Last Monday, the Bangkok Post business section carried an interesting article by Nanchanok Wongsamuth about one of the last shops in Bangkok selling or repairing typewriters _ remember them? Business at the Khlong Thom shop is definitely not brisk, but owner Suttiporn Chatviriyatam still manages to sell one typewriter a week, which is pretty good considering ''typewriter'' is almost an obsolete word these days.
I particularly liked Mr Suttiporn admitting that the only sentence he can type in English is ''the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog'', the pangram (a sentence which uses all 26 letters of the alphabet) and a good test to see if any letters on a typewriter are a bit dodgy. Admittedly as a conversation opener ''the quick brown fox ...'' would hardly keep Mr Suttiporn going on the Bangkok cocktail circuit for very long.
I wish Mr Suttiporn all the best in his business preserving a great tradition. He is not alone in his love for typewriters. As the late American author John O'Hara once said: ''Much as I like owning a Rolls-Royce, I could do without it. What I could not do without is a typewriter.''
The Post switched from typewriters to computer terminals in the early 1980s, a traumatic time for all involved, especially amongst wretched Luddites like myself. I had never even mastered the typewriter, let alone plunging into the alien world of templates, tools and windows, a bottomless pit of despair and frustration. But there was something satisfying about the clatter of a battered Smith Corona or Olympia as opposed to the almost silent, sterile keys of a computer terminal.
Unlike their modern-day equivalents, no two typewriters felt exactly the same. Like the people who used them, they all had their idiosyncrasies and at times could be infuriating. There were invariably some letters or keys which didn't work properly and you would really have to whack them to ensure cooperation. But at least you could shout and scream at the typewriter without getting punched in the face in return. And they didn't break down in power cuts.
However, things could get a bit messy when the ribbon wore out and needed changing. I never did get the hang of that and always ended up covered in ink.
Tribute to an old friend
It's true that you can get attached to a typewriter. For more than 30 years, at home I used an elderly Smith Corona, bought second-hand in the early 1970s for the grand sum of 800 baht. It was on this typewriter that I first wrote about my maid, Ms Yasothon, for this column along with the heroics of Sgt Nop and other matters of substance, such as potholes, puddles, parrots and people with bald heads. That typewriter has a lot to answer for.
I am ashamed to say that while moving house six years ago I left the typewriter among the cobwebs in a cupboard for the workmen to play with. It hadn't been in working condition for a decade, but in retrospect I should have treated it with more respect. I've felt guilty about it ever since. It was like abandoning a pet, or losing an old friend. I should have at least given it a decent burial.
I read somewhere that a housewife in England actually buried her ancient vacuum cleaner at the bottom of the garden because she had become so attached to it.
Best of enemies
Some well-known authors have experienced rocky relationships with their typewriters. Leonard Cohen reportedly threw his typewriter into the Aegean Sea after writing the novel Beautiful Losers, while Hunter Thompson was photographed pointing a gun at his machine. Ernest Hemingway sometimes typed standing up. I tried it once, but only because a chair wasn't available, and it was most uncomfortable.
America author Clarence Budington Kelland wrote: ''I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop.'' Perhaps that's why he referred to himself as ''the best second-rate writer in America''.
There was a time, however, when typewriters earned the wrath of authors who preferred writing in long hand.
Graham Greene once wrote: ''My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain, My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen of course. Ballpoint pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.''
In the 1950s a popular UK radio record request was The Typewriter, which featured a simple typewriter, operated by a percussionist, accompanied by a full orchestra. It was surprisingly catchy and is still sometimes used in TV documentaries about office life. It's most unlikely fan was extrovert Aerosmith singer Steve Tyler who ''played'' the typewriter in a 1999 Boston Pops performance.
A piece of history
Someone who has proudly stood by his typewriter through thick and thin is the Post's Bernard Trink. His old Olympia sat on his desk for many years, in open defiance of all the computer terminals which invaded the office. Alas, the Olympia expired a few years ago, but was replaced by a youthful Smith Corona.
Readers will be pleased to learn that Trink's book reviews, which appear every Monday in the ''Life'' section, are still typed on a Smith Corona 12 and you can almost feel every tap and ''ding'' of the typewriter in his words.
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About the author
- Writer: Roger Crutchley