Handwriting – Cartoon Illustrator
I read an interesting article in the @IrishTimes maintaining that primary school doesn’t teach children crucial life skills. With a busy curriculum, there is little time for PE, while skills like sewing typically don’t get done. But handwriting, too, seems to have taken a hit.
Today, many children appear to favour ‘print’ rather than joined writing. There just isn’t the allocated time or same emphasis on learning cursive penmanship as there was, years ago. This might be due to a changed school curriculum rather than the former system of tediously practicing on page after page of exercise copies. As a parent, I’m partly at fault for not ensuring my kids have clear handwriting. The distractions of TV and computer games haven’t helped. Like many parents, I’ve left the kids chill out when the homework is done instead of diligently practising their writing. And at the rate children text or tap on phones and laptops, there seems less need for writing by hand, given that technology is constantly producing updated communication gadgets.
Chatting to a friend once, about the 1911 census, she noted, “Look at the handwriting – you can read it! People took pride in their neat writing. It showed they were educated.” It’s fascinating to see those pages. Form A, 1911, for example, is signed by my mother’s grandfather in his own hand.
My mother too, has beautiful writing – clear and neat with an elegant turn. In fact, her three sisters shared a similar style. Did they diligently practise at home after school? Alas, my spidery squiggles are a far cry from their legible lettering. Although I duly filled the red and blue lined copybooks in primary school, my scribble became even more illegible years later after learning shorthand!
Apparently, you can tell a lot about a person by their handwriting. A generous looping flourish suggests an outgoing, open personality whereas tiny joined-up lettering could imply a secretive, tight-fisted temperament. However, the concise script we see on the 1911 census and parish ledgers of old was due to constrained space and fitting all relevant information into one line.
We’ve come a long way from those meticulously handwritten registers chronicling the nation’s deaths, marriages and births. Think of the people who managed them, with no Tippex or ‘spell-check’ to rectify mistakes. Or Dickensian characters such as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s put-upon clerk who arduously totted accounts in a freezing office with feathered quill and ink.
A handwritten document, even if it’s a boring receipt or account book is somehow more personal than a computerised printout, while a handwritten love letter makes a more precious keepsake than a quickly tapped text or e-mail.
Seeing someone’s actual handwriting like my great-grandfather on the 1911 census makes that person and their history more real, an unintended gift to subsequent generations. It’s just a shame the skill of handwriting seems a casualty of our busy modern world.
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Maeve O’Keeffe, the Frazzled Mammy! ©Maeve O’Keeffe 2015
Maeve O’Keeffe is a Cartoonist, Illustrator and Journalist in Cork, Ireland