Been clearing out my aunt’s house as she has moved to sheltered housing. That’s a whole other post or ten, but we have come across some stuff that belonged to my late Grandma, who lived in the house all her life.
One of them is her typewriter.
Oh wow, a typewriter. Who can’t, upon seeing a typewriter, have a little play on the keys?
I set it up in the kitchen to see if the ribbon was dry and by the end of the day the paper was full of random sentences. No-one who came in the house could resist it.
My children love it. When asked why, my daughter replied “it’s such fun!”
“Hmmm,” said my son. “There’s no delete key is there? Don’t you need Tipp-Ex or something?” as if he was talking about needing a button hook to do up his boots before going out to the pump for water.
It also came with two sheets of exciting carbon paper, which I had forgotten existed (originator of the cc – carbon copy – command in emails for you millennial kids out there).
Grandma was a shorthand typist, and once retired she was secretary for various groups, taking minutes and typing them up, sending off letters booking tearooms for forty loud Yorkshire women in flowery dresses on day trips to Chesterfield cathedral and Little John’s grave.
So the typewriter is a good one, an Imperial 200, and has been looked after and well-maintained (there would have been a typewriter service shop somewhere nearby, probably Barnsley, where she would have had it looked at regularly by some ink-stained little man called ‘Mr Spickley’ or something).
And little did I know, but typewriters go for about twenty or thirty quid on eBay, plus postage.
You can still buy ribbons for this model, including those half black, half red ones, for writing final demands, and even a ribbon of groovy purple ink.
My first newsroom had typewriters the size of mini-diggers, and it was so noisy on deadline day you could hear it on the street. When we finally upgraded to computers (lovely Apple Macs) it was better in every way.
It is such fun, clattering away on the keys, jamming your fingers down and ripping your cuticles, waiting for that lovely little ‘ding’ to say you only have five characters left, getting ink all over your hands when you have to change the ribbon, pissing around with Tipp-Ex whenever you made a mistake, typing over it too soon and getting white stuff all over your keys, having a couple of keys (usually ‘e’ and ‘t) that are so worn down you had to hit them with a hammer to get them to register on the page…
My daughter was thrilled to discover how it works. You press a lever, it hits a thin ribbon of ink, and a letter appears. Easy to see, to comprehend.
Unlike a computer, where the keys have had special springs put in so you feel as if you are doing something but it has nothing to do with levers and ink. No matter how hard you bash the keys, the letters look the same. Nothing gets stuck and you don’t break any nails. There is no ding.
And typewriters aren’t connected to anything. So what you write can’t be traced, as long as you wipe the fingerprints off.
Back in the day, Scotland Yard had typewriter experts (I may just be making this up) who could look at ransom demands and anonymous letters and say ‘the fading on the letter s and the fact the letter p falls below the line indicate this typewriter was bought in a second store in Brighton and is used by a woman with an arthritic hip’.
What can they say now about anonymous Hotmail emails and Twitter trolls? That the writer’s use of Comic Sans indicates they have only a basic version of Windows 98 installed?
You had to think what you were writing with a typewriter. With news stories, you wrote it in your head first, then bashed it out on paper. It was a bloody pain, but it was brilliant training. And you couldn’t write too fast, you had to think about every letter, or your keys got jammed.
When something has been written by a typewriter, it doesn’t have the transient quality a screen, or a sheaf of laser-printed graphics and fancy fonts. Typewritten papers are really written; they stay written.
So what am I doing? Am I looking up Imperial 200 Typewriter 1970s Original With Case on eBay? Yes, of course – in order to buy a replacement purple ribbon and some Tipp-Ex.