Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Handwriting - something to pay attention to, or something that doesn't matter?

I've touched on handwriting once before, in a post titled simply Handwriting, published on  16 November 2009, in which I said:

Now here's a funny thing. My handwriting, which used to be full of spikes, is getting more curvaceous! 

I'm not deliberately changing it. I dare say some people do try that, having perhaps read somewhere that their writing contains certain 'male' features that are instant give-aways. That seems a bit paranoid, however. Personally I don't see how you can eradicate the writing habits of a lifetime without the result looking unnatural. 

And how much handwriting does one do anyway? Mine is mostly confined to shopping lists and signatures on letters and cheques. That's one of my shopping lists in the photo.

And I showed a photo of a crumpled-up piece of paper, with casually-written jottings on it. Not dissimilar to this example from yesterday, rescued just now from my bin:

It's a fact of modern life - or at least my own modern life - that shopping lists represent nearly all of the handwriting that I ever do. The remainder mostly consists of even-more-casual scribbles on other bits of paper (concerning things that occur to me, or things that I've just heard of on radio or TV, that I want to learn more about).

I have never learned how to use my printer to print an address on an envelope, so I do always handwrite the address on anything I send through the post - but more often than not I use block capitals for clarity, because postal addresses are machine-read, and naturally one must give the machine a helping hand if one can! Official forms usually insist on block capitals, except for your signature.

Ah, I was forgetting: there are occasional things such as birthday cards, Christmas cards, and the odd cheque. But they are occasional. I don't ever send postcards. And I very rarely write a letter by hand.

If you ever get a handwritten letter from me, it's because I want it to seem very, very personal and special. I would certainly still write a traditional love letter in my very best handwriting, rather than type it out and add a handwritten signature to personalise it. I would want the recipient to have the full undisguised me, my true sincere feelings laid bare in the way the very words were written, and how they flowed. As if I were expressing my very soul through markings on paper. As it happens, the odds are stacked against my ever now penning such a letter, but even so, that's my attitude and approach.

Alas, the love letter has had its day, just as the 'language of flowers' has. It seems to be enough nowadays to dash off a quick text, or make a declaration on Facebook. Love has become electronic and casual. People can use the Internet to find opportunities for True Love as never before, but the messages have become standardised and impersonal and above all very public. Intimacy and privacy have been cast aside. Love is to be put out in the open and celebrated - and commented on, and 'liked', and tweeted about - but not kept special and secret. The treasured physical tokens of love have also been lost. Who now will ever have a bundle of handwritten love letters tucked away in a drawer, tied up with ribbon?

It's entirely possible to get through life nowadays by making electronic notes on one's phone, if you need to do that much. Very little requires putting pen to paper, and even then it will hardly be more than supplying one's signature - as I had to, over and over again, at the dentist last week. The signature has become the only essential bit of day-to-day handwriting ever needed. That's why, when choosing the name 'Lucy Melford' I considered very carefully how it would look when handwritten - was it easy to write in my handwriting style, and would the result seem distinctive but above all legible? Had it been awkward to write, or hard to decipher, I'm afraid I would have walked out into the New World under another name.

If you are curious (possibly a vain hope, but I will inform you anyway) I was not taught my vaguely Italic style at school, but discovered it for myself shortly after leaving school in the summer of 1970. It was originally a straight copy of good sixteenth-century models, very consciously an exercise in calligraphy. But it soon morphed into something more personal. Its appearance varied as time went on, but by 1980 it had settled down to something very similar to that shopping list above.

It quickly lost the typical Italic look because the demands of office life ruled out using a slow and messy Italic nibbed pen and ink. The more convenient (but old-fashioned) fountain pen steered you towards a different kind of writing, and since the late 1990s I have mainly used ballpoints of one kind or another. Utility and practicality have won.

I feel no great regret. But I do feel a little nostalgic for the fountain pen. I still remember my first fountain pen in 1963, a blue Platignum with a gold knib. The grammar school I was going to in Southampton did not allow ballpoint pens, and laid down that every pupil (we were called pupils then, not students) must have a fountain pen. I was dreading my forthcoming grammar school experience, but was able to distract myself with this marvellous new toy. It was the first of several other pens. I never owned a Conway Stewart, and the styling of Sheaffer pens put me off. I went instead for a Parker pen. Parker was in my estimation the one to have, the one with the best look, even if it wasn't the flashiest. My favourite was a diminutive dark green model with a hooded gold nib - which years later in 1989, after I'd bought a book on collecting old fountain pens (which were by then old hat), I discovered had been a ladies' model. Well, well! It had suited my right hand, being not too big.

After Dad retired in 1980, he gave me his well-used Parker 51 fountain pen, in black and silver. It had been a farewell gift from the staff at Southampton 3 tax office in 1970; he was going to become District Inspector of Portsmouth 4; he needed a pen fit for a DI. I used it with pride every day right through to the late 1990s. I even used it specially, on my very last day at work (26 May 2005) to sign off some Penalty Notices that were going to a company. By then the nib was getting a bit too worn. But it must in its working lifetime have written a line of ink thousands of miles long. Parker made very good pens.

A few days ago I walked down Railway Road in Newhaven, past where the Parker Pen factory had been. They had lately demolished it. The site was flattened rubble. It will be used to build some new housing and a community centre for the run-down east side of a sadly run-down coastal town. That's a good thing; but the closure of that factory represented the end of Parker pen manufacture in England. (It's now done in France, and it won't be the same) But why am bothered at all? This is the electronic age. Fountain pens are a charming anachronism, used by heads of state for signing international trade agreements, but little else.

Let's get back to that handwritten shopping list. And that remark in my November 2009 post: My handwriting, which used to be full of spikes, is getting more curvaceous! I'm not deliberately changing it. I dare say some people do try that, having perhaps read somewhere that their writing contains certain 'male' features that are instant give-aways. That seems a bit paranoid, however. Is it paranoid?

Apparently not, if the advice on Andrea James' Transsexual Roadmap is studied. See for the Index to her many useful articles, and for the article on handwriting. It might be fun to compare your own handwriting with the examples she gives at Oh dear - none of the female hands look much like my own. However, I feel it's more natural and honest to write as suits you best, and not to be artificial and emulate somebody else. That said, I did when young try to incorporate things I liked about other people's writing into my own. It never lasted. It just wasn't 'me'.

Which leads us on to the question, once a hot topic, but hardly mainstream now, of whether there's anything in handwriting-analysis. You know, Graphology. That is, can you tell anything about a person's character from examining how they write? Andrea James is unconvinced, and refers you to this article, at, in which the case for Graphology as a science is examined.

Personally I think that how you writes depends chiefly on your schooling (or lack of it), your personality (do you place any importance at all on writing in any particular way?), and your state of health (the old and feeble commonly don't write so well as fit young things).

I'd expect certain types of people to pay close attention to how their writing looks. Such as people who design things - architects say - or those who are consciously artistic. I'd expect showbiz people to have flamboyant, show-off handwriting. I'd also expect anyone who is mentally disturbed, or obsessive, to show signs of it in their handwriting. And in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, one might be able to deduce things from the pen and paper used, and whether the pen was used lightly or dug into the paper. But I don't think you can go much further.

Overarching all of this is the general fact that in the year 2014 most of us do not write much by hand, and because of that may not develop a personal style, nor care about it if we do. That's why I'm not terribly worried if my own handwriting contains characteristics that 'give me away'. Who is going to notice or care?

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