Tuesday, 1 March 2011

How to Improve your Handwriting...

Nina, said my English teacher. Your handwriting is abysmal – no one can read it, even you. Your spellings seem to have arrived from the planet Urgh. And your presentation is dreadful – ink blots, scratchings out and no hint of a margin on either side your page. So I’m setting you some homework this summer holiday, and I want to see it on the first day of the new term.
First year of senior school. I was far too busy with other things to worry about the presentation of my work. Friendships, for instance, took up all my waking moments. Girls were starting and dropping friendships like they were fashion accessory items and I wasn’t getting the hang of this at all. 
Even my oldest pal from primary school had already ‘gone off’ with someone else, and I was left to choose from Denise Winters, who had goofy teeth and a strange scent emanating from her clothes, and Shirley Court, who was scarily lesbian at a time when I didn’t even know what the word lesbian meant. Then there was the gang of girls who hung about in the lane that led from School Road to Cow Horn Hill. They all snogged boys and were into tattooing themselves with needles and ink. If you cut off the corner by going down the lane, they’d stand across it, their needles at the ready.
And when I wasn’t working out how to keep friends and keep away from foes, I was dreaming, building worlds of fiction and wonder, in which the relationships that were so disastrous in reality worked out fine.
My handwriting has honestly not improved a jot
Taking home an empty exercise book for the summer holidays was hardly a punishment; it seemed a wonderful thing to do. I wanted it to be far more than a handwriting project. It would be an illustrated anthology, I decided, of all my favourite authors. 
Things quickly deteriorated on the presentation front. I’d forgotten my artistic skills were not up to illustrating anything more complex than an Easter Friday boiled egg. And I quickly forgot that the point of this exercise was to improve failing handwriting, rather than seek out excerpts from all the wonderful literature of the world. But I did have fun, that summer holiday. I started with my own bookshelves. They were rather overfull with Enid Blyton, so I chose a single story – The Island of Adventure – and wrote a ripping summary. Then I picked the bit from Anne of Green Gables where she tells her new guardians about her belief in God. Next came Alice in Wonderland and Little Women (the bit where Meg dies, of course!), followed by the lovely moment in Secret Garden, where Mary gets into the walled garden for the first time, and the bit about Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 
Then I started rummaging through my parent’s books. Mum’s favourite was Lorna Doone; Dad’s was The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I found that hard-going, but loved falling into Lawrence’s hot, dry world. At the library, I pulled out books on astronomy, photography, history. I also took out Lady Chatterley’s Lover on my father’s ticket; not fully understanding what the word ‘abridged’ meant. Finally, as I neared the end of the exercise book, I fell upon a book no one had ever told me about, but that I have loved ever since those early days...
She stood there staring, poised like a disturbed marsh bird for instant flight. But his voice was deep and kind when he spoke to her, ‘What is it, child?
She stood her ground, and then edged timidly forward. The thing she carried in her arms was a large white bird, and it was quite still. There were stains of blood on its whiteness and on her kirtle where she had held it to her.
The girl placed it in his arms. ‘I found it, sir. It’s hurted. Is it still alive?’
‘Yes. Yes, I think so. Come in, child, come in.’
Rhayader went inside, bearing the bird, which he placed upon a table, where it moved feebly. Curiosity overcame fear. The girl followed and found herself in a room warmed by a coal fire, shining with many coloured pictures that covered the walls, and full of a strange but pleasant smell.
The bird fluttered. With his good hand Rhayader spread one of its immense white pinions. The end was beautifully tipped with black.
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico
This book is still on my shelves, it's dust cover slightly ripped, but the lovely line drawings still takes back to those days.

I was so proud of my book full of the golden nuggets of  literature, but I bet you won’t be surprised to hear my English teacher was not so impressed! My handwriting had deteriorated even further over the summer, as I’d discovered more and more wonderful writing and scribbled extracts into my exercise book.  In fact, my handwriting is still as bad as ever...but I’m still dipping into books and love to share my finds with other readers. Go tohttp://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-kitchen-table-reading-club.html to see what I’ve been reading more recently...