By steduckett, Feb 13 2017 06:25AM
The last few days have been taken up, not on the Psalter as I had planned, but on my Regency Letters, a new product that seems to have strength of character and appeal to people who love beautiful things. Switching several times a day between Gaelic Uncial and Copperplate can be slightly dizzying to the senses - at least to mine (I can only speak personally). So a good, solid week of Regency Letters has been a treat, of sorts.
There is something exceptionally satisfying about these historic letters, as though they have their own gravitational pull. It might sound conceited for me to be saying this; I don't see it that way. The reason? Because my product is nearly all historic: the ink, the script, the general format, the decoration, the wax seal, even the paper fold is authentic to the period. All I've done is added my maker's seal, stuck my DUCKETT livery inside and a modern-day postage stamp on the front, where the postal mark would have gone (back in the day, there were no stamps; recipients would have been expected to pay for their mail delivery when it arrived). Because of this, the product seems to bask in its own authority, as though an historic treasure has been dug up for market. I am just a man with the spade.
In a way, this is exactly what's happened. These techniques are indeed buried right under our noses. No penmanship appreciation in schools, no teaching of beauty within the written hand; and all of this after the devastating effect of the computer age on care in writing beautifully. Yes, I know I'm communicating to you now via my MacBook Pro, but so much beauty - and artistic character - has been buried.
I say buried, because it isn't actually lost. Penmanship (or maybe I should coin the term penpersonship) is still available, still practiced, but we simply choose not to make it important enough to teach at the right age. Which is extraordinary, given the reaction my calligraphy garners whenever I'm writing in a cafe. Droves of people come to me and say how beautiful my work is; they stop to look, admire, ask for my business card, or beg me to show my MS to their 96-year-old mum who's just sat over there in the corner. Again, I say this without conceit, rather with an admiration for Copperplate as a script and its instrinsic developed decorated classy beauty, which drips like watery ink from every last letter and swirl. We love it. We all love beautiful handwriting. The chavs, the grandmas, the child-laden mothers, the grumpy teenage baristas, the professionals: none can help peeking over the old calligraphic shoulder to watch.
Perhaps, just perhaps, society's poor written hand is a barometer for the lack of care we take over ourselves nowadays, for our terrible shyness (or indeed shame) towards anything in our lives that appears beautiful, for the dearth of interest in making everyday things beautiful things. The thought struck me as I went on the school run the other day in Birmingham. As I walked along the streets of terraced houses, I was struck by the beautiful and intricate stonework detailing on each and every house, the level of beauty that has been thought up, designed, and carried out by so many workmen. House after house. Street after street. Would we do that nowadays? Would we hell. It is apathy. And yes, of course it is money too. But the apathy is ruinous. We don't take the care in everyday things. It is the same with signage, with furniture and the scale of modern domestic rooms, the design of pens and pencils and books and waiting room chairs and park benches and lampposts. Ah yes, and our shameful supermarkets that seem to have been designed specifically to make us feel like post-human cyborgs, without the feintest whiff of aesthetic appreciation about us. Only 100 years ago, it was the opposite way round. People made pump houses and signal boxes and general stores and pretty much everything that was in itself dull into an excuse to bring exquisite beauty into the world. There was no shame in it. We knew we could do it beautifully, and we did.
At the opening of the last paragraph I mentioned that modern-day handwriting is a barometer for the lack of care we show to ourselves. The point is this: Nowadays, if I dress up anything beyond a hoodie, I can see people's 'inside voices' saying "Think you're posh, do you?!" and "What makes you so much better than us?" Yes, it is true. When I am ill, I wear a hoodie. When I'm well, I wear a waistcoat and a tie. Even as I sit in solitude at my calligraphy desk, I do so wearing a shirt and tie. Personally, the way I dress is indicative of my mood, and my mood is informed by what I think of myself. A friend of mine starts our phone conversations with "Not a hoodie day, I hope?" It is the same with handwriting. When I'm in a rush, not caring, uninterested in what people think of me and - much more importantly, what I think of myself, I scribble. My own handwriting is beyond appalling. But if I care, if I give myself the time, and consider the gifts I have, then I'll write beautifully. Beauty is always in me, and my decisions are the taps: if I want to, I will make it beautiful. It is about attributing value to life. And this is the heart of it.
We have lost the glorious sanctity of the present moment. We are always somewhere else, anywhere else but learning about our inmost selves.
And the moral of all this early-hours hot air? Well, I'm not sure there ever was one. Essentially, I'm mourning the temporary loss of beautiful things, not least in our handwriting. You know, beautiful handwriting is one of the most treasured personal effects someone has. Its like a pen that can never be lost, always there when you want it. I say temporary, because who knows... perhaps all those people who love to watch me writing in Costa will come to realise that it is not witchcraft or brain surgery that I'm practicing, but a simple decision to make an everyday thing beautiful. It is within us all, because beauty is within us all. We are the tap, and only we can turn it off - and on...
And it doesn't stop at handwriting. The way you pull out a chair from a table, the way you see the world, the way you address someone, the way you listen, the way you make a cup of tea, the way you allow yourself to see beauty in all things... this is the sanctity of the present moment. And I have a life-changing secret for you: it is the beginning of heaven.