Notes from the John Harvard Library

John Harvard was a Southwark native and if you look around in Southwark his name does pop up. I particularly enjoy the way that this happens.

The building / chapel / library / phone box / house of ill repute will have a sign up that says something like: “This [thing] is named after John Harvard, a local man who left Southwark to go to America and then founded a university.” It’s this combination of celebrating the man while being utterly dismissive of his achievements that is so exquisitely and ridiculously British it makes me feel all fuzzy inside. Let’s also not forget that although it’s been hit by the gentrification mallet in my lifetime, for almost its entire history Southwark was considered the grubby, poor, smelly side of town. It was Southwark that made Charles Dickens look about and say “Damn! Bitch, I gotta write this shit down!” Who could possibly walk away?

I had a couple of hours to kill so I homed in on the nearest library which was the John Harvard Library. It’s a run of the mill public library in an area with very rich people and very poor people, which effectively means the rich stay away. It’s a good place for homeless people to drink tea and charge their phones, for a few teenagers to study and for a lot of children to be cheaply entertained. It was too loud for me and I ended up running off to Charing Cross Library instead.

So… this combination of American and British and stuff reminds me of Staples? Maybe? Staples came across the ocean from America, hung about a bit and then died. Same thing, other direction, although I believe it’s still limping on in the US. For a seamless transition into talking about paper? SHUT UP IT WAS SEAMLESS.

The stuff is still available online at the moment, although I don’t imagine it will be forever. Staples have a smallish range of disc-filler notepads called Arc. I say smallish because although the website will lure you along with photos that suggest a huge range of exciting looking options can be found, it’s actually very limited – probably due to the winding down of operations in the UK.

The discs and covers are flimsy and plastic but I actually quite like that. There are leather covers available but while I don’t have a total blanket ban on leather in my life I do try to avoid it wherever possible because I would not be able to get past the “nice notebook; shame about the dead animal stretched over it” element. Unfortunately when it comes to high-end notebooks and pen cases leather is ubiquitous. Plastic also comes with its own issues, of course.

Is the paper any good? Well, it isn’t available in Seyes ruled, which is a shame. But since I have the punch I can print my own as needed. Nonetheless I pouted at it. I did my best Talent Show Judge Glare. I told that paper that I know paper and I know what I don’t like. And I prepared myself for disappointment. And then I took out two of my more challenging nibs. My Parker Duofold is named Bingy Bongy Boongy Bongy and has a nib the size of Winchester and smoothly and classily he puts out a gallon of ink per centimetre of writing. My 1940s Conway Stewart is named Will (which is short for We Will Write Them On The Beaches), is a flexy lil’ devil and fears no paper. Would it bleed? Feather? Sheen? LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT IT MR GUMBY.

I was almost annoyed at how well it did. It’s a good respectable 90gsm. No bleeding or feathering and a sheen that rang out from both inks as though I was writing on Tomoe River. Nitrogen Blue is a sheenbeast of course, but Miruai’s sheen is very subtle and doesn’t always come out to play at all. It’s not as smooth as some papers and there’s a little more feedback than I like but that kinda feels like looking for something to dislike. WHICH IS WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING ANYWAY.

Verdict: I like this thing. But it’s a moot point as I’ll almost certainly trade the paper in for Clairefontaine unless they bring out a Seyes version which seems unlikely.

Gershwin today I think.

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