John Allan: May 2023
I was going into town the other day and Mrs A asked me if I could pick up a few things from the supermarket. She reeled off a few items. I quickly wrote them down on a list and headed off on my merry way.
When in the shop I retrieved my list and thought why has a drunken spider crawled across this piece of paper. I never was much of a calligrapher but even Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code couldn’t decipher these illegible scribbles.
It made the Rosetta Stone read like The Very Hungry Caterpillar !
To think of the hours spent in primary school trying to obtain the perfect shape and size of your consonants and vowels. Trying not to go above or below the lined paper Aa, Bb, Cc. The concentration intense as you gripped your HB pencil as your tongue protruded from the corner of your mouth. Sometimes glancing at the top corner of your desk wondering if the ink well will indeed be full of ink one day.
No those days had gone.
Did you know HB stood for hard black ?
No, me neither.
A little aside.
Some decades later I found myself nurse in charge of the Urology ward at the Royal Perth Hospital one morning awaiting the Doctor’s round. There had been an emergency admission overnight straight from theatres.
A gentlemen had decided to insert a foreign body into his urethra. One pencil HB underlined as per the theatre notes. With all the consultants, registrars and resident doctors assembled we were about to enter the patient’s room when I quietly announced Let’s see how Mr Squiggle is this morning. The whole entourage hastily retreated from the room barely able to conceal the giggles.
For those of you unfamiliar with Australian children’s TV characters of the fifties, sixties and seventies, Mr Squiggle was a well loved puppet with a pencil for a nose.
Cruel perhaps but don’t stick things up your penis !
At some point in my young academic life I was presented with a boxed pen and pencil set from some generous aunt. Not a wooden pencil with a chewed end or a plastic BIC. A proper fountain pen and retractable pencil which you pushed the end of only for the graphite centre to come flying out and splinter into pieces on the floor.
This of course merited a thank you letter written with that very pen. Out came the best Basildon Bond with the lined paper guide placed behind the flimsy sheet and the blotting paper to hand. What inevitably resulted was a mix of hieroglyphics by a startled octopus and a Rorschach test.
Writing with a fountain isn’t easy. I still do occasionally and still come out looking like I’ve been finger printed and released on bail.
I used to dread writing the obligatory postcards to my parents. On my return from whatever sojourn, after the had a good trip ? my own postcard would be handed back to me with corrections to spelling and grammar highlighted in red from my English teacher father. I eventually replied ‘Weather here, wish you were beautiful‘ to any further correspondence.
Airmail was also a hassle. You’d start the story of your adventures thus far and soon realise you still had a lot to say and had used about half the allotted space. You would then, in microscopic font, continue along the sides and along the top.
The trouble was if the recipient was a bit gung-ho in letter opening and had not used a fresh razor blade they may have missed an important part of your message such as Kidnapped by the rebels. Please send ransom !
You could always relate your tales from your pocket sized diary with the small pencil concealed in the spine. Good to pull out in restaurants pretending you are a food critic and hoping for a reduction in the bill. Well that’s in a life before every one whipped out their mobiles to take selfies of their food.
To think that all these once vital tools were once locked away in a special vault called the stationary cupboard in offices throughout the land. That you were at the mercy of the one and only key holder who you had to promise to donate a major organ to to cross that hallowed entrance. Such power.
I wonder if hand writing experts or graphologists will become a dying trade ?
Will the English language give way to communication in emojis only ?
Mean while, I will continue typing away with my two index fingers deleting and backspacing as I go pondering the thought of the human hand evolving into fused flipper like fingers and extended thumbs.
‘I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in’
–Robert Louis Stevenson
(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia, May 2023)