Category Archives: being me

Collecting stuff

Most people who know me know that I tend to start collecting things. Yesterday I was at the annual pre-Christmas vintage fair in Luxexpo – 12 months ago I picked up two nice antique pens, but six months ago the pricing hadn’t gotten a bit wiser and this time, I picked up an entry level Waterman for 10E. I haven’t checked it out yet and to be honest I’m not writing much with the fountain pens lately – mostly ballpoints.

During the year, though, in a fit of serious self indulgence, I bought a limited edition Caran d’Ache rotary pencil sharpener. Mostly I had coveted for a long while, but had been making do with a vast array of hand sharpeners varying in price. I have a frightening collection of them and erasers because when I lose art stuff, it’s nearly always an eraser or a sharpener. Many of the sharpeners are Faber Castells.

During a pre-period shopping fit though I bought the Staedler Mars Lumograph rotary sharpener as it was a) less expensive than the Caran d’Ache and b) not such a disaster if it didn’t work out. In particular, I had been having serious issues sharpening charcoal pencils. I don’t much liking charcoal blocks because they end up covering everything in black so I’d lean towards the pencils.

But not if I wrecked a bunch of sharpeners and several pencils trying to get an even remotely usable tip.

I figured if the Staedler could handle the Faber Castell charcoal pencils, I’d be a happy camper. It could and I decided that I’d buy the Caran d’Ache metal sharpener as clearly, the things were not useless. I must be the only person in the world who tested a ***E metal sharpener by checking out how a 30E plastic one behaved.

Anyway, rotary sharpeners are not things I previously cared that much about but now of course….things are different. The Caran d’Ache is a limited edition colour run; their rose gold – you see it on their rose gold 849s too – absolutely gorgeous, but the design is a fairly old design. I could have bought a grey one for less money but where is the fun in that.

When I was at a vintage fair in Venice during the year, I came across an Eberhard Faber one and thought, you know, rotary sharpeners would be an interesting esoteric thing to start collecting. I left that one behind as I just did not have room to carry it and common sense popped up. It had a hard battle yesterday in Luxembourg too as I came across two – one Dahle 55 and a Palm Sweden one (no, I had not heard of them either). I’m not really equipped to assess what sort of health these things are in, and there are more moving parts in them than there are in pens. I know how the pen restoration market operates. I couldn’t get quick research online at the vintage fair yesterday so I left the two behind. Both were rather beautiful looking pieces of engineering.

Later on, research took me to the sites of two sharpener collectors – there are a few. They had dated enough looking websites and both had at least 5000 – five thousand – sharpeners of all shapes – not just the rotary ones.

I started thinking about this in real terms. I have enough trouble with the stuff I own. I occasionally worry about the accumulation of things I create myself, like my diaries which are a record of the last 25 years of my life, and the art works which no sane person will ever want to buy, the doilies I crochet, the tapestries I stitch up.

I don’t really want a collection of stuff growing to 5000. I mean, I’m not sure exactly how many Caran D’Ache Ecridor and 849 ballpoints I have. I don’t buy all of them; I buy the ones I like (and the wretches have released 2 for Christmas which I must, must have).

Okay so it might be hard put to accumulate 5000 sharpeners but without a little discernment, what is the sense in mindlessly buying every sharpener that ever was? I use every pen I own, including the single most valuable antique.

The rosegold sharpener, limited and numbered, is clamped to my desk and used to sharpen non-carbon pencils (look, I ruined several cheap hand sharpeners with charcoal pencils so the Staedler can take care of the charcoal and pastel pencils). It handles my graphite and coloured pencils. These things are tools.

In addition to the rosegold, Caran d’Ache have previously issued black and red rotary sharpeners in metal, and there is the default grey one.

As a result, my shopping list for rotary sharpeners contains just three items, one of which is generally available and the other two of which are going to be a hassle to find.

And that will be it.

Concerto in C Minor – the piano site

I set up a new blog during the week – it isn’t like I have the time to maintain a load of content across several sites – but I also see the risk of flooding this site with a lot of things I wanted to write about which are more for my own self indulgence more than anything. Pianos in other words.

The site is here. There, I will ramble on about pianos, practising the piano, books I have read about practising the piano, music, sheet music, youtube videos of interest, concerts and things that annoy me on youtube and Facebook piano groups. You may find it interesting if you are interested in pianos. Otherwise, possibly not.

I’ve also thought about spinning off the art stuff but as there are background things around photo posting site changes and hosting of imagines, I will leave that for the time being.

Updates to Flickr

Flickr announced some changes lately. I have been a Pro subscriber for years and I have more than 13000 photographs on Flickr. Most of them are kitesurfing photographs.

The subscription cost for Flickr is going up (looks like it is about doubling) but against that there are some interesting looking deals. I’m not totally sorry to see the changes to the free product – I didn’t agree with some of Yahoo’s product decisions. One of the biggest hassles that Yahoo forced on the flickr community was Yahoo login. I hated it. Flickr tell us that will go away early next year. If I had to pick any concern, it is that I worry that Flickr will not support the community of artists and urban sketchers that use flickr as a shop front.

For a good chunk of the last 10 years, I used pix.ie until it effectively vanished, and then for the drawing stuff I tended to use Instagram mostly despite severe misgivings about the difference between their desktop product and their mobile product; issues around password retrieval and today, I couldn’t find embed code so I went to Flickr and uploaded the piece of artwork there [too].

One of the main reasons for this is Instagram’s algorithmic timeline and inline advertising. The downside of this is that I regularly miss posts by people I like and yet see the same ads multiple times. There are a bunch of artists I really like on Instagram but some of them are on behance and deviantart, and a good few are on flickr as well. I’m wondering how tied I am to the instagram community when there are communities which are more art and photography focused and less social network/data collection focused.

So as part of that, I’ve started the horrific job that is reorganising the flickr account – it is chaotic – and will start look at rebuilding my life on deviant and will see if I can get at my behance account. After that, I don’t know what will happen with instagram. I don’t know

An afternoon in London

I had a few hours free in London lately so I prioritised them to do a couple of wants and technically wants but really needs.

I went to the British Museum because I wanted to see the Rosetta Stone again. I remember the first time I saw it; pretty sure it wasn’t locked away in some sort of glass/acrylic jail cell. It’s a measure of how the world has changed I guess. Also, it is now subject to the Mona Lisa effect where crowds of people hoard around it and really you can’t get to see it in any comfort any more. Either way, I still went. For me, it is THE iconic thing in the British Museum. You can take the girl out of translation but possibly not translation out of the girl.

While I was there I hopped along to see the Lewis Chessmen. There are a few of them in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but really, the bulk of them are in Bloomsbury. They really are worth a look – I think they are beautiful. I zipped by Sutton Hoo which used to be one of my go tos – obviously still is, and the German ship clock. Then I had a look at the Parthenon Marbles and the Assyrian wall hangings. Absolutely wonderful. I bought *some* stuff in the shop but not much.

After that I made my way to the main Fazioli dealer in London as I had heard a lot about those pianos but had never actually met one for real. So I dug out the address and went and had a look. Beautiful pianos, no doubt about it. I played a couple very, very briefly – I was really short on time – and while I would have favoured one piano over the other, I really regretted that I had not time to sit and learn to relax over one or other.

There were two main musts I wanted to achieve in London – one was new clothes for work – irritating as I am between sizes so this year’s acquisition of trousers will potentially need to be redone a second time before normal re-purchase – the other was acquisition of the Hanon piano technique book which I figured I’d find in Foyles.

I love Foyles Bookshop but because I was whistlestop touring the place, I went straight up to the sheet music section and found H.

It’s phenomenal. I could get lost in there. GIve me a ladder and I am happy. The classical stuff is kept in drawers which I could happily explore for hours. The Hanon was surprisingly unexpensive and now I have no excuse not to sort out my whole piano technique issues (later).

The last thing I did was go to L Cornelissen which is a fabulous old art supplies shop. It has lots and lots of drawer units which I really, really want.

I went to university in London but after a weekend there I’m not sure I could go back there to live. It’s stressful and crowded. My experience with Transport for London customer service in the face of lines closed for engineering works wasn’t great; the tubes are packed to sardine tin levels. I do regret that I did not get a chance to play the Platform 88 piano in Tottenham Court Road.

More keys…

I have a playlist on my phone called Music I am Learning.

I put it together when I tore the world apart looking for the transcription Alexandre Tharaud did of Dance of the Blessed Spirits, which is from Orfeo and Euridice by Gluck. There are a couple of transcriptions of it floating around; I had trouble tracking down this particular one which is on an album of encores that Tharaud put out a few years ago. There is some lovely stuff on it. The net result is I have a bunch of different recordings and arrangements of it, all in that playlist. I started adding other stuff to it.

At the moment, on repeat, is Comptine d’un autre été: l’Apres-midi. It’s by Yann Tiersen, and it, along with Sur Le Fil, are in the list of Music I am learning. I own two books of Yann Tiersen sheet music, and both pieces are in the first collection.

I live in a building with four apartments. There are pianos in three of the apartments; mine, upstairs and the top floor. Upstairs is also learning Yann Tiersen; also learning Compte d’un autre été, L’Apres Midi. She has had more time to devote to it, and I know from past experience of listening to her through the ceiling, that she is probably better at reading music than I am. For me there are challenges; I may dive into sight reading from time to time, but every new piece of music I have played lately I have learned by ear and arranged myself. Someone asked me for the transcription of one piece in particular, and now I find myself having to develop the skill to do this; I’m cheating by using an app on my phone. Much to my surprise, the technology to listen to an audio recording and transcribe it isn’t really there yet. So best that I do it by trial and error.

The recordings of the two Tiersen pieces I am learning are by Jeroen van Veen. There is something incredibly relaxing about them which, I think, is why I want to learn them. In an ideal world, I would get up at 6, and play for an hour and then face the rest of the day. The day job. The walk/bus to work. The weather. It isn’t happening because I tend to burn the midnight oil at the other end. But L’Apres Midi is not impossible to play and all told, repetition is what I need. It might help my fingers to toughen up.

Somewhere in one of my swimming instagrame accounts is a comment that if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way, if not you’ll find an excuse. I have many things I want to do. Maybe if I were single minded it would be better.

I ordered more sheet music tonight; transcriptions by Vyacheslav Gryuznov. I came across him on a concert recording from RTE Lyric where he had just played some Rachmaninoff. He did one of the transcriptions as an encore so I went investigating and discovered he had a album of them, along with published sheet music. I’d like to have a go at two pieces which I know are beyond me but there’s a freedom in trying stuff anyway even if you know it’s going to be hard. This is one of them:

I already know it’s going to be hard. But if I learned some of it, it would be great. I really wish I had all the time in the world.

I went looking at second hand pianos at the weekend. I’m kind of on a journey – I don’t expect it to end for a few years but some time ago I read The Piano Shop on the Left Bank and in it, he referred to some French manufacturers, including Erard and Pleyel. Two came up for sale so I went and had a look. They were both about 35 years old, both built in Germany by Schimmel, under licence, so it was hard for me to treat them as French pianos when they weren’t manufactured there. The dealer told me that Pleyels would be manufactured again, but in China. He was not positive about that prospect. It got me thinking – there is an ongoing debate about the difference between German and US built Steinways, for example, and also, there is some debate sometimes around the difference between Indonesian and Japanese built Yamahas.

Of the two German built pianos, I favoured the Erard although I believe it still had some servicing ahead of it.

Luxembourg has an annual project called My Urban Piano where they lodge a few pianos around the place – I played one of them before I went to play the Erard and I played another one when I came back. I’m hoping to find all 21 although time is running out for me and I am busy this weekend. I know that a piano went into Connolly Station in Dubin, so I think that means there is one in Heuston, Connolly and Pearse. I do love in Metz and Paris Est to go and play the pianos there. The piano in Paris Est is a decent enough Yamaha and appears to be in very good condition despite the hard life I imagine it has.

Where I live in Luxembourg, you can often hear the sound of a piano. It seems to be just done here that people learn and this might explain why it’s easier to hire digital pianos – something I just could not do in Ireland. I think it’s a good thing; I suppose I think people learning any musical instrument is a good thing.

For me, it helps me to dream. In the meantime, the Gryaznov book should arrive by the end of the week. I am so looking forward to finding out just how hard it is. And I am wondering about lessons again.

keys…

A couple of weeks ago, I played in public for the first time in many years. It was of mixed success so we will gloss over that. I played the piano.

I have a piano here in the apartment – it is a digital piano and I’ve rented it more or less since I moved in. Last week I had a mild yen to change it to a silent system upright so that on occasion I could get the feel of a real piano. I’m sure the manufacturers of digital pianos would grimace at the thought their pianos are not real pianos but there is a whole lot of vibrations missing. Digital pianos don’t touch the heart the way a strung instrument does. Anyway,  I wandered down to the piano shop to see about silent pianos – when you are hiring a piano you are at the mercy of what is available, and they did not have one which interested me on the occasion so the change of piano will have to wait. But it’s a piano shop full of acoustic pianos and usually, when I’m done talking business, I take a look at the pianos and play them for a while. I don’t allow myself to fall in love – or at least I say this to myself – but I’m lying.

For a very long time, my heart was given to an 1882 Bechstein which Pianos Plus in Dublin had in their show room – I don’t know if it is still there because it is almost 2 years since I was there – but I’ve always recognised that it and I were not destined for one another. It cost more than I could conceivably save for in while I was working in Ireland. I’ve generally assumed I would be ordering a brand new Kawai baby grand at some point. Mostly I have chosen not to like Yamahas or Steinways and on occasion I’ve come across second hand Kawais, about 30 years old which were beautiful pianos. I’ve always known that the piano will be a confluence of time, house, what’s available and how much money I have at that time so while I think it’s safe to assume a brand new Kawai is achievable, deep down I would prefer a slightly older piano. Leaving aside the chance that they can be less expensive as well, the fact is, they tend to be a little softer to the touch. One of the reasons I don’t like Yamahas is that I have played some very hard pianos. Resistant touch. I am not such a fan.

But against that, I’ve met some beautiful secondhand Yamahas, all at least 30 years old. Pianos Plus had what I think was a G3 – it was already sold when I got to touch it but it was a beautiful piano. Huebner in Trier had a beauty the last time I was in there and I think it was a G3 as well. Today, I played an S4 exdemo in Kleber in Luxembourg and it was a breathtakingly lovely instrument to play. If I had the required 40,000+ it was on its way to me but…I didn’t.

The thing is, it was not the piano I loved the most either today or last week. Kleber’s big Steinway concert grand was in the showroom – it wasn’t the last two times I was in there – so I asked if I could play it and that was okayed

I have a meh relationship with most of the Steinways I’ve played. I’ve played quite a few brand new baby grands, say around 6 feet – various model numbers but what they all had in common was they had an imperiously bright sound. Because they were brand new, I tended to find the keyboards stiff as well. In Dublin, it was much easier to turn to a 140 year old Bechstein whose keys were like extensions of my fingers. But I hadn’t ever played any of the big concert grands, the nine foot or so pianos. While the dream of a grand piano might be somewhat unicorn level in terms of dreams, I’m realistic to know that I’m unlikely to ever have a place I can justifiably put one. But something caused me to play this one because I could.

Unlike a lot of the Steinways I’ve played, it has a gloriously comforting sound. Wrapped around my soul. I truly fell in love with the piano which was unusual for me with a Steinway. I loved it enough to think, you know, I could actually see myself buying a Steinway grand if it felt like this. Coincidentally, there was a baby Steinway in the showroom too, a second hand one. I don’t remember seeing a build date but I’m willing to bet it was about 20 years old. The keys were not stiff and the sound was a soft enveloping sound rather than the very bright sharp sound I’ve been used to from pretty much every other Steinway I’ve ever played.

It gave me pause for consideration. I’ve at least 2-3 years before I can consider buying a forever piano so that gives me time to save. A secondhand Steinway is going to take a lot of saving and of course, it is never going to be a nine-foot concert behemoth. But I think, when the time comes, and I start the journey of selecting my piano, I’d like to have enough money that a second hand Steinway might be an option. So I need to start planning now.

Cold days in December

Today I added yet another sport to the list of sports I have tried. Today I tried curling.

Now, to be honest, when I woke this morning, I did not say “I must try curling”. I said “Where is all that bleeding snow MeteoLux has promised and why am I not seeing a blizzard”.  But life turns out interestingly, and somehow, I accidentally wound up trying curling.

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The new transport system went into operation in Luxembourg today – this means a brand new tram, a brand new funicular and all sorts of changes to the buses and rail system. The current changes don’t suit me at the moment – I’m moving from a direct bus to a bus and change to tram which is ludicrous for a 2km journey but sometime next year the tram will extend to where I live and I will have a direct tram journey to work which will be handy if somewhat sweaty for the height of summer. Today it was somewhere approximating the depths of winter as it snowed all morning and this evening, we’ve got gales to look forward to.

Anyway, here’s the funicular. It takes a minute to go from top to bottom and vice versa.

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And here’s a video of the trip up with some arty out of focus sections.

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I had trouble getting the video to work on the way down.

The tram was running, and to be frank, was packed but I suspect in part that’s because all of the useful buses have been re-routed.

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Tram in the winter sun.

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As part of their celebration stuff, they set up Luxembourg Curling club with a temporary (plastic) curling rink and you could have a go, if you were so inclined. I had a go. I had several goes. I have looked up the Olympic curling set up to see if I could like, compete for Ireland and it transpires I need four other Irish people with an interest in curling.

That might be a tall order. My options for Olympic greatness continue to be limited.

But curling is compelling.  It’s basically simple. Stand here, and give this circular stone thing an almighty shove up the rink and hope for the best that you get it into the circles. It took me 4 goes to shove it hard enough but so what. It was fun. In fact, I don’t know why it was fun given how simple it is. But it’s more fun than Candy Crush, that is for sure.

There is a curling club in Luxembourg. I’m going to join as the bunch who were there this afternoon were great fun, mad supportive and dead helpful. And they let me have quite a few goes.

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CFL, Luxembourg National Railways, also had an ice sculptor in.

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After all that excitement, I went off to Auchan (on the tram) (which was packed) to do my my grocery shopping in a shopping centre which was not that busy so I was in and out quickly. I also bought one Christmas present and looked at a watch which I want but will have to save up for.

I blame Google

I’ve found lately that social media – by which I mainly mean Twitter – has become unsufferable. The scale of insufferability has gone through the roof. In some respects, I blame Google. I particularly blame Google for the strength of Facebook and Twitter because Google did one thing which contributed more to centralising social media than anything else at all. They shut down Google Reader and…I’d argue they did some damage to the blog reading eco system. What was nice about the blog world was that it was basically decentralised. You didn’t have to be on Twitter. You didn’t have to be on Facebook. All you had to do was publish an RSS feed. I use Newsblur now but the whole blog world is also very different.

I edge towards switching Twitter out of my life. The apps are gone from both my mobile devices and access to twitter is purely via a webbrowser. Twitter keeps asking me if I want notifications. I don’t want notifications, no. I want the nice chatty atmosphere which allowed me to learn stuff quite quickly which Twitter used to be. Now, it’s just a place where people come to demand that I be outraged about stuff.

Be outraged about Trump. Be outraged about Clinton. Look I don’t even live in the US and I’m sick of finding out about which of their politicians is acting the maggot lately, for a given scale of maggot ranging from some mild corruption to dating 14 year olds. It is not that I don’t care, it’s just that in certain parts of my life, I don’t want to have to care. You don’t need to outrage me about rape culture. I know about it. Suicide rates, too, and homelessness. I have a neverending wall of despair coming at me from the newspapers and the radio. I’d like it if it wasn’t coming at me from twitter too. But it does because people retweet stuff and expect me to be outraged. I must be outraged all the time or I am not a worthy human being.

I mute. I block. I have muted people I considered friends because they were polluting their threads with stuff designed to make me feel angry, and annoyed, and outraged that I really couldn’t handle it. I like Pinterest and Instagram because they are not constantly haranguing me to be angry.

The reinforcement of Twitter and Facebook to some extent (I mute I block there too) has its roots in centralising social discourse on the internet on those sites and one of the things that drove that was Google shutting down Reader. You have a hugely decentralised social media ecosystem which was basically interoperable but which had one big reading central. In theory, I imagine they expected us to kind of get Google Plus to pick that up but they did it in the most stupid way possible. People now access blogs via assorted newsreaders, email newsletters and who knows what. Serendipity about finding out about blogs has died as well. And in the end, it’s not like Google Plus waltzed up and blew up the competition.

I’m torn with what to do about Twitter. I like the interesting stuff which crops up. Yesterday I read a fascinating piece which turned up on a Twitter link. These are the things Twitter is really good at (and blogs used to be too). I have friends that I interact with mainly through twitter. I’m filtering and muting to beat the band. But it’s getting close to a point where I’m starting to think…you know, what’s the point?

Luxembourg International Motor show

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It’s been a while since I carried a real camera and now, if I want to take Photographs, I have to do so within the limits of my phone camera. I never cease to be amazed at how much they have to offer and with a little judicious Photoshop.

I kind of like taking photographs of cars, and I don’t get the opportunity to photograph supercars very often. If you’d asked me before today what supercar I’d buy if I ever had the choice, I’d have said, with a lot of regret, a McLaren F1. The car is more than 20 years old and there aren’t a whole lot of them around so that’s never going to be anything other than a pipe dreak.

But this Honda NSX is rather attractive. I wouldn’t buy it in white – it’s not really my colour. I think a car like this deserves a brooding grey metallic paint job.

I was marginally disappointed with the shortage of supercars on show. There were a couple of Lamborghinis, and some Ferraris but nothing which really excited me beyond this one Honda.

More pens

I decided a while ago – after I bought a brand new Pelikan M205 which of course I didn’t need but had fallen in love with and well – that I didn’t want any more pens…So it was entirely a bad idea to go to the Antiquités and Brocante yesterday and in particular, I really should not have been looking at pens.

I didn’t buy all around me. Specifically I left a few Montblancs behind me – they were priced above my Gamble On an Old Fountainpen limit which is 25E per fountain pen. But I rifled through a box of pens that were 3E each or 2 for a fiver and surfaced with a Pelikan and a pretty but probably originally dirt cheap English pen. For 2.50 each though, they were worth the gamble. Both take cartridges and both are writing okay.

The other two pens were more of a gamble. They came together at the top of my Gamble on an Old Fountainpen limit and necessitated some serious research when I got home. The Waterman, which is the hall of mirrors-esque one on the left turns out to be a Lady Patricia dating from the 1980s. I give the date because Waterman produced a model with a similar name in the 1930s also. This definitely dates from the 1980s. It takes international cartridges although having spent some time with it yesterday, it really only takes Pelikan 4001 cartridges and they slide into the barrel with a little difficulty. I will see if the barrel needs to be cleaned if I can. But the pen has a beautiful broad nib and writes rather nicely. It’s a slight challenge for my hand because I have quite fine handwriting which I need to scale up a bit for wider nibs.

The last pen I knew to be a Parker when I picked it up. I’m not certain why I bought it. I’d see the words Vacumatic on it when I examined it and I decided a long time ago that any Parker 51 that I bought would have to have an Aerometric filling system as they don’t give any trouble, even in pens 60 years old. I have a Parker 51 from the end of the 1950s which although it was battered a bit when I bought it, I love to pieces because it is just such a joy to use.

So I took the Parker with the Waterman and brought it home to examine it. It looks to be one of the entry level Vacumatics, and there’s a marking on the side of the pen which strongly indicates that it was manufactured in 1935. Its filling system aligns with a production date of pre 1937 as does the brand marking on the pen. So the pen is around 82 years old and is by some distance the oldest pen I own.

Other research says the ink filling internals have to be serviced as they have a habit of cracking and breaking.  I toyed with selling it on on eBay but made the emotionally unwise decision to try and write with it by dipping the nib into a bottle of Parker Quink black. And I fell in love.

I own a lot of pens and deep down, up to today I would have said that of all of them, my favourite to write with was my Parker 51. This is even better. Sufficiently better that it’s going to break my heart to send it to the UK for a service.

The down side of these older pens is that I tend to be very conservative about what ink goes in them. There are horror stories about modern inks destroying the insides of older pens. For this reason, the only ink that goes into my Parker 51 is black Parker ink and when this Vacumatic come back from hospital, it took will only get Parker ink although I might get a bottle of blue ink for it. This is one of the reasons I retain all my modern pens – I expect them to take pretty much any ink I put into them. I have one pre1993 Pelikan which I expect to take Pelikan on the ground that I expect a manufacturer to provide ink that doesn’t damage its own pens which gives a little more leeway. But the two Parkers…they will not be getting radical modern inks in them.