Archive for March 15th, 2005

Fountain Pens

I’ve liked fountain pens ever since I was a young kid. I like what they do to my handwriting. I prefer to write with them whenever I can. What prevents me is often the fact that most paper nowadays is not good enough, and the ink feathers or bleeds through. I was excited when I learnt Moleskine notebooks were being produced again, but their paper is horrible for fountain pen ink. Clairfontaine is the best, but sometimes hard to find, and usually expensive. Here in Greece, the most reliable paper is produced by Skag, although they seem to have stopped producing simple spiral notebooks in favour of a lot of goofy stuff they seem to think will appeal to kids.

My first fountains were all Sheaffers, which, it was announced last year, will no longer be made. They were cheap, sometimes leaked, but they wrote well. Back then, when I was under ten years old, I used to use ink cartridges. For some reason I liked their turquoise ink, peacock blue.

When I was in university I bought a Waterman Expert of a particular line which has been discontinued. Waterman were very good about replacing nibs and stuff for free, as long as you paid for the postage. A few years ago I wrote to tell them that my pen, which was over ten years old, needed a new cap. Since they didn’t have the pen any more, they asked me to send the whole thing to them and they’d replace it. I didn’t like the new one as much — the nib was not flexible enough — and I stopped using it.

Then I did something very stupid. About three years ago I bought a Montblanc, which I’d wanted for a long time. If I had done a bit of research on the internet before I shelled out all that money, I would have found out that very, very few fountain pen users actually like the pen. They rightly consider it to be nothing more than an overpriced bit of pocket jewellery.

I bought the Meisterstuck 146, a burgundy one. It’s very nice to hold, and holds a lot of ink, but the feed (responsible for ink flow) was crap. It would skip all the time. Another problem is that body of the pen is made of some expensive but fragile plastic, and breaks very easily.

Eventually, I gave up on the Montblanc, and found a website that sells vintage pens at good prices. My first pen was this Waterman’s Ideal from the 1930’s.

The nib is very flexible, which gives it a lot of line-width variety. Waterman’s used to be made in London, but moved to France in the 1950s, where they lost the apostrophe and the s. They’re owned by Gilette now. Nothing comes close to what they produced back then though. It has a lever filler, which can be made out in the first photo. Lifting the lever presses on the sac inside. When you release it, ink is drawn in.

I’d found my pen, but I couldn’t resist buying one more.

This is the Parker Slimfold, from around 1970. It’s quite small, but the nib is beautiful. Not as flexible as the Waterman’s, it produces a thicker line. It also has an Aerometric filler. I don’t know how it works, but the Aerometric sac allows the nib to be submerged in the ink while you repeatedly press on the filler to squeeze air out and ink in. (If you don’t understand why this might be hard to understand, sorry but I’m too lazy to explain it at the moment.)

Today I decided I’d get out the old Montblanc and see how it was writing. I noticed fine cracks all over the “precious resin”, which is what they call the cheap plastic used to make the body of the pen. The cracks look like what you see on old porcelain enamel. In one spot, the ink is starting to show through.

I decided to bore anyone who made it this far today because I notice people come to this site just because they’ve googled something I’ve mentioned. If someone is doing research on Montblanc pens, and is thinking about getting one, let this be a warning. They’re a huge waste of money.

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Another Job Interview

(This one came before the one I mentioned in the previous post, actually.)

I decided that, since I’m thinking of opening a bookshop one day, I should look for a job in one, so I can see what it’s like. The ads I saw were all asking for younger people so they could pay them less money. Ideally for the bookseller, the employee should be someone who still lives with his parents and doesn’t need to worry about things like bills and rent.

I started looking through the paper. I saw that Compendium, the English bookshop at Syntagma, was looking for someone. I would have loved to work there, even for the small salary he was offering, but during the interview the owner said I was over-qualified and likely to quit after a while.

There was another ad. A publisher/bookseller was looking for “responsible people” from 30 to 45 and was offering 1,200 euros a month. That figure, of course, is ridiculously high for the kind of work he was offering, but who knows — it was worth checking out.

I called the landline number but there was no answer. There was a mobile number given too, and a guy answered it. I told him I was calling about the ad, and he asked me what sort of experience I had in sales.

“None, really,” I said. “But I’ve worked for publishers before.”

“Well, look. That’s not what the ad’s for, but we could use people in the publishing part. How old are you?”

He addressed me in the singular, but in a friendly way that made me feel comfortable and hopeful.

“Thirty-five,” I told him.

He told me he’d call me back in a couple of days about an interview, but when the time came I didn’t hear from him. I decided the best thing to do would be to show him how interested and motivated I am by calling him up and bugging him till he gave me the interview.

When I called back he said:

“I’m just on the computer here, trying to send out a message. Have got it yet?”

Wait a minute, I thought. I haven’t given you my email address.

“I’m trying to send it to your mobile,” he said, as if reading my thoughts.

Eventually the message came through, sent by email. The woman in charge of recruiting personnel, it said, was ill and would not be back till after the weekend. By the way it was worded, I could tell it had been sent out to several people.

The following week I still didn’t hear from them. I wrote to the email address. He told me to email him my CV and he’d get back to me about some writing as well.

But the days went by, and still no interview. I sent him another email. He told me they had just moved office and were waiting for someone to come and fix the lights and hook up the telephones. I told him I’d try to be more patient.

Eventually I got another email, sent to my mobile again, setting a date for a meeting. I had gathered by this time that it would involve a presentation to a group of us. (Not a good sign, of course.)

Their new offices were in one of the seediest parts of Athens (Πλατεία Βάθης). I arrived right on time, as always, and was the first one. The offices were two tiny rooms. In the front room he had a desk with a computer. Beyond that was another room with another desk and a longer table where the meeting would take place. He had set out some ashtrays.

Where was the woman in charge of recruiting personnel? Was this their only office? It seemed to be a one-man business. If there were other branches, why had I not been able to reach them?

I sat down and he gave me some papers to look at while I waited for the others to arrive. In an email I had asked him what kind of company they were, and he had told me they specialised in books that provided counselling for parents, how to raise their kids properly, that sort of stuff. That put me off a bit, but I was still hopeful. Now, I was looking at what seemed to be a script for a presentation, directed at parents. It was filled with statistics about how difficult it is to raise kids today, blah blah blah. However, it was fairly well presented, and I was somewhat interested to hear the rest of it.

He would come in from the smaller front office from time to time and ask me what I thought. I told him it was interesting.

“Of course,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for almost thirty years. Other companies have started doing it, but they don’t have the network we’ve built up.”

He told me that after the meeting I would stay behind and he would tell me about the writing and translation work.

We waited about twenty minutes and it dawned on me — and on him, I could tell — that no one else was coming. Without much enthusiasm, he sat down at the desk and started to explain to me what they did and how they operated.

From the sounds of it, they were a huge company with branches in Germany that provided parents with counsellors, along with magazines and books, summer camps and even classes in night schools for parents, where they could learn about child rearing. I was losing interest quickly, but kept nodding my head. For politeness’ sake, I was just hearing him out.

From what I can remember now, my job would partly involve going to the house of people who had already been approached and had agreed to join, had already seen a counsellor, and getting them to become full members. There was more to the job, but I can’t remember.

At one point during his spiel, he asked me if he could have one of my cigarettes, as he had run out. I said sure.

Then it got weirder. Apparently, members were entitled to discounts at various shops and to some Amway type of place called Clever Club. He showed me catalogues with kitchen appliances and air conditioners.

Air conditioners? Appliances? How the hell did this happen? The ad had been for a bookseller/publisher! As far as I could see, they didn’t even have books. Just a few magazines. I asked about them, and he said they were not available to the general public, only to members.

“And the schools?” I asked. I was wondering why I’d never heard of them. He told me they too were exclusively for members.

I nodded. The situation was ridiculous now, but I wanted some idea of how big this organisation was.

“And how many members are there?”

“Oh, lots,” he said.

“Any other questions?” he asked after I had sat looking at the papers and nodding my head some more.

“What about the writing and the translation?”

“Well, we’ll discuss that some other time. In the course of things.”

I could tell the meeting was over. He told me I knew his email address, if I was interested I could notify him and he’d set up some sort of training. As I was getting ready to leave, he asked for another cigarette and I gave him four or five.

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