PC 57 Writing Joined up – continued ….

The doorbell rang; it was a DHL delivery. “Sign ‘ere, mate” the chap demanded, thrusting the electronic data entry device into my face. I love my normal signature, but try as I might, scratching the pen across the face of the machine produced a poor example. It didn’t help that the pad was grasped in his moving hand, but he seemed satisfied and left. One’s signature is being replaced by your finger print in a lot of areas; it couldn’t come sooner for this sort of use!

A thought? How can you create your signature if you aren’t taught joined-up writing? Just printing the letters, I guess, but it’s not the same. Manuscript is literally ‘written by hand or, interestingly, typewritten – but not printed by machine. The word obviously comes from the Latin – manu scriptus meaning ‘written by hand’ and in the UK there are recorded examples of this that pre-date the Norman Conquest of 1066. Latin is also responsible for the word ‘cursive’, meaning running – as it’s faster to write if you join the letters up. A C15th Italian from Florence, Niccolo Niccoli (just such a gorgeous name huh!), is regarded as the inventor of the cursive script, which became known as italic – not to be confused with the slanted forward letter in type which is known as italic! (Seems ridiculous but true!)

During my time in the British Army I learned that soldiers generally had poor handwriting skills. One particular Chief Clerk didn’t do ‘cursive’ writing and had developed a quick sort of ‘capital letters script’ that he lined up along a ruler. Like this:

joined up 3

Works quite well, actually; but it’s slow by comparison to cursive.

When you’re trying to write something about ‘manuscript writing’ it’s odd what comes to mind. I have always been fascinated by the story from the Old Testament of Belshazzar’s feast; Belshazzar was the King of Babylon who died around 539BC.  After huge amounts of food and the raising of goblets of wine in toasts to various Gods, the king thought he saw the fingers of a man’s hand writing on the plaster of the wall. Well, I suspect we’ve all sensed that things get a little blurred when we’ve had a few, seen things that aren’t there, so it’s hardly surprising ….. and his knees shook to boot!! I imagine this rather debauched scene, the guests’ faces glowing with alcohol, the light from the oil lamps casting shadows everywhere, and this yellow ochre wall where, if you screwed up your eyes enough, you could make out some marks! Daniel, a well-known soothsayer, was asked to translate what the king had seen: “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin”.  “God’s brought your kingdom to an end as you’ve been found wanting; it will be divided between the Medes and the Persians.” That night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took his kingdom. Bit of a nightmare really; all because of some writing on the wall!! Maybe Daniel was in the pay of the Medes, and told the king what he knew was going to happen; you could easily see words and letters in the smudges and uneven plaster of a wall, surely? We’ve all seen the man’s face on the moon, so why not words on a wall?

Another quotation associated with writing that often whizzes around my little brain is this:

“The moving finger writes; and having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”

I’m not one for poetry but this translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám by Edward FitzGerald has, for some reason, lodged in the depths of my memory. I know nothing about this acknowledged classic except these four lines; well, if I’m being really truthful, only to the semi-colon!!

Celina’s great grandmother Branca caught Spanish Influenza and her mind, poor soul, was slighted altered as a result! One of the fascinating consequences was that she could write backwards as easily as she could forwards!! Below on the left is a photograph of one of her letters from November 1918 to Minha Querida Virginia (My Dear Virginia) – with the mirror image on the right.

joined up 4

So why am I so alarmed by this idea that our children will not be taught cursive script? “Does it matter?” I ask myself, as I type away on my laptop! Why can’t they just be taught to touch type? Or do we really need to write to, I don’t know, compose the supermarket shopping list. “So last century; actually shopping ….. in a shop!” I hear you cry. “Do it online!” But if you do want to go and see, touch, feel just what is available you need to go. And of course you can do your list on your iPad or iPhone and take that with you. Check it out next time you go, just see how many people in your supermarket are using a scrappy piece of paper or interrogating their phone?

So we can now all swipe our phones across an electronic demand for payment, almost touch our credit card to pay for items if they’re not too expensive; will our grandchildren have any need to write their signature? Will their children even know what handwriting is? Who knows? But I read that students who write up their lecture notes rather than type them into a laptop, derive better conceptual and factual learning – in plain language, it sinks in better!! And they have better hand-eye coordination to boot.

Of course the irony is that these scribbles, a word describing immature and often illegible writing (!), are being composed on a laptop …… and sent electronically to you, when the subject of this postcard is manuscript writing! And it’s only very occasionally that I hanker after using a pen. I eye the pile of unwritten Christmas cards which, given an unhurried focus, will be enjoyable to ….. write ….. in my unique joined up style.

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Funny life, inn’t?

Richard – 13th December 2015 – richardyates24@gmail.com


PC 56 Writing ‘Joined up’ (Part One!)

My brother, another Scorpio, had his birthday last month and duly reached for pen & paper to write a ‘Thank You’ letter in gratitude for our gift. Such a pleasure to receive his note, the manuscript writing strong, informative and entertaining whilst I admit, in parts, a little difficult to decipher! And conveying more of the effort made than a hasty email or text on smart phone or tablet.

A recent survey by the global manufacturer of biros, Bic, discovered that 50% of 13-19 year olds have never written a thank you letter, 83% a love letter and 25% never sent a Birthday or Christmas card. Maybe 75% of those polled were not Christian (?)  but why not send a physical card to acknowledge a birthday? I know that Jacquie Lawson provides your online card needs, but you can’t put one of those on the mantelpiece, can you? Bic should be worried – who’s going to buy their products?  I am, however, so old school that I am wedded, some might say welded (!), to the need to write manuscript ‘thank you letters’ and send birthday cards. I think it’s a rather British foible, sending cards and the like. Love letters? Well I guess I have poured my heart out in letters to loved ones many times and sometimes ripped them up and started again; now it’s on twitter/some text message or email electronically produced and unable to give a hint of personality through the care you would have taken in your joined up writing.

We journeyed up into Alaska in June this year, following in the footsteps of great grandfather George, who made the trip each year 1900-1902 (See PCs 44 & 45). His manuscript letters to his wife Eva, in London, are a wonderful family treasure trove of experiences, thoughts and comments. His careful script conveys such richness, so much individuality, so much personality; they all started ‘My Darling Eva’, and ended rather formally: ‘Your Loving husband, GM Nation.’ See for yourself:

joined up

Lovely isn’t it? If he had been able to email his news to his wife, as in:

From: GM Nation

To: Mrs Eva Nation

Dawson YT 10 May 1901

My Darling Eva. I am emailing you this but it may be two or three weeks before I get an internet connection. Travel has entirely been given up for the last ten days and everybody is watching the river and longing to see the ice float away.…..

Sent from my iPad

 …… where would the record be now, on some disk, some iCloud? And how would I have known that he wrote these letters, but for the physical collection with Cousin Caroline on Vancouver Island? These thoughts came into my head when, the other day, I glanced at a headline in the paper. I looked, looked again …… and tried to register what I had just read. Under an eye-catching headline “Handwriting, you’re Finnished”, it is reported that a school in Finland (ha! ha!), which apparently is noted for its radical educational ideas, the country not this particular school, has decided to stop teaching cursive handwriting. It may surprise you but my English education didn’t run to understanding exactly what ‘cursive’ meant, so I lifted my trusted ‘Oxford Illustrated Dictionary’ (Yes, that one given by my maiden aunt when I was 16 (see PC 53)) down from the shelf. ‘Cursive’ adj. n (Writing) done without lifting the pen, so the characters are joined together.” Ah! OK! Joined up writing!! So they are not going to teach children how to join up individual letters together …… to let the script flow??

The Finns are not alone. In the USA forty-one states no longer require schools to teach cursive script! And within two days I read another piece concerning cursive script, this from the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, who has written many letters to his grandchildren, for them to read when they are old enough – “But I was saying to my daughter, maybe they won’t be able to read cursive with the way things are going.”

So personal, this ability to make writing ‘joined-up’. Can you remember the tortuous classes, holding the pencil just so ….. being told off for holding it incorrectly? No, of course not, but I do remember being beaten at boarding school for writing without my arm fully supported by a table; OK, maybe there might have been other issues that cumulatively added to trigger the beating, but the smog of history has descended! I see people today who were not taught properly and hold the pen in a funny way. No wonder they do not like writing in a joined-up way. However, I do take my hat off to those of you who are left-handed, as it looks to me as though you have arthritis, the way you twist your hand almost through 360°and then manage to write ….in a derogatory way some might say cack handed?

I used to hold my fountain pen in such a way that I developed a piece of hard skin on the side of my middle finger; it’s still there but not as pronounced, as the use of smart phones, tablets and laptops has reduced the amount of manuscript writing I do and hence the pen stays for longer periods in the drawer.

Many years ago I had to take a graphology test, as part of a recruitment process. It was in the days before I had a personal computer, and the application for the role had been in manuscript; couldn’t they use that?  “Ah! But the example must be in biro!”  This I could not understand, as the pressure applied through a nib varied much more than that from a biro, and weren’t they looking for variations of pressure, in addition to all the other bullshit? I assume the company believed that somehow my personality came out through my pen nib, although there is no scientific evidence to back up that claim. I’ve read that a backwards slopping letter signifies timidity or that how you write the letter ‘e’ was linked to your digestion – the neater and more closed the letter the better to digest – sprouts? I don’t think so! I remember looking at how I write the letter ‘e’ and realised I script it in two different ways!! An example might be:

joined up 2

You may remember my PC about treasured postcards? The one about a chap sitting at a desk answer an exam question about surrealism ……. and his pen jumped off the table and ran away? Well, my pen has run away with me, sorry!! So before you start yawning, I’ll stop  … to be continued ….

Richard – 6th December 2015 – richardyates24@gmail.com