The other day while I was skimming through Facebook, I came across an ad for a writing-aid grip which claims to help children hold a pencil correctly. And presumably, by extension, to learn to write legibly.
Not surprisingly, it found favour with many teachers, who declared it a brilliant invention. I’m not a teacher, but I understand why. Reading and correcting the work of a multitude of students would be tedious enough without the added frustration of deciphering illegible scrawl.
Yet the idea of a writing-aid grip struck me as quaint, old-fashioned. These days the rules seem far more relaxed, certainly when it comes to which hand we use. As for grip, based on my observations, almost anything goes! The way some people contort their fingers around a pen and their hand into a writing position looks downright uncomfortable. And whilst we’re all taught a similar style, each person’s handwriting is unique.
Back in my school days, the writing-aid went by the name of Miss Molly Moore.
Now, all adults look old when you’re 8 years of age, but Miss Moore was old. REALLY old. Practically PREHISTORIC. Picture an older spinster version of Agnes Brown from Mrs Brown’s Boys, with a blue rinse and a deep, gravelly, commanding voice.
Miss Moore was the handwriting nazi at my local Catholic primary school. Strict and fearsome, she ruled the Year 3 classroom with an iron fist. The sight of her waddling down the aisle towards your desk, wooden ruler in hand, was enough to get your heart pounding, your legs shaking and the sweat beading on your brow 😰
Her penmanship standards were high. SKY high. According to Miss Moore, there was only ONE correct way to hold the pen or pencil, ONE correct posture to assume when writing, ONE correct position for the writing paper (perfectly vertical), and ONE acceptable style, size and spacing of lettering. And by golly, Miss Molly was going to make sure you adopted her standards (and liked it 😳) if it was the last thing she did!
But Miss Moore’s demeanour wasn’t the only weapon in her penmanship artillery. She wielded that wooden ruler like a blunt instrument, striking the edge of the desk with a crack to get your attention or the back of your writing hand if you weren’t holding the pencil correctly ✍️
She could also fold her old arthritic hands into a fist of sorts, with the bony knuckle of her index finger protruding like the point of an arrow-head. She’d thrust that pointed knuckle between your shoulder blades or into the back of your head if your posture wasn’t up to scratch. Slumping? Sacrebleu! 😨
To help us with style and spacing, she provided a small card marked with four horizontal and evenly spaced lines. This was a guide for ruling up our exercise books into what is now known as dotted thirds. And those ruled lines had to be as straight as a die, so help you God!
Miss Moore’s final tool of submission was the dreaded red correction pencil. She would deface your work with that pencil in one fell swoop. Insert a red letter ‘a’ between the letters on your page to highlight appropriate spacing. Or join your letters with precise parallel diagonal lines, again in red, to reinforce style. No doubt her intention was to teach, but her methods often shamed students into compliance.
Nowadays, Miss Moore’s draconian approach would be tantamount to child abuse. I was not alone in being too petrified of her to dare deviate from her prescribed methods. The irony was that I didn’t need her intimidation to motivate me. I always strived to please my teachers and parents and took great pride in the aesthetics of my work.
But whether warranted or not, her methods did play a role in shaping my penmanship, as did my later interest in calligraphy. People often admire my handwriting and this never ceases to amaze me. Sure, my copperplate script might seem unusual if you compare it to the block print styles and ‘chicken scrawl’ favoured by many people these days. But to me, it’s nothing special. It’s just the way I write.
And it is something that evolved once I escaped Miss Moore’s clutches. The first thing to go was the writing posture – too restrictive. I tested numerous variations of the slump in search of comfort. I experimented with different grips to ease the pressure on the permanent callus on the top knuckle of my middle finger 😣 And I tried different writing styles, often replicating those of my fellow students for a time, until I got bored or dissatisfied with my handwriting speed.
The evolution continued into adulthood, before settling into its current form around 20 years ago. Yet I still have my quick personal note-taking scrawl and my slower, more fastidious version for letters, greeting cards and other documents for public view. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I suspect a graphologist would have a field day analysing my handwriting and my personality 😳
Regardless, this leopard 🐆 is done with changing her spots. And now I couldn’t change even if I wanted to because my handwriting has been preserved for eternity on the left side of Lizzie’s* torso … close to her heart ❤️🙄 … which is supposed to make me feel sooo much better about the fact that she’s indelibly marked her perfect porcelain skin 😫 But that’s a story for another day.
What/who were the key influences/influencers that shaped your handwriting style?
*not her real name