Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Requiem for the Typewriter


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!


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

13 thoughts on “Requiem for the Typewriter

  1. Interesting. Didn’t even consider that anyone would be nostalgic for typewriters. How did you fix mistakes, did you phave to redo the whole thing?

  2. LOL! Sometimes you just had to bin it, yes. If you were at the beginning that was easier. If you were towards the end, then you had to wind the page up slightly, stick a piece of paper under the carbon and use an eraser, (the piece of paper so you didn’t make a nasty mess of the carbon copy). Then you had to erase the mistake on the carbon too – heaven help you if you were making multiple copies! THEN you had to hope that when you wound the paper back it ended up exactly where it was – with multiple copies that rarely happened! Later, we had Tippex, which meant waiting for each page to dry after you’d corrected, to make sure they didn’t all stick together!

    Sounds hard, but we were much better typists back then, because we tried at all costs to avoid mistakes! These days it doesn’t matter so much – even if you don’t correct your own mistakes, chances are that Spellcheck will!

    Never had it so good :=)

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. One of the nicest things about working for a US company (El Paso) was they brought in the latest typewriters, so I had an IBM with a kind of revolving ball instead of a carriage AND an automatic (almost) correction system whereby you just backtyped and it erased the mistake by magic! Not on the copies of course. And what about Xeroxes? You had to daub over the mistakes with a kind of pink nail varnish, wait until it dried, then type over it all. Ah – happy days!

  4. Jejeje. I thought about those, the Xeroxes, too, Wendy! But I thought maybe I’d prattled on for long enough! And when you cranked out the copies the ink was all over the place! I scrounged a couple of my mom’s old work uniform coats to wear over my clothes to protect them!

  5. OH, and I’m glad I didn’t know about those typewriters at the time. I would have been SO jealous!

  6. My school seemed to think that the smart girls would become teachers or nurses and the rest of us would get married, so they refused to teach typing. I went back to college of my own volition to learn to type later, on the cusp of electric typewriters becoming the norm, but in our poor college, most of the typewriters were still manual. I can’t touch type and was never particularly good at it (or spelling), despite getting my RSA II.

    On the other hand, my dad used to be able to touch type because he’d been taught in the RAF during WWII. I always reckoned that was a result for equality.

    Oh, the other place they still had manual typewriters in Tenerife until relatively recently (the mid 90’s at any rate) was the police. I remember going to the old National Police station in PDLA to make denuncias and them cranking them out slowly (and badly) on manual typewriters that were so old they probably pre-dated the Ark. 🙂

    • Yep. I’d forgotten that about the police stations. How sad that so many of us remember that – means that we all had to make denuncias!

      My school was the same! That’s why I chose the college course I did, which was an HND in business studies (kept failing bl**dy O level math so I couldn’t get into uni!). It promised to be a degree equivalent with the advantage of learning typing and shorthand! I quit before we got into the shorthand! It was so outrageous, the way it was promoted! I understand it fulfilled its promise in later years, but certainly at that time (3 yrs in and no graduates at that time) it was floundering. Looking back I think they didn’t know what to do with it, and it was 1966 and the world was on the cusp of big changes.

  7. Oh, I forgot to mention that I used to work – translating and reporting – for most of the English language newspapers there. The reality is nothing like the romance. The sensibilities of the advertisers always dictates the editorial line.

    • LOL! I know that now. In fact, I suppose I knew it then too! That said, seeing the Robert Capa Exp in Santa Cruz a couple of months ago – I can see where the myths were born.

      You just hit on one of my pet themes – the dumbing down of the press! What is the point of guys like Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondos giving their lives to bring us the truth, when all the media cares about is what sells – which of course is, basically, trivia!

  8. Though I love to hear the sound of the typewriter I cant imagine having to actually use on of those things right about now. Your teacher was tough but thats how some people were back then.

  9. Yep, the sound was really cool, just something about it…..

    LOL! So they were. I had a lot of teachers like that! Whilst my education was excellent on content it lacked a lot on motivation though!

    PS Was there once for the Garden Festival in Epcot – wonderful!

  10. Well you have taken me right back to my first job as a junior typist! I had to make tea for the whole office twice daily and also releive on the switchboard for an hour at lunch (old manual type, plugs and sockets) and the rest of the time was typing things like envelopes to begin with. At nights I wen to Miss Hunt’s typing school. She had an agency during the day and at night made more money by teaching typing and shorthand. I became a ‘copy typist’ and in the pool of about six or more I was the worst and sloppiest of the lot. Only the head typist got use the dictaphone. This was the latest technology back then, and men away on business could send the tapes back to base for typing up letters etc. The only electric typwriter belonged to the company sectretary’s sectretary, and she was a worse typist than most in the pool. We looked down on her work although of course she had a better job than us. The pool’s main job was typing Bills of Quantities, which had several copies. (Building firm) then myself and a junior surveyor had to sit and check for mistakes, he reading me checking. Next to us was the comptometer room, where women sat inputting figures into machines which spewed out rolls of paper and it all seemed a great mystery to me. Dress doe was always skirts and ‘heels’ and never trousers. Mini skirts came in later or I’m not sure these would have been allowed. The head typist once took me on one side for wearing too much make up! If you think I was 15/16 and still experimenting with my ‘look’. Reading magazines and trying everything going! Although I had some shorthand I was never called on to take a letter, but maybe had to readback someone elses from time to time. Anyway, my favourite was the switchboard, which led to me applying to the GPO and become a ‘hello girl’. By the time I was 18 my typing days were over, but I can still type more quickly than many and use all the right fingers for the keyboard.
    We had a small, un ventialted room where copies were made in machines, which then had to be pegged out to dry. It was all very much the norm then and so very outdated within about five to ten years I suppose. Now those offices are pulled down, the company gone and life has rolled on!

    • Thank you for sharing that! A glimpse of the past, and quite frightening that it’s a memory as well as a part of history, isn’t it!

      You have my sympathy with the Bills of Quants! I only ever did one, single handed, as a favor for a friend who was trying to set up his own business. I did it at home at night, and went into work early to use the Xerox to crank out the copies – ouch!

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