Wednesday, November 21, 2012

End of the line

Evidently, yesterday marked the official end of typewriter production in the UK.  The last manufacturer, Brother's in North Wales, ceased production and donated its final machine to the Science Museum. Already typewriters are regarded as retro; in a few years, they'll be sold alongside wind-up gramophones and knife polishers.

I for one won't miss them. Typewriters aren't kind to bad spellers. Nor do they work for those whose words evolve rather than being preplanned.  In all my writing I'm constantly changing, reordering, reading aloud, reordering again.  This is my second paragraph and (believe me I've been counting)  I have made sixty-one, yes that was sixty-one revisions already - oops, sixty two (I spelt revisions incorrectly - and again, sixty three)

The critics say word processors make us lazy - and in my case, that's true to an extent.  But I'd argue it's more a change of style (sixty four, another spello corrected).  Frankly, I couldn't work without going back over every sentence. I've come to realise that the mistakes (sixty-five) and other amendments (sixty-six, no sixty-seven - how the hell do you spell amendments? sixty-eight) are actually part of my process. (I've just made a further seven amendments to sentence structures on re-reading the last three paragraphs)

Where is all of this going, other than rapidly (seventy-six) towards a century of spellos, typos other amendments (darn it, seventy-seven)?  Frankly, I have no idea - like most of what I write.

Except I'm trying to show that working inaccurately and correcting as you go has its merits too. Some people do this on paper; I use a screen. The important point is that trial and error, invention and reinvention,  are at the heart of creativity - for me, a typewriter would stifle that process and with a few 'in theory' exceptions (lack of electricity for example) I can't think why or when I'd ever use one.

By the way, I gave up listing the errors above, because I'm now way over two hundred. (Yes, I mean two hundred) What's more, I've read every paragraph above at least six times, some sentences twice that amount and changed some words almost as many. Despite all this, I've absolutely no doubt that when I press publish, I shall find another five or six changes to make.

So I shan't be lamenting the loss of typewriters, and I suspect not many others will either - except of course, the manufacturers of Tipex!

(Best estimate, 270 271 272 corrections made)


  1. I kind of miss my old Olivetti. But I don't miss the amount of Tippex I got through...

  2. The advent of computers and spellcheckers changed The Guardian Newspaper drastically.. its nickname still is The Grauniad!!

    Although homonyms and homophones still get through the spellchecker system and give us a chuckle!

    Sad to see the demise of typewriters though...however just think, in a power cut people will actually have to pick up a pen or pencil and actually write on paper!!!!

  3. I always wanted a typewriter as a child. There will definitely be a romantic association with typewriters, I know many of the vintage/retro themed blogs showcase them.

    I quickly type up my blog posts without a plan, don't check for errors at all, then publish them. My posts are littered with typos, grammatical errors and mistakes, not to mention my habit of using the completely wrong word. Comments are the same. I hate reading back over, because I always want to change the lot.

  4. An aunt tried to teach me to use a typewriter on one of the cast iron Underwood models but the experiment was halted in its tracks by father's declaration that no daughter of his would become a secretary....still, I reckon I owe the old Underwood a well developed strength in the fingers.

    Since using the laptop I notice I make more typing errors. I have changed my glasses, but I think the problem is to do with my habit of sitting crabwise at a keyboard. The PC doesn't notice it...perhaps the laptop keys are more hair trigger.

    Working, I would assemble my notes...and then let rip. When finished I would revise...and then revise again, and again.
    Then I would hand it to the secretaries.
    To say that they were delighted when I bought a..I think..Sinclair was to underestimate the emotion as by revision three my handwriting had gone to pot, starting as it did from a low base.

    The sheer freedom of not having to write it all out again...or make alterations...has paradoxically made me less careful!

    1. Dad gave me my first typewriter - salvaged from the office of the company he worked for. A massive black cast iron thing that gave you a hernia if you so much as tried to shift it along your desk.
      I hated it. And loved it. My fingers developed muscles as the keys required such force. Towards the end the y and the w and the a and the s stuck. But the ringing of the bell as I wooshed the paper across again has stuck with me - the return bar on my laptop cannot compare.
      My first essays at Uni were handwritten. That was 1985. By my second degree I had a word processor (Amstrad) and progressed to a Tiny computer... Now it's all about online submission and webcasts. When I did my legal traineeship (1998) it was like going back in time - they handed me a dictaphone and I just wanted a computer to do it myself!
      The online submission and webcasts are all progress.
      I no longer write with my pen - unless forced to. My written life is all electronic.

      Lovely post Mark. Think I've revised 14 times during the course of this comment...

  5. Could there be an argument that typewriters, like film cameras, made us think before we wrote or took that photograph? Spellchecks can be dangerous too if you don't keep an eye on them. Examples I come across on a daily basis are blackcock instead of Blackrock & Marxist instead of Marist (religious order) & many more that I just can't recall. Of course, I don't miss the typos having made several corrections in these few sentences.

  6. My mother thought it was prudent to send her daughter to typing school when I was only 12. So each Saturday morning, I would take the bus to town, sit through the morning in the basement of the "Secretarial School", and by the end of the summer, I could type 20 wpm!!! Proud I was. So thinking of that, and the lowly typewriter, how it was introduced to me, and I to it...I shall solumly or is that solemnly )))) morn it's passing to non production status.

  7. Back in the dark ages, when typewriters were all we had, I was volunteered to reproduce my then husband's MPhil thesis in printable form - a work on the topic of Gamma-Ray Astronomy. This involved not only straightforward word typing, but also Mathematical and Physical equations littered with Greek characters as well as numbers in ordinary type plus sub- and super-script, and sometimes italics crept in as well. In addition I had to decipher his writing (which is why I got the job in the first place, as the departmental secretary refused point blank to do it!!) All this had to be done on Gestetner skins, so that several copies could be made and bound into book form. Those old enough to remember these things will also remember that in order to correct mistakes we had to use what was called in the vernacular 'boob-', or 'blunder-'juice - a fluorescent pink liquid. I have vivid (in several ways) memories of sheets and sheets of skins liberally decorated with pink stripes - not the least because in order to get the Greek characters in the right place I had to take the skins in to College and use the Greek keyboard in the department office, which, of course was a different sized font from my portable typewriter at home. It did get done, eventually, after much bad language and frustration on my part at times - and after it was printed and bound, I really felt quite proud of myself. But it would be a much quicker and easier job now! Happy days!! Thanks for prompting the memories.

  8. It has always been routine for composers of music to revise their work many times. Good to have devices now, that make this easier for composers of text.

  9. Learned touch typing to William Tell overture on a big sit up and beg Imperial typewriter with blank keys so we didn't cheat. We had to type multiple copies through six sheets of paper and carbon paper. All I remember is the pressure involved in pressing each key. I don't think I'm strong enough now. Love my computer! :D

  10. I have a typewriter sitting in my office. I haven't used it for years. I hated using it too, so no loss. :)

  11. Nice Blog..Thanks for sharing it..
    bike shelter