By Philip Hensher.
Andrzej gave me this book for Mother’s Day last year. It’s a book about handwriting, of all things. Very significant, I thought, as he has the most beautiful handwriting – or at least he did when he was at primary school – it’s changed a bit since then, I think, and mine is absolutely terrible. All over the place, changing in size and direction depending on the degree of my absent mindedness or general concentration; annoying, really, because I actually believe in its importance educationally, and teach its practice with some passion.
So, this book was going to be of more than passing interest.
I read it slowly – it doesn’t have much “story” – so I read it bit by bit interspersed with many novels over the last eight months. And although there were some longueurs, where he philosophised just a little too much, I was gripped when I discovered that the style of writing I had been carefully taught by Mrs Washington, the Marion Richardson style, was the one he approved of the most. I remember Mrs Washington explaining the rudiments of joined up writing, and how we used to practise drawing lots of patterns as preparation for moving from print to cursive. Each letter had a particular form, very simple and not particularly unusual now, except for the zed. I still sometimes write my zeds with a long tail. This inevitably causes confusion with the children I teach who think I have written a number three in the middle of my surname.
So it was nice find out that what we learnt was at the time innovative, artistic and practical. As I say, I was never very good at it. I still have a few of my old handwriting exercises somewhere which show that my pen dippping control was never very good. I loved writing with a fountain pen, which helped, but by the time I went to university I was asked to change my handwriting as the lecturers could not read it. So I did. For a while I used a very angular sort of print which was clearer, I suppose, and quite decorative, but oh so slow.
Typing was the answer in the end and when I got my first little Olivetti for my twenty first birthday I was in seventh heaven. Finally I could be sure of being read! I remember carting it around with me on my year abroad, first in Salamanca, then the rest of Spain.
I had learned to touch type when I left school. I had taken myself off onto a very expensive evening speedwriting and typing course in Oxford street. Three times a week we sat at enormous Remingtons and clattered in unison while watching a film screen . Awful. I never built up much speed or accuracy, but what I lost there I gained in legibility. Now of course we have computers. Wonderful. The speedwriting or shorthand was a disaster. I learnt a few rudiments which I still occasionally use, but nothing I could ever use professionally. I did meet someone, however, with whom I used to truant and go to the cartoon cinema in Victoria!! Happy days.
So thank you, Andrzej, for this book which has been the cause of this bizarre group of reminiscences. I enjoyed it!
By Philip Hensher.