Tuesday, 10 November 2009

When one door closes............

There is an old saying here that when one door closes, another opens, Well, today I met a friend for lunch on the other side of the Pennines. The journey was through spectacular countryside - very wild and high, with little habitation. I put my camera in the car, expecting to take a series of photographs on the journey. The road goes through the famous Three Peaks district, so I looked for Whernside and Ingleborough to photograph. Where had they gone? They were totally in cloud - right down to the valley floor. Visibility was very poor all the way until I dropped down into the Trough of Bowland, where the sun was trying its best to get out.
So - sorry, but there are no photographs today.
However, on the way there I was thinking of what I could post today if all else failed - and of course I came up with another topic which is in the news here at the moment, and it is a topic close to my heart as an ex-English teacher. It is "that letter." I don't suppose there is anyone in the UK who has not heard of it, but for readers elsewhere the letter I am talking about is the one which our Prime Minister sent to a grieving parent after her son was tragically killed in Afghanistan.
I am sure the Prime Minister was sincere in offering his condolences, and a personal letter is surely the best way, short of actually calling personally. But am I old fashioned (many would say I am) in that I still think First Impressions matter greatly.
The Prime Minister does not have good hand-writing. He is not the only one - handwriting has not been taught in our schools for donkey's years and as a nation we have no accepted script. (For US readers, I can usually pick out people who come from the US because you have been taught "proper" script - and it shows). So I excuse Gordon Brown his poor handwriting. What I cannot excuse is the rest of the sorry saga. The poor, grieving mother has said that he spelt her son's name wrong and also that the letter was written with a felt tipped pen (and not even a fine tip).
First of all the spelling. As a teacher I would say to a pupil - if your handwriting is bad then it is even more important to make sure you lay the letter out correctly. The receiver of your letter gets his or her first impression of you from what lies on the page - so be aware of that. Even using a ballpoint is suspect in my book - if you take the trouble to write a letter to someone, take the trouble to use pen and ink. And if you don't know what pen and ink is then buy a really fine fibre-tip which uses proper ink.
Set your letter out beautifully on the page - line each single line up so that it is neat and precise - use paragraphs to separate - and check spelling. If your spelling is suspect (and let us face it none of us have perfect spelling) then ask someone (surely the PM has numerous 'secretaries')
to check it for you.
Am I being too pedantic? Is it too much to ask? All I can say is that if I get a letter (and let's face it letters of any kind are few and far between these days) and it is on scruffy note paper, or badly written, or badly spelled - then I am put off the writer immediately (unless he or she is under the age of about seven).
When our government purports to be so dedicated to improving education, what kind of message does this send out? And that it was sent to a grieving mother makes it all the worse.
What do you think?

14 comments:

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

This is painful on so many levels. I cannot imagine how awful the poor soldier's mother must have felt to see her son's name misspelled. God.
But on the other hand, I just know the poor PM must have been mortified as well. All I can say...at least it wasn't an email!

willow said...

And at least it wasn't in purple ink!!

Heather said...

My heart goes out to that grieving mother, but at least she had a letter from the Prime Minister. I don't suppose he has written to each of all the other parents whose sons have been killed. I don't know the details of the mis-spelt name. Was it really mis-spelt or simply badly written? Apart from this, I agree with everything you say in your post Weaver. In addition to not being taught to write and spell, our children are not even taught English grammar.

Rachel Fox said...

I'm afraid he will just be remembered as the prime minister who couldn't get anything right. After Blair there was a lot of good will for him but he's not been any kind of success.
x

Penny said...

Oh dear I am afraid you would hate to get a letter from me, cant spell and my writing is terrible. Having said that any one in authority should make sure that what they write is correctly spelt and legible.

gleaner said...

I did happen to see this on the news here in Australia - initially of course I thought it showed extreme insensitivity but then when it was reported latter in the day it was suggested he was dyslexic? I thought it was a rather relevant detail and perhaps changed the reporting of the story - a PM who knows he has dsylexia but persists in writing his own letters and refuses departmental checks...or a personal assistant who knows the PM's disability and fails to adequate ensure these type of mistakes are not made.

Elisabeth said...

I write letters often, the old fashioned variety to a series of correspondents and because my hand writing is bad, I always type them, at least then they're legible.

I'd love to have the ability to hand write beautifully, but given that I do not, the next best thing for me is the typed letter.

Perhaps the PM could have typed his. On the other hand, it's possible his response was genuine and he really did want to connect.

It's hard to believe that politicians can ever be genuine, and spontaneous though I'm sure sometimes they can. Maybe this is one such time, and so sad that he fluffed it.

Spelling names correctly is important. It's part of our sense of identity and that to me is the worst part of the PM's error, because it suggests he perhaps didn't care as much as he might have.

Jane Moxey said...

Ah the gentle art of letter writing. Mostly a thing of the past these days. I rarely receive hand written letters, and certainly don't send them any more. My handwritng (which started out as a nice Marion Richardson round fat script) is now appalling. And what an awful blunder by your PM. Maybe it's kindest to think he had the best intentions.

Arija said...

It occurs to me dear Weaver that there is a perfectly good reference book punlished in England called The Oxford Dictionary and if I can have one at hand, surely the PM can afford one too ... or is he unable to look up a word as well?
Am I being too severe? At least he could have had someone proof read it knowing his own shortcomings.
I will not eleborate on the atrocities of a felt tip, for marking clother, maybe, for letter writing, never.

Golden West said...

I, too, am a stickler for proper spelling. There is great beauty in words and so many nuances amongst them that it is possible to express ourselves precisely if we so desire.

What an unfortunate error for your PM. I'm sure his heart was in the right place, although it must have added insult to injury for the bereaved.

Leenie said...

Spelling, handwriting, punctuation and personal letters are all so important for communication and so neglected.

Cloudia said...

Good intention does not forgive the shortcomings you point out...


Aloha, Friend!


Comfort Spiral

Bovey Belle said...

I would have been incensed if I had received this letter too. I think if you have poor handwriting, then if you really must use felt-tip, then a fine tip it must be - not something compatible with writing names on name-tags for shirts . . .

Something so personal as a letter to a grieving mother was completely rushed and bodged and whoever passed it to be sent needs sacking too.

I understand that GB is practically blind in one eye; he may have dyslexia, but I agree with Elisabeth when she says:

"Spelling names correctly is important. It's part of our sense of identity and that to me is the worst part of the PM's error, because it suggests he perhaps didn't care as much as he might have."

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for the interesting comments. You will see that there is an update on my blog. As the Prime Minister is only partially sighted then i suppose there is some excuse. The lady who complained has now accepted his apology, so it will all blow over I expect.