I HAD my first grown-up typewriter experience in Paris. As a child I had occasionally tinkered with my maternal grandmother’s handsome machine: black, with ‘‘Imperial’’ emblazoned in gold lettering. Granny typed for a living as a young woman and has continued since, using her skill to compose indignant letters to local newspapers, councils and politicians. I was allowed to use her typewriter to compose inane notes I’d hide around the house for her to find when she was doing the dusting.
Half a lifetime later finds me in the famous Shakespeare and Co bookshop on the Left Bank of the Seine. The original bookshop, now gone, was once the haunt of Ernest Hemingway and others, and it kindly provides for its literarily aspiring customers and spiritual tourists an ancient typewriter, tucked away in a sort of cubby hole. I type an inane note and give it to my friend as a souvenir of our wanderings in Paris.
At home in Perth, conversation at a family dinner turns to typewriters. As I am expressing my appreciation of these complex and elegant machines, my grandmother (paternal) leaves the table. My Pop follows. Well acquainted with my hoarding Nan’s propensity for producing treasures, I know they’re about to return with a typewriter. I am wrong. They arrive back with four typewriters, representing several decades of the 20th century. All had belonged to ancestors, characters I never met but have heard much about. I adopt and take home the oldest, a 1930s Remington Portable Model 5, which had belonged to my great-grandfather. It still works. I place it next to my MacBook.
That evening my new typewriter inspires me to write to a friend in Suva. The following evening, a letter is composed to be sent to Minneapolis. The Remington is not conducive to speed or comfort. My thoughts, more accustomed to being put down first and neatly organised later with deft use of cutand-paste functions, are clumsily structured. I make spelling mistakes that can’t be rectified. My little fingers don’t seem to have the strength to push the keys with the requisite vigour, so the a’s and the p’s become the jurisdiction of my third fingers.
But I’m enjoying myself immensely. My new machine makes an enormously satisfying and self-important clatter. Consistency of line and colour is not its strength and the resulting text has an endearing wonkiness. My favourite thing, though, is the ‘‘ding!’’ that warns you the end of the line is near and you should probably get yourself organised with a hyphen. Every time I hear the ding I burst into delighted laughter. Even my Granny has a computer on which to type her letters and I am proud of her brave foray into modernity. I’ve never asked, but I suspect she misses the clatter and the ding.