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 resistances 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 their 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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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

 

Remembering Mr Chiu Fa Chan.

 

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Today marks the second anniversary since my father in law, Chiu Fa Chan passed away on 29 July 2015. He was in his 90th year.  He had been fit and active, but died after a short stay in hospital from complications following an operation.

As a young man, growing up in China, he went to sea, working on cargo ships and travelling the South China Seas. He rose to second officer. Later, in China he was to become a respected lecturer in navigation. He was still in touch with some of his former students from decades ago, now all elderly. He enjoyed a reunion with a group of them when he last visited China.

For the last twenty years of his life, he and his wife lived in London, not far from my wife and I.

He knew of my interest in fountain pens and I would sometimes show him my new acquisitions. He once told me the story, that with his very first month’s pay at sea, when going ashore at Singapore, he had bought himself a new Parker 51. Unfortunately the story had a sad ending as it went missing from his cabin not long afterwards. I don’t think he bought another one.

Last year at the London Pen Show, I bought a Parker 51 Aerometric in cedar blue which bears the markings Made in USA, 9, which I think dates from 1949 and so would be a similar age to dad’s pen if we still had it.

People often remember what they bought with their first earnings. In my case, after some temping work in my college holidays in the late 1970’s , I bought a portable typewriter and a book Teach Yourself Typewriting and laboriously set about learning to touch-type, (up to a point), little knowing that I would be spending such large chunks of my working and leisure hours at a keyboard in the years to come.

This morning my wife, her mum and I visited the peaceful gardens of the Golders Green Crematorium, North West London to see dad’s memorial stone and leave some colourful flowers, which my wife had brought from his own garden.

 

 

 

Off topic warning: the story of an unexploded bomb.

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Today I was asked to put together some notes about an unexploded bomb which had remained in the family for over 40 years before moving to a museum.

It seemed impossible to tell the story without saying a little about my late father, who died in 1983.  It is not about fountain pens but there is a little about collecting things. And so here is an abridged version.

The story of dad’s bomb.

My late father was born in Ealing in 1929, and grew up in Hangar Lane, West London. He was ten years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and remained with his parents throughout the war.

From the 1950’s until 1974 (when made redundant) he worked for Ultra Electronics, in Perivale as a general and electrical maintenance engineer. He then moved to a similar position at EMI in Ruislip. He had left school with minimal qualifications but was very practical and experienced at making and fixing equipment.

One of his main hobbies was target shooting. He had a firearms licence and always kept a variety of pistols and rifles, which he would shoot at Bisley or our local gun club, often bringing me with him from a young age. He also had a few old muzzle-loading flintlocks and percussion cap pistols and one which he had built himself. He enjoyed casting his own bullets in lead, in his garage. He also built a small cannon on a wooden carriage, which he fired in the garden at midnight every new year’s eve to see the new year in.

He collected old incendiary bombs and tall, brass anti-tank shell cases, which, along with his cannons and large jagged pieces of shrapnel, were arranged on the floor around our TV set.

Against this background, the largest item in his collection was an unexploded German 500 pound bomb. As I recall, he got this in the mid 1970’s from an industrial estate, possibly near Perivale or Kew, West London where, probably since the war,  it had served as a speed limit bollard, standing upright by the roadside, with its base set in a car tyre filled with cement. It was painted white with the speed restriction painted in black figures, for vehicles entering the estate.

I remember going in the car with him, to collect it. I have a vague recollection of him telling me that he had heard the bomb fall during the war. I suppose if you heard a bomb falling, you would wait for the explosion and if none came, you would be curious to find where it had landed.

I cannot recall now how he knew it was there or why it was being disposed of. Perhaps the site was being redeveloped and he might well have simply asked whether he could have it.  I believe we went there in his grey Vauxhall Cresta Deluxe, a 1966 model, which he had bought second hand with part of his redundancy money and so it would have been around 1974 or shortly after.  The bomb went in the large boot of the car. I imagine we left the plinth behind.

At home, he set about cleaning it up, at the back of the garden, near his bonfire patch behind the garage.  He was confident that it was safe. The cylindrical metal detonator device had been removed. He had read several books about the various types of detonators and tense stories of bomb disposal work, on UXB’s (unexploded bombs).

Originally there would have been metal tail fins on the bomb but these had long since gone. He was able to access the inside of the bomb case, through its base. It was largely empty, the explosives having been removed but there were vestiges of this (TNT perhaps) around the inside, which he chipped away and which came out in thick, rusty brown clumps. These, he assured me, were quite safe and he chucked them on his bonfire, where they fizzled and spat a little.

Once satisfied that he had got the inside as clean as he could, he gave it a new coat of paint, in British Racing Green. He then made a sturdy wooden cradle for it and a bench seat at the top (pictured). For the next 15 years or so, it remained in our house in Ickenham, either as a seat around the dining table or latterly, in the hallway beneath the coat pegs.  We enjoyed having it. It was a rather different and eccentric, to have a 500 pound bomb in the house.

Dad died in 1983. The bomb stayed in the house until my mother moved some six years later and since then has been in the wider family, in the custody of my aunt until she also moved house in 2016 and then my cousin. Now, having survived for over 70 years in these various unexpected roles, it will be great for the bomb to move to a museum.