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Bowled Out by a Googly

In prehistoric times the written word was hand-made wall pictures. Eventually marks in clay tablets appeared, later quills and ink, then steel nibs, then fountain pens (the most elegant way to make a mark—lets not even mention biros). Documents, ledgers, receipts—all commercial records were once hand written. Time consuming, even with a fountain pen. In a large company, rooms full of scribes would be scratching away at their records. Then the typewriter was invented. By the early 1900s rooms of scribes were replaced by rooms of typists. Average speeds of 60 or 70 words per minutes were faster than manual writing, and with carbon paper copies were instant.

In previous blogs I’ve described my lazy ill-discipline at school and failure to secure a university place. But in the gap year between school and teacher training college, I achieved something I’m proud of: I taught myself to touch-type. Eventually I managed a respectable 60 words-per-minute (or 80 wpm with a few mistakes). I started on a heavy old-fashioned Underwood in the Church office, then I bought a lovely portable Olympia, which I still own. But by far the best typewriter I ever had was a Brother electric daisy-wheel machine. The keyboard had perfect touch and feel. It could also plug into my BBC computer and with the right software serve as a printer.

page from my essay on children’s book illustration

But back to my Olympia portable. I was all set for college. I could rattle off an essay while other students were still struggling with their first page. But you may remember I was an art student. Halfway through the first term a  bombshell burst. We were informed that all our art essays had to be hand-written in italic script, on presentation card, and illustrated. Crucially, a percentage of our mark would be based on the appearance of the work: quality of the script, illustrations and layout, not just the content. Of course, italic script requires even more disciplined practice than typing. Sadly my attitude was was poor. I resented being forced (as I thought) to change my writing. I believed handwriting in my own unique style was a matter of personal agency and I resisted the efforts of Mr. Johnson, the script specialist. Besides, I was furious that my considerable work and effort learning to type was for naught, at least in art. In bad grace I worked on my essays, but never applied the time needed to train my hand properly. In consequence, as you can see from the the photos (yes, I still have some of those essays), my italic script was (and still is) pathetic. I cringe at how bad the script in those essays is (although my freehand sketches aren’t too bad) How stupid! What a missed opportunity.

another page from the same essay

My typing skills were a huge advantage for other courses, of course. But my shock in the art department illustrates that life can throw googlies. (For the benefit of Americans, a googly is a cricket term: an off break bowled with an apparent leg break action). Not all bowlers can do this, but when successful the ball spins in an unexpected direction and the batsman is fooled. A top class batsman can adapt in fractions of a second and survive. My maturity at college was inadequate; I failed to adapt and I was bowled out, at least as far as elegant script was concerned. I’m amazed I did well enough overall to pass the course. Have I improved? Need you ask—I’ve ended up with a displeasing hybrid style, half cursive, half italic script, neither one thing nor the other.

So what chance for New Year resolutions? Well, one thing I need to remember: not to sulk if I prepared the wrong skills for the task I get. When italic script is needed, touch typing just won’t do—get over it. It’s rather common to tackle jobs without skill or even proper tools. But hammering a screw instead of learning to use a screwdriver is idiotic. Yet we live in an age when social media trends are preferred over expert opinion, and celebrities pontificate about the meaning of life. Arriving at truth online can be like clawing through a cave of cobwebs. I’ve learned to be cautious in cyberspace, but a good resolution is to be even more cautious, in fact to read between the lines online. There’s a sound analogy here for religious faith. We don’t visit a store Santa Claus to ask about the birth of Jesus Christ. We visit Santa to ask about presents. Too many apply the principles of science, or logic, or philosophy, to spiritual matters (or listen to celebrities!). Science, logic and philosophy are valuable and may be part of faith, but faith has it’s own unique language and tools. Prayer is paramount. If we want to know about God, just ask him. If we need peace in a troubled world, ask Heavenly Father. If we need strength or faith or courage, go to the Lord in prayer. Now—that’s a really great New Year resolution. And no typewriters needed!


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