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Friday, 16 March 2018

Instagram and The Typewriter Revolution

In a comment to a post on this blog two or three days ago, Richard Polt flagged an announcement he was about to make regarding Instagram. I'm sure I was like anyone else who read the comment: deeply curious. In my post I mentioned that I had joined Instagram about nine months ago, and wasn't all that impressed by it. Richard's announcement duly came on his The Typewriter Revolution blog at midnight my time last night. What I wasn't expecting was that, after 1000 Instagram posts, Richard has decided to bow out of that particular branch of social media - well, not entirely, but almost.
At the time of his announcement, Richard had a staggering 4323 followers (and was following 1189 others, including myself). In a post on February 16, 2016, he revealed he had 1600 followers, so the rapid growth in the popularity of his Instagram posts is quite evident - a lift of 2700 in a little more than two years. My own figures are paltry by comparison (440 posts, a mere 178 followers). Still, these figures aren't all that relevant. It's keeping up with the posts of 1189 others that I find mindboggling. I follow 148 grammers, and that's time-consuming enough. Just when you think you've caught up, you have to keep scrolling down, because Instagram has rudely snuck in five or six more ads for you to delete, additionally demanding to know why you've deleted them. And being one of 4.5 million grammers following Tom Hanks (who only follows Rita Wilson anyway) is just a silly waste of time. So, too, I suppose, is following as many typewriter sellers as I do, since I'm no longer in the market to buy them.
At first I didn't find the typewriter community on Instagram as friendly and happy as Richard did. Richard very kindly reposted a post of mine about offloading typewriters, and I found myself being called a philistine and the entire nation of Australia being insulted (this from a country which has Donald Trump as its president!).
But as time went by, this wasn't what bugged me about Instagram most. I kept seeing images from this blog appearing without any credit given, most especially by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra.
A few years ago, I took an image of a young lady in Christmas garb and superimposed on to it a photo of one of my own typewriters, a Corona four-bank:
On July 30 last, the Boston Typewriter Orchestra used the image I'd worked on without so much as a word about where it came from. I pointed this out in a comment on the post, but there was no response, so I gave up bothering. In fact, the uncredited lifting of images from this blog just increased. I'm pretty much free and easy when it comes to using images, but I try to ensure that if I take one from the Internet, I mention its origin. I expect others to do the same.
My use of Instagram is, I suspect, somewhat different to Richard's, who initially set out to promote his book The Typewriter Revolution on various forms of social media. My Instagram posts include a whole range of things - typewriters just happen to among them. Instagram helps me keep abreast of my other great passion (apart from my partner), which is rugby. I also found it useful for getting back in touch people with whom I'd lost contact, like Piotr Trumpiel and Adwoa Bart-Plange, both of whom used to have such wonderful typewriter blogs, as well as following the Chapmans in England. Instagram is also probably as good as Facebook for finding out what close friends and family (now much extended, thanks to my partner) are up to.
In strictly typewriter terms, however, I feel I'm a little like Richard in becoming increasingly disillusioned with the sheer superficiality of Instagram posts. Initially I was amazed that so many people I'd never heard of were doing so much with typewriters. After a while, however, as wonderful as the typewriter images are, one is left craving for more depth to the posts.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Never Laugh at a Kangaroo - And Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth: Typewriters Out Among the Gumtrees

What was once a weekly flood a free typewriters has turned into a tiny occasional trickle these past few years. All the more reason to be all the more appreciative of the few offers that still come my way. A week or two ago I was contacted out of the blue by a woman called Jo Walker, who said she had four typewriters to give me. As it turned out, she had gone to extraordinary lengths to track me down. And it turned out I had to go to some lengths to find her, and her typewriters.
Ms Walker lives on a dirt track off Poppet Road, Wamboin, on the edge of the Kowen Forest. I had no idea where this sparsely populated rural settlement was, although it is a mere 10 miles from Canberra. Wamboin is possibly derived from Wiradjuri wambuuwayn, meaning "large grey kangaroo", although I didn't know that before I set out for Ms Walker's home. When I did find it, after a pleasant midday drive through the forest, on a bright, sunny Friday, the first thing I noticed was the sign, "Wildlife Sanctuary" (Ms Walker also deals in native plants and seeds). Then to my astonishment I found Ms Walker's home completely surrounded by kangaroos. Typically the males among the great eastern grey (or forester) kangaroos mass around 10 stone and stand almost 6ft 7in tall, and have the scientific name Macropus giganteus ("gigantic large-foot"). In the wild, the sight of them can be pretty intimidating.
These two massive big bruisers kept a close eye on me all the way.
Once the four typewriters had been safely moved to my car, Ms Walker took me to meet some of the somewhat friendlier (and much smaller) members of her roo family. One of them tried to snatch my phone from my hands, and I let out a nervous laugh. "Never, ever laugh at kangaroos," Ms Walker warned. "It's a sound they don't recognise, and it startles and unnerves them. Their communication is all in grunts and growls." Ms Walker went on to say that she has seen kookaburras gather in the gumtrees around her house and start laughing just to see how the kangaroos react. This was all new and quite fascinating for me. Native birds aside, I'm just not a wildlife sort of guy.
But the typewriters ... well there were two wedges, but I did appreciate the two Adler Gabrieles - although one, the electric 2000, has a motor which weighs 5½ pounds, more than the entire weight of a real portable, like a Blick or a Standard Folding:

Monday, 12 March 2018

All the 3s

Some respite at the end of a traumatic and tiring week came on Sunday at 11.27pm, when this blog's page view meter clicked over to 3.333333 million. Such have been the travails of the past two months, I even neglected to mention the blog's seventh anniversary at the end of February. Still, the meter just keeps on turning over, by 1000-1200 a day, often much more, mostly as typewriter enthusiasts look to find a way to reattach a drawband. I've also been partially converted to Instagram in the last nine months - it's far more about mere glancing than learning anything (indeed, I hardly ever read any of the captions or exchanges), yet it does offer some interesting insights - one being that the typewriter world, at least for me, seems to be rapidly expanding by the day. Where once the Typosphere offered an accurate gauge on the growing passion for typewriter use, now Instagram provides at look at other aspects of the demand for typewriters. I'm often left feeling I'm now a little out of touch.
The last year has been, for me, the very best of times and the very worse of times. On our first anniversary, my partner found she had ovarian cancer. It turned our tiny world upside down, and of course completely demolished any grand plans I had for my 70th year, including a trip to New Zealand. The main thing for me now is to help her as much as I possibly can to get well again - everything else, typewriters included, pales into utter insignificance compared to that goal.
My new life, as of March 2017, will explain why this blog's posts declined to 41 last year compared to 145 in 2016 and 248 in 2015, and between 400-500 posts in the previous four years. But let me stress that I have in no way lost my love for typewriters and their history. In the past week or so my blogging input has started to lift again, and in some small way I can thank Instagram for a renewal of enthusiasm of blogging. Time, and certainly not a lack of material, remains the greatest deterrent to putting posts together, but I do hope to be more a regular contributor to typewriter lore in the months ahead. Some of the posts may relate to many typewriter-related events that occurred last year, but so be it.
My partner and I are both being super positive in these unfortunate circumstances. Our longer-term aim is to get to England next year, to catch up with Richard Polt, if he visits there, as well as meet Piotr Trumpiel, Rob Bowker, the Chapmans and others in the British typewriting scene. So our catchcry is "onward and upward", and certainly having typewriters as an obsession helps provide a pleasant, if only occasional, diversion in these trying times.  

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Silver-Seiko Silverette Portable Typewriter and Jimi Hendrix's Foxy Lady

I knew the Silver-Seiko Silverette portable typewriter would be useful for something artistic one day! Watch Italian one-man-band and self-proclaimed “Trash n’ Roll” artist Porcapizza nail it. The typewriter is outfitted with aluminum potato crisps cans and the sound is run through an effects processor which serves as the percussion, assisted with a looper. A telephone receiver acts as the vocal mic, while kitchen butter knives fashioned as a mbira add a metallic bassline. The song truly comes together when Porcapizza picks up his homemade four-string guitar, fashioned from a yellow construction hard hat, an old wooden tennis racket and a bunch of black zip-ties, all assisted by reverb, vocal filter and a looping system. 

Friday, 9 March 2018

Typewriters in the Movies, 2017

The Christmas-New Year period provided a veritable feast of typewriter-laden good movies. One, Darkest Hour, deservedly won for Gary Oldham the best actor Oscar, but my annual Oscar for Best Typewriter Movie goes to The Post. In making this decision, I am unreservedly showing the bias of an old hot type, type-and-print-on-paper newspaperman. Watching copy typewritten, briskly but accurately sub-edited, expertly typeset on Linotype machines, hammered into formes on the stone, turned in flongs and clapped on to the presses was all too much for me. I wept buckets, not out of a sense of nostalgia, but from sheer bitter sadness for the sequence of lost art forms. The people who performed these cherished skills have all been discarded from the newspaper industry. As so many journos commented after seeing The Post, that’s how it was done when newspapers were the Real McCoy, when journalism was real, and that’s how we’ll never see it done again. While most ex-journalists were left pining for the production values and could smell printer's ink in the theatre air, I was, strange as it may seem, reminded of Hemingway. The Hemingway, that is, writing to his father from Toronto, describing quadruple checking of the spelling of a man’s name, typing it, having a copyboy stand at his shoulder waiting for each paragraph to be completed, the copy kid running to the subs desk page in hand. And when it was done, Hemingway going out on to the street for a breather, and seeing newspaper sellers heading off with papers that had his story in it. Computerised newspapers can never, ever, come within a bull’s roar of capturing that thrill, that excitement. Tom Hanks and his reporting crew were all superb in The Post, of course, as was Meryl Streep. One small doozie: no press machinist ever stood on the press deck shouting reminders about what time the newspaper trucks left the loading bay. But cinematic effect, I suppose …      
 Above, Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian in The Post.
      I also came out of The Post thinking of it as a sort of prequel to All the President's Men, except for capturing the atmosphere of a typically busy newsroom, and for the choice of a range of typewritersThe Post was far better - perhaps Hanks had something to do with that? Still, ATPM would have won my 1976 Oscar for Best Typewriter Movie.
      The directors didn’t need to strive for cinematic effect in Darkest Hour. Someone warned me in advance, “We all know the story, yet the tension builds enormously.” And so it proved. I did have to wonder, however, whether the Imperial War Museum, which according to the credits loaned the typewriters to the film makers, had got it wrong with the choice of an American-made Remington Noiseless, when George VI’s dad had insisted, a mere eight years earlier, that only British-made Imperials could be used in British government offices. Richard Polt has been to the Churchill Museum in the underground Cabinet War Rooms, and has photographed a Noiseless there, so he has an advantage over me in this regard. Still, the movie’s typewriters didn’t come from the war rooms. It’s been suggested Churchill demanded quiet typing, and Elizabeth Nel’s obituary in the London Daily Telegraph in November 2007 said she had used a “specially adapted silent typewriter”. Whether this was indeed a Noiseless, and calling it “specially adapted” merely exposed the ignorance of a once highly-esteemed and accurate British daily, we may never know. Pounding a Noiseless in Darkest Hour, as well as a nosiy Imperial and a portable, was Lily James, playing Elizabeth Layton (later Mrs Nel), who started as personal secretary to Churchill in late May 1941, more than a year after the events portrayed in the movie (she wrote Mr Churchill's Secretary in 1958). James said she took a six-week typing class to be able to keep up with Oldman's speeches. “I got really good," she said. “And I enjoyed feeling like I'm able to access Elizabeth Layton through something so technical.”

There was certainly a Remington Noiseless on Churchill’s desk when he made his VE Day broadcast to the British public from the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street on May 8, 1945. In an earlier 2017 movie, Churchill, based on the hours leading up to D-Day in 1945, Ella Purnell plays a fictional Helen Garrett, and also uses a Noiseless.
Real-life Churchill secretaries included Joy Hunter and Myra Collyer, who later recalled each using Imperials, as well as Hunter (below) a Royal and Collyer (second image below) an electric typewriter “provided by the Americans”.
Lily James has since Darkest Hour been able to put her typing skills to further use, in the much-anticipated The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The film is set in early 1946, following the five-year German occupation of the channel islands, Guernsey and Jersey. The script is based on the 2008 novel of the same name and written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This time James has the lead role, as Juliet Ashton. I can't be certain, but the portable typewriter Ashton takes to Guernsey looks suspiciously to me like a German model, which I would have thought highly unlikely in the circumstances.
Among the more enjoyable movies of 2017, and another one set during the Second World War, was Their Finest, based on the 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half  by Lissa Evans. Typewriter use in this was as extensive as in The Post and Darkest Hour, and like Darkest Hour, it was an adept female typist who starred. Gemma Arterton played Catrin Cole, a scriptwriter who worked with a British Ministry of Information team making a morale-boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation.
As for the movie Dunkirk itself, I saw no trace of a war correspondent’s portable typewriter, nor any typewriters in The Greatest Showman. But as we all know, James Gordon Bennett barred typewriters from The New York Herald, so I guess that was to be expected.