Sunday, 27 January 2013

.... and then the rains came.

Here in Brisbane, we have been enjoying  the fading end of ex tropical cyclone Oswald, which has been whipping up severe winds and dumping torrents of rain on us. Flood waters around Queensland are raising, and Brisbane is no exception.

It isn't as severe in Brisbane as it was in 2011, but things here have been a little bit rough. The high winds combined with the heavy rain, along with the unexpected addition of a series of tornadoes, has however made the last 36 hours quite entertaining.

So, I grabbed an on-hand typewriter an tapped out a typecast before I had breakfast this morning.

Pine river flooded rapidly as they dumped water from the dam, as the tide in the bay pushed a storm surge back up river. 

We crossed through this flooded section of the road yesterday before we came across an even deeper flooded road that was risky to cross.  Just for reference, the river is off to the left. That section to the right is a flooded gully.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

To those in Brisbane, Queensland

The 'Remember your typewriter' type-in

It's coming.....
(Update, 10th of March)
Rob Messenger, of Oz Typewriter fame is on his way to Brisbane in March, and it's time us Queensland writers and fanatics got our machines out in the open, and invaded the public space.

So, you poets, fiction writers and PHD kids.... warm up your fingers, oil your typewriters, load up your paper, and check your ribbons.

As I don't have firm numbers of who may be interested yet, we haven't set a date or a location. But we have a couple of each in mind - all around a central location, and the 2nd or 3rd weeks of March.

**** update ***** 10th of March has been chosen.

So if you're interested, just comment below or email me at;

Saturday, 19 January 2013

A mid summers day drive. John's collection.

I'd been driving for about an hour and a half. Just after I left my home I'd checked the outside temperature and discovered it was 30 Degrees C. (86F). But now, as I was passing Through the town of Beaudesert, it was reading 39C (102.2F). 15 minutes later when I was nearing my destination, it was reading at 41C (105.8F).

The Air conditioning in the Nissan was blasting on 'leaf-blower' mode, which was keeping the cabin reasonably cool. But the brown smoke haze from some near-by bushfire was a constant reminder that outside of the car, things were pretty damn hot.

This was old farm land we were passing through. Beaudesert is unmistakably a rural town, with many of the ubiquitous country 'Elders' business signs posted around the place, and lots of dealerships of farm machinery and associated farming products ling the highways. At the center of the city is a beautiful Art Deco pub, which I had helped install Air Conditioning into about 4 years ago.

There were some farms that looked green and productive. But largely the landscape appeared dry and and worn. I turned off the Mt Lindesay Highway about 10 minutes down the road from Beaudesert, and found myself on a battered and pitted piece of bitumen. Several sections of this road were brand-new and smooth, and were obviously sections that had been replaced after the originals were washed away or heavily damaged during the heavy flooding that covered Queensland two years ago.

I was on my way to meet a chap named John. He has moved up from Melbourne several months ago, and had tracked me down via this very blog. He had been Typewriter Mechanic once and has worked for some rather prominent names. Olympia, Olivetti, Remington. He has shared tales about his time at agencies like Chartres and McDougalls - names associated with some major trade in typewriters in Melbourne, and Australia.

John found me out online while looking for like minded typewriter eccentrics here in Brisbane. When I saw in his email that he was from Melbourne, been in that city for some time as a mechanic, who had also had run several typewriter businesses of his own - I realised that there we were likely to have a deal in common, more than just typewriters. He didn't know it when he first emailed, but not only was I from Melbourne, there was a pretty good chance the he'd worked with, and known my grandfather.

So while chatting to John on the phone, I segued into telling him. "Scottie Connell"! John exclaimed while searching his memory about him. Like all memories, people from the past don't always come to mind quickly, but he remembered the name - and it rolled off his tongue with genuine familiarity. 

I was now on my way to meet John and check out his collection. John told me that he'd acquired something like 400 or so machines. Unfortunately in the move to Queensland just recently, many of them had been damaged in transit when the shipping container that stored them had been dropped.

John, it turned out was a very friendly and energetic man. If it wasn't for the inevitable effects of age I'm certain he'd probably have stood the same height as me. But one thing that hadn't aged were his typewriter mechanic forearms. He had the kind of muscle that the teenagers these days seem to spend hundreds of hours in the gym trying to build up. I'd dare say that John was also far more charming than most of these teenage 'juicer' gym junkies too, and would probably have far more success 'pulling the chicks'.

I looked around for tins of Spinach he may have had hiding in his pockets.

John also has a very lovely wife by the name of Margaret, who was a delight to talk to. I'd brought Ms Jane along with me, as she loved these country drives - even if she had absolutely no interest in the old typewriters.

John had quite comfortably moved into his beautiful country home, and had set up a great workshop down stairs. Upstairs, the house was nice and cool from the Air-conditioning while downstairs the workshop quickly rose towards 45C (113F), and may be further, after we turned the lights on and started to excitedly pull machines out of the shelves to look at and compare notes.

John also had a surprise for me sitting on his workstation. But I'll tell you more about that in a moment.

In the workshop there was the obligatory workbench (which reminded me that I need a decent one of myself) and a typewriter workstation that was made for making working on his machines easy. It looked like a typing desk with a floating desktop that could be adjusted in height - I think, and it had a padded 'lazy Susan' - a swiveling table that allowed John to spin the machine around quickly.

The shelves were filled with machines that were largely in their cases still. Some of the standards were covered in foam, fabric, cardboard and tape to protect them. Other machines rested where they lay - all as long as they were out of the way.

I couldn't count them. There were everywhere, and stacked two deep on the shelves. I thought to myself, that it might not be a bad idea to get in with my DSLR and photograph and catalog these machines properly. If John was interested, that was.

It would be worth it, as just looking around the room I could see many familiar cases that belonged to quality brands and makes. Most of them were machines between the 30's and 60's. But there were some astonishingly beautiful older machines.

One of the first machines that grabbed my eye was a very ornate and intricate machine that had a name that obviously preempted my writing style by about 100 years. I grabbed my iPhone out and just took a few cursory photos.

The machine was, of course, a 'Typo'. It was a gorgeous down-strike machine with an interesting key lay out, along with many french characters.

Before long the machine was joined on John's bench by several other amazing machines that were catching my eye as looked through the machines that were the most easily accessed.

 This photo does no justice to this pre-war Olympia. It was a great machine with German characters.
While it looks SM1, the big 'P' on the front makes me wonder what model it actually is.

 Adler and Triumph machines! These were truly subtle yet stylish typewriters. 

A great looking bar-loc downstrike. Just beautiful. 

As we hunted and pecked through these machines, there were a couple of coloured cases that really stood out. Eagerly I asked John if I could get them down and have a look. One particular burgundy case really lit Johns eyes up, and he had an excited smile.

When we got the case down, we opened it up on a bookshelf and John exclaimed with pride "Look at that"! 

 A Groma Model T!

While the case was looking a bit battered and traveled, the machine inside was in astonishingly near original condition. There was a bit of dust on the machine, but I could tell that all it needed was a bit of a cloth wiped over it, and its 'to-die-for' looks would shine through.

I'd never seen a machine like it. Again, the photo doesn't do this machine justice. It was simply beautiful. The glass keys were clear, shiny and the kind of thing that keychoppers would go crazy for. The deep colour was just damn sexy - as were the curves of the shell. 

Not long afterwards I grabbed down another familiarly red toned machine. 

Any ideas? 

Now THAT is one seriously, seriously sexy Gossen Tippa. Hang on... what's that behind it?

It was now very hot. We started to make our way back up stairs, when we stopped and had a look at a couple more machines. One of these machines unfortunately wore the battle-scars of the big move up from Melbourne. It was a Mingnon machine that was in perfect condition. The machine just gleemed in the light coming through the window, and the metal didn't show anything of the pitted corrosion that often eats older machines ever so slowly. 

The case itself was perfect. Sort of. The top of the case unfortunately wore the scars of another typewriter punching down onto it with its feet. 

Beaten, but not out - the damaged Mingnon case.

There were two almost identical holes that had been crunched into the top of the plywood laminate, and it breaks your heart to see the damage. I can only guess how John felt about it - probably something alike how I felt when I dropped a 100+ year old wax cylinder recording onto a wooden floor some time back, shattering it into a powder. 

I could see that John was upset about it, and I really didn't have any solid suggestions as to how even a modest repair could be achieved. We put the machine away and went back upstairs, and out of the sweltering heat. 

John and I chatted for a while about a variety of machines, and exchanged stories. I had brought my blue Royal P for him to see, and also my dogged SG1 - which has to this date proven to be quite a challenge for me to repair. He gave me some good suggestions on repairing it, and I've got some work ahead of me yet.

The weather outside started to change, and the temperature began to drop. The sun was now heading down behind the mountains, and the clouds that had now gathered overhead looked as though they potentially would dump their rain on us at any second.

They didn't, but we headed home just the same. Ms Jane and I stopped in Jimboomba to get a bite to eat on the way, and as we walked into a famous resturant mega-chain, it was obvious we were back in the suburbs again. I walked past a couple of Juicers with big arms talking out front, and got a snippet of their blokey conversation. "It increased power by like 10%, cost about $30,000".

I thought to myself about how nice it is to have a conversation with mechanics, that didn't involve conversations of 'increasing power'. And I also realized that - really, typewriters are not only a more interesting hobby than just playing with the engine of a Commodore. And much cheaper.

*   *   *

I had come home with one my typewriter than I left with, and excitedly I dropped it onto my desk. If you recall, back when I visited Canberra, I was quite taken by Robert's Bing No.2. 

Well... guess what. 

John handed me this beautiful Bing machine. There's a catch though - it needs some challenging repair. The most significant issue is that the machine is missing its bearings. Currently the carriage is floating about mostly loose, and the bearings seem to be somewhere - over the rainbow.

I love the deco era machines the most, and I'm eager to get this machine operational again. I think I can! I think I can!

But seriously, I was stunned. And very thankful to John for this, and for letting me inspect - what was probably about, oh.... 5% of his collection. I'm looking forward to catching up with John again in the future. Typewriter people! They're great.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Facit that got away.

I like to think of myself as a seasoned ebayer. Or - epay-er, depending on how heavily stung you've been by the supposedly 'cheap' sales you find on there.

I have about 460 battle-scars next to my user name, so I've spent a bit of time and probably too much money on the site. I've managed to snatch a fairly solid collection of typers from there too. So I have to say, outside of the over-pricing of many items I have chased, I've usually enjoyed the thrill of the bid, and whatever may or may have not come my way from it.

But - oh, dear readers... As you well know, things on ebay can from time to time go a little bit askew. I've to this date not had something arrive in irretrievably damaged-via-post condition, but I have had plenty of seller negotiation hassles.

It was towards the end of last year, when everything was going to poo at work, that I spotted an interesting machine that I thought could make for a challenging project. It was a Facit 1620, and it looked in poor condition. It had probably been stored badly.

Quite possibly on a shelf in an elephant's butt.

The Facit machines interest me with their bar and bearing rails and unusual mechanics. I had heard so much about these, and I was eager to get my hands on one and muck around with it. However this machine looked like it has been pulled out of the elephant's dung-heap, post poop. And considering where it had come from I'd dare say it had been treated equally as poorly.

The seller was located in Rosebud, a bay-side town/suburb that was about an hour or so drive south east of Melbourne's CBD. Rosebud used to be one of those places where suburbanite Melbournians used to own a quaint little holiday hut, and would spend the hot Christmas holidays locked up in this  there, boring their kids witless. But witlessly near the bay-side beach none the less.

To get to Rosebud, you must pass through Frankston. Or, as it is more commonly known - Franger. 

Incidentally, Franger is also a common slang word for a condom. And you often feel you need protection while you're gracing the suburb.

I moved out of Melbourne nearly 9 years ago now, and Frankston may have changed a lot since. But before I left, it was the kind of place where everyone knew your name. They knew it because they probably had your license and credit cards, which they had so deftly snatched from you while walking down the street. You could usually get your wallet back easily in Frankston though - just as long as you gave chase. It would end up in someone else's yard about 200 meters away - now missing any money that was once in there. 

If you knew where all the dope dealers were, you could just simply run that direction and probably catch up to the person quite quickly. I was always amazed at how fast a junkie could clear out a wallet. With fingers that fast, they would make an excellent typist. 

Don"t get me wrong. Frankston is not a ghetto, like - say, the delightfully named suburb of Sunshine. It was just a chunk of middle class Melbourne that was camped by the beach and semi-isolated from the rest of the city. 

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman bought property there. Rupert Murdoch's mother - Dame Elizabeth Murdoch, also lived on the outskirts till she died somewhat recently. 

It's just that... it has developed a bit of a culture that is a mix of 'Home and Away' (dodgy Australian beach-side teen melodrama) and any of the Cheech and Chong movies you can think of. 

It was cheap to buy and live there.

But slowly developers have moved into beach-side Frankston, and started pricing the middle-class bogans out of the area during the attempted process of 'gentrification'. So they moved further along the bay to places like Rosebud and Mornington. 

The description on the item was utterly useless. I emailed the seller to get information, but I got no reply. I emailed them to ask if they would mail the typewriter as I was two states away in Queensland, and got an "if you pay". And yes, with no capitalization or punctuation, as the only answer.

I should have said no to myself. But I replied and said "Of course! just let me know the cost. I'll be bidding", and then bid a punitive $11. I won of course, at $10, and then emailed the seller. The response was short:
"selling for a mate ill give you his number and you can call and sort it out".

The number followed, and I suddenly felt my stomach drop. I knew this was going to be a problem it is always a problem when you're trying to sort this kind of sale out. No one knows who to send the money to. Someone who hasn't been involved in the sale often suddenly has more conditions that they want to throw into the fray. It always ends with a bit of a strain. And worse, this guy was in Mornington.

 I didn't call that night, or the next day for that matter. In the interim my attention had shifted to the debacle that was going on at work. But I did eventually find some time to call while I was waiting outside the dentist one afternoon.

"Ha-louw" the seller answered the phone.
"Heya. My name's Scott. I'm calling from Bris and I wanna organize getting that typewriter posted that I won from you on ebay"
"What the f**k are you talking about"
"The type...."
"Yeah yeah, I know the Typewriter. I ain't posting it". 

He had a voice that sounded like they ware talking or yelling through a cloud of gyprock dust on a building site. He had that accent and tone that you get from shonky tradesmen that have a "they can get fu*ked" answer to everything that they've done wrong. The kind of guy that has his radio glued to triple-m radio, and thinks tripple-m 'rocks' because of the amount of Nickleback they play, and their tendency to slam out AC/DC at least once a day.. The kind of tradesman that quality builders and other real tradies don't like to associate with, for fear of being seen as part of a conspiracy of shonky workers. Too much testosterone, and too used to telling people to "fu*k off" whenever someone has tried to hold them responsible for something they screwed up because they were so lazy to do the job right. Usually because they've been thinking about something they saw in 'Picture magazine'.

Real Tradies typically prefered 'Ralph' magazine.

I used to deal with these guys on a daily basis when I worked for an Air conditioning company. I was even once hired - albeit briefly before they outsourced the department to India, by an Australian telephone company to be a mediator between customers and tradesmen. And I knew I wasn't going to like what was about to happen. 

"but I...." I started to protest, before being cut off.
"Look mate, you're a fu*kin' dickhead. I don't have time for this sh*t. I've got a family. I've got kids. Do you think I've got fu*kin' time to take this sh*t to the post office. If you want it, come and get it. I just put it on ebay to see what I could get for it. But I was just going to send it to the tip. I'll just chuck it. You can have it for nothing, just fu*kin' pick it up"

Slowly I was trying to figure out exactly what was going on. My guess was that the seller hadn't even consulted the owner about posting it with anyone, and just half-wittedly answered my email. On the other hand, the owner - like so many other of the people I come across selling these machines, had in mind that it would be potentially a priceless collectable, and thought he'd see if he could make his fortune. 

I thanked him for his time, to which he replied "Fu*k it. I'll leave it at my mates place. You can sort it out with him". 
"Great. See ya later" I replied, before I ended the phone call. 

To be fair it was a week before Christmas, and it is a very busy family time. But really, guys like this usually turn the situation around to the aggrieved party and blame them instead of taking responsibility for their own stuff-ups and laziness. Calling me a dickhead was the point of transition where he's turned it around in his own head, and self-justified that I was at fault for his and his mate's laziness and inability to communicate effectively.

In situations like these, I'd usually call the person back about an hour later. Instead of saying hello, I would launch straight into the discussion about what I intended them to do, before their brains had time to figure out how to respond. I'd usually have an exacting plan thought out about how I would achieve this, and have figured out a simple and easy approach that I would just walk them through in 20 words or less, and make it sound like it was going to be 2 minutes work for them - and they'd walk away feeling like rich millionaires.

But no. Not on this occasion. I just sat back in the car seat and sighed. A $10, potentially rust-filled machine wasn't worth my time. Most of the machines I've repaired probably aren't - but to fight with someone for it? I'd want it to be something like a Blick. 

All that over a facit 1620? Maybe... just maybe if it was a TP1. 

I do know people in the area I could have called to pick it up. But I could never rely on them. They're the sort that I'd end up politely calling once a week for 6 weeks because they haven't collected it - before they put a post up on their facebook - something like "I can't believe it! You do someone a favor and they show their appreciating by nagging you constantly! They can get fu*ked if they want anything done for them", having never actually done the favor. And I'd just find myself getting angry at the responses from their friends replying "You tell those ungrateful bastards" or "People these days are so selfish, and only think about themselves". 

I've seen them do it before. I'm not just being cynical. The closest person I could rely on was about and hour and a half drive away.

It is probably in the tip now buried under soiled mattresses, half eaten food and worn out clone Nike shoes and rubber thongs. I feel bad about it. But sometimes you just have to move on. I thought to myself that this doesn't happen very often, and I shouldn't get despondent - and this would be a one off. 

So, in January I bid on - and won an Auction for a Royal  Royalite 120 located in Brisbane.  Surely nothing could go wrong with buying a local machine?

..... but that's another story.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013