"Probably at some point in the future, we will start thinking of our communication devices as warm, in the way that we think, or used to think of our pens. But in the meantime, we have surrendered our handwriting for something more mechanical, less distinctly human, less telling about ourselves and less present in our moments of the highest happiness and the deepeset emotion. Ink runs in our veins, and shows the world what we are like.'
Well it's all enought to stir a person into digging out that old Parker pen they were bought at the age of eighteen... and feeling all warm and cuddly over it. Then coming across the W.H.Smith's Messenger pen of huge sentimental value because the family bought it as a gift, and as the warm feeling rises it is quickly dampened down with the recollection of the day 'someone' who presses very heavily with a pen, picking it up and doodling with it aimlessly whilst on the phone, and the beautifully smooth nib which then took on the mantle of a serrated gouge...and there was a huge tantrum a bit of bother.
I don't like to think how much of my life I may have spent washing out fountain pens, but it's a lot, and as I stood at the sink with the bowl of water for flushing out the barrels, and the cotton buds for reaching those hard to reach places in a pen, and pondered which ink I would fill them all up with...would it be the Lamy Blue-Black with that nifty little roll of tissue that peels magically out of the base of the bottle (size useless, one needs a hankie-sized piece of something) for wiping the nib...or perhaps the Noodlers Turquoise that Offspringette left here the last time she was home... or what about the Neroli-scented bordeaux...well I felt at one with Philip Hensher's book The Missing Ink and that quote.
Yes, I think I can truly say that ink does run in MY veins, and probably in many of yours too, and I can also safely predict that if you are interested in handwriting, pens, ink, how handwriting shapes us, how each of us may have learned to write, how entire nations learn to write in the same style, and the development of copperplate, italics, Marion Richardson et al, as well as what rubbish graphology is and above all why we must cultivate the art of handwriting again, then this is the book for you too.
I was intrigued at the idea that handwriting can be a sign of nationhood and cohesion, having always wondered but never really known why all French people write like 'that'. It is because they are all taught in a particular way, a balance of fun and freeplay as the shapes are learned as children...
'The civic duty to be able to write so that your neighbours can read it has never, it seems, gone away in France, and almost everyone who has examined the French model of handwriting teaching has been initially alarmed by the apparent martinet-like quality, and then impressed by the beautiful results it achieves...'
Germany likewise, the UK, well all a bit of a mess from what I can gather.
No cohesive script that would be recognisably British, more a hybrid of copperplate, italics or that dratted beloved Marion Richardson. Oh how we laboured at that back in the 1950s, and whilst Philip Hensher suggests learning Marion Richardson was fun because the work started with patterns, and whilst I feel sure learning it gave my handwriting a good foundation, I am afraid I have no recollection of any of it being fun at Sherwood County Primary in Mitcham. More like a tortured conformity, endless repetitions of a very loopy pattern for some reason... yet loops in handwriting punishable by humiliation. To this day I can see Miss Butteriss's unsmiling currant bun face surrounded by that tightly permed hair looking down on a seven-year old me and my first efforts with pen and ink... the dipping pen with the Osmiroid nib and the royal blue ink.
I would open the returned book praying to see the star and instead find myself quaking at the sight of 'See Me' written in red ink, but in perfect Marion Richardson script of course. This being me I still have my school reports from Blue Class and am surprised to read that my slavish Marion Richardson written work was 'good and careful', though I feel sure had only 'conquered a tendency to carelessness' because I was terrified, but at least I was apparently also 'quite reliable'. If only Miss Butteriss had given me just a tiny tip of a wink that I was doing alright how different my memories of Blue Class and starting to write with ink might be.
The Missing Ink is written in a warm familiar style that chimed with the warmth we probably all have for the subject, anything lofty and highbrow would not have worked, while the footnotes introduce wonderful diversions of humour and anecdotal amusement. I vow too that, if you don't already have your fountain pen charged and in use, you will head to the sink to wash it out and fill it and start using it again, or you will order yourself a Lamy Safari pronto (go on, you know you want one really). Though Philip Hensher is actually promoting handwriting above all else, and so suggests a biro is fine and dandy too,
'Let's not be snobs about implements. Let's enjoy the pleasure of nice paper, and using a nice pen, and writing well and carefully, but let's not insist on it...'
I will have to beg to differ on that one...I am not snobbish about much (Twinings over Tetley's, proper wool over acrylic, cotton over polyester, Herbin over Quink ...oh, actually more than I realised) and whatever anyone else uses is absolutely fine, but give me pen and ink any day.
But Philip Hensher also suggests something else too and this has really made me think...
'Your handwriting is a living thing, or should be - if it looks the same as it did ten years ago, even, give way to boredom - do something about it. Mix it up a bit...'
Now I had always understood that people who changed their handwriting were half way to being diagnosed with a personality disorder or something... where on earth have I got that idea??
So what do you all think??
Would you consider mixing your handwriting up a bit, or does it feel too much an intrinsic part of you to mess with??
Talking of which...remember that competition Pan Macmillan were running in conjunction with The Missing Ink, to get your handwriting recreated as a font .. (and I will update you on the inkxperiment soon ) well I have been chosen as one of the winners. I have no idea what happens next but perhaps I will be able to type like l write one day soon, so can chuck all my pens in the bin anyway.