Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

My favourite YouTube video clip this week shows a chap sitting at a desk typing. All you can see of him are his hairy forearms, poised hands and fast fingers. He types for ten minutes. Nothing else happens. The typewriter is a portable designed in the early 1960s by Marcello Nizzoli for Olivetti -- the famous Lettera 32. Cormac McCarthy bashed out five million words on one of these, blowing the dust out of it now and again with the air hose at his local garage. He auctioned it a few years ago for a quarter of a million dollars. The video clip is a paean to the beauty and style of the Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter.

The camera lingers adoringly over every aspect of the teal, steel-encased typewriter, eventually focusing on the keys rising and falling and the typed letters accumulating on the paper. Our interest quickens as the letters form words, the words sentences. Surely, he's not going to divert our attention from this epitome of Italian design by saying something witty or personal, is he? The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog will do nicely, thank you, matey.

But the anonymous fingers are in an expansive mood. They introduce themselves with, 'Hello, ladies and gents. I would like to talk about the love of typewriting that has struck me of late. You see, whenever I sit down at my computer with work in mind I always seem to find myself on notoriously obscene websites before I have the chance to react.'

A rather unnecessary confession, this, we feel, given the circumstances. But we know the compulsion only too well. It'll only get worse, old son. Good to get it off your chest, though.

The typist then talks discursively about this new, relatively innocent outlet he has found for his manual dexterity. 'Regardless of its shortcomings, typing is a very energetic and concentrated activity. Here is a machine, and a very beautiful one, whose only purpose is to create and organise words. I must think about what I want to say before I say it. I have to really focus, and thusly, my thoughts become more fluid and I am able to explore my imaginations.'

Well, that might have been me sitting there typing that. I couldn't have put it better myself. For I, too, have lately fallen in love with old manual typewriters, and for the same reasons. I love the dotty clatter of the key-strikes, the warning tinkle of the little bell, the thump of the carriage return. …

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