Caran d’Ache Fixpencil 22 Nespresso Ochre

Caran d’Ache’s Fixpencil is their legendary clutch pencil offering. While the classic Fixpencil has a plastic body, the Fixpencil 22 is made of aluminum, giving it both an added weight and a more luxurious finish. The Nespresso Fixpencil 22 is also made of aluminum, hence the 22 in the name, but it’s aluminum body is partially made from a recycled Nespresso capsule, and it comes with a lead that’s partially produced from recycled coffee grounds. Just like the previous Caran d’Ache x Nespresso 849 pens, this brand collaboration is all about recycling with class.

The front of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box. ​A recycled cardboard box, in light brown, set on a green background. There’s a cutout in the box that shows the orange coloured Fixpencil.
The front of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box.

The box that the Nespresso Fixpencil arrives in is similar to its 849 counterparts: it’s made of 100% recycled cardboard and there’s a Nespresso capsule shaped cutout in the box that shows off the colour and texture of the Fixpencil. Clever embossing and tasteful design and branding make this a superb gift to give to someone who enjoys using pencils (with a caveat that I’ll get to later). The box is the most recycled thing about the product (being 100% recycled), but at least Caran d’Ache is honest and transparent about the quantity of recycled materials inside the fixpencil and lead: 25% of each, respectively. So there is a fair bit of “greenwashing” going on here.

Back of the Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil box.

The clever design of the box continues once you open it. It really shows off the beauty of the Fixpencil design and just how vibrant and warm the orange “ochre” colour is. It glows. You can also see the subtle texture the Fixpencil has.

Gorgeous orange Fixpencil nestled in a cardboard box.

Here is my first, albeit minor, quibble with this product: it’s not ochre. It’s reddish orange. It’s mandarin. It’s anything but the yellowish brown that ochre brings to mind. I have no idea why it was so poorly named.

Fixpencil ochre? More red than yellow by far to be called that.

Caran d’Ache 849s and Fixpencils normally have very little branding on them. The Caran d’Ache brand is tucked discreetly under the clip and generally all that you see is the “Swiss made” with a white border around it just above the clip. The Nespresso collaborations are different in that Caran d’Ache adds an additional imprint to the pen/pencil: “A Recycling Story is in Your Hands”.

A recycling story (of sorts) is in your hand.

Of course the normal logos are where they usually are, with the addition of the Nespresso logo to the Caran d’Ache logo under the clip.

Logos discreet and visible.

The Fixpencil is a joy to use because of its form factor, which is just like the 849, and the wonderful finish on the pencil body, which adds subtle texture that makes the Fixpencil fun and easy to hold.

A close up on the Fixpencil’s texture.

And now we come to the worst part of this collaboration: the pencil lead. The Nespresso Fixpencil doesn’t come with the normal fabulous Caran d’Ache pencil leads. Instead it comes with a pencil lead that has 25% coffee grounds in it and is supposedly a B grade lead. It’s terrible. The lead is scratchy, so light that it writes like an F or even an H grade lead, and hard to erase. After testing in on my standard pencil testing Baron Fig notebook, I threw it out and replaced it with a standard 2B lead from my regular stash. Not recycled, but actually usable.

Terrible pencil lead in action.

Here’s a close up where you can see in the word “scratchy” where the lead actually dug into the paper.

Closeup on the scratchy writing and some lead comparisons.

The Caran d’Ache Nespresso Fixpencil is a joy to use and will make for a fabulous gift once you pair it with a box of good quality B or 2B pencil leads. It’s a beautiful take on an already great product that I just wish also included the normal Caran d’Ache lead lineup.

The Secret Garden

In the middle of London’s West End there’s a beautiful secret garden, the Phoenix Garden. Ever since I accidentally discovered it, it has been my number one favourite place in London. There’s something about the green and the peaceful quiet in the middle of one of London’s busiest areas that is mesmerizing. During the rough parts of my latest hospitalizations I shut my eyes and transported myself to my favourite bench there.

So I decided to create a very quick sketch of one of the benches there, and try to work on my plant textures. This is clearly something that I still need to work on, but it’s good to know where I started.

Watercolour sketch of a bench nestled in greenery at the side of a reddish path.
Quick sketch of a bench in the Phoenix garden

Here’s a photo of this magical place:

Skyscraper in the background, pigeon flying on the left, and green garden with a red brick path in the foreground.
The Phoenix Garden in all its glory.

Dingbats Notebook Review

During my trip to London this year I managed to buy a few Dingbats Wildlife notebooks (the elephant, tiger, hippo and deer). They appealed to me because they present a vegan friendly, fountain pen friendly journaling option, with a unique take on the classic “Moleskinesque” notebook.

Purple front cover with hippo debossing.
Front cover

So while the Dingbats A5+ Wildlife notebook has rounded corners, an elastic closure, a back pocket and a ribbon bookmark, the textured vegan faux leather cover is here to make a statement. There’s a different animal debossing and different cover colour for each animal. Currently there’s a Cream Wolf (new), Grey Elephant, Green Deer, Orange Tiger, Purple Hippo, Blue Whale, Brown Bear, Black Duck and Red Kangaroo. Once again, I got a little carried away and bought the Elephant, Deer, Tiger and Hippo – all the Dingbat notebooks that I saw in WH Smith in Heathrow Terminal 5. If I had to choose just one I would go for the hippo or the tiger, depending on how much attention I felt like drawing to myself carrying the notebook around.

Back cover with a sticker explaining everything there is to know about the notebook.
Back cover with a sticker explaining everything there is to know about the notebook

The faux leather cover has a nice texture to it, and the debossing makes it stand out from more generic faux leather notebooks that you might find in stationary shops. It’s clearly there to call attention to itself.

Hippo debossing on a purple faux leather, textured cover.
Hippo on a purple faux leather, textured cover.

The front endpaper has hippo footprints on it (they differ by animal), a “This Dingbats notebook belongs to” box to write your details in (always to that. Here’s why), the Dingbats logo and two notices: one that 2% of its UK revenue is donated to the WWF, and another that the notebook is made with FSC certified paper and vegan materials only.

Front endpaper, with notices on the bottom left, logo on the bottom right, a "this notebook belongs to" box in the middle right and a background of hippo footprints, all printed in warm grey.
Front endpaper.

The back endpaper also comes with the hippo footprint, and it has a back pocket. The Dingbats Wildlife notebook also comes with a pen holder which can hold standard pens just fine but is too small to hold most fountain pens.For a notebook that caters specifically to fountain pen users that’s a strange oversight.

The notebook has 100 gsm very smooth acid free fountain pen friendly paper. There are 96 sheets (192 pages) in the notebook and all of them are micro-perforated. The pages can have either 7mm lines, a 5mm grid, a 5mm dot grid, or be blank, but in the WH Smith that I was in the only option was lined. The lines are printed in a neutral grey that isn’t too obtrusive but is also clearly visible.

Close up of the micro-perforated paper and the grey lines on a page.
Close up of the micro-perforated paper and the grey lines.

This is an expensive notebook (around £16 per notebook), and so I wouldn’t bother using gel ink pens, rollerballs, ballpoints or pencils in it (if you want to see a test page of that, you can find it here). There are cheaper alternatives for that. The Dingbats Wildlife notebook is built for fountain pens, and it handles them very well. The paper isn’t as glossy as Rhodia paper, but it’s still silky smooth and ink takes several seconds to dry on the page. I don’t have a lot of pens inked up at the moment, and I spread the ink tests on multiple notebooks, but I can assure you that there is no feathering or bleed through with this paper, and there’ very little show through. It’s a fountain pen friendly notebook, as advertised. Here’s a small sample written with a TWSBI Eco fine nib and Diamine Inkvent Solstice, which is a very saturated ink.

Page with alphabet handwritten in black ink once in uppercase and once in lowecase with an ink smudge on the top left.
I spilled some ink at the top of the page, and that made a mess but also assured me that there really is no bleed through with fountain pen ink.

If you are looking for a fountain pen friendly, eco friendly, fun notebook, or if you want a notebook full of perforated pages, then I highly recommend the Dingbats Wildlife notebook. It’s not a cheap notebook, so if pencils are your thing, maybe look into a cheaper alternative with toothier paper.

Cutty Sark, Greenwich

When I visited London in June Greenwich ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of the trip. The place was hard hit by the pandemic, and everything that made it so special to me seemed to have been wiped out because of it. There was no vintage and antique market next to the movie theatre. There were no grandmas selling baked goods for charity in the movie theatre foyer. Nauticalia, the maritime themed shop on zero longitude, had shut down. A good third of the stores around the Greenwich Market were permanently closed, and there was a general dismal aura around the place. The Maritime Museum required pre-booking an entrance, and so not many people visited it. Greenwich is a place that needs tourists to thrive, and with a pandemic and pandemic restrictions it felt deflated, a shadow of its former, sparkling self.

What still is vibrant and lovely is the place itself, and to remind myself of its potential and of my potential to visit it again someday in better times I created a quick sketch of the road leading to the Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark ship in the background, with a circus tent before it and buildings to the left, all drawn in ink and watercolour.

Schminke and Daniel Smith watercolours, Noodler’s Lexington Grey ink, Stillman and Birn Pocket Alpha.

An Update on My Health

Since my last post on the subject about a month has passed, and boy did a lot happen during that month.

The super traumatic biopsy I went through didn’t yield results, so I had to be hospitalized again (for the third time) to get a mediastinal biopsy under full anaesthesia. My first ever operation.

The procedure went well, but my recovery took more time than planned, and the results of the biopsy took two weeks to arrive (hello, Grey’s Anatomy with your very realistic “8 minutes for a biopsy result”). By the time the results arrived I had more and more difficulty breathing, to the point where on the day of their arrival I came into the hospital to be hospitalized for the fourth time, this time because I just couldn’t breath.

I never thought about my breath so much as I did during those few days. I was connected to oxygen and pumped full of steroids and still had to consciously think and struggle for each breath, for every inhale and exhale. You can’t talk, you can’t sleep, you can barely eat, you just breath, breath, breath.

Luckily the biopsy results were better than any of us could anticipate: I have Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s very treatable, and though it requires chemotherapy, the course is less intense than I had anticipated.

Two days after my biopsy results arrived I got my first chemotherapy treatment (ABVD, for those interested), and an hour and a half after treatment I could breath independently. I didn’t need oxygen. I could speak in whole sentences. I could be released home.

View of succulents and other plants with the sea in the background.
I have to replace my runs with walks now, but luckily I live in a place with nice walking views.

I have a chemotherapy treatment every two weeks. I’m slowly rebuilding my routine around those treatments, and so hope to start posting more often now that my life isn’t a complete chaos of hospital/home/hospital/home. There are things that I won’t be able to do for a long while (such as running, which is a heartache), but luckily most of my hobbies and all of my work are things that I can do indoors, at a computer or a desk.

Take a good, long, deep breath for me and appreciate it. It really is precious.

Moleskine: I am New York Limited Edition Notebook

I haven’t posted a Moleskine limited edition review in a while, mostly because I stopped journaling when my mother was diagnosed with a new kind of cancer in the beginning of the year. Once I realized that I had cancer I chose the nicest Moleskine limited edition that I could see, grabbed a Kara’s Kustoms Render K and started writing.

This is the notebook I chose:

Photo of the cover of the "I am New York" limited edition Moleskine notebook.
Moleskine I am New York

The Moleskine “I am New York” is the second of the “I am” series that I’ve tried out (the first being “I am London” which I bought in the Moleskine Covent Garden store). There’s another notebook which I haven’t been able to purchase, the “I am Milan” one. In any case the cover design on these notebooks is stunning, with a vibrant illustration of an iconic architectural aspect of the city they represent. In the case of New York, it’s Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge illustration on the front cover of the notebook, with yellow band on.
Front Cover Illustration.

The covers are made of fabric, which Moleskine has excelled at in recent years. This one is no different – the cover is very well made.

The spine. Can you guess where these photos were taken?

Here’s a look at the cloth covers without the yellow paper band. You can see how well the elastic band’s colour and the ribbon bookmark fit with the design even though lavender may not have been the most obvious choice.

Moleskine I am New York front cover without the yellow band. Colours are mostly grey and orange.
Front cover.

Here’s the back cover and ribbon:

Moleskine I am New York back cover without the yellow bookmark, and with the lavender ribbon bookmark showing.
Back cover with ribbon bookmark.

Here’s the front endpaper. It features the New York Times, a take away coffee and a bagel on a brown paper bag. Remember the bagel, we’ll be returning to that later on.

Front endpaper which features the New York Times, a take away coffee and a bagel on a brown paper bag. Remember the bagel, we'll be returning to that later on.
Front endpaper.

The back endpaper features a very imaginative summer scene in a city park, with various denizens of the city enjoying a lounge on the park lawn.

The back endpaper features a very imaginative summer scene in a city park, with various denizens of the city enjoying a lounge on the park lawn.
Back endpaper.

The Moleskine “I am New York” comes with a lovely postcard in the notebook’s back pocket, with a drawing by Carlo Stanga(who also illustrated the front cover) titled: “Where Fifth Ave Starts”.

Postcard with a watercolour drawing of Fifth Avenue.
Where Fifth Ave Starts postcard.

It’s a functional postcard, but I’d just hang it as a small work of art in my cubicle or on my fridge.

Back of postcard.
Functional postcard if you need it.

The B-side of the paper band has a bagels recipe (remember the bagel from the front endpaper?). I haven’t tried it but it’s well drawn and a cute addition to this already great notebook.

I’m going to be using the Moleskine “I am New York” as my daily journal through these next few tough months, and I can’t think of a better notebook for the job. It’s a beautiful notebook that makes me smile whenever I pick it up.

I Have a Tumour

I debated whether to write this post or not, and whether to write it now or wait for later, when I know which tumour I have. In the end I decided to start a post and write what comes out, and not try to overthink it.

I have a tumour in my chest cavity (mediastinal). Back in February this year I was forced to stop running for about two months due to a rather serious bout of Plantar Fasciitis. Due to Covid restrictions I had delayed replacing my insoles, and this was the price pay. After two months of rest, stretching and a course of anti-inflammatory pills I felt better and in the beginning of April I started running again.

Or at least I tried.

I had shortness of breath once I started, to the point where I had to stop running a few times during my run. I thought that it was due to me not running for almost two months. But the runs after that first one didn’t get better and after a few more I went to the doctor.

My GP said that my lungs were clear and he couldn’t hear anything. I told him that I was wheezing at night (at this point I was), and that I found running impossible and walking increasingly difficult. He said that it was a virus that was going around, and prescribed something to help with congestion. It was a 10 day course of tablets, and it did nothing to help with my shortness of breath or my wheezing and coughs.

I knew that something was seriously wrong, and thought that at the age of 39 I may have developed asthma. At this point it was time to fly to London, so I took my mother’s inhaler and went on the trip. I have no idea how I made it through 13-15,000 steps per day for 12 days there, but I did.

Once I returned I went to see my GP again, this time demanding a referral to a spirometry test and and to a lung specialist. Last Thursday I took the spirometry test and the results were abysmal. I had 35% lung capacity, and I scared the technician enough that she tried to do everything possible to get me to see a lung specialist that day. She didn’t succeed but my family managed to book me a to a lung doctor that day. He said that it wasn’t asthma, but he had no idea what it was. I needed to get a CT done.

I took a spirometry test at 13:40. I saw a lung doctor at 16:30. At 18:30 I had a CT angio done (my first CT ever). At 19:10 I had the results in my inbox.

A large mediastinal tumour. Possibly lymphoma.

Me, a healthy, non-smoking, non-drinking, physically active 39 year old.

I was admitted to hospital on Friday, and had a series of tests done, including a super painful, super traumatic biopsy on Sunday. I was released home for a few days of rest on Tuesday, and now, Saturday night, I’m back in hospital waiting for my very first PET CT on Sunday morning.

The hospital

I have no idea how I’m coping. For now I’m in a cloud of uncertainly and with zero control over my life as a phalanx of very good doctors try to figure out exactly what we’re dealing with here. It’s a tumor for sure, the question is which kind exactly. I’m moving around in my life as if it is someone else’s.

I’m back to journalling, after a break due to my mom’s health problems, Covid and several other personal issues. Recording everything as it happens has helped me deal with things. Analogue tools are still best for processing, and even though I would have loved to luxuriate with a Parker 51 on some Tomoe River Paper, I know the practicalities of hospitals enough to use a Karas Kustoms Render K with my favourite refill (Uni-ball UMR-85) and a Moleskine instead.

Drop + Marvel Infinity Saga Custom Keycap

I’ve been using mechanical keyboards since the early 2000s. At first it was old IBM keyboards that I used while I was in the army, and they were gloriously loud little tanks. Then I bought a few cherry switch mechanical keyboards, until I settled on the tenkeyless Code keyboard with cherry MX clears as my keyboard of choice. I use SA keycaps on it, and after spending way too much on keycaps, I’ve settled on three sets that I rotate between regularly (SA Pulse, SA Carbon and SA Dasher/Dancer). Although I’ve eyed custom keycaps before, their price made me balk before buying.

Until I saw the Drop + Marvel Infinity Saga custom keycap, specifically the Captain America’s Shield & Mjolnir keycap. Yes, it was expensive, but I decided that if I was ever going to splurge on a custom keycap, then this is the one that I want to splurge on.

It arrived yesterday, after a few months of waiting, and it is glorious. I rarely care about packaging, but this keycap came in a box not far from a jewellery box:

The outer box.

The outer packaging of the box has a carbon fibre like print on it, with the Captain America shield, the Drop + Marvel logo and the Marvel studios “The Infinity Saga” title on it.

The Infinity Saga

There’s a ribbon tab that allows you to easily pull the box open. Even the black box underneath the outer wrapper is elegantly made and has the Drop + Marvel logo embossed on it.

Very impressive packaging.

Inside is the keycap itself. It includes Captain America’s broken shield, Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer that the Captain wields, on a background of a broken brick wall and debris. It really evokes the climatic battle of “Avengers: Endgame”.

The keycap is heavier than I expected, but then again, unlike normal keycaps which are hollow, this one is entirely filled with resin. There are a lot of metallic elements in the design, which means that it catches and reflects the light very well.

Side view

The best view is of course the top view, which shows the shield and hammer and debris design the best:

Top view

Even the views that you are less likely to see are well designed and crafted.

Back view

The reverse side of the keycap isn’t as elegantly made, with some resin and paint spillage evident. But that doesn’t matter, as this is never going to be a side of the keycap you look at.

Here is the keycap on my Code keyboard (no backlighting as the keyboard was disconnected as I was replacing its keycaps):

And here it is in all its glory:

And with the full keyboard layout:

I am so glad that I decided to purchase this custom keycap. Yes, with the shipping and taxes that I had to pay for it it came close to buying a full keycap set, which is why I don’t see many custom keycaps in my future. However, this specific keycap is worth it to me, as seeing the shield and Mjolnir gives me a little thrill every time I see them, both because of my memories of the films and because of the sheer craftsmanship invested in the keycap itself.

London: A Trip to a City Emerging From a Pandemic

I was in London for the past two weeks, and it was a strange and unique experience. Until Covid-19 I used to visit London once a year, every year. Once the travel restrictions changed so that I didn’t have to quarantine on the way there or on the way back, I decided to book a trip. It ended up being a good but somewhat bittersweet trip, with a lot of interesting new caveats and restrictions that I had to take into account.

Kensington Gardens on a sunny Sunday with very few people outside.
Kensington Gardens on a sunny Sunday with very few people outside.
  • I was travelling to London from a Green List country. That meant taking a Covid test 72 hours before the flight, filling a Locator Form, and taking a Covid test within 2 days of arrival. On the way back I had to take a Covid test 72 hours before my flight back, as well as another test upon arrival. These were all PCR tests in my case, which were uncomfortable to take (first time I took a Covid test) but not painful. They were expensive, and dealing with them did add an added layer of hassle to the trip. In London I bought a test package from Randox, using the British Airways code to bring the price down (it was still much, much more expensive than local tests here – 60 GBP per test after a 50% discount), and dropped the test at a clinic near the British Museum. I would have said that the experience was smooth, except one of the kits that I ordered had a test tube that wasn’t sealed properly, which meant that all the preserving liquid inside leaked. I got a replacement from Randox, but it was a hassle to get them on the phone and get my test kit replaced.
  • London is not for the spontaneous at the moment. You have to book every museum visit in advance. There are fewer musical and theatre tickets on sale as social distancing requirements are still in effect, and there are less show on, which means you need to book well in advance and there is no lining up for day-of tickets. Exhibitions are also at limited capacity, which means that for the popular ones at the V&A, for instance, you will have to book more than a month in advance. Concerts are the same deal, and many churches no longer offer concerts due to social distancing requirements. If you want to see or hear anything, you’re going to have to plan it out to the minute well before your trip.
  • Places are closed or have closed down. I expected that to some extent, as this was case here as well, but I was taken by surprise by the amount of closures, considering just how much support (relatively) the UK government provided to citizens during the lockdowns. Antique markets seem to have taken most of the brunt, with Portobello being a gutted (many arcades are half or three quarters shuttered), Spitalfields reverted mostly to crafts and food, and Greenwich losing one of its markets. A lot of stores in the most expensive and touristy parts of town (Covent Garden, Oxford/Regent Street) are closed and papered over with posters etc so you won’t notice as much. Some have moved to places with lower rents, most have shut down.
Socially distanced performance of Six: The Musical. Chairs with the cardboard sign remained empty. About half the chairs in the picture are marked with signs.
Socially distanced performance of Six: The Musical. Chairs with the cardboard sign remained empty.
  • There are upsides to visiting London now: there are much fewer tourists, which means much fewer lines to things, accommodation prices are lower, and as long as you book a ticket in advance, museums and attractions are emptier. There’s no shortage of cabs after a show, and you usual can find a place to sit in any restaurant you want to.
  • A lot of places have moved to contactless payment only (i.e. no cash), and restaurants are among the most aggressive of the bunch in terms of movement to no cash payment. In many places you will order your meal via an app or a website, and in almost everywhere you’ll be required to scan in via the NHS covid tracker app, or provide your personal details for tracking purposes. If that’s something you feel uncomfortable with, I understand, but do know that you are in one of the most surveilled cities in the world when you’re in London, so maybe it’s not the city for you.
  • Masks and disinfectants everywhere. Not much else to say about that.
  • Museums and larger stores have designated entrances and exits now, which means that you can’t go in through any door that you want.
Trafalgar Square deserted.
Trafalgar Square deserted.
  • London is still London though: there are a lot of interesting things to see and do, especially if you plan ahead. We saw the refurbished wings of the National Gallery (they take you through one of three set tours across the gallery, or you can do more than one tour. It’s not a guided tour – just a path that they want patrons to follow). It’s well worth the visit. We saw the Alice exhibition in V&A and it was wonderful, and the Fantastic Beasts exhibition the Natural History Museum, and it was nice, especially for children (very interactive).
Covent Garden. very few people outside.
Covent Garden. I have never seen it so empty before.
  • We also heard a jazz concert in St Martin in the Fields, heard Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall, and even managed to see Princess Diana’s dress at Kensington Palace. All in all it was a good, if peculiar trip.
Fantastic Beasts

The Herb Garden, Greenwich, London

My brush got frazzled on the way which made it tough to use. I fixed it later that night with some hot water.

London is weird right now, with Covid-19 measures still in effect and very few tourists around. A lot of places are closed or have closed down. I still love the city, though.