Thank your lucky stars this column is in print and not written by hand. If it were, you’d already be tilting your head at 90 degrees, wondering if the page had become a playground for a centipede coated in ink. Sadly, while my handwriting has deteriorated pitifully since I took to a keyboard, I never was very good at it. When as a child I asked if I should learn to write with my left hand as well as my right, in case I broke an arm, my father suggested I try to write adequately with one hand first. Not that he was in any position to boast: his was such a scrawl, he ought to have been a doctor. Yet, whenever I read one of his letters or journals, that Himalayan scribble brings him back as if he were still alive. The time it takes to decipher feels like being with him again.

Of all its benefits over type, handwriting’s most crucial and irreplaceable quality is character. There’s a reason why forensic graphologists are used to analyse written clues, and why criminals cut up newspapers to disguise themselves. Presumably this is why the news that in Finland they are no longer going to teach cursive writing in schools has got the copperplate classes in a lather, even though Finland is not the first to take this step. Some years ago in America, most states were allowed to opt out of teaching cursive script if they so wished. Quite why Scandinavia’s cultural vandalism has lit the taper remains unclear: perhaps since it’s closer we fear contagion? Certainly, there is already such concern here over penmanship among the young that a few schools have insisted on handwriting classes, with pupils using fountain pens. As their teachers have recognised, even though much written communication now is done by text, tweet or email, being able to write well on paper remains a sophisticated craft, all but essential for success.

Decline in writing standards has of course troubled experts for years. One fine calligrapher, Tom Gourdie from Fife, dedicated himself to teaching this art, with books, classes and lectures. For him it was almost a matter of life and death. Even in his final illness he was instructing nurses on how to hold a pen, presumably because in their line of work slovenliness could be fatal.

The way we write is not just an indicator of character, however, it is also a test of it. The requisites are patience, practice, and the ability to think clearly, ideas passing effortlessly from mind to page without the endless deletions and revisions a keyboard allows. If you ever read the manuscript of one of Muriel Spark’s novels in the National Library of Scotland you will be astonished how few crossings out there are, and how readable her text. There can be few better examples of the link between imagination and creative expression than those notebooks. Nor is it any surprise that when she had a windfall, she bought herself a Mont Blanc pen.

Those who say that cursive handwriting is no longer necessary sound like pioneers setting off across thin ice, which those on shore can hear creaking. Research, for instance, shows that neat writers often perform better and achieve more. Cursive lettering makes it easier for the dyslexic to learn to write, and its practical uses still greatly outnumber those of type. Even so, keyboard fans claim that the young no longer have to read or write cards and letters since even granny and great-grandpa now communicate online. Well, if that is the case, it is their enormous loss. Like the runes at Maes Howe, handwriting is as unique and distinctive as our fingerprints. If this skill disappears, the chain with those who went before us will be irrevocably broken. No matter how digital our world becomes, to jettison this facility is to lose something as integral to who we are as speech or accent. The printed word is flat and uninflected whereas script, be it a medieval manuscript or a milkman’s note, brings deeper meaning than just the message it bears.

At school, I was warned never to trust anyone whose writing sloped backwards. It was only when one of my closest friends wrote me long missives during the holidays, whose l’s and t’s and h’s looked as if they’d been blown westward by a Hebridean gale, that I realised this was nonsense. Those letters still lie in a shoebox, written in red, blue, green and black ink, as the mood took him. Alongside are countless others from family and friends over the decades. The envelopes and ink, the misspelled, elegant or crooked words bring back their authors more sharply – and sweetly – than any madeleine, or printout.