Just My Type



Oh you poor Snowflakes, forever complaining about your download speeds – do you have ideas what we Base Dates* had to go through?

It began with the desire to write something, anything. I started with a black biro, never blue because blue was for private letters, and I wanted to draw too. Soon I was creating vast detailed narrative landscapes, then magazines, comics and one massive continuous comic drawn by this time with a Rotring No.5 pen. I still have much of this juvenilia – the stories are execrable, the jokes cribbed, but some of the artwork is quite robust.

Then I started a magazine (circulation: 1) with written stories (by me), comic strips (by me), pages of jokes and puzzles (stolen from whatever source I could find), read by no-one.

My mother had an ancient Imperial typewriter she kept on top of the wardrobe like a secret (I have no idea why, but it didn’t seem odd then), and I used it all the time. It’s probably where I got my habit of banging at the very heavy keys, a habit I still have and cannot shake.

When she upgraded to a Remington Portable I did too. It was small and comparatively light, and easy to use. Then on to an IBM Golfball. It was elegant and near-silent. I now kept ribbons, paper, onion-skin carbons, Snopake and Tippex beside it. It never went wrong. This was my favourite mechanical writer.


My father had noticed I was writing, and that I wanted a typewriter, but as we were broke and he was out of work he bought me a blackboard. I think he figured it was all writing so I’d be happy with a piece of chalk.

After this came the Brother typewriter, an appalling halfway post toward computing, which showed a single sentence of dot-matrix type above its keyboard, causing a mental time lag inside your head as you typed. It went wrong all the time and pleased no-one, but filled in until we got our first computer, a BBC Wordstar thing finished in grey plastic which took cassettes. It was impossible to use, but you could play a terrible game called ‘Chucky Egg’ on it.

And so to Apple – and the world changed. So, unfortunately, did the software, seemingly every five minutes. I went through every stage of Apple development but still printed everything out, just to be on the safe side.

I bought an old portable manual typewriter designed for reporters at a Barcelona typewriter fair (who knew?) to remind me how far things have come.

Now I write in the Cloud, in which I have lost more documents than on all the other devices put together. The Cloud updates – boy, does it update. And the system somehow gets tangled with other apps on my phone, including the one that controls our sound system, the TV, and Nest, the little gizmo that sets our central heating. I have a lot of robot conversations now; ‘Siri, what the hell is going on?’

Finally, I have rediscovered the utter joy of keeping a pad and pencil beside my laptop, the better to flesh out abstract ideas with drawings and diagrams, thus going full circle. And of them all I probably like the pencil best.

*Base Dates – when you drop down a menu with your birth year on it, and find you have to headĀ almost to the bottom of the column

13 comments on “Just My Type”

  1. Bill says:

    Basedate- now I know what to call myself. Frightening, the first time I scrolled oh so far down, way past many a landmark year in my life.

    And snowflakes are- what, youngsters?

  2. admin says:

    They’re a specific type of precious youngster who’s ‘unique and special’ and melts easily.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    And what kind of pencil would that be – the everyday HB, the palomino 2B, or?

  4. John Howard says:

    Reading about the magazine written and drawn by yourself, I seem to remember that a certain John Lennon did much the same thing. I wonder if the snowflakes would know who that is?

  5. Vivienne says:

    IBM golf balls were just the best. I bought home an old manual typewriter from my dad’s house when we cleared it out but, even with a new ribbon, it doesn’t work well. I really might search for a golfball, just for short notes: the production seems very direct.
    I was quite good at Chucky Egg. In fact that was about my limit for computer games.

  6. Jan says:

    Here’s a couple of useless facts for you. Did you know that when the typewriter was invented and began to be tested during the late 19th and early 20th centuries the females testing the devices almost immediately exceeded the capability of the typewriting machine by typing too fast and causing keys to jam and break.

    The solution hit upon was to invent a keyboard which was was deliberately difficult to learn and placed most of the the vowels especially the “e” on the left hand to slow down a mainly righthanded population. Only the “0” lurks on the right. O I hear you mutter! Therefore the device was designed to be deliberately difficult to learn and use. Not many items are designed to be unnecessarily awkward to operate but the asdf typewriter was! Oh and because of the size of the keyboard it was deemed early on to be women’s work.

    I was always weirdly fascinated by golfball typewriters they were weird but good …..I think I have burbled on about the asdf keyboard before when the subject of design came up.

    It’s weird after a lifetime of touch typing a tablet has turned me into an index finger hunt and peck typist just like all the blokes I used to pity at work who struggled to type reports up.

  7. Richard Burton says:

    I agree about the pencil and paper, much more flexible means of working things out. I’ve spent most of the last few years creating art on a mac, so when I got the pens out of retirement this evening for some sketching the results looked very amateur. Like a doctor attempting calligraphy. It’s upsetting, I’ve lost my defining skill. Tech is great, but you’re limited to the range of options built into it.

  8. Ness says:

    I thought the one line of type ‘word processor’ was a revelation compared to my mother’s old fashioned typewriter and the archaic beasts I learned on at school. I did stenography at school as good girls were destined to become secretaries before becoming wives and mothers although I had other ideas. The shorthand is long forgotten but my typing skills remain and have transitioned thumpingly into the computer world.

    I still bash the keys which is why I’ve got an old keyboard on my modern computer and why I salvaged an old keyboard for my work machine. You can always tell those who learned to type on a manual typewriter. Also the reason why I too have become a hunt and peck typist on a tablet – I just can’t touch type on a flat glass screen. Hate laptops with their flat keyboards as well.

    The cloud keeps on losing most of my music, which is why I insist on keeping those relics of the 20th Century – CDs. Apple has a particular hatred of my 80s and baroque collections so at least it loses a broad range of material in the cloud. The modern equivalent of the black hole where all the odd socks go…

  9. admin says:

    My mother did Pitman shorthand, a talent that mystified me. I knew the ‘qwerty’ keyboard had been arranged and have seen some extraordinarily complicated versions of a non-‘qwerty’ keyboard involving levers, pulleys and weights. And of course the stenographers’ typewriter is one-handed.

    PS it’s lovely typing ‘qwerty’ – try it!

  10. John Griffin says:

    IBM golfball…….(sighs).

  11. Peter Dixon says:

    Rotring No 5 – Le temps perdu!

    As a graphic designer in the late 1970’s my entire life consisted of a variety of Rotring pens and Letraset (complete with burnishers; plastic for beginners, metal for pro’s). And Cow Gum. Typed galleys from IBM Golfballs that smudged the second you tried to paste them to your artboard. Photo Mechanical Transfers (or PMT’s) for enlarged or reduced images.

    I remember a colleague spending 10 minutes applying Cow Gum to both mounting board and the reverse of the artwork for a presentation. You had to wait for the petroleum gum to dry before you could stick both surfaces together. He decided to light a cigarette while he was waiting and the whole thing went up in flames. We couldn’t put the fire out for laughing and he singed his eyebrows. Went for lunch and had 3 pints each. Happy days….

  12. Jan says:

    I have tried a few of the alternative form keyboards -,non qwerty and they were so easy to pick up they were practically intuitive. Thing is as a (pretty crappy) touch typist I couldn’t stomach starting over again and putting aside the skills I had picked up.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    I’ve spent so long trying to learn the qwerty keyboard that I’d feel frustrated at starting over and I’ll bet that’s the only thing that has kept qwerty going this long.
    My mother did shorthand, too, although she never had an office job long enough to get good at it.

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