I don’t know if parents today insist on their children developing a good handwriting. "You can tell a lot about a person from her handwriting," mine would often say, and buy books where you could practise the flow of ‘g’ or the abruptness of ‘r’ or the perfection of ‘o’. Cursive writing it was called, although I always misheard it as ‘curse of writing’.
Euclid once said, "Handwriting is a spiritual designing, even though it appears by means of a material instrument." He didn’t write it down, probably because he didn’t trust his handwriting.
I had handwriting that was a compromise between the rounded letters of my mother and the sharp style of my father. A bit of a hodgepodge, really.
But it passed muster because (to quote P G Wodehouse): "...there was practically one handwriting common to the whole school. It resembled the movements of a fly that had fallen into an ink-pot, and subsequently taken a little brisk exercise on a sheet of foolscap by way of restoring the circulation."
Having started somewhere near the bottom, my handwriting grew worse. And then came the personal computer. Now if I write to my grocer for a bunch of grapes, he is likely to send me a motorcycle and two shirts instead.
Which is why I sympathise with Alan Slattery, 67, who in time-honoured fashion pushed a threatening note to a bank teller in Sussex. Do you remember that Woody Allen movie where a bank robber does the same with the message "I have got a gun", but gets into an argument with the bank staff because that last word reads like ‘gub’, and everyone wants to know what a ‘gub’ is? Theories abound while the thief loses his patience and walks away sheepishly.
Well, something similar happened to Mr Slattery in a case of life imitating art. Bank employees struggled to read his message which was quite simple, merely demanding that they hand over the cash. His handwriting was so terrible, however, that no one could read what he had written, and the bank’s money remained safe. The potential thief was forced to flee and was picked up by the police.
I don’t remember our parents all those years ago saying specifically that you needed to have good handwriting in order to hold up banks. Maybe if they had, we would all have better handwriting now.
I recently came across a school notebook of mine and was startled to see what my handwriting was once like. It was like looking at a photograph of yourself taken decades ago. You know it’s you, but you wonder what went wrong. You begin to ponder over the mysteries of time and eternity.