Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

21.2.13

That isn't writing, it's typing.

Children do dreadful things when they pretend machines are toys. In the early 1960s we had an ancient typewriter; a big, tall, black monster of a machine that sat on felt-covered feet. I forget the manufacturer. I'd bash away at the keys and get the type bars all entangled at the platen like crashed cars piling up on a freeway, and then prise them away again one by one. It was a heavy machine, but if you slammed the return hard enough the whole thing would slide left an inch or so. This was because it the only place we could sit the typewriter was on the kitchen table, and the kitchen table always had a tablecloth on it. The tablecloth taught me to be gentle with things. Bash, bash, ding, rrrrip, bang, slide.

We used to type pretend menus and slip them inside those 1960s padded vinyl folding menu holders that had the title of the café embossed in gold on the cover, along with a picture of an elegant couple dining in front of a hovering pencil-moustached waiter holding a white cloth-covered bottle. (Failure of the shift key would result in the often-seen error: 'today8s special'.)

At first, our monster typewriter had a black ribbon, but later my father brought home a blue and red one, and there was a mad rush to the typewriter to type words in technicolour. If you fiddled about with the register you could get half-blue and half-red type. This was fun. I wrote letters to pen-friends (a primitive form of Facebook) entirely in blue and red.

Then I grew up and worked in an agency in St Kilda Road, and there was a brief and quite odd twilight when writers abandoned typewriters, went back to hand-writing, and had their words typed by a super-fast secretary driving an IBM Selectric. This was cheaper than buying one for every writer (meaning an IBM, not a secretary). These were halcyon days because you could go to lunch, or disappear, or go home, while someone else typed a twelve-page brochure, or a 30-second radio commercial for that matter. We had fun choosing typefaces, all on different golf balls, as if it was important. I preferred sans serif fonts, because serifs looked wrong now, like too many details on a clock. We went through a lot of stages fast. It was hard to keep up. TippEx. Wite-Out. Contact paper that removed the wrong letter.

I bought my first electronic typewriter from Joel Harris Office Supplies in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy and it could have been the last typewriter they sold. It hummed. It weighed no more than a book. The letters made no indentations on the paper, so they did not look as impressive as an old-fashioned typed page. The machine had a correction ribbon, which I was always replacing, until the next era. When computers became mainstream, they threw out all the Selectrics and electronic typewriters, and sacked the secretaries, and gave everyone a keyboard and a screen; and invented the ugly phrase "word processing". The expression "That isn't writing, it’s word processing" just doesn't sound as blunt. We had to relearn our typing skills. But computers found favour because of our two friends 'cut' and 'paste'.

We didn’t look back. But International Typewriter Appreciation Month is looking back. It doesn’t seem to have a headquarters, or a three-day conference, or a website (which would be ridiculous).

But here’s a good place to start.

Your early - or later - writing experiences or anecdotes (pens, typewriters, electronic devices, whatever) in comments please.

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