Category Archives: being me

RIP John Renbourn

I was saddened to hear of John Renbourn’s death today.

Guitar magazines will have endless debates about who might be the best guitarist in the world. In my view, it was John Renbourn and no one comes even close.

Such a loss. He was 70.

Deutsches Museum

On an island in the middle of the River Isar in Munich is one of the greatest museums in the world. I can say that advisedly. The Deutsches Museum on Museum Island is overwhelming.

It is one of the earliest museums of science and technology in the world, and, I am told, if you were to walk every exhibit, you would walk more than 17km.

In truth, what happens is you walk into the first section, which is full of boats and model boats, you get knocked backwards, and never really recover. They have a terrific aviation section. They have an amazing aeronautical section. They have a mindblowing collection of clocks and weights and balances. They have every sort of textile weaving system. Every sort of printing press that you can imagine. Every sort of ceramic you can imagine. A terrific model railway. A terrific collection of keyboard instruments.

They have holograms.

Most importantly, they have 2 Enigma and one Lorenz cipher machine, plus a bunch of other cipher machines. And an IBM 360 with a punch card reader. Every sort of adding machine and calculus machine or analogue calculator that you can imagine.

The entry fee is eight euro fifty. It is worth every cent and you will come out a complete wreck having not seen everything.

access to art

There’s a moment, when I have a blank page in front of me, and I freeze. I can’t draw, and I’m faking it.

I won a prize for art at school when I was about, oh 9 or something. I was surprised. Other kids were better at drawing at me – I saved most of my effort for my times’ tables. And art class at school, well…we had it a couple of hours a week but we just sat down, attempted to draw stuff, and generally I had indifferent to a complete lack of success. I was pretty handy drawing the diagrams for the chemical experiments but you know, a ruler got you out of a lot of trouble for that.

I really regret this now.

One of the things which really gets on my nerves is people saying “I can’t…” and yet I was doing the whole “I’m not that great at drawing” act which is a little bit hypocritical. And I happened across an unusual movement (unusual for me, that is) called Urban Sketchers.

I like the idea of location drawing although more honestly, I prefer the sort of art travel journal side of things. So I don’t always sketch on location, but often take reference photographs and do some art journalling later. Sometimes it’s hard as in, I haven’t done anything of note today, and there’s nothing to draw.

I like water colours but I struggled with them, and then I discovered watercolour pencils. Sketch with the pencils and then apply water using a brush. I’d like to say simples, but the sketching bit is hard.

Of course, the one thing that  happens when you pick up a new hobby is you become invaded by a certain amount of gadget freakery. The reason I had welding glass handy for this morning’s eclipse which I missed anyway was some camera related gadget freakery. Painting/art is no different. You have no idea how many pencils are to be got. Spend any time reading pencil review blogs where they are just discussing the sort of pencils I had at school and you realise that beyond computers there is a level of geekery which cannot be equalled. I love mechanical pencils but this is something completely different. And then there is the paper. Which is not exactly perfectly available at the moment either. Plus I am choosy.

For the purposes of the pencils, I use a mixture of four sets. My absolute loves are my Caran D’Ache Museum Aquarelles. They are lovely to colour with. They are also impossible to get in Ireland. Mine were acquired in the London Graphic Centre and I have a set of 12. Caran D’Ache sell a couple of configurations, and the pencils can be got individually too. In an ideal world, I’d have the full set of 72. It may be possible to ask Kennedy’s Art Supplies on Harcourt Street to order them as they are Caran D’Ache retailers.

In addition to them, I have a set of Faber Castell Albrecht Durer pencils, also 12, with a slightly different selection of colours. There is also, I think, a 120 colour set of those. In fact, about 4 years ago, Faber Castell did a special anniversary box set of all their premium coloured pencils. I would kill for one. I really would. It’s a beautiful thing. I got my Albrecht Durers from the London Graphic Centre, although they can occasionally be got in some form, usually 12, I think, from the Art’n’Hobby Shop and I have seen them in Kennedy Art Supplies for definition. Evans may have them as well but I’m not sure about that.

The first water colour pencils I got were actually Caran D’Ache’s as well, and I only had a couple of them initially, and they were from what was, until 2013 when the Museum set was born, their premium line, the Supracolor II set. They come in boxes of varying sizes – mine is 18 – but I think the biggest set you can get is around 120 as well, either in a tin box, or a presentation wooden box. I covet that presentation wooden box. I got them in Kennedy’s Art Supplies on Harcourt Street which is, incidentally, a lovely shop. I’m pretty sure Cork Art Supplies have them as well although I’ve never been in there.

The other set, which is probably easier for most people to get, because they came from the Art’n’Hobby Shop, are Derwent Inktense. They are slightly different in terms of make up – I’m not an expert on what’s inside the wooden pencil case. In addition to Inktense, which is pretty much Derwent’s premium watercolour pencil range, they do a straight range of Watercolor pencils which can be got in both Easons and the Art’n’Hobby Shop. My experience is that as far as the watercolour pencils and the Inktense range are concerned, Jervis Street tend to have both, and it’s pot luck with the other branches.

In terms of quality, the Museums are out on a plain of their own, far out ahead of the others. I love them. Next in line, it’s difficult to call a difference between the Albrecht Durers and the Supracolor II. I mix and match. Of my own supplies, the ones I am least likely to use at the moment are the Inktense. The set I have is a 37 piece set including a large number of Inktense blocks. If I had my time back, it’s possibly I would not get the set that includes the blocks (although they have their uses the odd time).

Paperwise, that’s a bit more hassle. The selection of paper on offer in Dublin is…disappointing. The current art journal is going into a mixed media A4 pad by Canson as it’s the right size, there’s more than 12 sheets in it. It’s not pure watercolour paper but it’s doing what I want it to do. There aren’t a lot of other choices and I haven’t tried enough of them to write a definitive view on which is my favourite. I know for the art journaling I like A4 sized paper. For anything outside the art journal, I haven’t really settled yet.

Watercolour paper comes in a couple of different guises, in terms of how it’s pressed, how textured it is, and who manufactured it. Most common, I have found, is Cotman, closely followed by some form of Langton, with Daler Rowney Aquafine and Nouvelles Arches occasionally to be found. From the point of view of a small travel journal, there does exist a Moleskine watercolour sketch book but I have never seen it for sale in Ireland.

The other gadget you’ll require for this game is some sort of brush. I use water brushes which are handy little freaks which you can fill with water and avoid the having to carry water around with you. You have to make sure you get them clean before contaminating colours, and you can use them for pan watercolours as well. I’ve never tried the tubes so we won’t go there.

They are not easy to find in Ireland, sometimes, but the Art’n’Hobby Shop chain tends to have some examples. I got a Caran d’Ache one at the London Graphic Centre and based on my current limited knowledge, they only appear to manufacture one size. Derwent sell three sizes which you can occasionally get in a three pack (recommended, in my experience, that’s usually 3 for the price of 2 priced), and the only other brand I’ve seen here are Pentell, one of which I own.

Being honest, the one I use most often is one of the Derwent ones, their number 3. It’s a nice brush and it has the benefit of being comparatively easy to replace as yes, the Art’n’Hobby Shop tend to have them. The Pentel can be generous, and overly generous, with the water. I love the Caran D’Ache one, but I tend to be mean with it because I can’t get them here. It’s likely that the next time I see them, I will buy two or three. The Derwent one I am using at the moment is starting to show signs of suffering.

I also have five or six Daler Rowney brushes. Theoretically I need to carry a bottle of water and water receptacles around to use them. I tend not to. Having used them in the past, they are very nice brushes, and the range I own gives me a lot of flexibility.

Parker 51

So someone with the initials AK decided they’d had enough of their Parker 51 and sold it to one of the antique outfits who turn up at Clontarf Castle. Last week, I bought it.

It’s a black pen, dates, I think, from the late 1950s. It has a black body and a rolled gold top. AK, or someone known to them, had it engraved with their initials. The clip is loose and the button on the top of the cap is missing. The cap has a couple of dings on it otherwise but the body is in broadly good condition and the nib appears to be a gold nib.

It has an Aeromatic filler, and, interestingly enough, it just have been in use until very recently. I bought it expecting it to be dry and looking at the ink reservoir on it, expect it would take some flushing to clean. However, this may or not be the case. The pen turned out to be full of black ink. It may have had blue in it at some stage as blue came out when I started to flush it, but once I realised it was actually full of ink, I stopped cleaning it and had a closer look. What is in it now (and what hasn’t appeared to run out yet) is black ink. I don’t own a true black ink in my ink collection. I have a very dark blue called Midnight Blue courtesy of MontBlanc, and I have what can best be described as a light black – ie black with some very dark grey shading – called Onyx from Pelikan. Neither is as black as this. Bearing in mind that the pen was bought in Ireland, it is most likely that it was filled with a commonly obtainable black ink here, and that’s must likely to be Quink with a possibility also of Waterman. I may buy a bottle of Quink for the pen as I am not sure I want to put any of my brighter colours.

With that out of the way, the Parker 51 is basically an iconic pen. If you spend any time around pen nerds at all (the internet has quite the community of them) the Parker 51 is spoken of in terms of being one of the greatest fountain pens of all times. It is no longer manufactured, but lots of them were made and there are plenty of them available on Ebay, and they turn up in antique/vintage shops from time to time. I’ve always been a little bemused by this. I have one Parker jotter and it’s nice but it’s not earth shattering. I own quite a few pens (trust me, while I have a problem with pens, it’s not a Problem) and probably the two most interesting ones are a Waterman and a Cross. They are not as expensive as the Caran D’Ache fountains that I have but they  are probably easier to write with.

The Parker 51 is significantly easier again. It has the ease of operation of one of my best Lamys (these can be nib hit or miss – the best is very very good, the worst is replaced ASAP). The Parker flows across the paper. It might be the smoothest pen I have owned so far. It doesn’t look like a fountain pen in certain respects – the nib is almost totally engulfed with only the pointiest bit poking out from its plastic hood – and its rounded ended body looks a bit space age, ca 1950s. It is a pen which looks vintage, and old fashioned. The shape is similar to a Platignum I picked up the same day (which is writing awfully and definitely needs a major clean) although the Platignum was clearly a less expensive pen at the outset, and is a much smaller pen. It is also in better condition cosmetically.

I’m surprised really. I didn’t expect to love this pen or find it writes as well as it does. The nasty thing is is I’d probably take a second one if I got the opportunity and put blue ink in it. I really don’t think it’s the kind of pen you put orange, pink or turquoise ink into. Maybe dark violet might be alright.

The Parker 51 came with a number of different filling mechanism. Mine is Aeromatic which means it’s not from the earliest array of Parker 51s. There is some discussion online to suggest that the Aeromatic fillers are a little more bulletproof than the older Vacumatics. I’m not enough of an expert to be certain why – I believe it has something to do with the build materials. However, the net result is that if you get a Vacumatic, it really should be serviced by someone who knows what they are doing before you put ink in it.

I paid 25E for mine which is not bad. As I can’t date it, I can’t open market value it for certain, but it has some cosmetic damage and it is engraved. Prices online for the pen vary greatly but it looks as though 25E is a good enough price for the pen. Most pens of this age are likely to have some cosmetic damage and some pens very similar to this one are commanding 4-6 times the price online.  The nib appears to a medium nib which puts it in the slightly rarer category for those pens.

Regardless of any resale value it might have, I’m really glad I bought it. I don’t even know what the pen actually looks like when I am writing with it, so perfect a feel is it. I’d be very sorry to lose it. It has a permanent place on my desk. As mentioned above, if I happened across a second one, I probably would take it if it were an Aeromatic and and in reasonably good nick. I own about 30 other fountain pens and in the grand scheme of things, I don’t actually need any others.

But…yeah this is lovely.

 

RIP Terry Pratchett

My world is mourning the loss of Terry Pratchett. I heard, via a text from a friend, in the most incongruous place of all, a Tesco carpark, that he was gone. And my heart sank.

It’s one thing to know he was ill. That he’s gone is a whole other deal, and not one I’m happy to be accepting. But this is reality sometimes. It doesn’t do fairness, and it doesn’t do the things that make us happy all the time. But the world will never be without Terry Pratchett. He left a lot of himself scattered about the place.

The first Terry Pratchett book I read was Equal Rites, sent to me as a birthday present by a young man whom I haven’t seen in some years. We’re neither of us very young any more, but somehow that doesn’t matter. Equal Rites, I read, sitting on a brown carpet clad floor in a house in one of the less remote parts of France. The town even had a TGV station (after a certain amount of fighting with the SNCF) to bring all the summer tourists. And I laughed. And I cried. I read any number of books as the fit took me, but I had never read anything like this, never encountered a book which made me feel this happy, and to some extent, I never have since. It was the power of surprise.

Most of the obits that are starting to turn up will tell you that PTerry wrote 70 books. Someone who leaves that legacy may never be truly gone.

things I’ve always dreamed of having

  1. a grand piano
  2. a pair of pointe ballet shoes. I can’t dance and have never studied ballet but they look very pretty. Thanks to Pinterest, I have seen ballet dancers’ feet. They don’t look so pretty.
  3. a pair of white skating boots. Another pointless exercise as there is the grand total of 0 permanent skating rinks in Dublin and I choose not to go to the temporary ones for various reasons. I blame Noel Streatfeild for that one.

I’m sure some people would call the piano a lot but I found a Kawaii I really liked, a second hand one, in a piano dealer in north Dublin a while ago, and it cost less than half the price of my Fiesta. Sometimes I think we set the wrong priorities when we demand people be Sensible all the time. Is the world really that damaged by my having a piano rather than a newer Fiesta?

I’m sure there are other things on the list. But those ones have been there since I was very young.

review: 849 popline, turquoise

I have been a user of Caran D’Ache ballpoint pens since I was 16 years old. This is more than 20 years.  Fact.

Most of the pens I own are from their Ecridor Range which costs around 110E for a ball point here. However, they have an entry level range Office line with a large number of options in the 849 line. They are the same shape as the Ecridors – hexagonal – but are constructed from lighter materials.

I own a few of them.

A recent addition to the Popline colour range in the office line is turquoise and as it’s my favourite colour. You can see all the 849 options here.  The 849 range of ballpoints all take the Goliath refill which has a very long life (speaking from experience here).

You can tell the pen is lighter than the Ecridor pens but it is beautifully balanced in my hand. I love the colour. I love the fact that the pen feels almost indestructable. And it writes like a dream.

I love it.

Living in the Future

Last Saturday, Youtube celebrated its 10th birthday. We’ll skip the whole Valentine’s Day and move swiftly onwards to what Youtube means to me.

Youtube is the future writ large. Right now, if I want, I can watch pretty much any figure skating competitive performance from about the last 30 years by means of a simple search on Youtube. I watched the 1988 Olympic figure skating championships through a haze of static. If you told me when I was 15 years old that less than 30 years later, I’d be able to watch all that stuff, on demand, pretty much for free, I’d have looked at you as though you were completely made. At the time, Ireland had all of 2 official channels and okay, so there was multichannel of a sort…

The idea you could sit in front of a screen and choose what you wanted to watch rather than what the controller of RTE One was up for, well that was the stuff of dreams. It Is Never Going To Happen.

It did.

It’s not just the figure skating of course. It’s all the concerts of classical music, the videos by bands that you can watch ANY TIME YOU LIKE and not just between 7.30 and 8 on a Thursday evening, when Top of the Pops was on. It’s all the stuff that I’d never heard about much like Jon Stewart and John Oliver. Seriously, can we have John Oliver over here please? I watched Neil Finn and Paul Kelly live from Sydney Opera House early one morning. Live from Sydney, in a dining room in Dublin.

And it’s not just all those 1980s pop bands I’d forgotten, or bits of Bosco and Fortycoats. Or classic clips from various talk shows. Or clips out of Dara O’Briain shows.

Youtube is full of educational stuff. A lot of the Khan stuff turned up there first; there are any number of university lectures up there. People sit in their dining rooms and write and present Photoshop tutorials. SOmeone in Spain carefully put together three “how to do bobbin lace” videos. If there is a craft you want to try, someone, somewhere, has made a video showing you how to get started. You want to write programming code? What language? Someone’s done it.

You want to see a review of someone unpacking a new gadget? Name your gadget. Someone somewhere has made a video of the box opening of whatever your favourite newest mobile phone is. You want to learn how to draw or paint? Take your choice. There must be a million trillion art videos on Youtube. You want to see a review of some other product like, oh various different types of fountain pens or water colour paints? Someone has done it. You want to see a cute video of a 4 year old singing the song from Frozen? Every single parent of a 4 year old has made it available on youtube.

You want to see planes doing weird landings in high winds? Youtube. You want to see the sheet music of an obscure piano concerto while someone plays the recording? Youtube.

You want to see what it’s like to surf the tube of a wave? Youtube.

You want a first person experience down a high ski jump? Youtube.

You want to see classic 1980s ads involving frying eggs on a rock if you only had a rock? Youtube.

Youtube is the sort of future I never imagined and it’s hear. It’s amazing. When I talk about the future, I remember that thanks to Youtube, I’m living in the sort of future I couldn’t conceive 30 years ago.

shop review: Casi One, Brussels

Way back in the mists of time, I bought a Caran D’Ache Ecridor in a stationery shop which stuck in my memory by location, rather than by name. It may have been a Prisma (which you cannot currently get by the way). The location was pretty much “down that street off Place Debrouckere, parallel to Rue Neuve, but not Boulevard Anspach. This is how I remembered it anyway; a little more scraping my memory would have revealed that it’s Boulevard Adolphe Max. It’s where Waterstones used to be. Not sure if it still is.

Anyway, sometime before I finished in UCD I had to give a run over to Brussels, and between the meetings I went for, and the plane rides there and back, I went back into the stationery shop which, after 15 years, was still there. I like that sort of continuity in shops – you see it in Dublin with the Pen Corner as well. I bought another Caran D’Ache there, a limited edition pink one designed by Claudio Colucci. I liked the colours.

Casi One is a wonderful stationery store. They have every mechanical pencil I want, a decent range of Clairefontaine paper; lots of other things that I crave. I draw from time to time (this is not something that I broadcast much) and after a lot of failures, I’ve settled on water colour pencils as my tool of choice. They have all the collection sets of Caran D’Ache Supracolor II pencils. They look gorgeous; I stood in front of the window display with a deep wish I could buy all the stuff.

I haven’t been in Casi One much in since I left Brussels, mostly because I haven’t been in Brussels much since I left Brussels. On the last occasion I was there, they remembered me from the previous time, which was about 9 months previously. I have found them immensely helpful but also, very happy to leave me browsing around their wonderland. I love the Pen Corner in Dublin but it’s a toss up as to whether I prefer it to Casi One or not.

Bucket List: Ireland

Any listicle is going to be subjective but having looked at this list, and having knocked off 14 items, plus a half for doing Newgrange not on the winter solstice, I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t really a great list.

So I’m making my own.

  1. Malin Point and Mizen Head. No point in doing one without doing the other.
  2. The Giant’s Causeway
  3. Killarney National Park
  4. Hook Lighthouse
  5. Swimming in Banna
  6. Surfing in Lahinch
  7. Whale watching in Clare or Cork
  8. Achill Island – driving to Keem Beach
  9. National Museum Kildare Street
  10. Hunt Museum Limerick
  11. Cashel
  12. Powerscourt Demesne and Glendalough
  13. Galway City
  14. Crawford Art Gallery Cork
  15. Gunpowder Mills, Ballincollig
  16. Chester Beatty Library and Dublin Castle
  17. Local GAA match anywhere in the country, preferably junior level
  18. Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in one of the cities
  19. Titanic Experience
  20. Newgrange and the other Boyne Valley burials (I prefer Knowth btw)
  21. Poulnabrone Dolmen and the Burren
  22. Aran Islands
  23. Skelligs and Valentia
  24. Stay in one of the Irish landmark properties
  25. Clonmacnoise