Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy what you find here. Whilst you may not agree with everything I post, if you respect my right to my opinion I'll respect your right to disagree with it and we should get along just fine. :)

Disclaimer: the views expressed by the characters in these works may not necessarily represent the views of the author. Got that? Good.

Right then, on with the blog...

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Review: Pentel Energel 0.7mm Needle Tip

As I wrote in this recent post, I won this pen a few weeks ago in the giveaway over at Pens And Pencils, so I think it's about time I put it through its paces.

The Pentel Energel is a liquid gel ink pen featuring Pentel's low-viscosity gel ink, and whilst much of the Energel line is available in the UK from Cult Pens, this is the first needle-tipped version I've seen.

I must say it's a very smooth writer, performing more like a liquid ink rollerball than a gel pen, and the low-viscosity ink is certainly very smooth compared to comparable gel writers. The ink dries in seconds, so in that respect it's more like a gel pen.

Either way, this Energel is a pleasure to write with, gliding effortlessly across the pages of my Asda Exec Notebook and producing a wonderfully opaque black line consistent with other 0.7mm pens I have used. I also noted the complete lack of feathering or bleeding on the test paper which is encouraging.

The Energel features a strong metal pocket clip which, whilst it is not of the expandable binder clip design, will I am sure secure the pen easily in the pocket. There is also a rubberised grip section, the pattern of which is reminiscent of a fingerprint. It feels remarkably cushioned in this pen-thusiast's hand and doesn't appear to be a lint-catcher; another good feature.

Dimensions are as follows:

Length (retracted): 142mm
Length: 151mm
Barrel Diameter: 10mm
Weight: 12.6g

Breaking open the pen gives access to a good-sized refill which looks like it contains enough ink for plenty of writing before requiring a replacement. I reckon the refill may be even larger than the ubiquitous G2 refill; it's a smoother writer too. When the time does come a Pentel LR7 refill can be used, though at the time of writing, the needle-tipped version (LRN7) is not available in the UK [edit: I stand corrected - yes they are, check out the comments on this post! Thanks pigpogm. ].

Whilst re-assembling the pen after its photo session, I noticed the grip section is removable, so even after the pen has given up the ghost, it should be possible to find alternative uses for the rubberised grip.

Overall I am really pleased with this, my first Pentel Energel. If I had to find fault with it, and this took some thinking about, I would have to say there is a minute amount of play around the tip when in the writing position which produces a soft clicking sound as I write. This is not however, at a level where I would find it irritating if writing for long periods; it's rather like having a mini percussion soundtrack to your writing!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Old Geezer for the Energel giveaway, had it not been for him I doubt this pleasant little pen would have made it onto my radar. Thanks Geezer! Don't forget to check out The Old Geezer's Pentel Energel review over at Pens And Pencils, you'll find it here.

At a Glance:

Model: Pentel Energel 0.7mm needle tip
Colour: black
Available from: non-needle tip Energels from Cult Pens in the UK
Refillable: Yes
Overall: 5 out of 5


Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Review: Schneider Slider XB Ballpoint

My last order from the good folks at Cult Pens included a free sample pack of the new Schneider Slider XB Ballpoints from Germany in black, blue and pink. Once I'd got over the shock of such a lovely surprise I thought I really ought to put the Sliders to the test.

My sample pack arrived in the card slipcase pictured above, inside of which was another card insert holding the three pens and providing me with loads of information about the Slider product line; this also included a test area so I could try the pens out straight away - what a nice touch.

The Schneider website tells me that the Slider product line features their new revolutionary ViscoGlide® - Technology ink which, they say, makes the Slider like writing with liquid silk. I'm not sure I would go quite that far, though to be fair the Slider's performance is reminiscent of Uni-Ball's Jetstream line, and the sample's XB tip, whilst a little wide for my taste, did indeed lay down a smooth, skip-free line. My sample Sliders were very smooth to write with and slid effortlessly across the paper - it looks to me as though the Jetstream has some serious competition here.

Schneider puts the performance of the Slider down to a combination of their new ink, coupled with a 'special Direct2Point' tip which they say, guarantees instant ink flow; I can't argue with that as all three of my review pens started instantly.

Dimensions are as follows:

Length (capped): 152mm
Length (uncapped): 140mm
Length (posted): 163mm
Barrel diameter: 8mm
Weight: 10.2g

The pen itself feels a little too slim for my hand, though the rubberised grip is well positioned and of a decent size to provide a pleasant enough grip. The grip, based on my limited test, is also not a lint-catcher - always a bonus.

The biggest problem I have with this pen is Schneider's choice of ink colour/tip size combinations:

XB (1.4mm): Black, blue, pink, red, orange, purple, light blue and light green.
M (1.0mm): Black, blue, red and green.
F (0.7mm): Black, blue and red.

I would have preferred a wider choice of colours in the finer tip sizes as I'm not a fan of wide tips/nibs, though having said that I'd estimate the XB to be producing a line width of around 0.7mm (the tip sizes listed above are from the sample packaging). Cult Pens lists the M tip as producing a line approximately 0.5mm wide and the F approximately 0.3mm.

All in all I like the Slider - it's one of the better ballpoints I've tried recently, and I'm really quite impressed with the ViscoGlide® ink - it certainly seems to live up to the claims made on the packaging. Also worthy of note is that the black ink is listed as being waterproof.

I'd like to hope that Schneider will consider expanding the colour choices in the smaller tip sizes and may produce a retractable version of the Slider as the product line develops; there is a retractable ballpoint which uses ViscoGlide® ink, it's called the Xtension and is available from Cult Pens here.

At a Glance:

Model: Schneider Slider XB ballpoint
Colour choice: in text.
Available from: Cult Pens in the UK
Price: rrp £1.75; Cult Pens price £1.55
Overall: 4 out of 5*

* restricted colour choice in some tip sizes and narrow barrel.


Sunday, 26 July 2009

Mail Call! #2

More nice things have arrived through the mail - the pen/notebook love just keeps coming!

First, there's this pen which I won three weeks ago in the giveaway over at Pens And Pencils.

It's a Pentel Energel and, whilst these pens are available over here in the UK, I've never come across one with a needle tip before. Thanks Geezer, it's great!

Then there was a lovely package from Karen at Exaclair - I'd put my name down for a sample of J. Herbin ink at Quo Vadis Blog's Bastille Day Offer, and was equally surprised and shocked (in a good way!) when my bottle of Bleu Nuit arrived so quickly; only three days from the US to me here.

Also in the package was a J. Herbin ink colour chart, one of the new 90gsm Rhodia Webnotebooks and a mini Clairefontaine Basics notebook with a black cover, also with 90gsm paper.

Karen, I thank you for your generosity.

Full reviews of all the above to follow when I have a moment.


Friday, 24 July 2009

Mail Call!

It's been quite a week over here at Pen-thusiast Towers, and not just because it's the first week of school's summer vacation, I've had a couple of lovely postcards in the mail.

The first is from my good friend PostMuse as part of her Orphaned Postcard Project which I am honoured to be helping with in my own small way. You can find further details of this wonderful project over at PostMuse's blog here.

This is a really great card which shows off my general neck of the woods. I just need to write a message, stick a stamp on and pop it back in the post. She also sent me a really lovely note and another postcard showing off her skills with her new fountain pen.

I love this card, but would just like to mention I don't usually have that effect on children!

Then there's this great card, it's from my good friend Okami who blogs about fountain pens, Postcrossing, and Akitas among other things over at her blog Whatever.

It's the only Rolls Royce this pen-thusiast is ever likely to own, and I thank her for it - at least now I can legitimately say I have a Rolls Royce; right?


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Giveaway at The Pen Addict

There's another, very cool giveaway over at The Pen Addict which you may want to check out. Go on, you know you want to...


Monday, 20 July 2009

Vintage Letterhead Giveaway at Everyday Correspondence

There's a very nice giveaway over at Everyday Correspondence which you might want to check out...


Sunday, 19 July 2009

Book Review: A Week in Minsk

My good friend Martin took a trip to Minsk last year, and wrote a book about it! In his own inimitable style, Martin chronicles the trials, tribulations and triumphs of being an Englishman-abroad in the capital city of the Republic of Belarus.

This is not your usual travelogue though, oh no! Armed with little more than than his wits and a smattering of Russian, Martin set off from the UK on a trip, via Lithuania, to meet his Russian penfriend in Minsk.

Getting there was half the fun as, after flying from London to Kaunas in Lithuania, it was onwards by train to Minsk where Martin discovered just how confusing it can be looking for your appartment contact in a railway station with so many exits. A couple of nights in one of Minsk's hotels gave the author a chance to sample Belarussian hospitality before he finally made contact with the appartment people, transferred his base of operations for the week and began exploring Minsk properly.

Changing currency was a bit of an experience as was trying to send postcards home but he persevered and, with the help of his penfriend, Martin had some great experiences to write about during his week in Minsk.

Martin's observational humour and acerbic wit make this a very unusual and enjoyable read compared to other travel stories I've read in the past. Written as a dairy, Martin chronicles the daily experiences of his trip, the places he visited, the people he met, and contrasts life in Minsk with life in his home town in the UK in his own, unique style. Martin's return journey to the UK was equally eventful, culminating in his having lunch in Vilnius with a Ukrainian psychiatrist he'd met on the train before heading off to the airport for his flight home; you couldn't make it up!

This is a large format paperback, printed on glossy paper, and I particularly enjoyed that it is shot through with plenty of excellent, full-colour photgraphs (taken by the author) which really help to illustrate the narrative. In summing up 'A Week in Minsk' I can't really improve on the author's own statement from the back cover:

Where else can you get lost in the main railway station; go shopping underground; buy condoms but not sugar in the supermarket; dine in a restaurant guarded by the Tin Man or find the Starship Enterprise parked in amongst a block of flats?

'A Week in Minsk' is now available from Amazon.

As Martin says himself, "If you are considering visiting Belarus then here are the answers to questions you haven't even thought about asking!" He's right!

Author Bio: In his time Martin Vos has been a waiter, fast food restaurant manager, milkman (yes, we still have those!), has worked in a chip factory (he was wasted packing chips!), run a model railroading scenic supply business and now drives a truck for a living. He spends his days driving a car transporter, which he blogs about here. He is also a rather good photographer, has a wonderfully irreverent sense of humour and is an accomplished model railroad and UK modern truck scene model-maker. You can read about his model-making here.

At a Glance:

Title: A Week in Minsk
Author: Martin Vos
Price: Amazon $12.63; Lulu £8.99; Lulu eBook £2.99
Available from:; Lulu
Overall: 5 out of 5


Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Review: Asda own-brand Fountain Pen

Today's offering from the desk of this pen-thusiast is the fountain pen featured in my previous post about the Asda Exec Notebook. I picked this up at the same time as the Exec notebook, largely because it was only 85p! Generally speaking, this side of the pond, a fountain pen plus six international standard size ink cartridges for such a paltry sum usually means you're in for patchy performance, inky fingers and an all round poor time. Hmm, how good can this possibly be?

Actually, it's really nice and I'm actually quite impressed with it. Straight out of the pack the pen started right away, producing nice, wet, medium width lines, and the supplied own-brand ink isn't bad either. The pen is supplied with six international standard size cartridges and the ink is rather good, a nice mid-blue, good and wet with a fair degree of opacity; and I don't usually like blue ink that much!

The pen features a plain steel nib, there are no markings to indicate either width or manufacture, though my sources tell me it was made in China. The nib and feed are housed in a black plastic grip section that has areas of raised lines to prevent finger slippage (is that a word?!). The grip section looks a bit cheap, but feels better than it looks and does the job well; and for 85p what did I expect?

The barrel section of the pen is made of a matte, mid-blue plastic which is smooth but not slippery, the same plastic being used for the substantial clip and end cap; the remainder of the cap being made of transparent plastic. There is (unfortunately) a ventilation hole in the end of the barrel, so there goes my cunning plan to turn one of these into an eyedropper fill. Rats!

Speaking of the pen barrel, at 72mm in length, it is long enough to accommodate a spare cartridge; always handy.

Now for some dimensions:

Length (capped): 145mm
Length (uncapped): 122mm
Length (posted): 157mm
Barrel diameter: 11mm
Weight: 11.2g (inc. 2 cartridges)

OK, so this fountain pen is never going to win a design award (I wouldn't have thought), nor is it able to compete with high-end fountain pens, but if what you're after is an inexpensive yet reliable pen to throw into the bottom of your travelling bag, you could do a lot worse than this.

I like it so much that I've bought another three - so that's four fountain pens plus 24 ink cartridges for less than the price of a portion of fish 'n' chips; can't be bad!

At a Glance:

Model: Asda plastic fountain pen
Colour: Mid-blue
Available from: Asda stores in the UK
Price: 85p* (inc. 6 blue ink cartridges)
Nib: Medium
Filler: Cartridge only (international standard size)
Overall: 5 out of 5

[*edit: somebody from Asda must be reading this as the price of these fountain pens has gone up from 85p to a whole £1! Still outstanding value IMHO.]


Monday, 13 July 2009

Review: Asda Executive Notebook

You know how the old story goes - if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it's a duck, right? In this case, it looks like a Moleskine, feels like a Moleskine, but it's not a Moleskine, it's better!

There I was, avoiding the grocery shopping and hiding in the stationery aisle at Asda (well, it's more fun than waiting in the car!) when I stumbled across part of their new stationery range. Initially I thought Asda had started selling Moleskines but no, this is an own-brand offering, and I think I'm in love...with a notebook!

Asda Exec Notebook seen here on top of standard large Moleskine.

Billed as an 'Executive Notebook,' this new addition is available with the familiar black cover, plain or squared paper, and in both Large-Moleskine and A4 sizes. I've had a fair amount of experience of Asda's paper over the years and IMHO quality has been lacking of late, so I wasn't expecting too much from my new purchase, considering it retails for £3 for the smaller size and £4 for the A4 version.

How wrong can this pen-thusiast be?!

It's excellent, truly excellent! Let's start with the paper - there is no indication on the packaging to suggest the weight but it's thick, comparing it to other similar notebooks in my collection I would estimate it to be 90gsm; it's certainly not 80gsm.

Open notebook showing the lovely cream paper and black ribbon bookmark.

Close up of perforated pages.

The paper itself is a lovely pale shade of cream and, on the squared notebook at any rate, the 5mm squares are printed in a contrasting pale grey. The markings go right to the edges of the page, which isn't an issue for me, though some may not like how this makes the book look when closed. A wonderfully smooth writing surface is provided by this paper obviously having had size applied - it passes this pen-thusiast's standard 'Mk1 Finger Quality Test*' with flying colours.

* I usually make an initial test of unknown papers by gently rubbing the pad of my index finger over a page to get an impression of the smoothness (highly scientific, eh?!). I have found the smoother the paper, the nicer it will be to write on and more recently, the more likely it is to be fountain pen friendly. I've been doing this for years so I'm usually pretty accurate, of course YMMV.

Whilst smooth and a pleasure to write on, the ink of my test fountain pen dries quickly, so smudging hasn't been an issue; thankfully. I tested the paper with a variety of fountain pens, a couple of gel pens and a Sharpie Twin-Tip marker (whatever I had to hand basically) - there was no evidence of feathering at all and only the thick tip of the Sharpie showed any bleeding, and that was minimal.

Ink test with a variety of fountain pens, gel pens and a Sharpie marker.

Reverse of ink test sheet showing lack of bleeding.

Close up of Sharpie bleed-through.

Each of the 80 pages, which are stitched rather than glued into the book, features perforations approximately 3mm in from the spine allowing pages to be detached neatly should that be required; a great improvement over the Moleskine for mistake-prone me. The perforations, along with the soft spine, also have the advantage of allowing the book to lie flat, a feature I really like.

Detail of the notebook's collapsing spine which allows it to lie flat for writing.

Now for some dimensions of the smaller sized Asda Exec notebook:

Height: 212mm inc. cover (209mm just the paper)
Width: 139mm inc. cover (135mm just the paper)
Thickness: 25mm inc. cover.
Weight: 450g

It's a bit of a 'brick' compared to a standard Moleskine!

The cover is finished in a similar fashion to the standard Moleskine with rounded corners, though the patterning of the faux black leather is finer, making for a slightly smoother overall texture. The cover itself is about twice the thickness of a Moleskine cover, and should lend itself well to embossing and other such arty customisations folks with much more talent than I possess often emark upon.

In keeping with the book its emulating, the Asda Exec has a pocket at the rear though, unlike the competition, this is a concertina affair with 3 separate sections to the Moleskine's one. The only downside is that the manufacture of the pockets could be improved and the dividers need to be made of heavier weight material - indeed on this review sample I managed to tear one of the dividers (bother!) whilst trying to loosen the excess glue sticking the dividers together.

Rear pocket detail - spot the tear (stunt finger courtesy of my darling daughter).

Also in keeping with the competition, the Exec features a black ribbon bookmark and an elastic strap closure. The latter is of what is usually termed here in the UK, 'knicker elastic' and on the Exec seems much stronger than that on my current Moleskine, pressure marking the Exec's cover at the top and bottom. This is no bad thing to my mind as the resulting grooves provide a secure anchorage for the elastic when the book is closed; nor does it come adrift in my bag like my Moleskine's elastic strap sometimes does.

Elastic closure markings to front cover of the notebook.

I am pleased that I have no hesitation in recommending the Asda Executive, not only as a fountain pen friendly notebook, but as a serious contender for the position of Moleskine replacement.

There are niggles of course (this is me after all!), the rear pocket dividers could do with strengthening and the pages occasionally don't seem to line up correctly when folded over to write on them (diagonally out by approximately 1.5mm), but for a mass-produced supermarket own-brand that retails for between £3 and £4, it's nothing short of a masterpiece!

At a Glance:

Model: Asda Executive Notebook
Fountain Pen friendly: Yes
Paper: 90gsm (estimated); perforated; stitched
Pages: 80 sheets
Colour: cover - black; paper - cream
Type: plain or squared; endpapers - plain
Closure: black elastic
Pockets: 3-part rear pocket
Bookmark: 1 ribbon bookmark (black)
Price: Small £3; A4 £4
Available from: Asda (Wal-Mart) in the UK (not available online)
Overall: 5 out of 5


Friday, 10 July 2009

Review: Dux 612 Fountain Pen

I bought this fountain pen some time ago during my search for a Hero 329 and it's languished in the dark recesses of my pen box ever since, until that is, a comment by my good friend Nrepose over at Unposted, who has been reviewing some Indian pens recently, made me think it was about time I dug the Dux out and threw my hat in the ring for 'India Week.'

My Dux was an internet buy from that auction site and was billed by the seller as being, "India's best selling fountain pen." As I know little or nothing about Dux as a brand (and I'm writing this in haste), I'll take his word for it (see 'edit' below). The Dux was supplied in a simple cellophane sleeve and looks for all the world like yet another Parker 61 clone but it's not, in fact it's really rather good.

Straight out of the packet the Dux is even smoother than my trusty Hero 329, delivering a nice wet line that I would estimate falls just to the medium side of fine, compared to a western-made pen. The barrel appears to be black plastic, but a good solid plastic, with the plain barrel being broken up by a thin silver-coloured metal clutch ring where the two halves screw together, and a gold-coloured jewel and tassie at the end of the barrel.

Dimensions are as follows:

Length (capped): 140mm
Length (uncapped): 121mm
Length (posted): 145mm
Weight (filled): 13.3g
Barrel diameter: 10mm

Unscrewing the barrel gives access to an aerometric squeeze filler which operates smoothly. I particularly like the transparent threaded section of the barrel which acts as an ink window when the pen is open, but is hidden when the barrel is screwed back together; nice touch, that.

The familiar hooded nib and cap are both gold-coloured metal (not real gold, brass possibly?), with the cap being inscribed 'DUX 612' and there is a matching 'DUX' inscription on the clip.

Never having owned a Dux fountain pen before I was not really sure what to expect, but having used it for less than 24 hours I'm sold! If all their pens write as well as this one does, Dux is certainly a brand I will be keeping a lookout for in the future.

At a Glance:

Model: Dux 612
Available from: eBay
Price: £7 if memory serves
Nib: Fine
Filler: Aerometric (squeeze)
Ink: Bottled ink only (no cartridges) as the filler is non-removable
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

[edit: thanks to some information from The Fountain Pen Network I stand corrected, Dux is a Pakastani pen manufacturer, not Indian as I stated initially. That'll teach me to post in haste!]


Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Giveaway at The Pen Addict

The Pen Addict has another great giveaway going on. Check it out...


Sunday, 5 July 2009

Binder Clip Art

Last night I was playing about with some binder clips I'd picked up in my local Asda's (Wal-Mart) stationery clearance and managed, with some effort, to produce a couple of goldfish, so I thought I'd share.

Whilst you may be thinking I can't count, there are indeed only two goldfish in the photo above, the third fish is more of a red herring! Sorry, couldn't resist!

My darling daughter then decided she would have a go...

"There you go Dad," she said with a flourish, presenting me with, if I say so myself, a rather good representation of Yggdrasil (the World Tree).

Talent like that makes me sick!


Saturday, 4 July 2009

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July to all of Future; Nostalgic's US readers!


Thursday, 2 July 2009

RAC - Credit Where It's Due.

The pen-thusiastmobile broke down yesterday. The engine turned over just fine, but it wouldn't start. Bother! To be fair it's an old car, 17 years old in fact, but it's always been very reliable so I was a little concerned. Having had no luck checking the usual suspects (oil, water, fuel), I coaxed, I threatened, I swore; nothing. I would have even resorted to what Basil Fawlty did in the episode Gourmet Night if there had been a suitable branch handy, instead I got on the phone to the RAC, my emergency breakdown provider of choice.

To be fair, I'm not mechanically-minded, I know which end the fuel, oil and water go in and can put air in the tyres, but that's about it, so I needed help. Give me a sick pen on the other hand...

I could expect a 45 minute wait I was told, but at least I could break out the trusty Preppy and start writing the experience up to post later, which would have been quite pleasant had the British weather not decided to have a go at having a heatwave, so instead I sat and baked. Cosmic!

photo copyright RAC. All rights reserved.

Within 20 minutes I'd had a call from the RAC patrolman to let me know he was on the way, and a shortly afterwards his orange van appeared over the horizon like the 7th Cavalry. Gary, the patrolman, was soon rummaging around in the bowels of the 'mobile's engine while I was doing as I was told and cranking it over when asked. Within minutes the 'mobile coughed into life again amid a cloud of smoke a 40-a-day Woodbine smoker would have been proud of. Talk about healing hands!

So what was wrong with it I asked tentatively, feeling my wallet wince even as the words came out of mouth. It turned out there was some corrosion in one of the connectors of the wiring harness under the bonnet which had interrupted the flow of electricity to the engine coil and the ignition. The what, under the where? Gary showed me. Oh, that, under there! Would I need a mechanic, or spares, or a new car? No, no and no came the reply and my wallet breathed a sigh of relief.

So there we go, just over an hour from breakdown to being back on the road, no spares to buy and the pen-thusiastmobile lives to fight another day. Seriously though, I cannot praise Gary and the RAC enough - professional, courteous service throughout and my car fixed at the end of the job. Fantastic!

For some reason, as a result of Gary's attention, the 'mobile's engine sounds quieter now too, I wonder if it's anything to do with me breaking down outside a church?

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