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Tuesday 31 March 2015

Typewriter Update

The Restored Remington
12 (or is a 10?)
 As it was

Donald Lampert and David Wells asked if I would share "trade secrets" on this restoration job. I've never hesitated to share whatever knowledge I've acquired from one of these projects, but in this case it's not quite that simple. In short, I have no secrets to share - if there were any, I've chucked them out of my head. This was such a monstrous task, I've tended to put the experience behind me and am trying hard to forget about it. As always, elbow grease was the No 1 ingredient.
What I do recall is that at the end of the first day of working on this, I had almost given up hope of succeeding and went very close to ditching the whole thing. Whatever I'd tried, as per previous restorations, wasn't working so well on this one, and I was left with a machine with a thin white smear over its workings. The next morning I decided on one last-ditched effort. I went down to the hardware store and asked the "experts" what I should use, thinking I might come home with one good product. Instead, $70 later, I was walking home with about six products. I could probably recommend any one or all of the six.
One thing I did do which I've never tried before was to take the typewriter outside and fire a high-powered water hose at it. It was a hot day, so I quickly took it back inside and dried it out by running the air compressor through it. From that point on, things began to look up.
In removing the Gorrin tabulation system, I was concerned I'd taken away more than I needed to from the back. But Richard Polt was right when he advised me to loosen the screws on the release levers, and the carriage skipping stopped. Thank you yet again, Richard! So now it's back to being a fully functioning typewriter, and it was worth all the trouble (and expense) it took to restore it. All's well that ends well. Except I wish I could offer Donald and David some useful tips - other than sheer determination and persistence, I can't think of any.
I was going largely by the serial number when I declared it to be a model 12, but Miguel Angel Chávez Silva added to the doubt I already had about this. I'm still not certain, but I suspect Miguel is also right and that this is a Remington 10.
I have been offered 15 portable typewriters by a lady in New England, New South Wales, but being on the bones of my backside have no way of picking them up. Anyone coming through that region to Canberra that can help, please let me know.
Typewriters in the News
The typewriter is making a comeback, Kearney Hub
Typewriters are surviving the high tech age, CNN
Interesting Finds
Frans van de Rivière has acquired this very interesting machine, a Corona Silent "Typewriter Telegraph No8A" portable:
Richard Polt pointed out a similar machine was sold on eBay two years ago, one which Alan Seaver added had once belonged to Tilman Elster:
Frans also pointed to a 1977 Olympia SM9 with a Fraktur font being sold on eBay for 495 euro.
Glad to be of Service
I'm pleased my post on replacing the drawband on typewriters was of help to Mary E, the lady who is "resurrecting" a Remington Rand standard typewriter. Mary may be interested to know that the "gentleman" she refers to is the Oliver guru, none other than Martin Rice Jr. And yes, Mary, Marty is a true gentleman - and a scholar!
Spotted in Sydney
Typewriter-collecting encourager and cricket lover Peter Crossing made an 11th hour decision to go to the World Cup one-day semi-final between Australia and India in Sydney last week, after being offered a ticket by an Adelaide friend. Peter seldom fails to spot typewriters on any of his travels (Washington, Barbados, Hanoi), or to take photographs of same. This display he found at an art supply shop called Type in an arcade near the corner of George and Liverpool streets. These are, of course, grossly overpriced tinplate typewriters, not the Real McCoy.
Gone but not Forgotten
Sadly, Canberra will lose two typewriter collectors next week when Ray Nickson (above) takes up an appointment as a lecturer in law at the University of New England in Armidale. Ray will depart with his American-born wife Alice and their young daughter Cynthia - not to mention their large collection of Depression Era and other gorgeous old typewriters. They (that is the Nicksons and the typewriters) will be sorely missed around here. Canberra's population of Typospherians will drop by half.
Meanwhile, in Sydney, typewriter collector Richard Amery has also been busy packing up typewriters - in his case from his electoral and parliamentary offices - and finding places to store them. Although Richard retired from politics last year, it was not until last Saturday that his 32-year stint as a Member of the New South Wales Parliament officially ended. That was when a new member for Mount Druitt, Edmond Atalla, retained the seat with almost 66 per cent of the vote. The swing of almost 10 per cent matched that for Labor through the rest of the State, but the Liberal-National Party Coalition was returned to power with a reduced majority. Richard's collection of Imperial Good Companions remains at Rooty Hill, but other machines he used in his offices have had to go into storage elsewhere.
It's 56533-8 - or it is a 3???
The L.C.Smith No 8 serial number
Richard Polt and Donald Lampert were absolutely spot-on when last week they directed me to the serial number on my Australian rebuilt L.C.Smith No 8 (see post here). As John Guthrie had commented, once one finds it, it seems to jump out like a large snake - and one is left wondering why it took so long to locate it. I must have searched for it 10 or 12 times before giving up; even after Richard and Donald commented on my post, with accurate directions, it still took another few hours and two separate hunts to pinpoint it. In the end I rubbed tennis shoe whitener over it, so I could read it (and photograph it clearly - not a good angle for cameras!)
HOWEVER ... finding it has only raised further questions. This serial number doesn't seem to ft with the Typewriter Database figures. Is it a five-digit number with a dash and an 8 (as in the model number)? Or is it a six-digit number? And if so, what's the dash representing? From my reading of the database numbers, Model 8s have six digits (and no dash). We know this machine is a complete rebuild (in 1947) - is it possible it started life as a Model 3? If so, the serial number would suggest 1922. Disregarding the dash would probably make it an early 1926 model.
Sorry Richard and Donald, but despite your best efforts in allowing me to find the damned thing, having found it I'm still mystified.
The Ubiquitous Nippo
Niels Oskam found this Gyonne portable typewriter (listed as a "Guyonne") on Etsy from the Netherlands. Niels said he could not find any info on it, "but it's a beauty". Sorry, Niels, but it's a common-or-garden Nippo, best known in most parts of the world as an Atlas, but also sold as the Graduate, Cherryland, Orven, Elgin Collegiate, Del Mar and Wellon ... and now the Gyonne. Nippo must have had a team of workers to just come up with model names! Other Nippos appeared as the Baby Alpina, Condor, Rexina, Clipper, Jaguar and, when the team ran out of names, P100 (aka Morse), P200 (aka Argyle P201) and P300.
The seller is spruiking it as a "Spectacular RARE Guyonne Portable Working Typewriter Baby Blue Grey-ish Qwerty Keyboard with At-Sign @ 1960's New Ribbon Metal Very Elegant". And that's just the header! "AmsterdamFinds" really gets carried away with the description: "Super rare and equally elegant female typewriter, probably French design and made in France [a long way from Japan, mate!]. See on the second picture how the cover opens like a kind of spaceship - spectacular, never seen that, anyone? Looking at the design and the way it is built, this machine must be from the 60's or even the 50's as the @-sign is on the keyboard, and I have only seen that on the earlier typewriters ... The brand is Guyonne. Never heard of, no documentation found. Anyone?"
And he or she is asking a staggering $A 246 for it. Two hundred and forty bucks for a Nippo! I don't think so!
Here are a few of my Nippos:

Fast and Furious:
Hossfield, Willins and
"Timmy the Typewriter"
George Hossfield, Stella Willins (with "Timmy"), Irma Wright and Albert Tangora at the National Business Show at the Grand Central Palace in New York City in 1929.
From left, George Hossfield, Stella Willins (with "Timmy"), Irma Wright and Albert Tangora. In the second row, behind Willins and Wright, is Barney Stapert. 
Lydia Pappas, an archivist at the University of South Carolina, was kind enough to alert me this morning to footage of what purports to be the world speed typewriting championships, filmed by Alfred Gold on October 25, 1929, at 342 Madison Avenue, New York City, for Movietone News, and donated to USC's historic film vaults by the Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation.
No 342 Madison Avenue was, in fact, the headquarters of the Underwood Typewriter Company. And as much as Underwood dominated and controlled the world speed typing championships, there was absolutely no way world championship events would have been staged in Underwood's own HQ building! The 1929 world championships had been held in Toronto, Canada, a month before this film was shot. What this film shows is the Underwood speed typing team demonstrating its skills in mock competition.
Have a gander at the size of the bell on that thing!!!
The 6 minutes 18 seconds film, which shows Underwood employee James Nelson Kimball directing the contestants, can be found here. It includes interviews and demonstrations with world champion George Hossfield and women's champion Stella Willins. USC's description is poor, and doesn't mention Kimball, or even the great Albert Tangora or Irma Wright, who are also seen in action. It calls Willins "Ms Stella" (not using her surname once), as if an actress had just popped in from a stage production of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire to take part in the typing contest. (Okay, I realise the play wasn't written until 1947.)
By the way, the Underwood typewriter Willins used in all her world championship events and demonstrations, her favourite speed machine, was nicknamed by her "Timmy the Typewriter". It had a bloody big bell for a Timmy!
Hey, USC, her name is Stella Willins, NOT "Ms Stella"
USC also has a silent 1 minute 56 seconds film shot on March 25, 1927, showing George Hossfield typing at 157 words a minute. The scenes of Hossfield showing a group of stenographers how he types can be seen here. They include close-ups of Hossfield's typing.
Here is a 15-minute silent video, one of three 16mm reels produced by the Harmon Foundation in 1939, which include Stella Willins demonstrating:

Brooklyn Eagle Magazine, September 6, 1931
St Petersburg, Florida, Independent, February 16, 1938
The New Yorker, 1941
The neutron bomb
and the Olivetti Lettera 32
Los Angeles police commission president Steven Soboroff has acquired the typewriter of Samuel Theodore Cohen (1921-2010), an American physicist who invented the W70 warhead and is therefore generally credited as the father of the neutron bomb. Soboroff collects the typewriters of the celebrated or accomplished. Cohen's is the 30th added to his collection. 
In January, Soboroff acquired the typewriter of the actor Rudolph Valentino. It's not, I believe, an Olivetti Valentine (yeah, I know, the Valentine came out almost 43 years after the "Latin Lover" died).
Miss Typewriter
By Owen Smith
Who also designed:

Monday 30 March 2015

Killing Me Softly With Her Movie

These photographs were taken by Cameron Forbes for LIFE magazine's issue of March 31, 1972. They were taken at the Charles Theatre for David Wheeler's Theatre Company of Boston, where Forbes was lighting director and official photographer. They show Al Pacino rehearsing the title role of a misfit drafted into the US Army in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, a mordant, satiric anti-war drama by Vietnam veteran David Rabe, the first of Rabe's searing trilogy of Vietnam War plays and the one most directly expressive of this theme. The production opened in the late spring of 1972, while The Godfather, released on March 14, was playing to mammoth cinema audiences. Pacino had left immediately after finishing filming The Godfather to appear as a guest artist in the play - for $200 a week.
Forbes was most probably never paid anything for LIFE's use of his photos, taken and distributed as part of his job in helping publicise Wheeler's theatre company. Forbes's life in the late 1970s, notably his struggle with bipolar disorder, is now the subject of the movie Infinitely Polar Bear. Until his eldest daughter Maya Forbes lovingly wrote and directed the movie, Cameron Forbes's most memorable legacy had been these long-forgotten and unaccredited photos of Al Pacino. And that's sad, but true ...
Forbes's other daughter, singer China Forbes, recalls of her dad, "He was really talented, but he struggled with mental illness. He kept himself together to raise his girls, but after we left home … He never really had a career, so my mother decided she would have to provide for us as best she could." Encouraged by their father, China and Maya grew up steeped in creativity. "Dad got us painting, singing, acting. We would put on plays in the laundry room of our apartment block." She is currently working on a screen musical with Maya and a cousin, Ed Droste of indie art-rockers Grizzly Bear.
It's a long while since I have been as engrossed by a movie as I was with Infinitely Polar Bear. Yet, for all that, I was squirming in my cinema seat. For me, at least, the film is so close to the bone it was almost too uncomfortable to watch. The woman in Norman Grimbel's lyrics was "embarrassed by the crowd", as the young stranger "sang as if he knew me, in all my dark despair". I suddenly knew how she felt!
One reviewer has written that Infinitely Polar Bear is "nothing more than discomforting and slightly cringy viewing", which is true to a point - for someone who knows what it's like to behave like that. But then she concludes that the movie "does a lot while saying very little, ultimately doing no justice to those who experience mental illness, from within or without." As a long-term bipolar sufferer, someone who had made those around me interminably suffer, I can say with a great deal of surety and sincerity that this closing comment is no more than contemptible nonsense.
Maya Forbes, left, with her sister China Forbes
In the movie, the parts of Maya and China are brilliantly played by Maya's daughter Imogene Wolodarsky (left, as Amelia Stuart) and Ashley Aufderheide (right, as Faith Stuart; Faith was the name of Cameron Forbes's mother).
The film is primarily about Maya Forbes and her younger sister, singer China Forbes, being cared for by their father Donald Cameron Forbes (1939-1998) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1977-78, while the girls' mother, Peggy Woodford Forbes, was attending the business graduate school at Columbia University in New York City. It is a no-holds barred, personal view of living with a man seriously and often dangerously affected by bipolar disorder, so it is naturally very near to my heart. In fact, there were times - especially in the scene when late one night "Cam Stuart" rifles through stacks of cardboard boxes, pulling from one some tightly entangled, brightly coloured telephone, computer and electrical cables - that I thought I was looking into a mirror rather than at a screen. Then there is the childish argument over the ongoing usefulness of a dishwashing sponge. Talk about "Strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words ..." This was like Maya Forbes "telling my whole life" with her words and her directions for this movie! That's how accurately Maya Forbes has portrayed what it's like to live with bipolar - perhaps more accurately than I have previously seen on a screen, big or small.
 The real Cameron Forbes
Mark Ruffalo as "Cam Stuart" (Cameron Forbes)
The real Peggy Woodford Forbes
Zoe Saldana as Maggie Stuart (Peggy Forbes)
Being left feeling so "exposed" by the end of it, for me the movie might have been a little better served with a series of brief synopses about what became of the main characters. So I have written my own:
Maya Forbes: Amelia Stuart in the movie. She was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on July 23, 1968. Maya graduated from Harvard University in 1990 and moved to Los Angeles that same year. She is the writer and director of Infinitely Polar Bear. Her other writing credits include the screenplay of The Rocker (2008) and many episodes of The Larry Sanders Show (one of my favourite TV comedies). She was a co-executive producer of The Larry Sanders Show in its later seasons and executive producer of the sitcom The Naked Truth and the TV miniseries The Kennedys. Forbes received Emmy and WGA Award nominations for her work on The Larry Sanders Show. She is married to Wally Wolodarsky, who was co-screenwriter of The Rocker and a producer of Infinitely Polar Bear.
China Forbes: Faith Stuart in the movie. She was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 29, 1970. China is a singer and songwriter best known as the lead singer of Pink Martini. She graduated from the Phillips Exeter Academy in 1988, then studied visual arts at Harvard University, graduating in 1992. She won the Jonathan Levy Prize for acting and worked as an actress for several years, performing off-Broadway in New York. She then became a musician, forming a band and recording a solo album. She sang the title song (Ordinary Girl) for the late 1990s television series Clueless and the version of Que Sera Sera used over the opening and closing credits of Jane Campion's 2003 film In the Cut. China is featured on Michael Feinstein's album The Sinatra Project, singing a duet of How Long Will It Last? She has a son named Cameron.
Peggy Woodford Forbes: Maggie Stuart in the movie. She was born in Chicago on September 24, 1941, while her father was interning at Provident Hospital. She attended Benton Harbor High School in Michigan, after her parents settled there in 1945 and her father opened a general practice in the twin cities of Benton Harbor-St Joseph. Her mother had earned an MA in English literature from the University of Chicago in 1960 and Peggy herself earned a BA in Comparative Literature from the Sarah Lawrence College, Yonkers, in 1963. Like her mother before her, in 1977, aged 35, Peggy returned to study and gained an MBA in Finance from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. She went on to Wall Street, working first in the futures market at E.F. Hutton and then from 1980 at Merrill Lynch. At the end of 1990 Peggy left her comfortable job at Merrill Lynch and became the first African-American woman to establish a registered investment advisory firm in growth equity management in the United States. "I ... concluded that if I was going to continue to work as hard as I did, and make the kind of sacrifices in my family life that I had, it would make more sense to have real equity in the company," she recalled. Woodford Capital Management did well as an institutional money management firm, but in 2005 Forbes merged her firm with Osborne Partners Capital Management LLC of San Francisco. Forbes now holds a senior leadership position, serving as one of the firm’s managing directors. She has remarried, to Harry B. Bremond, a retired partner of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, lives in Los Altos, California, and serves as board emeritus of TheatreWorks Inc.
Peggy was the daughter of Hackley Elbridge Woodford (1914-2005), from Kalamazoo, Michigan, one of the first Southern California physicians certified by the American Board of Family Practice, and his wife, Mary Imogene Steele Woodford (1919-2013). In 1970, Dr Woodford closed his practice in Michigan and moved to Pasadena to accept a partnership with the Southern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, where he was the first member to be certified as a specialist by the American Board of Family Practice.
As a youngster, Peggy Woodford Forbes had wanted to go into theatre but he father wanted her to study medicine or law. She failed in a bid to enter the Yale Drama School directors program and instead worked in television and theatre for many years. It was at Boston's public television station WGBH that she met her husband Donald Cameron Forbes. She was also the producer of Wheeler's repertory company in Boston.
Donald Cameron Forbes: Cam Stuart in the movie. Cameron was born in Boston on April 21, 1939; he died of pancreatic cancer at his younger daughter's home in Cambridge on July 21, 1998, aged 59.  The son of Gordon Donald Forbes (1915-1993) and Faith Fisher Forbes (1918-2009), he was raised in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard University in 1961. He was a lighting designer for Boston's public television station WGBH (where he met Peggy Woodford) and lighting director and official photographer for The Theatre Company of Boston. Through his father he was related to US Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry (1943-) and his brother Cameron Forbes Kerry (1950-), General Counsel of the US Department of Commerce. The Forbes family is a wealthy extended American family, long prominent and considered part of the Boston Brahmin ėlite. The family's fortune originates from trading between North America and China in the 19th century and other investments, such as in railways, in the same period. The name descends from Scottish immigrants.
Cameron Forbes's maternal grandfather, Richard Thornton Fisher, was founder of the Harvard Forest. An accomplished painter, Cameron's mother Faith painted two soundboards for the Boston harpsichord maker, William Dowd and designed and painted a stained glass window for the Danville Congregational Church in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Gordon Donald Forbes, an electronics consulting engineer, was born in London, the son of Gerrit Forbes and Marthe De La Fruglaye.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Self-proclaimed: Is using a manual typewriter gerontophilia? A strangely inappropriate lust? Or an indecent pleasure?

It's almost 20 years now since renowned English figure sculptor and death mask creator Nick Reynolds (1962-) - the son of a Great Train Robber who provides harmonica on The Sopranos opening theme tune Woke Up This Morning - indelibly linked journalist and writer Will Self with manual portable typewriters. Reynolds produced Self (A Portrait of Will Self), placing a sculpture of the writer's head on top of an Olivetti Studio 42 typewriter. Oddly enough, however, it was not until 2004 that Self abandoned modern technology to start writing fiction on his late mother's US-bought pistachio Olivetti Lettera 22 portable.
This is not a death mask; Self is, at the age of 53, still very much alive and kicking - and he continues to extol the virtues of portable typewriters, while revealing further sound reasons for his return to manual typing.
These began to emerge in print with an item titled "End of the Typewriter", which Self typed in the week following the decision by Brother to stop production of electronic "wedge" typewriters in Wrexham in November 2012. Self's article appeared in the London Times Life section.
"It saddens me that Brother has packed up shop," Self wrote, "but the last typewriter to roll off its very truncated production line was an electric model. I did enjoy the strange ultrasonic hum of my mother’s Brother electric in the 1970s, but while I may have begun typing at around this time, when I first began to seriously produce fiction on a typewriter it was on a manual — my by-then late mother’s own Olivetti Lettera 22, which she brought with her from the US when she emigrated in the late 1950s. [Self's mother was Elaine Adams (née Rosenbloom), from Queens, New York City, who worked as a publisher's assistant; she died of lung cancer at Easter 1988, a week short of her 67th birthday. In 1959 Adams married Peter Self, later a town planning professor at the Australian National University; he died in Canberra in 1999, aged 80.]
"I switched to working on a manual typewriter in 2004 (all my previous books had been composed either on an Amstrad word processor or more sophisticated computers), because I could see which way the electronic wind was blowing: dial-up Internet connections were being replaced by wireless broadband, and it was becoming possible to find yourself seriously distracted by the to and fro between email, web surfing, buying reindeer-hide oven gloves you really didn’t need — or possibly even looking at films of people doing obscene things with reindeer-hide oven gloves.
"The polymorphous perversity of the burgeoning web world, as a creator of fictions, seriously worried me - I could see it becoming the most monstrous displacement activity of all time."
At the time this article was published, Self told an interviewer, "I’ve gone back to using a typewriter for the first draft. It forces you to think. Instead of going, 'She wore a red dress. Wait, that’s banal, I’ll make it purple or green ...' you think, 'Right, what colour was her dress?' It brings order back into your mind." He also rephrased his own story, crediting the typewriter with thwarting procrastination. "My move into typewriters exactly coincided with broadband," he says. "If you work on a computer you could be watching porn or buying some reindeer oven gloves or whatever. Disable the Internet, that’s my advice [to budding writers]."
Now Self has gone a little deeper into the appeal typewriters hold for him, raising the questions in the headline above in his Diary in the London Review of Books earlier in the month.
Self wrote (American readers may not know that a "perv" is slang for an erotic glance or look):
    When I was a child I perved over my mother’s typewriters; first, her beautiful olive green Olivetti Lettera 22 with American keys, then later her IBM golfball electric which seemed to explode into kinesis if you touched it. I picked up an ancient Underwood of my own in a junk shop and used it to hammer out comedic plays. By the time I wanted to write less childish things, my mother had died, and since she’d been a relatively early adopter I’d inherited her primitive Amstrad PCW 9512 word processor. I wrote my first five books (and plenty of journalism) on that machine and thought it perfectly adequate to the task, but then in the mid-1990s its printer packed up. I invested in a proper PC that could connect to the Internet with a loud noise of whistling timpani, suggestive of Alberich forging the ring of the Nibelung. I didn’t find this too much of a distraction, because I only used the Internet to file my journalistic copy.
    In general I thought computers unlovely things, their functionalist design yet more evidence of the worrying convergence between the British built environment of the period and all the actual - as opposed to virtual - desktops it aspired to encapsulate. As for the computer screen that is nowadays ever before us, I can recall perfectly the primitive holotype with its horse-trough depth and greenish luminescence; surely its lineal descendants’ capacity to display almost infinite imagery has resulted in this unintended consequence: a leeching of aesthetic interest or engagement; the duff skeuomorphic icons denoting folders and programs have encroached, rendering all local space planar. ‘And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.’ Sometimes, if I worked for too long without a break, when I turned away from the screen the blinking cursor would go with me, and hover, heralding, above an ashtray or a mug. Naturally I desired computers - who didn’t? Shinier ones, smaller ones, slimmer ones, more powerful ones; the problem was I didn’t really know what to do with their myriad emergent capabilities. So, during this period I reserved my perving for notebooks and propelling pencils, Post-it notes and file cards.
    Then, in 2004, I was invited to contribute to a project in Liverpool: the artists Neville Gabie and Leo Fitzmaurice had persuaded Liverpool Housing Action Trust, the body responsible for dynamiting the city’s council high-rises and rehousing their tenants, to let them have a number of flats in a 22-storey block in Kensington, up the road from Lime Street Station. The idea was that various artists, writers and so on would take up occupancy for a period of months. I was allocated a flat on the 21st floor with astonishing views across the Mersey and all the way to Snowdonia, 70 miles distant. I didn’t have any firm ideas on what I was going to write about in my strange new atelier, but I knew I wanted to mediate living in the building, since the remaining tenants – perhaps a hundred or so, in a street-in-the-sky that had once housed five times that number - were being encouraged to get involved. For some time an urge had been growing in me to write on a manual typewriter. I didn’t know why exactly but it felt a strangely inappropriate lust, possibly a form of gerontophilia. I disinterred my mother’s old Olivetti, dusted it off, and resolved to type my daily word count, Blu-Tack the sheets to the scarified wallpaper of my Liverpool gaff, and invite the other residents up to view them. This I duly did. I found working on the Olivetti indecently pleasurable. I can’t touch-type; even so, my stick fingers produced satisfying percussive paradiddles, in between which came blissful fermatas, devoid of electronic whine and filled instead with the sough of the wind on the windows, down the liftshaft, and wheedling through the Vent-Axias. The new instrument altered my playing style: instead of bashing out provisional sentences, as I would on a computer, the knowledge that I would have to re-key everything caused me to stop, think, formulate accurately, and then type.  

It was laborious to begin with, and I had the nagging suspicion that, as so often in the past (I feel confident many will identify), I was seeking a technological fix for a creative problem. But I persisted, and after I’d completed the story in Liverpool (it’s called ‘161’ and appeared in my collection Dr Mukti and Other Tales of Woe), I wrote my next book entirely on the Olivetti. In retrospect, although the decision to revert to a redundant writing technology may have been prompted by the valetudinarian tower block, there was an underlying and more significant cause: wireless broadband had been installed in our house, and now whenever I was writing I was only a few finger-flicks away from all the pullulating distractions of the web. Much later I began to understand why exactly the new technology was so inimical to writing fiction, but to begin with my revulsion was instinctive: and I recoiled from the screen - straight into the arms of Shalom Simons. I’m not quite sure how I acquired Shalom, but as soon as I had him I began to worry about losing him. He must’ve been in his late 50s then (he’s 69 now), and while he’s never spoken of retiring, he has in recent years conceded: ‘I’m not looking for work.’ Apparently there is one other like him in Surbiton, but I’ve never been tempted to make overtures; Shalom seems curiously antagonistic towards this nameless conspecific. I suppose it’s the cosmic irony one would expect; just as the nanny and the Billy that Shem selected to preserve their goatish lineage probably butted and bored each other all the way into his father’s ark, so the last two typewriter repairmen in London are wholly antipathetic. [Simon is a typewriter engineer based at 36 Morland Road, Harrow, Middlesex.]
    Over the decade Shalom and I have consorted I have at times been visited with a terrible (and reasonable) anxiety: that he will shut up shop before I do, leaving me with these battlefield-wounded machines and no one to perform triage. My Wikipedia entry says that I ‘collect and repair vintage typewriters’; the very idea of it! The repairing, that is: a child of cack-handed epigones who never got over the ‘servant problem’, I wouldn’t know how to repair a potato for printing purposes, let alone a typewriter. But I do collect them: soon after Shalom began working on my Olivetti I started buying more typewriters; in part because my nasty habit was steadily turning into full-scale fetishism, but also because I wanted to give Shalom as much work as I could, simply to keep him at it. I’ve always been like this with artisans and workmen I viscerally need: manufacturing employment for them out of transgenerational anxiety and personal ham-fisted desperation. I speedily acquired a second Olivetti and a brace of 1930s Imperial Good Companions; a friend gave me a serviceable 1970s Adler, and, after long hours spent perving over a US website called The Vintage Typewriter Shoppe [Scott McNeill?], I lashed out and bought an early 1960s Groma Kolibri for $500. This last machine attracted my lustful gaze when it had a cameo part in The Lives of Others, in which East German dissidents behind the Wall in the 1980s jive to bebop and type samizdat.
In the film, the Groma is celebrated by one character as ‘the thinnest typewriter ever made’; this means it can be neatly concealed from the Stasi under a door lintel. I didn’t need my Groma because it was easy to hide – I needed it because I hadn’t seen anything quite as beautiful since my youngest child was born. Yes, it had got that bad: I mooned over the things, I caressed them, and I thrilled to the counterpoint between their blocky inertia and their percussive eruption into creative being. I wanted older and older machines, and seriously considered trying to acquire an example of Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s proto-typewriter of the 1860s, the Writing Ball (so called for its globular appearance, with the keys emerging from the core as pins do from a pincushion), a machine that was used by Nietzsche, among others. Throughout this pell-mell race into the past Shalom was my trainer, offering counsel, wisdom and expertise; although I never really felt he grasped the seriousness of my obsession, how for me the manual typewriter was coming to be more than a writing instrument, but rather a reification of the act of writing fiction.
Shalom grew up in an Orthodox family in Stamford Hill. His father, who ran an office-furniture business, intended him for a synagogue cantor, and when Shalom finished school he was sent to the yeshiva. However, Shalom said to me, wryly, ‘I was a good Orthodox boy and didn’t like the idea of working on Shabbat.’ Instead, he went to train as a typewriter engineer with Smith-Corona in Osnaburgh Street, then worked for a dealer with premises near Liverpool Street Station. After that he was employed by various other typewriter dealers: ‘The last one was in Camden Town, but then I got ill, and when I came back they didn’t want to know.’ Shalom went round various stationery suppliers and picked up work that way. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he kept on: ‘I did a fax machine course and one on electric typewriters, but I had enough work and I really couldn’t get my head round computer technology.’ When he told me this I developed a strange image in my mind’s eye: Shalom’s typewriter world shrinking and shrinking, but always able to contain him; he was a micro-organism swimming in this droplet of obsolescence, one that plummeted through fluvial time until, in 2004, it met me, a writer wilfully submerging himself in bygones.
    Not that Shalom’s life is quite as bounded by typing as my own; now he’s in semi-retirement he can devote more energy to his singing. He’s the first tenor for the Shabbaton Choir, which tours extensively; recent highlights include concerts in Israel and Los Angeles. You might have imagined that Shalom and I would clash politically - he being of the Orthodox and Zionist persuasion, me being a Jewish apostate who supports a two-state solution - but we never have. Shalom is one of those given to the homespun homiletic: ‘A happy person is a person who’s happy with his lot,’ he’ll say. Or, ‘Food on the table and your family happy, that’s all you need.’ It’s at this base layer of comity that we tend to communicate, all other potential disputes being incorporated into the tinking, clanking matter at hand: how is this or that half-century-old machine going to be coaxed back into utility? And not just my own burgeoning collection, but writer friends’ old typewriters I’ve encouraged them to let me give to Shalom. They’re often piqued by the idea of manually reverse-engineering their own compositional practices, but I know perfectly well that once serviced and cleaned their Remingtons and Hermes Babys will end up back in the cupboards and attics they were disinterred from, because, let’s face it, hardly anyone writes books on a typewriter anymore.
    Even so, as the technology takes its final bow there’s been quite a flurry of interest: Cormac McCarthy auctioning his Olivetti Lettera 32 for a quarter of a million bucks made big news. I was approached by Patek Phillipe to write about typewriters for an advertorial feature. I could see the synchrony of watches and typewriters: both beautifully efficient devices wholly animated by human power, object lessons - along with the bicycle - of what truly sustainable technologies should be. Less enticing was the offer from Persol, the Italian sunglasses manufacturer, to advertise their eyewear with a little film that would depict me frenziedly typing my ‘great novel’ on my ‘iconic’ typewriter. True, the money was good (€80,000 for a single day’s work), but the destruction of my sense of myself as a writer would’ve been complete and utter: ‘The End’ in blood-red Courier to the accompaniment of a firing squad of keystrokes.
    Beryl Bainbridge, who typed all her first drafts on an Imperial Good Companion (a delicious, steam-punky 1930s machine), went to her grave in 2010, preceded a year earlier by J.G. Ballard, the last writer I’d known personally -  besides myself - who took his books all the way to typesetting as manually generated typescripts. One of the last services I performed for Jim was to obtain a ribbon for his 1970s Olympia; after his death, his partner, Claire Walsh, gave me the machine. It’s an unlovely thing, its textured mushroom-coloured plastic casing anticipating the coming CPU towers and printers, rather than harking back - like the Good Companions - to the steel and glass engineering of Joseph Paxton. I meditated on the Olympia for some time, wondering if working on my dead mentor’s typewriter would either lend me some of his strange vision, or, on the contrary, rob my prose of whatever originality it might possess. In the event, after I’d written one piece on the Olympia, I had a letter from Jim’s daughter, Fay, who said she was distressed to learn I had the machine, since it had been an integral part of her childhood; and although her chronology was way out (she must have been thinking of its predecessor), I conveyed the Olympia to her with something like relief.
    Relief, I now realise, because just as I’d subliminally registered the inception of wireless broadband by changing my own corporate culture, so another transformation was now underway. Finishing my last novel I’d had various problems with the Groma, and since the parts were apparently no longer obtainable I’d bought a second machine. Watching Shalom fiddle about with the deteriorating Gromas I’d begun to have unworthy thoughts: how did I know he was actually any good as a typewriter engineer? It might be argued that the last living individual of a given species should be the fittest - after all, they’ve managed to survive the others’ extinction. But an alternative view is that the others underwent mutagenesis, becoming part of the burgeoning IT genotype, while Shalom, the poor dinosaur, roved the clashing, bashing, hammering lost world of obsolescence. But really my suspicions about Shalom - entirely unfounded - were symptomatic of a deeper malaise: I was falling out of love with the typewriter because I’d found a new old writing method to fetishise.
    For some time I hadn’t been manually retyping my first drafts (let alone all of them), but instead had begun to key them into a computer for reasons of speed and editorial convenience. I still thought of the typewriter draft as the ‘first’, but I’d discovered a certain resistance in myself to bashing the keys first thing in the morning, and so had taken to handwriting at least a couple of hundred words which I would then type up. In time the amount I was handwriting increased until I realised I was effectively composing a proto first draft this way. It dawned uneasily on me that I could very well cut out the typewriter stage altogether. And what a relief that would be: no more lugging the machine about when I wanted to work somewhere else; no more - entirely justifiable - complaints from my wife, who sleeps in the room below where I work, and who, despite the interposition of several layers of rubber matting, was still rudely awoken by my early morning drumming; and of course, no more anxiety about keeping the damn things working after Shalom finally retires. I mean, what was I going to do when that day inevitably came? Wander the leafy back roads of Surbiton calling out tremulously for a new saviour?
    I haven’t as yet started the next novel, and it may well be that once I begin I’ll recoil from the hard handy-graft, but for now my mind is made up and my heart has begun to sing: for years I’ve had a twinkle in my eye when I gaze upon the slim, silvery forms of the Mitsubishi propelling pencils I customarily use to take notes; finally I’ve decided to go all the way with them. There’s only one problem: as far as I can tell from a cursory web search, this particular model has been discontinued. I’ll have to ask Shalom if he can introduce me to a propelling pencil engineer before he bows out.