04 June 2010

Peck or Pound?

New colleagues steal side glances at EJ working on the keyboard. They thought EJ was angry venting all the anger hitting the keyboard hard instead of confronting the cause.
Old colleagues did not give a hoot and continued what they were doing.

When EJ started work in a media company, internet and laptops were not available.

There was this majestic-looking metal machine Underwood typewriter. It was for the secretary to type letters and memos. EJ has typed on this before and loved how the keys 'kick back' when you hit the keys hard enough.

Writers use smaller 'portable' Olympia typewriters. It was considered 'portable' those days and being all metal, it was not exactly light to carry around.

This, too, has almost the same 'kick back' when you hit the keys. Since all were manual, writers have to use carbon papers to make copies. With one copy for the editor, another for the sub and one for your own file plus carbon paper between them totalling up to five sheets, you have to hit the keys really hard for the last copy, yours, to be legible.

To let you know you have reached the right margin end of the page, a sharp bell 'ding' sound will be heard. To go to the next line, you pull the carriage return lever situated on the left of the typewriter to the right which will turn the carriage that consists of a cylindrical platen (the large spool the paper goes around) a notch and move to the left margin. This was not silent. It produced sounds somewhat like 'ding', 'kerek'. Combined with pounding of the keys on five sheets, it would go kachung, kachung, kachung, ding, kerek...kachung, kachung, kachung, ding, kerek...

Imagine this at deadline with 30 or more writers pounding away, not-so-sleek telephones ringing their hooks off and people shouting across the room, it was just as noisy as in the fish market. Or worse. Despite of all the noise, brilliant stories were written and filed on time.

EJ feels this kind of situation is conducive to learn and acquire total concentration.

Nowadays laptop users type silently, softly pecking at the keys.

Habits die hard. Somehow with EJ's habitual pounding on modern flimsy laptop, fragile plastic key cover tops has never flown off.

EJ still loves that majestic antique Underwood typewriter!


Azalia Suhaimi said...

You know what? I'd love to have an antique typewriter, just because :)

I like vintage antique things...I want to write my poetry with the loud typewriters.

But oh yeah, I didn't know you'd have to use 5 carbon papers in between to have all that copies! Hehe thanks for this lovely post on typewriters....great stuff!

Jacqueline said...

We bet "deadline with 30 or more writers pounding away..." was magical!...Happy Friday sweet friends...xo...Calle, Halle, Sukki

Boo-Bah said...

I wish I had kept my dads old typewriter.
I had forgotten about all that messy carbon paper.

I love vintage things and the old Underwoods are really beautiful in their own way.

Old Kitty said...

Oh for years and years and years I had an olivetti electronic typewriter that I thought was so cutting edge and so fab!!! It had a little cartridge of ribbon that you had to replace every few months or so and I had strips of tippex to get rid of mistakes. I loved it!!

But to learn to use this I had to do a course using the old fashioned typewriters that pinged at the end and yes you had to pound away at the keys to get the letters on the page and sometimes the letters jumped!

Awwwww! Great things weren't and fun days too!

Take care

Marg said...

Thanks for the great reminder of the old time typewriters. They were great. I do remember changing the ribbon and keys getting stuck etc. Those were the fun days.
Have a great week end.

Lucy the Cat said...

I love this post of the work day in yesteryear. I'm in my 40's. I learned how to type on a manual typewriter but was so glad when the electric typewriters became popular. It was so much easier on the fingers. Too funny that old habits die hard with EJ still hitting those keys hard even on a laptop. It's no wonder really.

ABBY said...

You know what is amazing ... there are some young people who have no idea what a typewriter is....

Amin said...

Good morning!
Interesting post!

uppercaise said...

The wonder was to watch some type with two fingers -- and even just one. An Olivetti 32 portable just like the one I used to have sold for close to a million in Dec 09 (http://sn.im/x3ax6). Of course, it belonged to someone famous.

The Chair Speaks said...

Aarrrggghh, Uppercaise, I forgot about those who typed incredibly fast with 1 or 2 fingers. It's amazing to see them jabbing the keys at such power and speed with their heads bobbing up and down and sideways.
Would love to have one of those portable Olympia/Olivetti.

Gattina said...

I started with the old mechanical typewriters ! after a while my wrists hurt ! then we switched to electric once an IBM with a ball, I typed so quickly that the ball jumped off. It's only since I am retired that I use a computer, lol !
I wished I had learned it earlier.
I am back from Morocco. It's a little sad, it was so wonderful !

Puss-in-Boots said...

Ilearnt to type at school on a huge old manual Underwood. It was the bane of my life because I was trying to grow my nails for the first time and they kept getting caught between the keys and breaking. Give me a computer keyboard any day. A lot quieter and faster and the backspace key...what bliss, no more carbon copies and having to start all over again if a typing error is made.

Amin said...


Caren Gittleman said...

"Imagine this at deadline with 30 or more writers pounding away, not-so-sleek telephones ringing their hooks off and people shouting across the room, it was just as noisy as in the fish market. Or worse. Despite of all the noise, brilliant stories were written and filed on time."

What wonderful memories you evoked for me!
You are sooo right that our pasts are so similar!
Having worked in a "phone room" for a major newspaper (in the 80s all the way through mid 2001) I experienced similar deadlines, the typewriters, the noise "like a fish market"...I have fond memories of those times....thank you for reminding me!