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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Hats Off to Gianni Mura and his Olivetti Lettera 32 Portable Typewriter

A Reuters story by Julien Pretot on 68-year-old Italian writer Gianni Mura using a 1976 Olivetti Lettera 32 portable typewriter while covering the just-completed Tour de France cycle race was run far and wide last week, including in the sports pages of the Chicago Tribune. The story was headed "Old geezer writes Tour de France stories on typewriter", as if that wasn't still the right and proper thing to do.
Mura writes for La Republica, a 750,000 daily circulation newspaper in Rome. He was born in Milan on October 9, 1945, and is by now a tour veteran. He first covered the Giro d'Italia in 1965 and the Tour de France two years later. His weekly column on Italian soccer's Serie A had the wonderful title, "Seven days of bad thoughts". Mura's novel based on the Tour de France, Yellow on Yellow, won the Premio Grinzane-Cesare Pavese for fiction in 2007.
Mura said he doesn't like computers - "their silence bothers me" - but he has been known to use such things. Where one story on Mura and his typewriter (not Pretot's article, I hasten to add) got a bit carried away was to suggest, "When Mura first started reporting and using a typewriter, he was technologically advanced. Most reporters 40 years ago wrote their articles by hand." That's complete nonsense. There were as few reporters writing by hand in 1974 as there are reporters using typewriters today.
Where Mura was spot-on was to say that the sound of the typewriter is good for concentration. He also likes to smoke while he types - no longer allowed in Tour De France press rooms. So on fine days he sits outside typing at his own little table (in this case, beside a police van!). He uses a mobile phone to dictate copy back to his newspaper.
Mura's 2007 tour book was followed four years later by the autobiography of Scottish Tour de France cyclist David Millar, Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar.
Millar's work was described by Richard Williams in The Guardian as "one of the great first-person accounts of sporting experience". It was called "a rarity",  "a brutally honest insight into the life of a young pro with the world at his feet, charting the Scot’s demise into doping and his subsequent revival as one of the most respected riders in the peloton". The book was shortlisted for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.
Millar wrote the book on an Olympia portable typewriter:

Why Is This Man Smiling?

This very happy man is Anthony Maras, a well-to-do South Australian film director.
No wonder he is smiling. He has received three very nice typewriters from me. Plus, just for doing that, he has been given a $225 bonus by PayPal.
PayPal thinks it is going to get this $225 from me. It is very much mistaken.
Perhaps if I got back my three typewriters - two Underwood portables and an Olivetti Valentine - I might consider paying PayPal the $225 it has given Maras.
But PayPal won't get one red cent from me until then. My bank has given me a water-tight guarantee that any attempt by PayPal to illegally prize the money from my account will be quickly stamped upon. It's called fraud, the bank assures me. I trust my bank. I don't trust PayPal. Who does? A necessary evil? Well, maybe not so necessary.
Seven months ago I was bombarded with text messages from Maras, pushing hard to buy typewriters from me.
I had a bad feeling about it. I didn't sell him any.
Then a month or so ago I listed 11 typewriters on eBay. I received eight very warm responses from buyers, delighted with their typewriters.
All 11 typewriters were serviced and tested the same way, packed the same way and sent the same way. 
These sales brought my eBay feedback record to 590 positives. In 4 1/2 years, not one negative, not one neutral. 590 positives.
The latest feedbacks are: "Honest and reliable eBayer. Highly recommended. 5 Stars." "Very nice typewriter." "Perfect, thank you." "Brilliant machine, this seller is the best. Thank you!!!" "Wonderful item, excellent friendly service. The best!!!" "Very hard to find quality product and service like this."
Then came Maras.
Little did I know at the time of them selling, of course, but three of my typewriters went to this person - buying as "anthousefilms".
As soon as I realised who this was, I sensed trouble. My gut feeling was soon proved right.
First Maras emailed me, making spurious claims about the Underwoods and wanting to return the three typewriters and to receive a refund. As I mulled this over, he called.
He said there was a problem with one of the Underwoods typing and that he'd spoken to a repairmen, who wanted to be paid just to look at it.
I offered to pay for that to happen, and Maras replied, "Ah, so you're admitting there is a problem."
At that point the penny finally dropped. I'd called his bluff. But I'd already been well and truly set up. An elaborate, well-planned and well-executed sting. A get-square.
There is nothing wrong with any of the typewriters. But if I had paid for a repairmen to look at them, I would find that out. And Maras didn't want that to happen.
This was one of the points I made to PayPal when Maras opened a dispute. He claimed $225. PayPal arbitrarily helped itself to $350 from my account. Or so it said. I have long since known to keep $0.00 in my PayPal account. PayPal has a long, sorry record of not being trustworthy with other people's money, so I don't allow it the opportunity to get anywhere near any of mine.
I knew I was on a hiding to nothing arguing the point with PayPal. Sure enough, I was told last night I'd lost. Surprise, surprise!
Imagine this in 100 pieces
Some time ago, I received a badly wrapped resin figurine typewriter smashed to bits. It was only $40, but I opened a dispute. PayPal insisted I re-wrap the bits and pieces and send them back to the seller. I did. That cost me $15. Then I got my $40 back. I was still $15 out of pocket. All because a seller couldn't properly package a resin figurine typewriter.
So I'm left wondering: How come Maras gets to keep my three typewriters plus gets a $225 bonus, allegedly from me?
So I send him three typewriters, plus $225? Tell me how that works, PayPal.
And while you're at it, I'd really love to know exactly what was the "careful consideration" you gave this dispute. Did you look at my eBay feedback record? Did you see the three typewriters in question? Did you test them? No? So it's his word against mine? OK. So on what grounds did you decide to believe him and not me? I'd dearly like to know. 
Anyway, enough of all that. No more selling on eBay and no more using PayPal for me. It'll make my life difficult, but I'll have to find a way around it.
Selling typewriters is the only way I can supplement my pension. I get $900 a fortnight pension and pay $600 rent. That leaves $300 to live on each fortnight. Nowhere near enough. Until now, I've managed to get by through selling typewriters.
PayPal and Maras want to put an end to that. I wonder how proud of themselves they must feel?
Footnote: There is a cruel twist to all this. Some may recall I had recommended a repairmen to Ray Nickson to get his Underwood Noiseless 77 fixed, and the Underwood was wrecked by the repairman. It was Ray who met Maras in Adelaide last year and told Maras about my typewriters. Don't worry, Ray and I remain on the very best of terms.
Footnote 2: I guess you could call this the revenge of the Australian filmmakers. Late last year I won $120,000 damages in a defamation case against a Melbourne filmmaker, who wrote that I was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. Of course, I never saw a cent of the money. But I wonder ... do filmmakers in this country collaborate?

Monday, 28 July 2014

Four Funerals and a Wedding

The funeral of South Australian writer Max Fatchen. His typewriter was called Ivan the Imperial.
I've often been told that the older I get, the more I should become accustomed to having friends, family and childhood heroes fall off the perch. Still, whenever it happens, it gives one a serious jolt, and a heightened sense of one's own mortality.
There was a time, not so long ago, when I considered myself unfortunate enough to attend a friend or family member's funeral once in every three or four years. Now it seems it's four funerals every two months. 
In the past months, four very close friends have died: a good and constant mate in Federal Capital Press head printer Barrie Murphy, historians Max Howell and University of Canberra emeritus professor Bill Mandle, and The Canberra Times' dearly beloved editorial assistant Julie Watt, a former member of Bob Hawke's staff when Hawke was Prime Minister.
Barrie Murphy
I will, of course, treasure fond memories of each of them. Barrie was born in Northern Ireland but came to Canberra from Christchurch in New Zealand. It was at The Canberra Times that Barrie lost the fingers on his left hand, after coming off second best in a tussle with a printing press. He continued played rugby and one day he and I were in a front row together playing against a team with an Australian Test prop called "The Iron Duke".  At halftime the referee approached me and said the Duke had complained about eye gouging by our hooker. I turned to Barrie and said, "Murp, hold up your hand." Barrie did and the referee saw he had no fingers. Case dismissed, your honour! I still laugh when I think about that.
 Max Howell
Max Howell also played rugby for Australia, as an immediate post-war centre. I can happily recall the time we spent together and the fun we had putting together a Sports Hall of Fame in Townsville many years ago. 
Bill Mandle
Bill Mandle was another fellow sports historian and a fellow Canberra Times columnist. I admired him greatly for his pioneering and inspirational work in the field of sports history, but he went up considerably in my estimation soon after I joined the Times in 1997. He wrote in his column:
(Geoff Pryor is a nationally recognised political cartoonist)
Julie Watt
As our former editor Jack Waterford said in his eulogy at her funeral, Julie Watt always went to extraordinary lengths to help people. When I was putting together an exhibition of the models of typewriters used by famous authors for a Literary Festival at the National Library, I badly wanted a Hermes Baby and a red IBM Selectric. I had seen the Baby on the cover of a book of John Steinbeck writings, and the image of Johnny Depp, playing the part of Hunter S.Thompson, carrying the big red IBM.
By chance I found the Baby in a most unexpected place (a recycling centre) the day the show started. Earlier, I had told Julie of my plight and she said, "I think we're got a red Selectric stored away somewhere." Many days later she announced, "Found it!" It was on the ground in a large stationery room, completely hidden under laden shelves. She dragged it out for me. I was proud to own it.
The loss of these dear friends came amidst a flurry of departures of people I greatly admired as a young man, sporting heroes and rock musicians - many of whom I got to know well in later life. One does expect those musos who survived the age of 27 (which Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse failed to do) to eventually succumb to the ravages of their calling at some still premature point.
Doc Neeson of The Angels and Jim Keays of Masters' Apprentices put in major fights to hang on, as did Julie Watt (eight years with throat cancer; I was one of the first she told about it, and I feared she'd last but a few months). Yet each died far too soon. Barrie Murphy and Julie had both had just reached 60, Jim and Doc were 67. It's my age bracket.
 Friday on my mind. Not his song, but Jim Keays died on Black Friday. I met him on a Friday and got to know him during this, the unforgettable Long Way to the Top tour.
Doc: Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again? A absolute classic. Basement blues.
Tommy died, just when I thought there were no members left of the greatest rock band ever.
Actress Wendy Hughes: ''I did but see her passing by. And yet I love her till I die.'' 
Perhaps we're a little more stunned by the early death of sports heroes, whom one always assumes to have led, in the main, somewhat healthier lifestyles.
Either way, being able to so vividly remember watching these people play (both sportsmen and musos) has the effect of suggesting: Your time is coming, and perhaps sooner than you think.
The late Jack Brabham. Luckily, I did get the chance to meet him. A true gentleman. But gee, I can't tell you how much I yearned for Bruce McLaren to edge ahead of his teammate. I reckon McLaren ranks up there with Stirling Moss as the greatest Formula One driver never to win a world championship.
The late Reg Gasnier. Played for St George, the "Dragons", and was called "Puff" because he was the "magic Dragon". In 1965 I stood face on to him, only a matter of yards away, as with a subtle change of pace he ghosted through the defence for Australia. One of the very best. A nice bloke, too. Not all that many sports greats are.
Gary 'Gus' Gilmour, the wonderful all-rounder from Waratah, best remembered by me as a century-scoring left-hander, also for his bowling in the first World Cup final, in 1975.
I even had a kind thought for a politician who shuffled off this mortal coil. Neville Wran was a decent New South Wales premier, and one who also believed typewriters (even if electric ones) should be kept for posterity. The mallet was for other things.
Don't get me wrong. I don't really fear death all that much. It may seem silly, but does keep me awake at night is the worry about the task I would leave behind, of friends and family trying to match typewriters with their cases and disposing, somehow or other, of the lot. I have seen the mammoth tasks left to Tilman Elster's son and Emeric Somlo's widow, and I do not envy them one little bit.
Anyway, before it's my turn, I'm planning to reverse Four Weddings and a Funeral and leave it, at least for the time being, at four funerals and a wedding. My son Danny and his partner Emily are getting married on November 1. Let's hope I make it that far! Then the vultures can hover!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Farjeon first Writer-Journalist to 'Master' Typewriter?

Benjamin Leopold Farjeon
In the early northern autumn of 1874, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) joined an exclusive club - becoming a member of that dissipate, impulsive group of 400 people who forked out $125 to purchase a Sholes & Glidden typewriter between July (when it was launched on the market) and December of that year. Twain bought his in Boston and on December 9 of that year used it in Hartford, Connecticut, to write a letter to his brother, Orion Clemens, in Keokuk, Iowa. From all reports, Twain didn't get much, if any, personal use out of it beyond that time.
Like Twain, British journalist and author Benjamin Leopold Farjeon was exuberant, impetuous, extravagant and generous. Like Twain, he also had an extensive background in the printing industry, notably in New Zealand and Australia. According to newspaper reports from London reaching New Zealand in January 1878, this was the main reason why Farjeon had become the first writer, at least in Britain, to "master" the typewriter. That he had mastered the machine presumably put him one step ahead of Twain, in this regard alone, on the other side of the Atlantic.
The evidence very much suggests Farjeon was indeed the master of the typewriter. Literary historians have noted his massive output (almost 60 novels) in the 35 years after he returned to England from New Zealand in 1868, saying he wrote with "unceasing toil". But they fail to attribute this to his use of the typewriter, which unquestionably allowed him to write - without the aid of transcribers - more legible typescripts, and more often, than his contemporaries. 
Given the timing of the early 1878 London reports, following a dinner given by journalists for the war correspondent Archibald Forbes in mid-December 1877, we might assume the typewriter which Farjeon had mastered was the Sholes & Glidden Model 2, introduced at the end of 1875. Farjeon's copy was typed all in capital letters, and the Remington No 2, which introduced the shift device and lower case letters, didn't appear until later in 1878. 
From early 1876, the updated Sholes & Glidden model was being sold in Britain through the Remington Sewing Machine Company on Queen Victoria Street in London, later to become the home of the (British) Type Writer Company, through which William Richardson sold the Royal Bar-Lock. (In 1877, E.Remington & Sons was losing money from its sewing machines and farm implements production, and concentrating more on guns and typewriter sales.)
From the British Trade Journal, 1876
Farjeon was born on May 12, 1838, in London. He was raised in Whitechapel and educated at a private Jewish school until he was 14. His first job was as a printer's devil on the Nonconformist, a Christian newspaper, where he became a skilled compositor. After a breach with his father over religious matters, an uncle bought him a steerage passage and he left England in 1854, aged 16, for the goldfields of Victoria, Australia, arriving practically penniless in Melbourne on the Ocean WaveFarjeon spent a month working as an accountant in Melbourne, then set out for the goldfields, moving from camp to camp and starting newspapers at each one.
In 1861, anxious to reach the new goldfields of Otago in New Zealand, Farjeon approached the editor of the Melbourne Argus and sought a position as the paper's New Zealand correspondent. Arriving in Dunedin, he joined the staff of the weekly newspaper the Colonist but soon transferred to the newly established Otago Daily Times, New Zealand's first daily newspaper, where Julius Vogel was editor and joint proprietor with William Cutten. (On Vogel, see also here, here and here.)
Julius Vogel
Farjeon was appointed the Times's business manager and also acted as sub-editor, contributor and frequently compositor. In November 1864 Cutten terminated his partnership with Vogel, who took on Farjeon as his partner instead. In March 1866 Farjeon and Vogel sold the Times on condition they were kept on as manager and editor respectively.
Farjeon's literary career flourished in Dunedin and among his early works was one of his best known, Grif: A Story of Colonial Life (1866) - 17 editions to 1898 - which was set on the Australia goldfields. It was originally simultaneously composed and set up in type by Farjeon in the Times office. 
Julia Matthews
He also wrote plays and burlesques, in which the leading parts were taken by London-born actress and singer Julia Matthews (1842-76), who subsequently won a reputation back in her native country and in the US (she died in St Louis). (See here and here.) Farjeon was not alone in being infatuated by her. Explorer Robert O'Hara Burke proposed to her, and she was played in movies about Burke and Wills by Greta Scacchi and Nicole Kidman.
Farjeon left New Zealand for England in December 1867. He had dedicated a novel, Shadows on the Snow, to Charles Dickens and sent Dickens a copy in the vain hope Dickens would publish it in his weekly periodical, All the Year Round. On the basis of Dickens's mildly encouraging reply, Farjeon threw up a burgeoning career in Dunedin and returned to London through New York, where he declined the offer by Gordon Bennett of an engagement on the Herald. Farjeon adopted a literary lifestyle with enthusiasm, living in the Adelphi Theatre, buying himself a Sholes & Glidden and becoming widely known as a prolific and popular author.
Farjeon's father-in-law, American actor Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905)
In June 1877, Farjeon married Margaret Jane "Maggie" Jefferson, daughter of American actor Joseph Jefferson. The couple's four children all enjoyed considerable success in the arts: super prolific writer, journalist and playwright Joseph Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955), author of children's stories and plays, poetry, biography, history and satire Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), Herbert Farjeon (1887-1945), a major figure in the British theatre from 1910, and New Jersey-born composer Harry Farjeon (1878-1948).
Farjeon's daughter Eleanor.
Farjeon died at his house in Belsize Park, Hampstead, on July 23, 1903, aged 65.
Apart from war correspondent Archibald Forbes (1838-1900), the other British journalists mentioned in the clipping above - the ones who couldn't "master" a typewriter - were Sir Henry William Lucy (1842-1924) and Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894).