I use a PC with a raised keyboard. I do that for a reason, and that is because I had typewriters from a very young age. When the company my mum worked for upgraded their offices in the early 1960s, they offered the old typewriters to the staff free of charge, if they could get them home. Mum asked for a 1930s Adler, and arranged to go in on a Saturday with my dad, to collect it in the car. I was only around nine years of age when they brought it home, and placed it on the small table in my bedroom that I used as a desk.
It was huge, with a long carriage, a bell that sounded when you had to use the lever to move the roller to the next line, and a very long ‘drop’ on the keystroke. And it made a great noise when typing at a decent speed, not unlike a machine-gun. It could type in black or red ink, by moving a selector lever, and also had the option to type impressions only, for stencils. At the time, replacement ribbons were very easy to obtain, and a standard fitting for typewriters of certain sizes. Mum also brought home a box of carbon paper, called ‘Onion Skin Brand’, which was placed between two sheets to make a carbon copy of what you had typed.
I loved that old machine, and learned to two-finger type on it quite well, by the time I was eleven. I used it to write stories on, and even for homework projects to hand in at school. I typed thank-you letters for Christmas and birthday gifts, and could even type the addresses on the envelopes. If I made an error, I had a special rubber that erased the ink. Then later on, a white fluid called ‘Tipp-Ex’ that you painted over the mistake, before typing the correct letter in the same space.
Eventually, the keys began to jam constantly, and my dad said it wasn’t worth the expense of having it repaired. Instead, I was given a second-hand Olivetti portable, that came in a smart carrying case. That had the same full size keyboard and layout, but with a much neater carriage, and a shorter key drop that allowed much faster typing without jamming.
That little gem of a typewriter lasted me until 1989, over twenty years after I received it as a gift. I even typed up a neighbour’s CV and numerous job applications for him on it. But it was showing its age, with occasional key jams, and worn letters not striking the paper deep enough. And by that time, the world of typing had gone electronic, so it was time to move into the 1990s. I went for the one that was getting the best reviews, the Brother AX 450.
This was quite a beast. It was packed with features too; like repeat keys, back space delete, and a snazzy little preview window that showed what you were typing. The paper could be stacked in much like a modern printer, so no need to stop typing after one sheet of paper It also had the facility to save the whole work, then print it all when you had finished typing. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t.
For one thing, it had to be plugged into the mains at all times, which restricted where you used it. Then it had a keyboard like the one I use now, with no keydrops, and no proper typing sound. The cartridges that it used in place of the old ribbons ran out really quickly, and were expensive to buy from the few places that sold them. (No online shopping back then, don’t forget.)
Very soon, I only ever used it when I had to. Official letters, complaints, applications, that kind of thing. If a neighbour asked me to type something up for them, I sat there wondering how soon the ink cartridge would run out. Then just under two years after I bought it, well out of warranty, it did what most electronic things with microchips in them do, and just died on me. The shop where I bought it estimated around £120 for repair, which was almost what I had paid for it in 1990. A new one was now much more expensive, and I didn’t really want another one anyway. So it went in a box in the garage, and was thrown away five years later when I moved.
In 2002, I bought my first laptop. It was a heavyweight Dell, running Windows XP. I started to send emails instead of letters, but still really missed my typewriters.
The first two real ones of course, not that last one.