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Ian O'Doherty: When it comes to the dying art of handwriting, I'm a demented chimp

When was the last time you wrote a letter? I mean, an actual, honest to goodness handwritten letter, not a quick email or text. And when was the last time you received one in the post?

The chances are, if you're anything like me, you probably can't even remember when.

I was wracking my brains about this yesterday and then it hit me ... the only time people seem to send handwritten letters these days is after someone has died, which I suppose is keeping a nice tradition alive.

But, by and large, the art of handwriting is dying out.

And I, for one, won't miss it.

Don't get me wrong. I admire fine penmanship as much as the next man.

Indeed, I genuinely fear that given the utter destruction being wrought on our language thanks to textese, our language will soon devolve into a series of incomprehensible abbreviations. And that would be totes inapprops.

So, if I am something of a traditionalist when it comes to these things, why do I not mourn the demise of the handwritten letter?

Well, it's quite simple -- I myself can't write.

And before you make some snarky comment about that being screamingly obvious to anyone who has ever read this column, I mean I can't physically write with a pen.

I'm hopeless, always have been, always will be and really, really wish that I wasn't as rubbish at it as I am.

When I think back to school days, particularly my primary years in Drimnagh Castle, I still remember being stuck in the remedial class when it came to writing.

The teachers used to despair and even when my parents made me do extra homework to try to improve the spider-like squiggles that passed for actual words, I was just thoroughly clueless.

My Ma had a nice hand, my Da was okay, but I was the simpleton who had to be taught -- repeatedly -- how to even hold a pencil in the correct fashion to stop me from making a hames of everything before then ripping up the copy book in impotent frustration.

Don't worry, I remember one teacher telling my concerned parents, he's not technically slow, it's just that he writes like a two-year-old.

I hadn't considered the idea that I might be slow, and neither had my parents, but that kind-hearted yet unconsciously cruel comment threw us all into a tizzy.

And nothing has changed.

I had a serious case of Man Flu just after Christmas -- well, as every bloke knows, all cases of Man Flu are serious -- and was freezing cold, sweating and shivering at the same time.

I was in a bank, trying to fill out a lodgement form and the more self-conscious I felt about my handwriting the worse it got -- I quickly went through different forms before giving up and asking the bank teller to fill out the grid with the account number for me because I kept missing the boxes.

She duly obliged -- in the same kindly manner as the teacher who tried to reassure my parents that despite the evidence to the contrary provided by work of a pencil, I was not, after all, actually slow.

Jesus, I thought.

Will my humiliation never end?

Here in Casa Indo, they did a campaign a few years back where some of us had to write out a paragraph of our work and then they brought in a graphologist to analyse our personalities from how we wrote.

Good little worker drone that I am, I promptly set about writing the required paragraph -- about 10 times, until I figured it was presentable enough to be read by someone else.

So, I sent duly sent it off and was immediately confronted by one of the people involved in the campaign: "Look," he said, "if you don't want to do it, then don't f***ing do it. But don't be taking the piss out of us with handwriting like that."

When I explained that the copy I had sent was about my 10th attempt, he looked at me pityingly, and unconsciously speaking to me as if I was slow -- a bit like my teacher when I was a kid -- he apologised and told me not worry.

So I didn't.

But it's not just me.

I was talking to a guy who most definitely could not be described as slow -- but he's a lawyer, so there are plenty of other words we could use -- who also admitted that he had been in remedial class in school for handwriting.

I'm rather ashamed to admit that it was strangely comforting to know that not only was I not alone in having writing that looks like I was holding the pen in my mouth, but here was someone who was even worse than I was.

And the only thing better than not being the best at something is at least the consolation of knowing that you're not the worst.

To completely contradict my opening point about never receiving handwritten letters, I just remember that I get occasional ones from readers and by far the most legible come from, shall we say, older readers.

They are obviously products of a time when good penmanship was essential and was almost seen as a sign of class and good breeding.

Sadly for me, however, these easily deciphered, well worded and finely crafted missives tend to be from older people berating me for lowering the tone of their favourite paper and invariably, after explaining in graphic and inventive detail ways in which I should retire from journalism, they all finish with "yours sincerely ... "

So you see, children, just because you have written a poison pen letter to a stranger in which you wish various horrible things happen to him, that's no excuse to forget your manners and not finish with a good, old-fashioned "yours sincerely."

Nope, it looks like I am going to have to suffer the embarrassment of everything I write looking like the work of a demented chimp.

It's email all the way for me, I'm afraid.

So, if you're like me, drop me a note with your scarring experiences.

Although the chances are I won't be able to read a word of it ...

Irish Independent