Handwriting and subjectivity

I’ve had some interesting conversations recently with friends and colleagues about handwriting. I’m perpetually annoyed and puzzled by my own. Some days it seems legible and orderly, but usually I find it intensely irritating. And I wonder why it varies so much from day to day. Is it to do with mood, or hassle or tiredness? Or something else? In many cases (e.g. the pages of my notebook shown in the photograph) my scribbling seems — to me — to be illegible and hopelessly untidy. Other people’s handwriting, in contrast, always seems to me to be orderly and consistent — even when it’s illegible. But then I discover — from talking to them — that they think my handwriting is neat, orderly, legible and consistent, which it manifestly is not! So is it the case that other people’s handwriting always seems better than one’s own?

Another interesting observation. I spend a lot of my working day with techies. Yet — with only two exceptions — they all carry and use paper notebooks. (The two exceptions carry and make notes on tablet PCs.) It’s clear that the paper notebook has a lot of life left in it yet.

And while I’m on the subject, I’ve been to the terrific exhibition of David Hockney’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. The pictures are wonderful, but in a way the most fascinating exhibit is the glass case containing three of his notebooks. I was reminded of the story (no doubt apochryphal) about Picasso instructing a builder on changes he wanted to make to one of his studios. As he talked, he made some sketches of what he had in mind. Then he handed them to the builder and said “How much will this cost?” “Nothing”, replied the builder. “Just sign it”.