I was taught “joined up” writing at school and would happily scribble away in my diaries and notebooks. It was like therapy, not that I knew that then, but now with the benefit of wisdom (!!) and hindsight I can see that it was a form of expression. I couldn’t draw or sing and my lack of coordination meant that sporting achievements did not come my way, but I could write. I had a proper fountain pen, no cartridges for me. It was a thing of beauty, a Sheaffer pen, silver and shiny, with an elegant nib and a cap rimmed in gold (plate obviously). I would fill the ink chamber, squeezing life into my pen and then off I would go, blotting paper (remember that?) at the ready.
Now don’t get me wrong, I was not holed up in my bedroom, isolated from the world. I spent summers playing by the canal, getting dirty and just having a laugh with my friends, but the cold winter evenings were just as much fun. Imagination was my greatest companion and just being able to read and write meant I was never bored.
Then when I went to “big” school, I started to learn foreign languages and the new letters, accents and structures got me hooked very early on. This was my form of art and writing it was just as much fun as speaking it. Especially when I realised that my parents didn’t understand what I was saying or writing. Finally, I knew something they didn’t. The power rush was immense.
But it wasn’t just writing those notes that made my day, it was also receiving letters from pen-pals around the world. I had pen-pals in France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden & Spain. Each week I would get a letter in exotic handwriting, so very different from my own, with colourful new words and we would all practise our language skills, sharing stories and comparing lifestyles and customs. The time came to call my friends up on the telephone. We would plan the date and time of the call, nothing was as instantaneous as it is today. I would sit in the hallway at the telephone table (isn’t that what we all did in those days?) and dial countless numbers until the phone was answered and an unfamiliar accent would bombard me with the fastest speech I had ever heard. Afterwards I would relate the whole story to my defenceless family, no doubt with the odd embellishment and then would rush off to pen my next letter.
Where did it all go wrong? The technological advances of the last 20 years have all but wiped the teaching of cursive handwriting off the curriculum. Keyboarding is now the trend in many places. When was the last time you wrote or received a hand-written letter? I email a few of those very same pen-pals now, sending photos instantly and not waiting weeks for a reply.
My handwriting these days has suffered too. My scribbles are exactly that – scribble! Often illegible to anyone else, even to me on occasions. My notebooks are just “to do” lists and my laptop is king. My messages are short, peppered with “lol” and emoticons and everything is just too quick. Whilst I fully embrace the wonders of technology and confess to being a passionate geek, now and then I remember how much simpler things were.
The beauty of handwriting, practising my name, again and again, on the back cover of my notebook, mastering the signature which would ultimately be mine. Many experts say that the process involved in acquiring a fluid style of ” joined up” writing is like Pilates for the brain. I guess my brain is no longer getting the workout it deserves and that is a great shame. It probably explains how I can waffle on forever and ever about nothing in particular…..