Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cursive Handwriting Gets Short Schrift in Germany

I found this article in the Guardian about a campaign by German primary school teachers to abandon teaching young children to write in cursive script very interesting indeed. When I lived in Germany, I noticed that handwritten notices often looked as though they had been written by the same person. I've noticed this in France, too. (The tell-tale for me is the way French people often write the numeral nine with a dog-leg.)

I should have guessed that they are taught how to write in a prescriptive way, using an officially-approved method of handwriting, hence the similarities. I don't remember anything like that in my own primary education; by the time I started school in 1972, British educationalists had already abandoned copperplate script training. I learned my letters and words and wrote them in printed form, then wrote them in script. I used a pencil to start with, before moving on to a (fountain) pen. By the time I moved on to joined-up writing, I was a bit haphazard in how I joined up the letters, and my script was barely legible. I changed it back to a printed form following school reports from teachers who could not read my handwriting easily, and I have stuck with it since. Over time, my handwriting has become joined-up again for speed, and progressively more italic; examples of my own handwriting from school and university show that I began straighter than the definite slant I show now. That said, I have developed some bad habits, such as not differentiating between the letters "l" and "t" clearly enough.

So I have some sympathy for the members of the Deutscher Lehrerverband when they say that abandoning the Schreibschrift will make their job more difficult. Although I am sure my seven year old self would have hated having to copy out letters laboriously in the classroom, in retrospect I would probably have benefited from having to follow such a system for education. On the other hand, I would never have felt the need to change my handwriting to be better understood, and experimented with a way of writing that suited my needs.

On reflection, I think it is probably better to let children work out how to express themselves in print by working out their own handwriting style, than to dump officially-sanctioned script praxis on them. The teacher's job becomes one where they guide the student into forming their own letters, and away from mere "talk and chalk". It is also more difficult, I would think. What do readers who were educated in countries which insisted on cursive writing think? (I'm thinking of you, Matthias and Gunther.)

Mind you, I have often thought of getting a copy book and learning how to write in copperplate style to complement my fountain pens. And then I'd have to get a nice pen with a really flexible nib...

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Monsieur Notebooks

A few weeks ago I was sent these attractive leather-bound books from Hide Stationery, a recently-established English company that sells them under the Monsieur brand. These notebooks are hand-bound in India, by craftsmen paid fair wages, and have a definite "hand-made" artisanal feel about them; you can see from the occasional loose fibre on the edges of the leather that they have been cut by hand. These are not high-end leather goods as you might see in Smythson's, but a practical alternative for the rest of us. (That said, I really must replace my Game Book before the start of the grouse season as my current one is nearly full. ;-)) The leather is very rigid on the small black notebook, but has more "give" on the larger, A5 book. Monsieur state that the leather used in the binding is vegetable-tanned, and it shows in the patterns you see in the leather. As this is a natural material you will notice slight blemishes, marks and wrinkles which I think is part of the charm. See below for a close-up of the finish on the A5 brown leather notebook.

The books are stiff when new, and take a little bit of effort to open. They are perfect-bound, and don't lay flat when opened. Over time, I should think it will be easier to make it lie flat, as the leather in the spine is broken in. They have that leathery aroma, as another reminder of this book's cover material.

The black notebook is around A6 size, 145mm high by 110mm. It has 192 6mm ruled pages of 90gsm ivory paper. I have no information to hand as to the origin of the paper used, but hopefully this is also obtained from sustainable sources. Taking my fountain pens and a few pencils out, I tested the paper to see how well it handles fountain pen ink and graphite.

As you can see, the paper can handle my inks fairly well. There's a bit of feathering on the Diamine Imperial Blue from my M90, perhaps some also with the Kelly Green, but that is all. My M90 is a wet writer anyway, which is why I use it to test paper in these reviews. When you turn the page, you do notice some bleedthrough, though it's not excessive by any means.

This is a classic "little black book" for writing down your innermost thoughts, or perhaps just notes from a boring business meeting. With this cover, it should last for years in your handbag or briefcase. I like this little notebook a lot, but for me the winner in this pair is the larger, brown leather bound A5 notebook. This one also has 192 pages, this time of plain paper of the same off-white stock as the black notebook. As I don't draw very well, I did not test the paper on this book, but I imagine it behaves as well as the paper in its smaller cousin. This is the proper size for a leather-bound notebook, I think. It's big enough for sketches, for which the plain paper helps. It's not far removed from the kind of notebook you would imagine Charles Darwin scribbling in as he wandered around the Galapagos islands.

Both notebooks have the regulation Moleskine-style elastic closure and bookmark ribbon, though they lack the Mole's inside-pocket. Good; Monsieur seem to have decided to keep things simple, and the pocket introduces more complexity to the design. The name and address plate on the inside is there however, printed in the art nouveau style. It's also styled in French as it says simply, "Nom, etc."

Both notebooks also have an embossed Monsieur logo on the back cover, complete with moustache and monocle. To my eye also harks back to the belle epoque, and makes for a nice finishing touch:

I think these notebooks are excellent, and should become more interesting over time as the material ages; by the time you've filled it up with your jottings, it'll look like the diary in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Some people may find them a bit rough-and-ready, but I like that quality, and they fill a niche for hand-made leather notebooks which would otherwise be satisfied by more expensive products. The A6 retails for up to GBP9.99 and the A5 for up to GBP12.99.

They are available at a few stationers' in the UK, and online at Papernation.

My thanks to Tom at Hide Stationery for the review samples.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Guardian Pencil Discussion

Pencil fandom becoming mainstream? The Guardian has a discussion about contemporary pencil usage.

Personally I don't consider myself to be a "commodity fetishist" when it comes to pencils, but I enjoyed this article and the comments beneath. I'll be commenting later, when I get back from an engagement I have this evening....

Cult Pens gets a few mentions in the article and the comments, as does Dave's Mechanical Pencils. Nice to see pencils get a discussion.

It would be great if some of the pencil bloggers could contribute to the comments, too.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Staedtler Wopex 2B

Apologies for the first picture - if anyone can't read it, let me know at the usual address.