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Monday, 28 February 2011

Earth Hour: Use a Typewriter and Save the World!

I presume I am far from being alone among people of my age - I will be 63 in April - in having developed in my twilight years a not inconsiderable sense of guilt about the state of the environment, if not exactly a feeling of corresponding compulsion, or indeed a driving passion, to do anything about it.

However, with Earth Hour (starting at 8.30pm on March 26) offering the chance to make, as so many of its promoters have pointed out, a small contribution which might well go toward a significant overall difference, I have started preparations to do my little bit.

No electric bulbs will be burning at my home. I have taken from the shed and cleaned up the old nickel element oil lamps, and before environmentalists reach for their cudgels, I hasten to add I will be using olive oil, which will provide me with significantly more light than candles. Olive oil is, of course, a 99 per cent pure renewable fuel which produces no smoke, fumes or odour and doesn't aggravate allergies. Also, it can't catch on fire if accidentally tipped over (a possibility if, by chance, I do happen to sneeze in the comparative dark and trip on a typewriter). I could also, in these lamps, burn any vegetable oil, or liquid fat or grease, or so I am assured in my now well-thumbed copy of the Lehman's book, I Didn’t Know that Olive Oil Would Burn!

By the light of these olive oil lamps, I shall be making even greater efforts to save the earth for the enjoyment of future generations, of which, admittedly, I am so far responsible for only one. No computer shall be switched on in my house, nor will any television set, radio or stereo system. Indeed, all of these implements, save the computer, have, in advance, been removed from their previous place of employment, to make way for more energy-saving devices, of which I have many.

No kettle will be whistling, no toaster toasting and no microwave will be shooting electromagnetic waves into my food. Instead, weather permitting (and with the La Niña-related weather we’ve been having lately, who would know what to expect?) I shall be heartily singing Blue Moon whilst my billy boils over a fire of wood waste - my granny taught me this trick on a sawdust heap out back between her fence and the railway line more than half a century ago; a sawmill had once stood there, until an ember from a passing steam train had done away with it, providing an early Guy Fawkes Night for granny.

And as I happily hold bits of wholemeal banana bread over the flames of my wood waste fire, there will be no more savvy, well sated and self-satisfied soul in all of Greendom.

My most telling contribution to Earth Hour, however, will have nothing to do with lighting, cooking or being entertained. With my computer cooling its cloven heels in what once passed for my dining room, the stupefyingly silly animated paperclip of its Word program safely shoved away in its place (hopefully, never to return), I will be contently and with all due environmental consciousness banging away on a manual typewriter. In this case a gorgeous deep cream and pale metallic blue 1961 Voss Privatr, one of almost 600 manual portable typewriters at my disposal (though this photo, admittedly, is from Ricvhard Polt's collection).

This is an exercise I would thoroughly recommend to each and every one who is in the slightest bit interested in doing something positive for the environment during Earth Hour. Go get a manual typewriter from somewhere, write a poem, and find out how positively uplifting the exercise of creating one’s very own “word document” can be.  The first word on each new line will not be automatically capitalised, no squiggly green or red lines will appear uninvited on one’s copy (and if one thinks Word knows better about spelling and grammar, think again), and one can write “theorise” (rhythms with “Elizabeth’s beautiful brown eyes”) to the extent of the heart’s content, if one so wishes, without once having to adjust the words to proper English (“z”s are for sleep). Most importantly, one can allow one’s creative forces to forge forward utterly unimpeded, undistracted by the urge to scroll back to see what one has written. Goodness, with the earliest typewriters, there was no way of seeing anything until the page fell out of the machine that is, until Franz Xaver Wagner invented the “visible” Underwood.

One of the first things ever typewritten, by William Austin Burt on his “typographer” in New York on March 13, 1830, was a sort of love letter to his wife, Phoebe, back home in Mount Vernon, Michigan. “My Dear Companion”, it began. How romantic! Try it and feel the exhilaration. Have that satisfaction of the gratitude handwriting love letters these days is a forgotten art form, and one printed off a Word Document would be tantamount to asking for a divorce.

Some of the finest historical works of recent times (The Path Between the Seas, Truman, John Adams, 1776) have been written by Pulitzer winner David Gaub McCullough the “master of the art of narrative history” in the shed out the back of his West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, home, using a 70-year-old Royal typewriter by the light of an oil lamp, as storms cut the power supply from the Massachusetts mainland. No stopping McCullough when the computers shut down. Believe me, it’s easy, just start writing a life story.

It certainly seems relevant right now to try where possible to return to an age when, every time we flicked a switch or struck a match, we weren't burning holes in the ozone layer. Typewriters don’t do that, computers do. Don’t think about it, just type it … I type, therefore I am.


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