, for an expensive repair and replacement battery, given the age of the phone was not recommended and it looked like time to buy a new phone.

I asked about Samsung’s new Galaxy S10. I had heard of this, from seeing it on a poster the size of a house, while travelling in Dubai recently. They had these in stock but deciding that you want an S10 is only the beginning. First, there were three different versions – the S10e, the S10 nothing and the S10 plus. Being a novice I opted for the middle one. Next there was the decision about what contract to choose. This meant deciding how much data download you want per month (up to a possible 100GB I think) and then, whether you want to make a big upfront payment and have 24 small monthly payments, or a small upfront payment and have 24 big monthly payments (or a million options in between). To decide this, the phone shop guy and I gather around his tablet screen while I try to do the mental arithmetic to work out the total cost over 24 months of the dozen or so options.

In the end, I go for a 10GB monthly allowance and opt for somewhere in the mid range for the down payment and instalments.

I was asked if I would like a Samsung smart watch for a small extra monthly payment. I declined this. In lieu of this, they were able to bring down both my down payment and instalments considerably, as a reward for my loyalty to EE.

Finally I had to chose the colour of the phone. They had black, white, hi-viz yellow (not that one) or “prism green” which looked interesting and seemed like a good idea at the time. And off I went with my new phone.

I spent much of the remainder of the day in setting it up, sorting out email, installing Apps, clicking an endless round of consents to End User Licence Agreements, putting in passwords and then trying to input my contacts from my old-school paper address book. Given that my old phone was dead, it was not possible to transfer the data direct.

All of these chores take your mind off what is a bit like a bereavement. It takes time to sink in that some of the photos on my phone, screen shots captured from Instagram stories and such like, which I had not backed up, have gone.

Another thing that’s gone is my database of my fountain pen accumulation. I had used a handy App called Memento where you can create and edit a database for anything you like. I had one for my classic cameras and another for pens purchased, with fields for the make and model, date of purchase, price paid, ink used (with dates of ink changes) and then notes for miscellaneous comments. I was up to 244 entries (although a few of the pens had since been moved on).

It was useful to look back and see what I had bought over a particular year. Also, I enjoyed having a record of the inks that I had tried. This was sometimes helpful if I had forgotten quite which ink was in a pen last and whether I could just refill it or clean it first. And the database could easily be sorted by date or alphabetically by pen name. All gone.

You might say that anyone who has so many pens that he needs a database, has too many pens. Yes, you could say that. Fountain pen enthusiasts often talk about the fact that pens (and associated accessories of inks and journals) are addictive, just as mobile phones are addictive. And if we are spending all our time addictively collecting pens and addictively looking at pens on a mobile phone screen, then we are in double trouble.

In my mobile phone Gallery I had moved all my photos of fountain pens into a separate “Album” which had probably around 2,000 images in it. This sounds dangerously like the sort of fact that we hear on the news, when police are involved.

So what is the good news? I haven’t yet bonded with my new phone and do not yet feel like picking it up constantly to check for Instagram posts or new posts on WordPress. Perhaps wiping the slate clean with my pen database and mobile phone pen photo library, will help me in some way back to normality.

On the other hand, the new Galaxy S10 has, I have discovered, an amazing camera with three separate lenses, for normal, wide angle and telephoto images. It is also rather good at macro photography. And it comes with a whopping 128GB of storage space for those new fountain pen images. Also the screen size is 6.1 inches as opposed to 5.1 inches for my old S6.

So it is not all bad news. I have only had the new phone for two days and I am sure we will bond gradually. I have 30 fountain pens currently inked but I have made a list of them not so long ago in one of my journals and can just about remember which ones had had a change of ink since then. I think I had better make a new start with a database, to give my mind something to do.

The moral of the tale is to back up your stuff from your mobile, if it is important and you do not want to suddenly lose it. And for what we do lose, sometimes it is not so bad as it seems and we awake to new opportunities. I am looking forward to giving those three camera lenses a try.

The joy of macro.

RSCN0036
Staedtler Mars micro 0.7mm mechanical pencil

Who doesn’t love a mechanical pencil? I already have several but could not resist this one when it was less than half price in our local Rymans.

Recently, I have been enjoying a revitalised enthusiasm for photography, prompted by the acquisition of a new Nikon Coolpix A900. New camera day! I was attracted by a host of exciting features, particularly the articulated screen, the ability to shoot macro from 1cm, a massive x35 optical zoom with Vibration Reduction, (Nikon’s anti-shake), 4K video, 20 million pixels, Wi-Fi connectivity and many more. It was some years since I last bought a new camera, if you do not include mobile phones and things have move on a lot in that time.

There are a few things that it doesn’t have, such as the ability to shoot in RAW, or a touch screen, which I decided that I could live without. Exposure compensation settings are readily to hand, as are white balance settings and colour adjustment. It is wonderful to be able to have white paper looking white, even if taken under artificial light in the depths of winter.

It is the ability to take macro shots with such ease, that I have found most exciting. Even hand-held shots seem acceptably sharp but with a small tripod, combined with a two second self-timer delay setting it is better still. Here is my new pencil again.

RSCN0177
Getting up close with the Staedtler mars 0.7mm mechanical pencil.

Here is the production date stamp on the elegant black and chrome guilloche Cross Century II fountain pen:

RSCN0302
Date stamp on the collar of a Cross Century II fountain pen.

Obviously it is tempting to try the other extreme and see how the telephoto performs. I tried a quick shot of the moon, with a manual exposure and a few stops of under exposure. This was the result:

RSCN0073
The moon over London. The farthest subject that I have photographed so far.

Finally, one of the subjects that I wanted to photograph better, was paper. Not ideal with a mobile phone. I wanted to be able to capture the texture that you see, particularly under high magnification and with a low wintry sun slanting in to add contrast to the ups and downs of the paper surface. I shall continue experimenting with this but am always impressed and appreciative of the professional looking close-up photography that I see on fellow bloggers’ sites. Working during the week, there is limited time to enjoy the daylight hours at this time of year but sometimes it all comes together with a bit of sunlight at the weekend. Here was one of my early efforts. I used to think that Paperchase soft flexi notebooks had very smooth paper but under high magnification, the surface looks more like a newly plastered wall. Most of my fountain pens love it.

RSCN0115
Paperchase note book. Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler, with Jinhao X450 medium nib and Aurora Blue Black ink.