These days we prefer to tweet, text and email – so when did you last write a letter, asks Deirdre Reynolds
Would you recognise your best friend's handwriting?
That's the question being posed by a new book on the dying art of handwriting.
In a world of LOLs and smiley faces, however, author Philip Hensher reckons that many of us would struggle to recognise our own scrawl – let alone someone else's.
"We are at a moment when handwriting seems to be about to vanish from our lives altogether," says Hensher in The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, and Why it Still Matters.
"We have surrendered our handwriting for something more mechanical, less distinctively human.
"The question is: should we even care . . . or does it carry with it a value that can never truly be superseded by the typed word?"
From Jackie Kennedy's glamorous swirls to Hitler's egomaniacal squiggle, handwriting can say a lot about the person wielding the pen, according to graphologists.
"Handwriting is what registers our individuality," agrees Hensher. "It has been seen as the unknowing key to our souls.
"It will never again have the place in people's lives that it had in 1850.
"[But] writing this book, I've come to the conclusion that handwriting is good for us," he adds.
"If someone we knew died, I think most of us would still write our letters of condolences on paper, with a pen.
"Perhaps there are other occasions when we still have a choice whether to write with pen and paper or with electronic means, and we should make the right, human choice."
So when was the last time you put pen to paper?
Louise Duffy, Today FM DJ:
"I love both sending and receiving letters.
"Although I always forget to respond to texts, I send my scrawl whenever I can. Just this morning I received a lovely letter from someone special. A text or an email will never compare. In an age of Skype and Viber, there's something sweet about someone taking the time out of their busy schedule to put pen to paper.
"A letter is timeless – you can keep it forever."
Jonathan Healy, Newstalk Presenter:
"My four-year-old son Jack has just started school. And while the effort he puts into 'practising his letters' each night is admirable, I can't help but wonder how much he will use this newfound skill in the future.
"When I was his age, writing was still the only way to communicate. However, in the intervening 30 years, it's become something of a discarded art.
"So much so, that when I recently had to reply to a letter from his teacher, I seriously considered firing up my laptop and printing it off – before finally writing it 'longhand'!"
Tara Flynn, Comedian:
"I'm a staunch texter and emailer. The only handwriting I would recognise is my own, my husband's, my mum's and my sister's. After my wedding, I had to force myself to send out 'Thank You' cards because my mother would have died of shame if I didn't."
Brendan Grace, Comedian:
"When it comes to correspondence, I'm a dinosaur. Ever since I was 12, when I had a pen pal in Oklahoma, I've been an avid card and letter writer.
"When I first met my wife Eileen, I wrote her a love letter. Forty years of marriage later, she still has it!"
Donal Skehan, Food Writer and Presenter:
"As a food writer, I always have a notebook in my bag for jotting down ideas. Even as a kid, I was obsessed with beautiful stationery such as Rhodia pads from France.
"And I like to think that my handwriting is quite neat. The funny thing is that I always write in pencil rather than pen. I'm sure a psychologist would say that has something to do with being able to rub it out and start all over again!"
Dylan Bradshaw, Celebrity Hairdresser:
"As a hairdresser, I spend most of the day talking to clients. But I can't remember the last time I wrote a letter and I've only recently started using email. The only time I ever write a card is on my wife Lottie's birthday.
"However, I receive lots of 'Thank You' cards from clients, and am always very touched that they took the time to write them personally."
Caroline Twohig, 3e News Anchor:
"I'm ashamed to say that it's years since I wrote a proper letter. Growing up, my sisters and I would often get letters from our aunt in Scotland.
"I still remember the excitement of coming home from school to find a letter waiting for you – you'd swear she was sending us wads of cash!
"These days, it's easier to send a text, tweet or Facebook message – but none will ever be as special as a handwritten letter.
"So it's a pity I've lost the ability to write with a pen!"
Tom Dunne, Musician and Presenter:
"As a teenager, I practically wrote short novels to my first girlfriend. I even had preferred writing paper with matching envelopes by Basildon Bond.
"In turn, she would smother her letters to me in lipstick kisses – which I always tried to hide from my mother.
"Of course, all that ended with the arrival of email when I consigned a whole world of postcards, letters, special pens and envelopes emblazoned with SWALK to dust.
"But I still send Christmas cards every year."