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Friday, 16 December 2011

Would-be Writer Ruffles and the Royal Portable Typewriter

A colleague of mine at The Canberra Times, Michael Ruffles, is a budding author, with one self-published and hugely entertaining novel - a sort of stream of consciousness cum science-fiction work - to his credit. So far.
Michael's undoubted potential in this area will be tapped, sooner rather than later. For the time being, however, he remains one of those young newspapermen who give me a flicker of hope about the security of an industry to which I devoted the last 46 years, or almost threequarters of my life.
Ruffles, I find, is something of a freak, in that he is not alone technically savvy (technically as in information technology) but still seems able to fully comprehend the concept of a time when newspapers were produced without the aid of computers.
For one thing, he smiles sweetly, nods in all the right places and generally gives every impression he’s actually listening and taking it in when an old codger journo such as myself rails on about why sans serif typefaces were never designed to be used in body matter.
For another thing, Ruffles has, through his friendship and working relationship with me, developed a fondness for typewriters. I first sensed this when he tipped me off with a text late one night about "the last typewriters in the world" (remember that silly outdated Mumbai story that got everyone so worked up earlier in the year? Would have to have been the non-story of the year, surely).
Anyway, Michael's interest in typewriters reflects, for me, his grasp of where his profession has come from. Naturally, I believe anyone working in the print industry today who has an understanding and appreciation of newspaper history is all the better equipped to help shape its future. It's the same in any field of endeavour. Michael's attraction to typewriters speaks to me of his desire to express himself well, of his love of writing, and of his commitment to journalism and newspapers in general.
For all that, I was surprised at the degree of Michael's unaffected delight when I gave him a plastic, dull grey Optima portable typewriter some weeks ago (one with a cursive typeface, not my favourite). He immediately put it on his work desk, pushed the computer keyboard to one side, and started typewriting.
Michael then took a photo of it with his cell phone and posted it on Facebook, with the comment: "Look what I got. Big thanks to Robert. :D". His friends responded thus:
"A paperweight?"
"Looks like hard work to me."
"Is that the 16 gig model? How does it go with Flash?"
"Awesome! My vintage!"
"Let's do the time warp again!!!"
Such was his obvious pleasure in using the Optima, I decided to give him something better. Some regular readers of this blog may recall that earlier this year, I brought back to life an old Royal portable, previously perhaps the most ill-treated typewriter I have ever come across.
I had to find the right-sized ball bearings (apparently used these days as buckshot!) so that Terry Cooksley in Sydney could reassemble the carriage. In the meantime, I replaced the seriously damaged keytops, an exercise on which I have already posted. The main body of the machine cleaned up quite well, but the ribbon cover needed a respray. This was the machine I took to the I Am Typewriter Festival in Melbourne in February, and which was used with such great enthusiasm by so many people at the festival.
And this was the machine I chose to give Michael Ruffles, because it worked so wonderfully well, pronouncedly made all the right sounds, and looked just gorgeous.
As I expected, Michael has fallen in head over heels in love with the little black Royal.  He has also just acquired a new you-beaut camera, so the camera has been getting a thorough workout photographing the Royal in Michael's home in Murrumbateman, between Canberra and Yass.
Michael's unbridled passion for old technology is one of the more important reasons why I am convinced that, for so long as he plonks his shoes under the desk of a newspaper office, newspapers will have, regardless of the mounting evidence to the contrary, a future.
Having contact with such an agreeable young man often feels for me like a trip back to the future. At his age, 27, I too had retained my high ideals and ambitions. I just hope that in the year 2051, Ruffles may be able to look back on his career without sharing some of the misgivings I feel now.

1 comment:

Cameron said...

Lovely post.

I truly enjoy reading stories when people "pay it forward" as you are doing.

You look back in time to your own youth and the people who supported you. Now you are doing the same for Michael, who clearly appreciates it.

Wonderful. The Royal is a great gift.