Wednesday, 31 March 2010

All about a Pencil...

Despite the many thousands of words I have written over the years very few have been written using a pencil.

I have never felt confident gripping round or hexagonal pencils and with poor handwriting to start with that just makes matters worse. I was given a pen / propelling pencil set by my friends George and Chris for my 21st birthday present and despite using the pen on and off ever since I never felt the pencil was weighted quite right.

Added to which, like most propelling pencil leads and cheap pencils, the leads were HB. HB is a balance between hard and soft (H meaning hard and B meaning black; a system introduced in the early 1900s by an English manufacturer called Brookman). The various graphite pencil grades are achieved by altering the proportion of graphite to clay: the more clay the harder the pencil. I prefer a 2B pencil – it is softer and darker.   Two pencils of the same grade by different manufacturers will not necessarily make a mark of identical tone nor have the same hardness. The 2B of one manufacturer may be the 4B of another. So if you are sketching it is best to get a set from one manufacturer rather than build them up from occasional purchases.

When I was young we called coloured pencils ‘crayons’. Nowadays that seems reserved for wax or oil based colours.

I have a couple of sets of coloured pencils but one of the most fascinating I have seen is one of Richard’s which has a number of different colours blended in the one pencil.

A pencil is constructed of a narrow, solid pigment core inside a protective casing. The case prevents the core from breaking or staining the user’s hand. The Italians first thought of wooden cases. They did this at first by hollowing out a stick of juniper wood. Shortly thereafter, a superior technique was discovered: two wooden halves were carved, a graphite stick inserted, and the two halves then glued together—essentially the same method in use to this day. The favoured timber for pencils was originally Juniper or Red Cedar as they were aromatic and did not splinter when sharpened. In the early 1900s supplies of Red Cedar were dwindling so that pencil manufacturers were forced to recycle the wood from cedar fences and barns to maintain supplies. Britain went as far as discouraging the use of pencil sharpeners to reduce unnecessary sharpening. It was soon discovered that Incense Cedar, when dyed and perfumed to resemble Red Cedar, was a suitable alternative. Over 14 billion pencils are manufactured worldwide annually and the range of woods has increased accordingly..

During the Napoleonic Wars, France was unable to import the pure graphite sticks from the British mines – at that time the only known source in the world for solid graphite. In response, in 1795, Nicholas Jacques Conté - an officer in Napoleon's army - discovered a method of mixing powdered graphite with clay and forming the mixture into rods that were then fired in a kiln.   The name Conté is still to be found today.  Twenty or thirty years later the Americans devised the idea of hexagonal and octagonal pencils made using circular saws and in the 1860s the real mass production of pencils began.

In 1858 Hymen Lipman received the first American patent for attaching an eraser to the end of a pencil. In 1862 Lipman sold his patent to Joseph Reckendorfer for $100,000. Reckendofer went on to sue the pencil manufacturer Faber-Castell for infringement but in 1875, the United States Supreme Court ruled against him.

The majority of pencils made in the United States are painted yellow, a tradition which allegedly began in 1890 when an Austro-Hungarian introduced a brand intended to be the world's best and most expensive pencil. At a time when most pencils were either painted in dark colours or not at all, this pencil was yellow. Other companies soon followed suit. But not all countries favour yellow pencils, German and Brazilian pencils, for example, are often green, based on the trademark colours of Faber-Castell. In southern European countries pencils tend to be dark red or black with yellow lines while in Australia, red with black bands at one end are popular.

The pencil above is not a typical pencil - it is a Grease Pencil. It can write on virtually any surface (including glass, plastic, metal and photographs). The most commonly found grease pencils are encased in paper which can be peeled off.

Now, after all these years and using so many different pencils, I have found a pencil that I really like. Made by Faber-Castell of Germany it is called the Grip 2001 and comes in 2B. Not only does it have tiny rubberised dots to help one grip it but it is also triangular (technically a Reuleaux Triangle) . Considering how most of us hold our pencils I’m surprised more of them don’t come in triangular shape.

Faber-Castell are conscious of the environmental impact of producing wooden pencils and use wood from trees specially planted on sandy soil in Brazil. Their plantations provide a home to around 178 species of bird, 36 mammals and 40 species of reptile and are managed to have as little impact as possible on this wildlife. They have fifteen factories around the world and do not employ children in any of them.

And that, dear fellow bloglings, is a most verbose way of me telling you I’ve found a pencil with which I enjoy writing.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Black and White Tuesday - Days Out

Today’s Black and White Tuesday Theme is Days Out

My great uncle Wardie (James William Warden Spencer) in his car at Lower Peover, Cheshire, summer 1927. In the back are Mum and her cousin Muriel Lane. Any idea what the car was, GB?

Eileen Wildman (Mum’s cousin), Mum and Uncle Eric c 1927 in Delamere Forest, Cheshire. Note that the car is left hand drive.

And it has a super horn!

The staff from Mum’s office (The Insurance Committee) on a day out to Blackpool, 1928. Mum took the photo so she is not on it. Don’t you just love the 1920s hats in all these photos?

This was a day out in Mum and Uncle Eric's cycling days - the Horsehoe Pass 1929.

And just to finish off - here's an odd photo that is a bit of a mystery. It is labelled the Revd. W R Owen, Rhewl, Ruthin. I’m not sure why he featured in Mum’s album but I like the car!

Monday, 29 March 2010

Happy Monday - Choosing a password

After my joke about the nurse the other week you'll be beginning to think I have some sort of fixation. I haven't, honest. I just couldn't resist passing on this e-mail I got from my friend John McHale...

John's wife was helping him set up his computer and, at the appropriate point in the process, she told him that he would now need to enter a password. Something he could remember easily and would use each time he had to log on.

John was a bit bored by the process and, feeling in a rather amorous mood, figured he would try for the shock effect to bring this to his wife's attention. So, when the computer asked him to enter his password, he paused for effect, then letter by letter, with his wife watching over his shoulder, he keyed in ......


His wife fell off her chair laughing when the computer replied:


Sunday, 28 March 2010

Something for the Weekend

For those Brits who watch “Something for the Weekend “ I should mention the change of personnel. At Christmas I was upset that Amanda Hamilton was leaving.

I couldn’t envisage anyone filling her shoes and keeping up the threesome rapport with Tim Lovejoy the male presenter and chef Simon Rimmer. I’m delighted to say that Louise Redknapp has been an inspired choice by the BBC. She is a lovely character and has fitted in so well. She’s even learning to cook though husband Jamie was hardly encouraging when he described her latest offering as ‘Awful’.

One thing Amanda said before her departure was how sorry she felt for anyone having to listen to Tim and Simon talk football all the time. Louise can never escape it – Jamie is an ex-Liverpool and England soccer player!

Saturday, 27 March 2010


There is the prospect of another fairly boring season in Formula One with hardly a single overtaking manoeuvre in the first race at Bahrain a fortnight ago. But F1 is about so much more than who wins the races. It is about the beauty of the cars - their shapes and liveries; the variety of the helmets; the personalities of the drivers; the politics of the ‘sport’; and, this year, about the arrival of new teams in the pits. One team that is resurrecting an old name is the Lotus team – returning after a gap of 16 years. In addition to having had some of the best drivers of all time Team Lotus have also have some of the best liveries.

1950s Lotus sports car

1960 Monaco – Stirling Moss
In 1960 Stirling Moss recorded the first victory for a Lotus car at Monaco in his Lotus 18 entered by the independent Rob Walker Racing Team.   The first Formula One victory for Team Lotus came when Innes Ireland won the 1961 United States Grand Prix.

The 1967 Jim Clark Lotus – one of the finest GP cars ever seen?

Graham Hill in the Gold Leaf Lotus
In 1968 sponsorship arrived in Formula One and Lotus were the first to adopt sponsor’s colours .

Emerson Fittipaldi won nine races for Lotus

From 1974 to the mid ‘80s Lotus ran in the John Player Special livery – one of the most famous liveries in Formula One.

The most famous livery in Formula One and the most famous helmet – Ayrton Senna in a JPS Lotus

The Lotus had 79 race wins over its 38 seasons. Of these Ayrton Senna had 6; Elio de Angelis 2; Mario Andretti 11; Ronnie Peterson 9; Gunnar Nilsson 1; Emerson Fittipaldi 9; Jochen Rindt 6; Graham Hill 4; Jo Siffert 1; Innes Ireland 1; Stirling Moss 4; and Jim Clark 25.

The livery from the Johnny Herbert days of the early 1990s.
Among the other drivers who drove a Lotus over the years were Phil Hill, John Surtees, Jack Brabham, Nigel Mansell, Jacky Ickx, Phil Hill, Johnny Herbert, Mika Hakkinen, Mike Hailwood, Piers Courage, Martin Donnelly, Dan Gurney, John Watson, Jackie Oliver, Nelson Piquet, Derek Warwick, and Alessandro Zanardi.

The new 2010 Lotus - back to the green and yellow of the Jim Clark days.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Friday My Town Shoot-out – Bridges in Black and White

This week's subject for the Friday My Town Shoot-out is Bridges (in black and white) chosen by Elaine Dale.

This is called the bridge Across the Atlantic and joins the islands of Lewis and Great Bernera.

This is, effectively, another bridge across an arm of the Atlantic being the over the menai Straits joining Anglesey to North Wales. (Photo by my uncle E S Body).

And another Scottish bridge - this is the Bridge to the Isle of Skye.

These two bridges that are almost hidden in the undergrowth.

And a couple of Cornish bridges - including an ancient clapper bridge.

If you would like to see other members' shoot-outs please go to the link page.

To learn more about the Friday My Town Shoot-out why not pay a visit to the
home blog.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Wonderful World Wednesday

What a wonderful world we live in...
(These are not my photos - they arrived in an e-mail so I don't know who should be acknowledged for them. I hope they'll not mind me using them to show an apsect of our wonderful world).

Even in a job as mundane as planting rice a creative spirit cannot be suppressed.

You have to scroll down and watch as a picture develops as the rice grows.

Rice-paddy art was started there in 1993 as a local revitalization project, an idea that grew from meetings of the village committees.    Stunning crop art has sprung up across rice fields in Japan , but this is no alien creation. The designs have been cleverly planted.

Farmers creating the huge displays use no ink or dye.

Instead, different color rice plants have been precisely and strategically arranged and grown in the paddy fields. Closer to the image, the careful placement of the thousands of rice plants in the paddy fields can be seen.

As summer progresses and the plants shoot up, the detailed artwork begins to emerge.

A Sengoku warrior on horseback has been created from hundreds of thousands of rice plants.

The colours are created by using different varieties. This photo was taken in Inakadate , Japan .

Smaller works of crop art can be seen in other rice-farming areas of Japan such as this image of Doraemon and deer dancers. The farmers create the murals by planting little purple and yellow-leafed Kodaimai rice along with their local green-leafed Tsugaru, a Roman variety, to create the coloured patterns in the time between planting and harvesting in September.

The murals in Inakadate cover 15,000 square meters of paddy fields. From ground level, the designs are invisible, and viewers have to climb the mock castle tower of the village office to get a glimpse of the work.

The different varieties of rice plants grow alongside each other to create the masterpieces. In the first nine years, the village office workers and local farmers grew a simple design of Mount Iwaki every year. But their ideas grew more complicated and attracted more attention.

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