TYPING BLUES          - 14/ 11/ 2005      <--Prev : Next-->

Anyone under the age of thirty will probably not even know what an old fashioned typewriter looks like unless they see one in a book or a museum, but we Baby-boomers from the Dark Ages sure know and remember those old monsters with shuddering horror !!

Cast your mind back to those rigid little keys that you had to hit with force of a sledgehammer compared to the caressing feel of a modern computer keyboard !! The earliest typewriters used keyboard layouts that had letters arranged alphabetically. These layouts enabled the typist to locate keys easily. However, a problem often occurred. When the typist struck in rapid succession two or more keys whose type bars were next to one another, the bars frequently jammed. To remedy this problem, a helpful fellow called Sholes helped develop another layout in the 1870's. This layout, known as QWERTY, is still the standard for keyboards in most English-speaking countries. It is called QWERTY because the letters Q, W, E, R, T, and Y appear in succession near the upper left-hand corner of the keyboard. In the QWERTY layout, the bars for the letters that most often appear in combination in the English language are far apart.

It always amazed me how beautifully manicured some secretaries could keep their nails when mine were ragged and split and scuffed from tackling those objectionable old Remingtons.

I must now let our younger readers know that these typewriters were not powered by anything other than ones own manual forcible hand power !! Oh yes indeed, the pounding of one of the letters by one's fingers, moved the little key along until you reached the edge of the piece of paper and then with the help of a little lever you would with some considerable force, manually push the carriage across from the right hand side of the paper back to the left hand side. And this had to happen at the end of each and every single line, and they dare complain about RSI (repetitive strain injury !!) This was jolly well hard labour you mark my words.

Things improved a tad when the electric typewriter was invented but for some reason the manual typewriters were kept in the schools and offices in Zimbabwe for many years probably as a form of corporal punishment.

Typing more than one copy of anything was a nightmare. Several copies of a document were often demanded by unthinking bosses who had never laid a finger on a type writer in their pampered lives !!

There was the all important top copy of nicest bond paper, followed by the flimsy pink sheet of paper which probably went to the accounts department, followed by the pale blue copy which went to the sales department, then the buttercup yellow sheet which went to the filing department and last but not least the white sheet which probably ended up in the bin but was compulsory just to test your mettle as a typist AND each sheet interspersed with a sheet of carbon paper. Even getting these six sheets of paper to line up evenly with the six sheets of carbon paper tucked in between, was a work of art trust me !!

Now I had to actually explain what a sheet of carbon paper was to my daughter !!

Woe betide you if you made a typing error and pressed the wrong key by mistake !!

Out came that horrid blue pencil typewriter eraser, it had a white piece of rubber on one end and a itsy bitsy brush on the other. Each copy of that darned manuscript had to be altered in minute ghastly detail. Little pieces of paper carefully and painstakingly placed in between every single sheets of paper to stop the carbon marking the paper below as you rubbed ever so delicately as not to tear that awful flimsy paper. It was a total nightmare.

The introduction of tippex made things a teensy weensy bit easier but not a great deal, white blobs and splodges were a dead give away to the boss, and most secretaries gave a sigh of relief when those little continuous tippex strips were invented as if you were careful enough you could get away with a whole lot more in the mysterious realms of typing trials and tribulations.

I never had a typing lesson and was self taught which was probably why I never stayed, thank heavens, in any typing pool for too long, but radio and TV scripts also had to have several copies, one for the audio, one for the operator and one for the video operator.

None of this cutting and pasting that we know of today, if you needed to put in some extra words, too bad, out came that piece of paper and you started all over again from the top !! Imagine the poor fellow who had to type out War and Peace for Mr Tolstoy !!

Now I know we have probably forgotten the horrors of the old typewriter already, but do you remember changing the ribbon ?

Oh yes, it had a little spool with an actual sixty inch ribbon that jumped along winding merrily from spool to spool from side to side, black on the bottom half and red on the top half of the more modern machines and these little darlings had to be changed periodically at much cost to life and limb.

There would be ink everywhere, on the desk, on the clothes, on the fingers, on the nose, I could cry when I remember those awful awful cruel days of typing yore !!

And so when the blessed computer was introduced into our lives, life became a whole lot easier. Our children will never ever know just what horrors we had to go through will they.?