Good old Staedtler - 'can't pronounce them, can't live without them.
Seriously, how do you say that name? I've been wondering for literally decades. It could be steedler, stightler, staydler - heaven knows. But the reason I've been puzzled for so long is that they actually made the device that I learned to write with.
Back in those days, there were boxes of the red and black sticks that Staedtler now markets as the Tradition up there on the teacher's desk, next to a big hand-cranked sharpener that only the most trusted children (not me, obviously) were allowed to use. The barrels still had 'W.Germany' printed on them, but otherwise they looked much the same as they do today, at least from the right side - there were no barcodes then, of course. So I have mixed feelings about them; they enabled me to learn the basics of letter formation, but not very well, and this delayed my entitlement to start using a fountain pen instead. Yes, this is the object that stood between me and induction to the wonderful wide world of extreme nibbage! You can see how I'd hold a childhood grudge against the stedatteller. But to be fair, if you're just after a reliable HB for note-taking and you don't have my hefty historical baggage to contend with, there's nowt wrong with them.
These days, of course, Staedtler is better known for the ubiquitous Noris, pretty much the same thing as the Tradition but in black and yellow. Not only are they a favourite in educational establishments all over the place, but there is even an official School edition (distinguished only by having the word 'school' printed on the barrel, but it's the thought that counts). They also crop up in offices worldwide, and in plenty of video footage too as the archetypal image of what a pencil looks like - so much so that there's even a fascinating blog page about sightings of the 'Noris in the wild'. For proof that the transition from Tradition to Noris as standard pencil-of-choice took place during the 1970s, look no further than Fawlty Towers, for starters (as everyone at Nero's Notes is aware, hors d'oeuvres must be obeyed). The Noris isn't my personal favourite either, to be honest, but if you're after an honest HB which does the job without messing around you can do a lot worse.
Now, having run the risk of damning Staedtler with faint praise, let's talk about the good stuff - because it's really good. The Mars Lumograph series are terrific pencils, available in twelve levels of hardness (or softness) and one of these costs only 50p more than the stripey box-standard offerings above. They are in such a different ball-park that perhaps they should have had a brand all of their own; the harder varieties write well, the softer ones sketch confidently. The lead keeps its point and the wood even smells right. The executive chairman (rest his wee paws) sent me a 3B to try, and it was the business. So, help me escape from primary school purgatory, and go and treat yourself to one of those instead. They will even work while actually on Mars, I promise!