Life

Nuala McCann: Life's so fast paced, no-one has the time to write anymore

Please mister, let me get off the bullet train of life; let me hide away in a corner with the weekend supplement and a pot of coffee – and maybe even a fountain pen

Do you ever get that sense of time propelling us forward at breakneck speed?

WE WERE chatting about the bullet-train speed of life in the 21st century over a Thai green curry the other night.

Remember those halcyon days when people wrote letters with pens and at Christmas every available shelf had a Christmas card propped up on it?

Handwriting was a skill that people used to laud. You won prizes for beautiful neat Copperplate script. None of your Times New Roman back then.

There is someone close to my heart who holds a national certificate for his handwriting dated 1968. They don’t make em like that any more.

It is a dying art. Some people are miffed. Some people would like to take a hammer to the tweeting twittering machines and go back to ye good olde days and make people write... with fountain pens.

And when the yoof of today complain and blot their copy books with big ink splodges, some people like us would say smugly: “Oh, you seem to have an old version of handwriting there, haven’t you updated to the latest version?”

Ha, that would be fun!

Don’t get me wrong. My handwriting is so bad that I regularly have to read out my scrawl on the birthday card to the recipient. I’m an 80-words-a-minute touch typer of a woman these days.

It was not always so. Once, there was the joy of the fountain pen. Once, I loved the fresh white pasture of a page and the indigo blue ink and the neat, fine script.

We learned in Primary Four – in the days when school desks had inkwells built in and your starter pen was a long piece of wood with a scratchy steel nib. It didn’t help being left handed.

It was big step up from the pencil. The joy grew as the ink flowed and, for a while, I had neat clear script and later, as a student, spent hours in pen shops in Germany – they had a superior version of a fountain pen. I even keep my father’s old fountain pen in my drawer – a memento from long ago.

And when friends do write – as a few do even now – some of them have a beautiful hand. But, skill sets change with every generation. That is progress.

My father-in-law could polish damask cloth to perfection in the linen mills of yesteryear. But it’s no longer a marketable skill. You go to the shop and you buy cheap linen from a faraway place – or you go on the internet and you source the best and order it up. Oh brave new world.

When the first supermarkets came to my old home town, it took a while for folk to get used to them. In one of my mother’s favourite shops, they introduced the theory – a neat set of silver steel baskets at the door; self service shelves – but they were slow to adopt the practice.

So that when you entered, an assistant would lift the basket, you’d tell him what you wanted and he’d whisk around the shelves and get it for you.

That was good old fashioned service that came along with the bill written up by hand – in neat script.

Ha, those were the days of petrol pump attendants – please somebody bring them back.

I’m no troglodyte. The other day when we were joking about handwriting, I was singing the praises of my new tablet and the beauty of reading the newspaper online. Of course I buy papers – I love the rustle and the leafing through and the folding and the sheer ritual – as much a part of the luxury of Saturday as a large pot of coffee.

But I would lie if I said that I don’t love the immediacy of breaking news, the ability to click through from topic to topic on the tablet, the way news is tailored to suit your interests.

Actual paper newspapers could become niche items, like my father’s fountain pen – beautiful, snug as a gun in the hand, but in danger of extinction.

My friends argue that people will always want the paper – to hold and to fold from this day forth.

Forget streaming music, hasn’t vinyl made a come back, they say. True, but it doesn’t curb that sense of time propelling us forward at breakneck speed on the bullet train of life. So please, mister, let me get off, let me hide away in a corner with the weekend supplement.

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