Fordyce Maxwell: In our touch button times most never need to write anything by hand

Fordyce Maxwell
Fordyce Maxwell
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A FAMILY heirloom we have retained, in spite of my best “if it hasn’t been looked at in a year let’s get rid of it” efforts, is a bound copy of copies of letters and bills sent by a Fife colliery manager in the 1890s.

The notable feature is the regularity and quality of handwriting. G and Y loops are extravagant, but legibility, spelling and grammar are excellent, as are the occasional technical diagrams.

When we consider that the writer was using a wooden shaft with steel nib dipped frequently in an inkwell on tissue-like paper, it’s a reminder of how far handwriting has slipped as an accomplishment.

In our touch button times most never need to write anything by hand and their attempts, when forced to, make that obvious. But then I’ve always written a lot by hand and it’s still not pretty.

It tends to the cramped and crabbed and obviously has no correlation – as handwriting analysts would have us believe there is to personality – to the extrovert, outgoing, party animal I am.

In Liz’s case, of course, there is a correlation. Taught by the late Tom Gourdie at Kirkcaldy High School her writing is the flowing thing of beauty that Gourdie, a disappointed man, wanted taught in every Scottish school.

As is her Gregg shorthand, more flowing and pleasing to look at than the Pitman that used to predominate or the more recent, a relative term, staccato Teeline.

At least my writing is legible, the primary requirement. So it should be. In my first term at college I sat next to a lad who took notes at speed in italics. I compared his writing with my own childish, rounded, letters and determined to change.

The result after several months of effort, not helped – plea in mitigation – by the fact that I’m left handed, wasn’t italics and didn’t help exam results, but was more readable and adult.

Knowing the effort that took, I’ve always been impressed by high-quality calligraphy, as demonstrated by a friend, Arthur Wood, who took it up in retirement and is now exhibiting.

A lifelong rambler he has produced several walking guides in his own script, with drawings and wry humour, as in his description of one local village: “In the reign of Charles I it was described as ‘the most miserable beggardly town of sods that ever was made’. Things have improved since then.”

As an older man with health problems who keeps walking on the basis that “It’s harder to hit a moving target”, Arthur was already an example to follow; his calligraphy shows it’s never too late to acquire another skill.

Twitter: @FordyceMaxwell