Two inexpensive notebooks

Flickr set

For other residents of the United Kingdom, here is a quick note about two inexpensive notebooks to be found in high street stationery shops. (Those outside of the UK might see these around but it probably isn’t worth ordering them specially.)

I still have the Midori Traveller’s Notebook for general journalling but I’ve felt recently that I also need a separate book to hold proper full-scale drafts for a couple of projects I am working on, so I decided to pick up a couple of bag-friendly options from my local WHSmiths. I’ve noticed that there are a lot more notebooks recently that claim to have high-quality paper, 80gsm+ without show-through, but I’m never quite sure how they will feel in practice. Black n Red make some excellent notebooks structurally with 90gsm paper and tough binding, but I’ve never got on with their paper – I like it for calligraphy, where I am putting a lot of ink down, but for general writing it’s too shiny and doesn’t absorb ink as I would like. (Also, Black n Red paper doesn’t like iron gall inks, even the mild FP-friendly modern varieties like Lamy Blue Black and R&K Scabiosa; they leave a very irregular line. I do like these inks.)

The two I got were spiral-bound A5-ish notebooks, the Oxford A5 recycled and the Pukka Pad “Jotta”, and both of them are surprisingly good. (Both £2.99 by the way.) Both are spiral bound, which I dislike but which is manageable. The Flickr set shows quite a lot of the detail, but here is a summary: both sets have…

  • spiral binding, with the same wire loop diameter despite their differing numbers of pages
  • card covers, reasonably durable probably but not heavy
  • wide ruling. For journalling I dislike wide ruling or ruling at all, but for writing drafts, it leaves lots of space for editing and annotating.
  • a complete lack of bleed- and show-through from ink on one side of the paper to the other
  • micro-perforations on the left to allow the pages to be removed easily without having to rip them out of the binding
  • the same height of page

The Oxford has:

  • 140 pages / 70 leaves
  • 90gsm “Optik” recycled paper. Yes, I know, “recycled” still makes me think of horrible fibrous stuff only useful for writing on with a pencil, but this really is nothing like that. Lovely and smooth with no feathering from inks, but not all shiny like Black n Red paper.
  • A red margin and punched holes
  • Slightly wider pages than the Pukka Pad. The Oxford’s pages, perforation to left edge, are the same width as the Pukka Pad’s from left to right paper edges including binding.
  • A large margin between the top of the page and the first ruling.

The Pukka Pad has:

  • 200 pages / 100 leaves
  • 80gsm paper that with my wettest pen showed very, very slight feathering. If I wasn’t utterly anal about these issues I expect I would not have noticed, and it doesn’t put me off general use.
  • No margin or punched holes.
  • A very large margin between the top of the page and the first ruling. I am not sure why, but it’s huge.

There really isn’t a lot between them. On the one hand I think that the Oxford has slightly better paper, and the pages are punched with a margin which makes annotating and filing easier. On the other hand, the Pukka Pad’s paper is perfectly good and some might prefer pages without holes or margins. I’m impressed with the quality of both of them, and would happily use either. I am not sure about larger versions (both companies sell a variety of notebooks up to A4) but if anyone would like to send me any free samples I would be happy to test them….

Jinhao “Missile” compact fountain pen

(Flickr slideshow)

Whilst on eBay I decided to risk the enormous sum of $4.90 on the pictured Jinhao Missile fountain pen, delivered from Hong Kong by this seller who appears to deal in smoking accessories and fountain pens. This seems like a line in stock that would be approved of by many writers, perhaps with the addition of hipflasks.

I do have a few compact fountain pens, including two OHTO Tasches (which are terrific pens). However, they all take standard international cartridges rather than filling directly. I do have quite a few cartridges around but all of my favourite inks are in bottles, and the Missile is a squeeze-filler. It is possible to fill cartridges from ink bottles using a syringe, but it’s a bit of a pain. Anyway, it wasn’t exactly a huge monetary outlay.

Like the previous pen I ordered from Hong Kong, postage took around two weeks. I’d forgotten about the order when it arrived, which made it a nice surprise. Perhaps I should order myself more products with long delivery times; it would be like having Random Stationery Birthdays.

Positive points

  • Reliable fine nib (i.e. “European” EF or finer – about the same as my Pilot Décimo). Neither particularly wet nor particularly dry. Worked well with the inks that I tried it with – Diamine Oxblood, Poppy Red and Umber – with good flow, no notable issues with drying out.
  • Definitely very compact indeed. It’s around the size of a Fisher Space Pen, and slightly slimmer. Light, but with a metal body that seems durable.
  • Attractive finish; they come in various different colours.
  • Fills directly from a bottle, which I consider a plus point. There is no cartridge-filling option, so you would have to be sure to fill it regularly, but I plan to use it with red ink for editing and annotations where it’s unlikely to run out in a hurry.
  • Filling via squeezing the bar on the metal filler sheath isn’t very effective – the sac never gets very full. However, this sheath slides off easily, and squeezing the sac itself is much more effective. Some rapid squeezes can fill it pretty much completely, with just a few small air bubbles. The nib being as fine as it is, the pen won’t get through that amount in a hurry.
  • Extremely inexpensive.

Negative points

  • Obviously, if you don’t like very fine nibs, this is not the pen you are looking for.
  • It being very small does mean that it would be a bit of a strain to write with it for any length of time. Also it won’t hold very much ink. On the other hand, tiny fountain pens aren’t meant for transcribing encyclopedias with.
  • Posting the cap, i.e. putting it on the end of the pen, has to be done quite firmly or the cap falls off in use. Not a huge problem.


A quality and very compact pen for a very good price. If you are a regular user of bottled ink – and you should be – and want a pocket pen, this would be an ideal one to try.

Notes on the Midori Traveller’s Notebook

A few thoughts after having used it as my standard journal for a few weeks:

  • I don’t actually use it while travelling. Not that I travel much anyway but I can’t see that it would be all that preferable when doing so – it is durable yes, but the flexible cover would make it awkward to write in when there isn’t a convenient flat surface, which is more common when travelling.

  • The plain paper refills are my favourite.

  • The extra-thin paper does take ink very well, but I had two problems with it. Firstly, ink looks a little odd on it; it seems to dry with a little edge around the letters rather than shading as it does with normal paper. Secondly and more importantly ink is much more prone to smearing, even after days of drying. This may be unavoidable if it isn’t going to bleed, but I found it annoying enough to stop using the refill after ten pages or so.

  • On the subject of annoyances, if anything is likely to make me stop using the thing, the way that the pages don’t lie flat is likely to be it. Particularly as you approach or leave the middle of the book and the cord starts to force the edges of one side up even more. Having a secondary refill in there doesn’t help either. This is a basic issue with the design and I doubt there’s any getting around it – I will just have to decide whether it is annoying enough to overcome all of the plus points.