this (type­writ­ten)


The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - El­iz­a­beth Gral­ton

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.

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