The news shared by this article from the April 26th Daily Mail (sorry to mention that, but it is where I found the story) spawned a tide of blog posts, comments and articles on the day, so let me add mine, because the story made me realize how important in my life the typewriter was.
Before I begin, let me explain that this comes to you from the same person who used to stand outside the basement vents of the local newspaper, listening to the “music” of the presses as they clattered out the evening edition, hoping by some miracle that some journalistic vibes would transfer from them to me. It never happened, of course.
The typewriter was another symbol of the dream I never fulfilled. If I close my eyes I see Spencer Tracy or Clark Gable, sleeves rolled up, hat at a rakish angle, pounding away at the finishing touches to a scoop. One day my mom brought home an old one from her work, there were two keys missing, but how I loved writing my pathetic, little stories and imagining myself in some far-flung corner of the globe, filing reports that would change the world. How satisfying was the clatter and the whizz-bang as I returned the carriage at the end of the page!
Typewriters = writing. Never occurred to me that typewriters for some people equalled being a secretary. After school I enrolled in a Business Studies Course, partly because it taught touch typing – to the girls that is! When we were learning to stretch our fingers the correct distance, the boys were having extra accounting lessons. Clearly none of them dreamed of being a writer, nor did any of the staff expect it of us, to my horror. By the end of the first term I’d sussed that this new course was seen only fit to produce a higher level of secretary or account clerk. The girls were forbidden to wear trousers for typing lessons! Can you imagine? I honestly find it hard to believe that this was a world I lived in. No matter how cold it was (and it was a very cold winter) we had to turn up in stockings (tights/pantyhose were just coming out then) and neat, knee-length skirts. “Ladies, you will dress for my lessons just as you would dress when you go to work.” We had one of those old dragons of a teacher you see usually only in old black and white movies of a certain era, tight-lipped and disapproving of our youth, but I digress.
I fled from college pursued by the demons of mediocrity and self-doubt, which took up residence on my shoulders for a very long time thereafter. I got that secretarial job (oh it was temporary and there was a plan, but that’s a whole other story), and I pounded away at a typewriter for, well, far too long. At some stage in those following years the clunky, manual variety became electric. I missed the clickety-clack, but liked that I could type faster. I did my mourning back then.
That was the state of play when I emigrated. I’m fairly sure I must have brought my portable electric typewriter with me, but it’s not something I remember. I certainly had one at home. By that time they had long been the norm back in the UK, but there was zilch romance attached to them.
So I was surprised to find the old, manual ones still in use here in banks and lawyers’ offices on Tenerife when I arrived, not so much for the day-to-day stuff, in fact, by then word processors were coming in, but for when duplicate documents were need for immediate signing. A lawyer or bank manager would think nothing of pulling over a small table on wheels where the chunky old model sat, and applying two fingers in halting and heavy fashion to produce the document themselves. I’ve seen this even in quite recent years, so now I am wondering what on earth they will do without them! I would bet my bottom dollar that those 10,000 they were producing up to 2009 were sold in Spain!