Monthly Archives: April 2018

Start Bay TN-size notebook cover

A little bit of history Start Bay, as the name suggests, is a wide arcing sea front, in this case on Devon’s south coast. The long beach of Slapton Sands is so expansive (despite actually being composed mostly of pebbles) that it even stood-in for Utah beach during D-Day landings rehearsals, tragically with the loss of three times more men than were taken by the real thing. These days, it’s a much calmer place, and home amongst other things to the Start Bay Notebook. The brand made its name with A5 notebook covers (which we reviewed in 2017), and similar products for the popular 90x140mm pocket notebook, but then they came up with a third format – the ‘TN’ size. We had to investigate, naturally…

How it looks Like an A5 notebook /cover with 38mm missing on the horizontal, which is precisely what it is. Whether this is attractive or unattractive is very much a personal choice, but if you like the trend for the ‘traveller’s notebook’ then this is a fine-looking competitor, with tactile leather and a cloth bag to put it all in (which feels like it could take a bit of punishment out on the road).

How it feels Warm, slightly textured, and supple but not greasy. All the boxes ticked, then.

How it fills With 110 x 210 mm inserts (confusingly labelled ‘A5 slim’, which isn’t really a thing), made for Start Bay by Rutland-based Personalised Stationery. Or there’s a Japanese analogue which will also fit, if you prefer. If your requirements are more specialist, as it is a standard size, you will probably be able to find inserts which meet your exact specifications on Etsy.

How it handles fountain pens The standard inserts are made by a fountain pen enthusiast, and it shows. There’s a little bit of tooth, and it can handle wet nibs without falling apart.

Bay! What is it good for? It’s probably pretty good for travelling – it fits into the pocket of cargo trousers or the top flap of most rucksacks, for starters.  As Alison discovered, it also works rather well for bullet-journalling.

VFM At £45 this is exactly the same price as Midori’s popular, if typographically-challenged, ‘Traveler’s Notebook’, and that’s fair competition. This is a well-made product which will last for years and probably looks even better once it’s been around the block a few times – and it even comes with one of those hand-made ‘Notable Reference’ fillers as standard. Good value, we think.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… There are two other sizes of Start Bay notebook which have a wider range of inserts available – or if for some reason you don’t want a distinctive product hand-made in Britain, you could opt for the Midori (which is probably perfectly good, but our reviewers prefer the Start Bay ).

Our overall recommendation is to think hard about what you’re going to use the notebook cover for, then take your pick. If the TN or ‘A5 slim’ size really does it for you, go for it. If not, the proper A5 size might be easier to fill and the 90x140mm size easier to carry. But if you want a simple notebook cover which is well-made and looks the part then Start Bay generally take some beating.

Where to get hold of one Start Bay now mostly sell direct, so the best option is to go straight to the source.

This meta-review references:

Blackstone blue inks

A little bit of history  Filling a fountain pen used to be difficult for folk Down Under. Sending a glass bottle full of rather heavy water half-way around the globe was an expensive business, and there were few local alternatives. Then Aussie dye-makers Toucan realised that one of their hues worked well enough in a fountain pen, and that was a start. Before too long the specialist ink-wrangler Robert Oster followed suit (almost certainly more about him to follow on this site soon), and then up popped a third Antipodean pen-filler: Blackstone. We found ourselves drawn to the blues.

How it looks  The two blues offer a lighter and a darker option, and both are charmers. There’s decent shading on offer, and quite a bit of sheen if you lay it on thickly. In short, if you like blues you’ll like these.

Crucially, how it writes…  Like standard fountain pen ink, really. Adequate flow, good saturation, reasonable drying times and no problems to report. All very encouraging.Ink! What is it good for?  It’s multi-purpose ink, this; it would be perfectly nice for writing a diary with, but you could probably get away with taking it to the office too. The plastic bottle is also hardy enough for travelling with, if you want to avoid glassware on the move.

VFM  Tolerable. £6.95 for 30ml is thrice the price of the same amount of Diamine, but this has come all way from the other side of the planet. It’s certainly not going to break the bank.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then Blackstone’s new set of scented inks might be worth a look instead. Or there’s Robert Oster’s range, of course.

Our overall recommendation  Well worth a try if you’re after something a bit different without blowing the ink budget all in one go.

Where to get hold of one  The best bet in this hemisphere is straight from Bureau Direct.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Blackstone and Bureau Direct for some of the samples.

Italix Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen review

A little bit of history: ‘Mr Pen’ is one of a number of business ventures owned by Ruislip-based company P. J. Ford & Associates Ltd, set up 1989. Their in-house Italix range of pens is already well-known thanks to the famous Parson’s Essential and, as we’ve already reviewed, the English Curate. Italix has now entered the budget end of the market with the Deacon’s Doodle – and of course, we had to put it to the test.

How it looks and feels: It’s a classic look in brushed stainless steel and it comes with a choice of nibs AND a converter. One might be concerned that a stainless steel pen could feel a little heavy, but this is not the case – the Deacon’s Doodle is pleasantly ‘there’ in the hand, but it’s no dead weight.

How it fills This one’s a straightforward universal cartridge-filler, but amazingly at this price point it comes with a good converter as standard.

Crucially, how does it handle? All our reviewers report that it performs well, offering a smooth writing experience and a fairly wet nib worthy of a much more expensive pen.

Pen! What is it good for? The Deacon’s Doodle looks and feels expensive, but – and you might want to sit down for this one – it costs LESS than £15.00!

There are gift set options which include engraving, intelligently aimed at the gift market; nobody would ever guess from its looks and performance that it is a budget pen.

VFM Frankly astonishing. If this pen cost £30 you would be delighted, but for £15.00 it’s a bargain.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Faber-Castell Basic is available in a stainless steel version of similar quality, but that’ll probably cost you a fiver more.

Our overall recommendation  For a budget pen which actually writes rather well and looks a lot posher than it really is, this is pretty much unbeatable. Try one.

Where to get hold of one Straight from Mr Pen

This meta-review references:

Thanks to Mr.Pen himself for sending some review samples our way.

DEACON’S DOODLE GIVEAWAY!

If you are based in the UK and you would like to win the gift set or the fountain pen on its own, all you have to do is answer these three easy peasy questions about the Deacon’s Doodle – all info found on the Mr Pen site.

1 How many nib options are there for the Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen?
2 How much does the fountain pen/ballpoint pen gift set retail for?
3 How much does the Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen weigh?

Two winners will be chosen at random after the closing date 27 April.

Send your answers to: unitedinkdomprizes@gmail.com