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  • A Fleeting Ripple

sunshine: penco a5 college ruled notebook

The train sways lightly from side to side as it approaches the station. First, there are only two sets of tracks, then they multiply to become many, and then more. At last, it stops at the station, a bit above the pavement. People take a big step down, swaying side to side as they try to find their balance with their heavy luggages in their hands. Some are more practiced, and with lighter bags, they brace themselves before the step. Then, others step up into the train. They stumble around the narrow stairs up and the curving stairs down, trying to find a place to sit while the train’s whistle blows for the last time. Just like that, the train starts to sway once more. The many tracks become two sets again, and the scenery changes from busy roads to drab, brown rooftops to farmland.

Today is a busy day. Today, I’m going to be working, on my feet, the whole day. But today, I’ll also be enjoying a long train ride, cutting the country almost halfway through. I watched the sun rise in the train, the rich indigo of the dawn leaving its place to the steel grey sky. The sun is far, far away, a source of a warm glow in the distance. To accompany me on this journey, I only have one notebook with me. It is its last journey, only a few pages left in it. After this, it’ll enjoy a long, well-earned rest in my shelves until I move. I’ll go through it while moving, decide if it is important to me enough to keep. It is the cycle of a notebook for me, used for a time and then forgotten until it has to be remembered again.

The notebook is the Penco A5 college ruled notebook. Maybe it’s the name, maybe it is all the other reviews and blogs I’ve read, but when I hear “Penco” the only thing I think about are pens. Not notebooks. My relationship with notebooks has always been like that. I’m almost always thinking about which pen I’m using, which ink fits it the best for the task I have ahead, but rarely about the notebook or the notepad I’m actually writing on. If a pen-ink-paper combination is spreading a lot, feathering, bleeding, my first thought is to change the ink or the pen.

Not the paper.

I expect paper to just behave, write good, be forgotten about while I’m enjoying a beautiful ink on the page or a lovely pen in my hand. Getting a consistently good writing experience is easy once you know what you’re looking for; what you like in ink, pen, paper. I, personally, like to think that I have a pretty good idea about the type of inks and pens I enjoy.

Not the paper.

It is utterly a mystery to me. I know about tooth, smoothness, softness. I know about Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Tomoe River, Oxford Optik, Midori. That’s pretty much it. I trust the brand and I hope for the best.

On the other hand, because I don’t really know what I’m looking for in paper, I end up buying a lot of different notebooks to try out, even though I have some idea about how good (bad) they’ll be for fountain pens.

The reason I was drawn to this specific notebook was the colour. I got it form Misc. in Amsterdam, where they had arranged the tables according to colour at the time. This one was on a table full of bright yellows. It is a bright yellow notebook, after all. I ended up buying it mostly because it said “HIGH GRADE SELECTED PAPER” in capital letters at the front.

Spoiler: don’t buy the marketing. Please.

It’s a double-ring bound notebook. It didn’t get thrown around too often, and the rings turned out to be sturdy. My expectations for ring-bound notebooks is low, the rings tend to bend or break easily, tearing out papers in my bag. This is better. No accidentally torn pages, no rings that have been bent open. The cardboard covers held up pretty decently as well, especially the yellow did not fade or got covered in black scuff marks.

I liked the design of this notebook. It reminds me of mid-century tin cans from United States. A modern-retro feel. How we look back from 21st century to the 20th. There is a lot of writing, not all of it making a lot of sense. The most confusing one is the 6 1/2 and 8 1/4. What are they? It turns out, they are the inch sizes of the notebook. Though it is 7mm ruled. My SI unit brain is fried.

The back cover also has a lot of writing on it, printed straight onto brown cardboard. Unit conversions. Handy. Oh, also, more branding. Penco is really proud to be Penco.

Well, let’s get into the most important bit: paper. It looks pretty amazing. A crisp, white page with light blue & red lines. I like college ruled paper, it’s handy while editing out writing. I used this notebook for mostly either making the first drafts for the blog posts or essay writing, so it was great to have a little extra space to cram additional notes to. It’s smooth paper, not great with graphite, but you’d expect it to be fountain pen friendly. I even saw that statement on their website. The ink glides across the page, nicely smooth and wet.

Then it starts to dry.

The first crack that shows through the crisp white page is the width of the line. Then, the weird dark spots that appear inside the ink on the page. Then, feathering. It all falls apart. Unless you’re using a dry, fine nib and a vanilla ink like Waterman Serenity Blue, it is not going to work out very well. If the dark blotches don’t appear, the inks’ colour looks decent though. Last surprise is the bleed through. It doesn’t show at the back of the page much, but wherever there’s a slightly thicker application of ink, it’ll bleed through. The bottoms of the letters, little scribbles on the sides of the pages, crossing out a word. It will show at the back. Thankfully, few pages bled so badly that it was on the next page.

My last problem with this notebook is the 7mm ruling combined with 80 sheets of A5 paper. That is not a lot of writing, especially since you’re writing much larger than you would to accommodate the spread of the ink. Usually, my hand writing fits a 5-6 mm rule much better. You need the whole 7mm at this point. Believe me.

Well, it does perform quite nicely with gel pens and ballpoints. Again, my preference for those writing instruments is a paper with a little more tooth, so that I can use pencils on it as well. I cannot seem to find a way to enjoy this notebook…

I really wanted to like this notebook. From the bright colour to the vintage inspired branding, it is approachable and the right amount of traditional-looking to be popular today. Approachable. A beautiful design aesthetic. Not minimalistic, also not too busy that it tires you out just by looking at it. I can get behind that. Unfortunately, the paper quality undermines the amount of work that went into making a good-looking product. When it comes down to it, function over form will take over. No matter how beautiful your product is, it has to work.

Thank you for reading!



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