Friday, 14 January 2011

Pen and paper...

I wrote a letter the other day. A real letter on paper with a pen using words that were hand written. A personal letter to an old friend who doesn’t really do the web or e-mail thing.

I took out my good pen, the fountain pen with the gold nib I was given for 25 years something or other. Carefully I turned the ink chamber, filling it with the specially approved ink from the fancy bottle that came with my pen and began to write.

'Dear Dave...'

At first I found it hard to make the pen work. It seems that my fingers are more used to tapping when I make words these days and the horizontal movement required to form words through handwriting simply wouldn’t come. I persevered though and soon, through the magic of ink on paper, my fingers loosened a little and the words began to flow.

'Do you remember that time when we both...'

How different from keying, how liberating.

Not easy though. I hardly recognised my handwriting after years of simply signing my name, but even that began to improve as I got into the swing of drawing letters and words. The old flourishes weren’t quite as well formed as they used to be and the mistakes were a pain - squeezing in missed letters isn’t easy on paper.

'and then old man Jenkins picked up his hat and...'

It didn’t take me long to get into it and soon I began to enjoy the physical experience of making something with my hands, something that I could hold, actually pick up and read, something that I’d made myself to send off in an envelope that wasn’t simply a card - Happy Birthday, Best Wishes, Good Luck, So Sorry.

'Did you ever find that fiver? How did...'

All those years at school learning to write – ‘Andrew’s handwriting needs to improve, the hours of practice to perfect joined up, the pride when the teacher commented in my exercise book ‘good handwriting, well done’. Does it matter any more? Does anybody care if you have good handwriting?

'I still think of Sarah and Melanie, the twins...'

Popping the letter (5 pages from a writing pad – recycled of course) into the envelope was a real pleasure. I was even looking forward to licking the seal on the envelope and the stamp until I realised that you didn’t need to do that any longer, they are both self adhesive.

'Best Regards...'

It took me back to thank you letters written to distant relatives, enforced by parents to scrawl at least a page, and those other letters, the ones proclaiming undying love, the job letters, the day to day business and bill letters of daily life. The letters of just a few years ago.

I can’t remember the last time I received a letter, a proper one. Not a notelet or a card, an e-mail or a text, but a full blown folded paper letter full of words and news and kind regards.

Can you?

'P.S. Write soon...'


  1. My own handwriting now borders on the illegible, despite all that "hand-written spec" training we had back at the dawn of Graphic Design, although from those distant days I still habitually attempt to write in caps (and these days it doesn't half hurt the hands!). My only handwritten things nowadays seem to be the (soon to be obsolete) cheques and postcards from my jollies (which become a repetitive chore very swiftly, I find...).

    The most recent "proper" letter I received was nearly two years ago, a much appreciated explanation of his recent family tragedy from a friend I seem to have lost touch with. That he took the time to write an elegant letter using a fountain pen was very much appreciated by me (I rather pathetically emailed back...) so I imagine your efforts will be well received.

    Maybe the campaign starts here...?


  2. You know... I did the very same thing last weekend… with my version of the very same pen! I have spent all week using it and have even encouraged the boys to have a go... though I was very edgy that the gold nib would shatter under the pressure that the boys put the pen under. When I was 10 we were taught to write with a fountain pen and it really did help the neatness of my writing. I am determined the boys will not miss out on the delights of hand writing, and with a fountain pen. We have spent all week writing thank you notes, stories and practising spellings. You know what… they are enjoying it and the pace of hand writing is making us all think more about how we are composing words… now to that letter I have been meaning to write to my very good friend in America! Thanks for the prompt. V

  3. I love writing with my fountain pen - it flows across the page and is great for minute taking. I leant it to someone the other day and was so disappointed when they said afterwards that they would never want one. I think it looks more personal on cards etc when you use a fountain pen. I write so infrequently now that my handwriting is all over the place - pity as I took so much care and pride when I was at school and uni.

  4. Kerry Swift commented on Facebook:
    It was a very long time ago! Possibly a pen friend at school (primary, Netherlands, lasted 1 letter). I know what you mean about writing, im can write for such a long time on the keyboard before my hand hurts but as soon as im writing with a pen im crippled for hours. I even forget how to write my signature because i do it soon often now too.

    John Hatton commented on Facebook:
    I still have a couple of Dear Johns!...but have arthritis in my hands so hate writing's not long ago that we wrote everything?..weird!

    Robert Mills commented on Facebook:
    Do Ransom letters made out of newspaper cuttings count?

    Tricia Kitt commented on Facebook:
    I still send "bread & butter" notes - 'thank you's for presents, dinners etc - do they count? they are handwritten on nice paper!

  5. Catherine Halls-Jukes commented Facebook:

    "When did I last get a letter ???????????/"