I started out as an American. I moved here in ‘93 when I was backpacking around Europe, and I’ve been here ever since. I have dual citizenship because of my grandmother who was born here. I worked for 35 years in hospitality in bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
I was an aspiring poet in my early 20s and my best friend gave me this little black suitcase-looking box as a present. It was a 1940s Royal typewriter he picked up at a yard sale. I was instantly in love with the tactile experience of typing. An old typewriter evoked all kinds of images of the great writers - Hemingway, JD Salinger, Kerouac - who paved the way on these machines.
I started sporadically collecting them, picking them up in charity shops for a pittance. I’ve always liked taking things apart and tinkering with them, I’m kind of handy that way. It was a dormant hobby for a while and then, a few years ago, I went online to buy ribbon and discovered this whole world of what is referred to as the “typosphere” - like-minded people who are enthusiastic about old vintage writing machines. I spun down a rabbit hole and came out with about 12 typewriters.
I was enthusiastic about learning how they worked, the different models, different eras. I focus mostly on portables. I thought, I’m 53, the attic is just filling up with typewriters, I’ll set myself up with a retirement hobby. I’ll work on typewriters and sell some.
This time last year, I suffered a fairly serious brain haemorrhage and it changed my course. When something like that happens, the things that used to be really important, they don’t mean anything to you. You look at things you took for granted and they mean everything.
My neurologist said you should take a year off and look at 2022 as a recovery year, because you nearly didn’t see it. I gave up a reasonably stressful job managing a small group of restaurants. I thought, if I can make just half as much money working on typewriters, I would do that. We talked about it and my wife said, let’s just do it. Maybe it’s not as financially rewarding as other jobs, but I definitely get more job satisfaction.
It’s not just the artistic hipstery person who wants to be a writer that wants a typewriter. More people are harking back to things that evoke a simpler time - vinyl records, film photography, the slow-cooking movement. There is something very tactile, organic and physically real about typing on a typewriter. Computers can do many things, I’m not anti-computer, but they inhibit your creative flow. They flash up reminders, appointments that you have to make, something your boss wants you to do, somebody trying to sell you something. Autocorrecting stops your flow, it tells you you are doing something wrong - there is this constant bombardment.
The typewriter demands you focus on what you are doing. It’s just paper, ink and your imagination. There is something very valid and real about you just typing thoughts on a piece of paper.
I’m really enthusiastic when I hear about younger people wanting a typewriter. My new mission statement in life is to try to get as many of these vintage writing machines back into circulation as possible.
A pre-war typewriter would be the vintage typewriters, it’s black with glass key tops. After the war, different materials started to be used. The mid-century machines or later have a very different style. I like them all.
The typewriter was hugely instrumental in bringing women into the workforce. A secretarial course gave a marketable skill that allowed women in the 20s and 30s to stand on their own two feet. Hollywood was changed by typewriters because you couldn’t photocopy a script for 50 people on set, you had typing pools.
I try and get some typing time every day. Sometimes I just type to type. There is the sound of the hammers hitting the paper, hitting the ink, there is the ring of the bell, the swoosh when you return it and go up another line, and there is the sound of the paper coming out when you finish the page. I started during the lockdowns typing my shopping list and I continue to do it.
The Royal that my friend bought me in 1991, that’s my daily typewriter. It’s 75-years-old and it will go for another 75 years. The computer I use is not going to be here in 75 years, that’s for sure.
I bring a typewriter on holidays, my faithful Olivetti Lettera 22 is my usual holiday companion. It is a beautiful piece of mid-century design from the 50s. I have a few Remingtons from the 1920s. There are a few two-tone colour models - I have a couple of those combinations, I would love to have all eight. That’s a lifetime endeavour.
Typing on typewriters is intentional and deliberate. It doesn’t allow you to be distracted. It doesn’t need to be charged or plugged into anything, it’s just you and your imagination.
It reminds me of a time when things weren’t so messed up. A time when there wasn’t someone shouting about stupid things on Twitter. We are bombarded with this maelstrom of digital flotsam and jetsam - just to unplug from that and slow down, because we are only here for a finite number of years.
- In conversation with Joanne Hunt