On writer quote Wednesday the other week I posted about typewriters and their ribbons. Part of this post is taken from that post. However that was about my father but typewriters writ large in my life as well so plumping the story out a little today.
My earliest memory of typewriters goes way back to before I can remember! Dad had one. Until my teens he was the only man I knew who did possess one at home. It was mainly men back then.
He set up his desk in the living room and each evening he typed. During the day he worked in a bank but at home he was a writer. Which I thought very exotic and exciting, if a trifle inconvenient when I wanted his attention. For help with homework we booked a time and then he was all ours:)
The typewriter ribbons were kept and used in the garden all through my lifetime. To mark out new lawns, to scare birds away from seeds and fruit. The black and red ribbons fluttering all around, the muttered curses when he struggled to change them, the clack of keys in the evening, all punctuated my childhood.
He loved writing, over the years my mother would complain as the machine was packed with the clothes on every holiday we, then they, took. He could not, it seemed, live a fortnight without it:)
Ring any bells here?
He tried his hand at novel writing but it wasn’t to be, what he made extra money and his reputation on were articles. Articles on banking, law and good English. He wrote for ‘in house’ journals and for The Plain English Society. He also had a stint in the 60s and 70s at writing for The Times newspaper about the industrial film industry. When he was established he produced two law books which needed updating every few years and which were in print for nearly 50years.
Well to a ‘daddy’s girl it was obvious what I needed - of course - a typewriter and a desk. I got the desk first, I still have it, and I would write in lined exercise books. It didn’t feel quite right. It needed a typewriter.
One magical Christmas in my early teens I received a joint Christmas / birthday present. It was brand, spanking new and modern. Sleek lines not like Dad’s chunky upright. Mine was cutting edge.
Now to learn how to use it!. Dad was fast and efficient with four fingers, that was good enough for me. I confess that still, decades later despite ‘proper’ lessons, I type with those four fingers.
I never used the machine to the extent Dad did. I was so used to hand writing I found my thoughts became stilted. It was as if the very act of rolling the blank paper in place froze all creative thought. I never told the parents although I am sure they knew.I would transcribe my handwritten stories into type. Back then we were not allowed to type for school - unheard of, so the possibilities to use my machine were limited to say the least, but I did so enjoy the ownership.
Then as I became more proficient and typed a few stories I began to yearn for an ever newer model - sound familiar keyboard users? I saved up and brought an Italian model, even though I could see it lacked the solidarity of mine or Dad’s I loved the Italian modelling and style. I practised my correct fingering on it as homework from the secretarial school I was attending at the time.
At college we had ‘electric typewriters - scary beasts of machines which went so fast that correct fingering was the only way to keep up! I discovered the joys of tabulation and office type activities and for a while enjoyed myself watching the busy little ball swirl around. But… but. . . but, like Dad, my loyalty lay with the old fashioned . I never yearned for an electric model, deciding after a stint at the BBC that office work and moi were destined to lack a common bond I never spoke to an electric model again
I left both my machines at home when I set off on my travels.
Dad’s old typewriter was heavy on hands and wrists and when he retired and could write all day his output increased and one day, while I was on the other side of the world, I received a request from him to borrow one of mine. I was a small child again - proud to be able to help ‘my hero’ it was as if he had held my hand again. Nonsense of course but even a grown up, modern, cutting edge young adult can have their nonsense fancies:)
When I eventually returned home to Blighty for good, to settle, to care for ageing parents I discovered Dad was struggling with even my lightweight machines.
Age had sneakily crept up on him, he had suffered some TIAs. Leaving a tremor in weakened hands. He found the burden of typing hard, and faced retirement from one of his constant joys. We toyed with the idea of an electric model but he was resistant and struggled on, his hours at the keyboard becoming longer as he fought deadlines. My sister joined in and took over some of the typing. She was good, had been trained properly and spent a working lifetime behind various machines.
Just after she was registered blind and began herself to find his typing too much I discovered computers .I treated myself to one of the early home computers. I had decided to write a ‘block buster’ and retire on the proceeds! Hah! So much for dreams!. They were not so user friendly those DOS machines and ‘experts’ had not learnt how to write instructions which could be followed.
I taught Dad how to use this machine bit by bit as I slowly deciphered the instructions. He took to it like a whole pond full of ducks.
Cut and Paste was the miracle of his declining days. He would lie in bed in the morning working out how to rearrange his ‘saved’ text and come down eager to go. The plan had been, he would have the computer during the day while I was at work and I in the evening - well that didn't work so well, he wanted it all the time:) Then we learnt how to use the printer. He was well away, independent again.
He had two years on this computer before he died, a whole new lease of life for the writer within, Still using four fingers. The keyboard was light, the text could be moved around, no more long solid strips of paper proofs to go through - no more whole pages to be retyped because on one mistake. What had filled him with dread - an old age of ‘not being able’ - turned into delight as he mastered this new machine, after nearly 60 years pounding the keys he switched to a new century of technology within weeks and never looked back. How he would have loved the latest models.
He delivered his last updated proofs of his books the day before he suffered the stroke which killed him two weeks later.
The keyboard had been his friend for ever.
His pleasure in the computer keyboard, which kept him writing, my delight.
I am now approaching the same difficulty as he did all those years ago. Even the lightness of the keyboard can be a nightmare of discomfort or pain on wrists which are determined to knock my pleasures away. However, us ageing folk are nothing but resilient , apart from wrist straps, we have handy software such as Dragon to aid us. How Dad would have loved Dragon: he enjoyed talking as much as writing and to be able to sit back in his chair and dictate straight to the computer screen would have had him beaming with satisfaction