Footballs, Beach Balls and the Laban Mento Fountain Pen

Yesterday I watched a talk show (The Springer Show) on Astro’s Granada channel. It featured a man who had broken-up with his girlfriend because she insisted on making her breasts bigger. Yes, you read it right: she wanted her beasts to be bigger, he didn’t. According to him, she wasn’t happy that her assets were already (literally) the size of footballs; she wanted them to be the size of beach balls.

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One Ugly Pen: Pilot Vanishing Point

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Looking at my spanking new Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pen (and getting a hard-on all over again), I recall an old friend we nicknamed ‘Buta’. No, he is not blind; he just lives his life as if he were – at least, this is how it looked to the rest of us. Buta was (and I think he still is) the quintessential ‘ladies man’. I mean, this guy likes women – really, really likes women. Let’s just put it this way: He’s got more girlfriends going at any one time than there are money-grabbing Mat Rempits clamouring all over the PWTC on any given UMNO convention day.

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Of Retractable Pens, Stupid Reversals and Khairi J.

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Isn’t that the ugliest fountain pen you’ve ever seen in your life? It looks like something that just came out of the workshop of a Japanese inventor who has had one too many cups of ‘sake’. For one thing, the nib is on the wrong side of the pen – it’s on the same side of the clip! And secondly, it’s got no cap: The nib is retractable like a ballpoint’s (ugh)! The fountain pen snob that I am, I took an instant dislike to the wretched thing – wrong-sided clip and all!

On a whim, I tried the Vanishing Point (VP) during one of my (many) visits to KS Gill’s. To be candid (if my pride would have allowed it) I could have sworn – albeit silently – that the VP was actually a good pen. But no, I didn’t buy it: it was inconceivable to me that something so ugly could write so well.

A few weeks later, I came across the VP again on one of my (many) visits to Pen Gallery. Daniel, being a world-class sales professional, managed to get me to try the VP. No, I didn’t buy the VP this time around either. However, I remember walking away with my newly acquired Laban Mento, but at the same time, feeling very much impressed with the VP. It’s very much like marrying one girl, but at the same time, hankering for another. Not a comfortable feeling at all (for some, at least).

Yesterday I was at MPH (Megamall). Lo and behold, there was the VP again. It sat in the glass display of the Pilot booth, shining in its full glory, beckoning to me (and only me) like a long lost lover. It was too much for a mere mortal like me to resist. I had to feel her in my hands once again and enjoy her quiet compliance as I put her through her paces. The sales clerk was obliging enough. Once again, I was caught in the throes of a very familiar pleasure – one so powerful that it left me breathless and begging for more.

The sales clerk had to pry the pen way from my hands with the help of a security guard. But that’s another story altogether. If I don’t get paid soon enough, I will have to resort to robbing a bank so that I will be able buy damned thing.

This, of course, brings me to my point: Whenever my initial feelings are excessively negative about anything (anything at all), it’ll just be a question of time before I become its most ardent advocate. It has happened over and over again. I remember once thinking that mountain bikes were perhaps the silliest bicycles ever conceived, but look what happened: I became the national mountain biking coach, no less. Then there was karate. I used to think it was an activity that attracted only the unruly and bloodthirsty. What happened next? I got so immersed in the practice and philosophy of the art that I eventually earned my second degree black belt and became an instructor at a dojo. My list of ‘stupid reversals’ is perhaps endless.

But what scares me is that I felt very strongly, too (I still do), when I first learnt of Khairi J and his exploits. Could it be that someday…

No! No! No! Please dear God – ‘No!’

From today onwards, I will adopt this daily mantra: “I like Khari! Khari is good!”

Montblanc Meisterstuck 149 Review

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I bought my Montblanc Meisterstuck 149 some 11 years ago. To be candid, the motivation behind the purchase had been vanity – plain and simple. Believing (erroneously) that I was an up-and-coming manager, a Montblanc, was to me, an item of necessity. After all, you weren’t quite accepted into the domain of Malaysian ‘manager-dom’ you didn’t have a Montblanc sticking out of your breast pocket. So I forked out my RM690 (mind you, this was in 1996) and took my Montblanc home, smugly assured that my transition into the world of ‘manager-dom’ was finally complete.

In other words, at that point in time, I saw the Montblanc not as a fine writing instrument per se, but more as a badge of honour.

Now that I no longer have any use for badges of honour of any kind, I have re-evaluated my estimation of the Montblanc. It no longer carries the mystique it once had, a mystique bestowed upon it by a highly effective marketing department. Its value to me now simply boils down to its performance as a writing instrument.

First of all, aesthetically, the Meisterstuck 149 is a strikingly beautiful instrument. To say that it is an icon would be an understatement. Its classic torpedo-shape, in most people’s minds, practically define what fine fountain pens should look like. It is not uncommon for someone who is presented with an equally stellar pen from another maker to declare either “That looks just like a Montblanc!” or “That doesn’t look like a Montblanc at all!” Either way, at least in the looks department, it is evident that most people measure other pens against the Meisterstuck.

Dimension and Aesthetics

And even within the stable of Montblanc pens, the Meisterstuck 149 is epitome of things Montblanc. Mention a Montblanc, the first image that pops into most people’s minds will be the Meisterstruck: Not the Boheme, not the Skywalker but the Meisterstuck.

Montblanc’s propaganda states that the body of the pen is made from something they call ‘precious plastic’. Just what this means exactly, escapes me. Personally, I have taken this to mean that it is made from a material that doesn’t lose its lustre and shine even after years of use. I have had my 149 for about 11 years and it still looks as it did when I first took it home. Over the years, it has not lost its shine even in the slightest. Pretty amazing, really.

The 149 is a BIG pen. At the risk of sounding sexist, the 149 is a man-sized pen. Capped, it measures 15 centimetres while posted it measures 16.5 centimetres. The barrel diameter of this pen stands at a whopping 1.4 centimetres. This, of course, is plenty big. So, unless you’re Andre the Giant (my age is showing here), this pen should be big enough for almost anyone. But if you have smallish hands (like me), the 149 may prove to be a handful. But if you subscribe to the thinking that bigger is better, the 149 is right up your alley.

Filling Mechanism and Nib Characteristics

The nib that originally came with my 149 was a medium. It was a two-tone, 18K gold affair that just takes your breath away. The feel of the nib is not at all rigid. However, it is not, strictly speaking, a flex nib either. The nib is reminiscent of nibs found in high-end Pelikans: a small amount of flex can be discerned and enjoyed when using the pen.

But since I subsequently discovered that I used the 149 almost exclusively for signing documents, I had it changed to a broad nib. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Montblanc didn’t charge me for this! It goes without saying that the nib wrote smoothly and faultlessly, producing beautiful bold, wet lines that transforms my signatures into something more visually palatable than what they would be otherwise.

The149 uses piston-type filling system. This provides for clean and simple in filling – just twist the end of the barrel. Regular readers will know that this is my favoured filling system. What else can I say?

The Bottom-line

When talking about the 149, I can’t help but feel like Jeremy Clarkson did when he reviewed the Peugeot 407 (or was it some other Peugeot?) This was what he had to say:

“BREAKDOWN IN STYLE!”

That about sums up my experience with the 149. Early on, for some unknown reason, the clip of my 149 got all tarnished and corroded. OK, Montblanc replaced it. But it took almost three weeks. Then, all sorts of other horrors developed. The biggest problem was the 149’s over-generous inkflow. I like bold, wet lines. But the inflow I got from the 149 got to the point of being ridiculous. The pen laid down such wet lines that the writing bled onto the next page. And this wasn’t entirely the paper’s fault. No matter what paper I wrote on (100 gram paper excepted), the problem persisted. Finally, after several years, I discovered Pelikan 4001 inks. This alleviated the problem and I was a happy camper for a while.

After that, the ruddy thing began other sorts of inflow problems, like suddenly going dry even though I had used it only a few hours ago. This can be rather embarrassing at meetings with clients. Everyone is eying your beautiful 149. You finally whip it out to write something only to find out the thing has gone on strike. Nothing is more ridiculous than having a very expensive pen that refuses to write. But I’ll admit that this is not quite as ridiculous as owning a Peugeot that won’t move.

Any other horrors? Well, there are two more, really. Sometimes, when it decides to write, I am often faced with a starting problem: no inkflow for the first few strokes. Call me obsessive compulsive if you must, but I find this problem utterly infuriating. Perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much if it were a Kilometrico. But this thing is a Montblanc!

The final straw came when it started leaking. So I have retired the 149 for now – at least, until I can find someone at the Montblanc boutique who will believe that I am a Montblanc owner and help me in getting the 149 repaired.

My Pelikan M250 Demonstrator

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My grandfather’s writing table was tucked neatly into a corner of his study. Though I was allowed into the study, I was forbidden to even touch the writing table. But like any 4 year old, the temptation was a bit too great. Whenever my grandfather was at work – and when nobody was watching – I’d rummage through the drawers and unearth all sorts of treasures (at least from an obnoxious 4 year old boy’s point of view). Particularly engaging were the several medals he had been awarded and a stack of writing paper that seemed to replenish itself almost by magic.

But what captivated me the most was his collection of fountain pens. I can’t really recall how many he had. However, I am certain that I was responsible for the (inadvertent?) destruction of a great many of them. Among his pens, one was so beautiful and elegant that I didn’t even dare touch it. Though quite young at the time, I had some rudimentary reading skills and this allowed me to make the pen out as a PELIKAN.

As I grew older, I got interested in many other things. Naturally, this took me away from fountain pens and into other more rewarding (or so it seemed) territory. Toy robots, ‘Airfix’ kits, guitars, books, karate, ancient Okinawan weapons, opensource programming, mountain bikes, women, more women… you name it, it was likely I had a finger (or two) in it. But the older I got, almost all these interests (women included) slowly faded away. Now, with the onset of a mid-life crisis in the offing, I am left with only two great passions in life: books and fountain pens.

Some Background

When I was a thirty-something, I re-discovered my fascination for pens and got myself my first ‘real’ fountain pen – a Montblanc Meisterstruck 146. This, of course, was not a very smart acquisition, since as a newbie, I had mistaken branding and marketing for technical excellence. Though this is a bit embarrassing, I’ll admit that among the strongest reasons (at that time) behind that purchase had been because a Montblanc (any Montblanc), tucked in your breast pocket would basically scream: “Look! I’ve arrived! I’ve made it in life!” (much like owing a Mercedes or a Ferrari). In effect, the Montblanc was nothing more than a penis extension: Since I own a Montblanc, therefore, my dick has to be 12 inches long. Whether or not this is so, is a different matter altogether…

Several Parkers, Sheaffers, AT Crosses and 13 years later, I re-discovered the Pelikan brand. My first Pelikan (and still my favourite) is the M250 Tradition-series Demonstrator. It is called a ‘demonstrator’ because unlike ‘normal’ pens with their opaque barrels (bodies), the barrel of a ‘demonstrator’ pen is either transparent 0r transluscent. This allows you to see the ‘innards’ of the pen. Rather cool, actually – if you’re into this sort of thing.

Finally, the Review (Phew!)

The business-end of the M250 Demonstrator is a medium 14K gold nib that is as sweet as the kisses of a woman who – unlike the many you’ve known – actually loves you. It has been well documented that the nib on an M250 is somewhat stiff (now, whether this is good or bad thing really depends on your personal preference). However, personally I find that there is a small amount of flex in the nib that I find quite delightful. Though probably not as flexible as a certain yoga instructor in Bangsar that my friends have been raving on about, the nib of my M250 provides just the right amount of ‘give’ that makes writing with it a definite pleasure indeed.

The ink-fill system on the M250 (as in all Pelikans) is handled by a piston mechanism. By twisting the end of the barrel, a piston in the ink reservoir is raised, thereby creating a vacuum that sucks the ink in. Clean, easy and simple to use. Since the piston ink-fill mechanism is my favourite system, I couldn’t be more delighted.

Now, the M250 is what I’d call a medium-sized pen. Some go as far as saying that it is a ladies’ pen. This association to being a ladies’ pen, however, isn’t entirely accurate. It merely emphasises that ladies will find this a comfortable pen to use because, generally, ladies tend to have smaller hands.

Despite the fact that ladies may find this pen very comfortable to use, the M250 is as macho a pen as any: No question about it! It is just made for smaller hands. If like me, you find your lady friends occasionally complaining about your fingers not being long enough, the M250 will prove to be just the right size for your hands. Even if the ladies do not make any such complaint, the M250 – when posted (with the cover stuck to the back of the pen) – is plenty big. Therefore, unless you hands are as big Andre the Giant’s, you probably won’t need a bigger pen.

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, how does writing with the M250 stack up? First off, the lines of this medium nib M250 is nice and wet; not slippery so that your handwriting is slipping and sliding all over the place, but with just enough ‘wetness’ so that you glide along the page with ease and confidence. The M250 lays down just enough ink to make a bold statement while, at the same time, providing enough lubrication so that the nib does not scratch the paper.

The slight amount of flex that I detected in the M250’s nib is wonderful as it provides a touch of feedback when writing. Sometimes – especially when writing with a fountain pen – feedback is what differentiates a good pen from a great one. Take being with a woman, for example; the experience will prove lacking if there is too much compliance and absolutely no feedback at all. I guess its the same with pens, too. Some friction and feedback is required to make writing that much more exciting. However, too much of either will, needless to say, spoil the experience.

Currently, the M250 is my favourite pen and I use it as my daily writer. I carry it around everywhere. But when I have to attend a business meeting where I have to impress some shallow-minded bureaucrat, I’d have to whip out the Montblanc. Apart from that, especially when I have to get some serious work done, the M250 is my weapon of choice.

However, Pen Gallery at ‘The Weld’ is having a sale. Somewhere this week, I’ll be off to get me a mid-sized, medium-nibbed Sailor 1911. It’ll be interesting to see if the Sailor will be able to give my beloved M250 a run for its money.

It’s All In The Tip

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Friends who are polite say that I am a rich resource for trivia. Those who are less polite simply call me a purveyor of useless information. And true to form, today, I’d like to share with you some trivia (or useless information, as the case may be).

Like all long, cylindrical instruments, the most important component is usually the tip. Think of spears, screwdrivers, needles, pneumatic drills and you’ll get the picture. How useful (or useless) the instrument is, depends entirely on the properties of the point. Some say that this rule even extends to the functionality of the penis. But since I have never been on the receiving end of a penis, I really don’t know (nor would I like to find out). However, since I do know a thing or two about fountain pen nibs, this is where I’d like to go.

SIZE MATTERS

Fountain pen nibs generally come in three sizes, known as nib-stroke. These are ‘fine’ (F), ‘medium’ (M) or ‘broad’ (B). Naturally, the nib that lays down the thinnest line is the F nib while the thickest line is produced by the B nib. Simple. Here, the notion that ‘bigger is better’ simply doesn’t apply. The most suitable nib for you depends really on your handwriting style and personality: All boils down to personal preference.

However, do bear in mind that since fine nibs lays down the thinnest line, it also uses the least ink. Thus, expect your ink to go further with a fine nib. On the other hand, your signature is going to look pretty lame if you use a fine nib. The broad nib, therefore, would be more suitable when you need to sign something. So, most folks just plonk down their money on a medium nib and trust that this is a good compromise.

Regardless, which way you go is truly a question of preference. Chances are, if you have big handwriting, you’d probably be more comfortable with the medium or broad nib. If your handwriting is on the small side, more likely than not, you’d be more comfortable with a fine nib.

DO YOU PREFER IT ROUND OR STUBBY?

Apart from the size of the nib, the shape of the tip is also important. Though it may be difficult to discern with the naked eye, the tip of a fountain pen nib comes in two basic shapes. Nibs can have either a round-tip or stub-tip. With round-tips, imagine a small ball at the end of the nib. With a stub-tip, imagine that the tip of the nib has been cut, leaving a flat end. Naturally, each type of nib will produce different writing characteristics.

As a general rule, round-tipped nibs will produce lines of the same thickness regardless whether they are drawn horizontally or vertically across the page. On the other hand, a stub (flat)-tipped nib, will produce vertical lines that are thicker than horizontal lines.

What all this means is that the round-tipped nib will prove easier to use than stub-tipped ones. However, in the semi-skilled hand, the stub-tipped nib will produce beautiful calligraph-like handwriting. However, in Malaysia, stub-tipped nibs may be hard to come by.

DO YOU LIKE IT HARD OR SOFT?

Apart from variations in size and shape, fountain pen nibs can either be stiff of flexible. A flexible nib isn’t necessarily better. In fact, it can prove more difficult to use effectively. Because flexible nibs are softer, the line it produces differs with the pressure used by the writer. The more pressure is exerted by the writer, the thicker the lines that it produces. Conversely, the lighter pressure, the thinner the line. Thus, unless you are particularly skilled, a flexible nib may produce inconsistent lines and result in ugly handwriting. However, in competent hands, the flexible nib is capable of producing the most beautiful handwriting specimens.

Similarly, a stiff nib doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a cheap pen. Quite a part from its inherent durability, it is probably more suitable for people who who have been brought up learning to write with ball-points and roller-balls. This is because writing with ball-points and roller-balls have taught these people to write with heavy pressure. Having acquired the habit of writing with heavy pressure (like most people in Malaysia) the stiff nib would arguably be the best choice.

Now that you have all this trivia about nibs under your belt, I hope that you will be able to make a better informed decision the next time you hit the market for a fountain pen.

Happy writing!