My Treat

Reading & Writing



Some writers have a fag and a brandy when they finish a book. To celebrate finishing my Christmas book ‘Bryant & May: London’s Glory’ on schedule I went out and spent the pitiful royalties it might possibly earn in advance, treating myself to something I’ve always wanted; a 1920 reporter’s typewriter.

Each key shifts to cover three different letters or symbols, and the whole thing folds flat so that it can be fitted in a suitcase (which I sadly don’t have). You can still buy the ribbons, but I won’t use it; I’ll keep it oiled and it can stand proudly on the old pre-Franco ballot desk I have in my study.

The stall which sells these and many other types here in Barcelona has lots of rarities, including an insanely complicated little number, very unique, from AEG. A rod stands over a letter pad, and as you adjust it to hover over each letter a reel at the back spins to stamp that letter out in ink. It looks ten times more laborious than using a pen, and makes me wonder how many other mechanical writing devices were tried out before the humble typewriter came into existence.

As the sexy new Macbook makes its first appearance (albeit with yet another new port that requires an adapter), a link is made to the old Corona by the QWERTY keyboard that was designed to slow typists down and not tangle the keys – but all attempts to ditch the system have failed. Meanwhile, after dozens of books and thousands of essays, articles, letters, documents and features, I still type with two fingers!

(NB Check out my Facebook page to see the opening action)

11 comments on “My Treat”

  1. Mish says:

    Glad you got yourself a cool treat!

  2. Julie Turner says:

    My treat turned into an addiction. Six typewriters later, namely a brown plastic BlueBird, an orange metal Silver-Reed, a black metal Imperial, a brown-grey Lettera 22 and others I hid away, I realized I had to stop obtaining them. but it’s difficult, with that-one-letter-at-a-time-speed, it slows down thoughts, the tingle of the bell near the end of the typed line is the most marvellous aid to concentration. I wish I could find cloth ribbons, or find a way of re-inking the ones the machines came with, but the nylon ones will do for now. My Aunt would know a way – she typed on office Imperials for years – when cut – copy – paste were done with a pair of scissors – carbon paper – glue and underpaid women. thanks for reminding me about good things like typewriters.

  3. Vivienne says:

    Quite jealous. Learned to type on a ?highly raked manual and hope I could still pound out something on the ;lkj system. Apart from not tangling the keys, isn’t the querty keyboard designed so that one finger typist salesmen could type “typewriter” using only the top line keys? Maybe I got that from an earlier post here, sorry if I have forgotten the source.

  4. Xas says:

    We used to have an old Imperial that I’m pretty sure was made from granite and weighed a tonne. It’s what I learned to type on from a very early age, even though my little child fingers frequently got trapped between the keys. Pressing ‘enter’ will never be as gratifying as the good old whirr and clunk of a carriage return.

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    Heh, I learned to type on a little typewriter, and it took me years to stop hitting the keys so hard on computers. Likewise and thirty-something years later of constant typing and two fingers also. Doesn’t mean slow though, does it? I have no idea how hard it would be to not use a qwerty. I fear having to try.

    That is a terrific treat. Made me smile.

  6. Jackie H. says:

    I loved the manuals I learned to type on, but I hated changing ribbons; it was always a nightmare, even with electric and later Golfball electric versions. The smell of carbon paper is something I yearn for, and those little strips of Tippex for correcting mistakes. I think we probably used far less paper in those days.

  7. Laura B. says:

    That is beautiful; I’m so jealous. Like Xas said, pressing return is no substitute for that chunk of the carriage slamming back into place.

  8. snowy says:

    [Voice that is just the faintest, teenist, tiny bit cross]

    It’s a machine! And machines have to be used; every so often else they gum up, seize and other bad things.

    Even if it does nothing more than type notes for the milkman. [Ok, not the most likely use in the 21st C, but the first to come to mind. I’m working with crumbs here!]

    [Recovers normal placid-ish state]


    Shopping list! No perhaps not, bit retro? A lot of people like using a £500 phone rather than the back of an old envelope, well they are paying for it.

    Ok, last go. You still correspond with some people by letter, naming no names, it might be quite a hoot to send at least one of them something bashed out on the old ‘one-note joanna’.

  9. Xas says:

    “and those little strips of Tippex for correcting mistakes.”

    And the joy of accidently having it the wrong way around when trying to correct said mistake, and ending up with white letters on the printer ribbon. And also, whenever you received a typed letter, the first thing you’d do before you’d even read the thing would be to hold it up to the light to see how many mistakes the typist had made. Or was it just me that did that?

  10. Kathy says:

    I just preordered my copy on Amazon.UK. I loved Bryant & May and the Burning Man and I’m looking forward to further entries in the series. I know you said this was the last, but I hope you will give us earlier adventures. I’d love to know about the Soho Devil in more detail and the Leichester Square Vampire too. I can’t survive without further doses of Arthur and John (and Meera and Colin, and Janice, and etc., etc.)!

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Not only how many mistakes but how many of the Es and Os cut holes in the paper. The alternative to corrective tape (yes, loved getting it backwards) was Xing out the error (if it wasn’t a business letter.) The other alternative (never mind) was whiteout which you painted over the error, a little trickier to get right. My mother used to type letters to me sometimes if she felt she was getting out of touch (ha, ha) and she did just X out mistakes. I sometimes wondered if she calculated her typing speed when she did these.

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