Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Remington man, and the blur of memories.

While I was in Melbourne, I set myself what I thought would be a simple task. I was to find a photograph of my my grandfather 'Scottie', who had been a typewriter mechanic for over 40 years.

However in doing so I made a discovery that left me re-thinking much of my families history, and made me confront some very difficult memories of my own.

But let's start at the beginning...

John Lavery couldn't picture my grandfather's face in his head. He knew the name, he knew him as one of the mechanics around Melbourne, and I knew a lot of the mutual mutual people that I had even met myself.

After all, I had been to the Adler workshop with my grandfather. I remember meeting the head mechanic of that workshop's son on several occasions as well. In fact, I have a whole host of memories of my own - even though I was very young, from Adler.

I arrived at my uncle's place mid evening, and he cooked up some dinner for me. My uncle in a lot of ways is a lot like myself, and he showed my some of the newer additions to some of his collections. We looked over his 50 something typewriters (almost all of them were standards, would you believe!) his Harley Davidson motorcycles, his GT Falcons, his P!NK memorabilia, and we soon got down to talking about family business.

The last of the great V8s. Such a brilliant car!

My grandmother passed away 3 years ago, and what little was left of her estate was tucked away in a room at my uncle's house in Melbourne. So it seemed only logical that I ask him if he had some photos of my grandfather.

A few beers were consumed for courage before my uncle delved into the spare room filled to the ceiling with my grandmother's belongings, and he soon returned with two photo filled shopping bags  that had been quickly stuffed with very little care.

He back sat down with a bit of an anxious huff, and started to pull photos from the bag.

"Do you have any of him at Adler by chance, at the workshop"? I asked casually.
"Ay"? My uncle enquired with confusion. "He never worked for Adler. He worked for Remington for 47 years"!

Honestly surprised, I then asked him "Really? Why did he drag my sister and I all the time to Adler, and why did he seem to always be mates with all the mechanics from there"?
"Oh no, he just went there for parts and stuff. Oh, and he bought heaps of typewriters from there. He used to sell them on to customers. He just went there because the typewriters were cheap and he had some mates there".

"Here, have a look at this" My uncle continued, as he handed me another photo as though he was emphasising a point. "I think this is me as a kid, standing in front of the Chartres service car"

I was stunned. I was certain he worked for Adler. Even my own father who would have surely known him for decades of his working life, had talked about him at Adler's workshops, and I struggled to make any sense of all of this. But the evidence was irrefutable - 'Scottie' was a Remington man. 

Scottie wasn't actually his name. He immigrated from Scotland in the 20's, and never lost the accent. If anything, the older he got the thicker the accent became. The nickname 'Scottie' apparently stuck very early on, and for some reason - despite there being thousands of immigrants from Scotland in Australia, he seemed to be 'Scottie' to pretty much everyone.

We shuffled on through the photos and soon came across some images taken from my Grandparent's wedding. My Grandmother looked astonishingly beautiful, and I realised that I knew very little about my grandparents lives prior to them starting a family.

My grandfather was a competitive ballroom dancer, and soccer player in his youth, and in the photographs the dancer in him was obvious, as he appeared incredibly comfortable in his suit. My grandmother also was very graceful in the photographs - but not as relaxed as my grandfather. However she had a pleasant glow of contentment and happiness about her. 

There were a couple of other photos that we just couldn't place the people in, so I started to ask my uncle about my Grandfather's own family. But he was to emotional about the photographs to really answer my questions, and he struggled to remember who key people in the photographs were. 

That's my grandfather ' Scottie' on the right. 

There was a life in some of these photos that just flowed from them - which gave me something of a feeling about how my grandparents lived their lives. And it really rubbed in how little I knew.

I guess it was inevitable though, that my own mother would start appearing in these photos. I'd never seen anything of my mother as a child before this, and to be honest I wasn't prepared for the very mixed feelings that I had about seeing her in these photos. 

My grandfather and my mother. I have no idea why she is glowing in this scan.

Most of my memories of my mother are blurred due to the emotional loading from my mother tragically suffering from Multiple Sclerosis for over 20 years. It is impossible to describe how such a thing impacts on your family, and it becomes very hard to look back into your past and find a lot of happy memories. But they are there - if I look hard enough.

My grandfather passed away in February 2003, and my mother followed three weeks later. I moved to Brisbane, away from Melbourne a year after that. 

Even now I find my eyes welling up as I write about this. So I'll just keep this brief.

But the world, and the young girl that would later be my mother, in these photos were different. There is a feeling, a feeling of hope for the future and the beauty of living, that I didn't expect. 

As a child my mother seemed so adorable. This was a far softer image of her than the woman of my memories, where I see the ferocious fighter who spent years lobbying politicians for better support for the disabled, while she struggled with her own deteriorating body. She was a woman that despite the bad lot she had been handed, was determined to make a difference in life, and held strong beliefs about social justice, and even before she had MS, she was a very strong campaigner for women's rights amongst other things.

So, in conclusion I have some photos of my grandfather to show John when I next see him, and I even managed to start a little bit of family in-fighting by just asking for these photos. But at least a bit of family fighting is a reminder that I still have a father, a sister and an uncle - and that they still mean a lot to me. 

Thank you for reading this far.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Brother that followed me home.

So how does an unusual and practically rare typewriter hide itself in plain sight in a typewriter shop?

By being a Brother 760TR. 

John Lavery informs me that the TR designation next to the 760 means "Tabulator and Repeater". The repeater is the repeat spacer button that you can see down on the bottom right hand side of the typewriter. A magnificent creation that works exceptionally well on this machine. 

As you would expect from Tom's shop, the machine is in brilliant working condition and it feels and writes like it is brand new. In fact it even looks new, bar the slightly worn feet. The cover that came with it doesn't match the machine's colour and the cover's lock was a bit stuffed, but honestly I didn't care too much about the cover as I can rip one of them off the several other million of these machines that I have seen floating about on eBay that often go cheap. I just wanted this typewriter. 

Confused? Are you asking yourself.. "Why would Scott want a plastic Japanese mass produced machine, that is far from rare, when he has so many other good Typewriters? I mean, even he admits there were millions of this machine produced".

If you just asked yourself that question or something like it, you just did exactly what I did when I glanced at this typewriter sitting a bit neglected on top of a pile of other bits and pieces in Tom's shop.

See it there, right next to Tom's elbow to the right? 

And no offence, if you haven't spotted it yet, you're not paying attention. Go back and have a look at the picture that is second down above. I mean.... have a really close look. See how there's only two colours on the ribbon selector? That's usually a give-away on this size machine that this is a script typewriter of some kind. 

...... hang on a second. That's script alright. 

Yep. It's an.... 

("Arabic typewriter"... sort of. I think I may have messed it up)

I've been after one of these for a little while. Have you tried doing a search on eBay for one? Nothing. Which is exactly the same thing that you get when you do a completed listings search as well. Richard Polt has had his hands on a couple, and Adowa also stumbled across one. But other than that these typewriters (at least in western countries) are exceedingly thin on the ground and the internet.

Actually, it goes further than that. While I haven't exactly explored Indonesia, friends of mine in Islamic countries have looked about, and have found that these are very hard to get their hands on and are quite sought after. Particularly in areas where there's intermittent power access, where they are invaluable. 

There's been some discussion about future employment possibilities in this household, and a little while ago I thought it might be a good idea to learn some Arabic - if anything to keep on contact with my friends overseas. Florian gave me an idea a little while back with his own blog, which he originally established to help him get a stronger grasp on the English language. And it occurred to me that I could very well do the same through a typewriter of my own. 

I can't read Arabic, but I have quite a history with it - enough to know that Arabic isn't just one language. When I first worked at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, I used to work with a stall-holder that was from Pakistan. He was an odd little chap who didn't have a particularly elegant grasp of english, and was often finding himself in confrontation with customers due to what he believed was his lack of language skill. 

Actually, it turned out that it wasn't his language. He was just a dirty old man who had a crap attitude to women. This was problematic for someone that ran a store that sold women's clothing. 
At one stage he tried to teach me Arabic, but he was very impatient and the busy life of the market was not conducive to such things. So I never really learned. He eventually bought himself a little electronic Arabic to English dictionary - which is where I first saw an Arabic keyboard.

As I have discussed before the QVM was full of immigrants from pretty much everywhere. I got along with the old Italians and Greeks, and when I when I eventually quit with the Pakistani (in a spectacular explosion of foul language and insults from both sides) the Russians - particularly the Russian Jews were very welcoming. However the Market was also home to a lot of refugees from Islamic countries that were at the time in conflict.

Falling out with the Pakistani turned out to be fortuitous. In his own community he wasn't very well liked, and so generally Muslims and Israelis alike were quite friendly to me after that, and so I generally got along with almost all of the traders in the Market because of it.

A lot of the Muslims in the market were very religious, and as long as you respected that you got along with them well. The phrase 'but by the grace of god' was commonly used, and they were particularly poetic - if not romantic, in their phrasing when they spoke.

The written language itself is incredibly beautiful. Compared to boxy Chinese or the stone chiseled runes of my own celtic ancestors, the fluidity of Arabic writing underlies the broad minds that were at work when the language was first developed. Take the Qur'an for example: While it came out of the same part of the world as the bible, many of the stories told within it depict vivid and colourful places that are compellingly imaginative and inspiring, which leaves the christian text's tales looking decidedly dusty and dirty by comparison.

Arabs devised the pattern of numerals that we are familiar with today: 0,1-9. Previously 0 as a numeral did not exist. On the keyboard itself the numbers are shifted and placed along the top row of the keyboard. Do some of these look familiar? (read right to left) 

The squarish dot on the right is 0, and 1 and 9 are obvious. That reversed 3 looking thing is actually a 4 - and is a depiction of 4 squiggled lines, while that O looking character in the middle there is actually near diamond shaped, and is a 5. I'd seen plenty of Arabic numerals before, as the Pakistani from the market used to write out prices for items he sold in his little notebook for the bookkeeping he did at home. 

All Arabic writing is from right to left, and as such the typewriter itself writes that way. While Teeritz and I were playing with the typewriter in Tom's shop, Teeritz commented about how weird it seemed to have the carriage go the other direction. We had a bit of a laugh over the operation of the machine, as it seemed to feel so contrary to typewriters we were used to. 

It took Tom to point out that it was an Arabic Typewriter. Prior to that I just simply hadn't have spotted it, and had dismissed it on a cursory glance for being just another Brother plastic. Now that I have it in my hands I am actually surprised by how good a quality machine this actually is, compared to other Machines of its era.

However I didn't immediately buy the machine. As it was a Brother, I instantly felt a bit weird about paying a fair bit more than the usual price that I see Brother machines sell for. But I thought about it for a bit, and went back the next day to buy the typewriter. After all, as I have pointed out these typewriters are very thin on the ground. 

I don't have any affinity with Arabic particularly, and I'm certainly not a muslim. But I am interested in learning the language, so I just simply couldn't leave this typewriter behind. Maybe I should write my own Florian-esque blog in addition to this one, while learning. I might end up with a new audience. 

That said, I think I am still going to try and find a more classical piece like Richard's Olympia or Erika. Those typewriters are as beautiful as the language that is being written on them. But that's just me... I collect my machines for their beauty. 

Friday, 6 September 2013

A visit to Tom's typewriter shop.

"There's a couple of repairers in Melbourne" Territz said to me as we walked around the corner of Lygon street and down Elgin street. "There's a guy that lives a lot closer to me that I've had look at a typewriter. But Tom's different. Tom just seems to have that edge. His work just seems to be just that bit better than the other guy's". 

There's not a lot of repairers out there that still have an operating shop. And none that is as close to a cultural hub as Tom's is. 

less than 200 meters away from Tom's shop is La Mama Courthouse theatre. La Mama started out a little further around the corner at a different location, and was a theatrical workhouse where writers - many of them quite famous, could workshop their plays and other literary works. I'd worked on many performances in the Courthouse theatre myself, and I still have a love for the place. Add to that the nearby university of Melbourne, as well being in walking distance to the vibrant Lygon, Brunswick and Smith streets and you have a typewriter shop in the middle of where pretty much it is all happening in Melbourne.

And I know for a fact that a lot of the writers that circulate around there use typewriters. 

As we approached Tom's shop I was greeted by a familiar sight. A black Corona 4 in the earlier curved and peaked front shape, was pressed against the glass. Tucked in behind it was a very square Continental portable which was flanked by two giant printer/photocopiers that had several other typewriters piled up on them. Standing guard in front of all of this was a cowboy that restlessly kept his eye on the street in front of the shop. 

Teeritz slid the door open, and we were immediately greeted by the strong smell of spray paint and oil. The source of this smell was to be found directly inside of the door; a black Remington 10 that I would later learn Tom had been brought back to life from a very dismal state.

We called out, and soon Tom came out from somewhere at the back of the shop. His eyes lit up as he recognised Teeritz, and he gave me a welcoming handshake. It was a struggle to get around his shop, as it has years of built-up clutter from Tom's trade in repairing typewriters and other more modern office machines. I'm a fan of clutter myself - it always represents an opportunity of exploration, and Tom's held a whole world of promise.

While office copiers and printers dominated the floorspace in the shop, there were typewriters hidden almost everywhere you turned. An old Brother 760TR sat casually placed on top of a pile of other parts, and the familiar shape of IBM selectric machines jutted out of various locations. I kept looking around in the hope of finding a rare gem hiding amongst the clutter, completely un-aware that I had already seen one and foolishly overlooked it as being just another run-of-the-mill machine. 

Tom was very friendly to talk to. He'd been kept busy with Melbourne's repairs for decades, and now many young writers were discovering his service. He had a folder of blogs and articles that had been written about him recently, and he handed copies to both myself and Teeritz to have a browse through. He pulled out one written by Rob Messenger, and then told both of us about the time he met Rob while doing some typewriter repair work at the 'I am typewriter' festival that was held in Melbourne some time back. 

"Do you ever email back to these people"? I asked.
"Nope. I'm computer illiterate. I don't do email". 

It was in Yugoslavia and Germany that Tom had learned much of his trade and he seemed particularly fond of a lot of the German made machines. "Typewriters like this" Tom said as he waved his hand towards the Continental, "They were always the best and never gave people much grief. Olympias, Adlers, Continentals. They were all very good". I suggested that he might find one of my typewriters interesting, so I pulled out my Gossen Tippa for him to have a look at. It didn't seem to be a familiar model to him, but he nodded his head as he looked over it. With his bottom lip turned up in appreciation, he simply said 'That's a good one'. 

Tom was particularly proud of what he had achieved with a Remington 10 that a customer had brought in. "It was his fathers and had been sitting in the bottom of his shed for decades. It was full of mould and rust, and I wasn't even sure I could fix it. But now look at it"! 

"I wish I had a before shot" Tom continued. "The customer will be wrapped with this". 

He excitedly tapped at the Remington's keyboard, showing how well the machine worked. And worked well it did! I'd love to have the machine myself. 

Tom was telling Teeritz and myself about some of the other typewriters he has in storage, which he may sell down the track. So I asked him the obvious question: did he have a collection of his own? 
"Nah" he said before he explained, "I fix typewriters. They're just work to me". 
I didn't realise it at the time, but it wasn't going to be the last time I heard that sentiment that week. 

The shop is actually part of Tom's home. He lives upstairs and owns both the upstairs apartment and the shop itself. As such the shop is a very low-cost operation. Tom leaves the lights off in the shop most of the day, and he doesn't run credit card or electronic transaction facilities. As he often is just a set of stairs away, he can keep very relaxed hours. 

That said, this is one of the few repair shops I know of that still have a fully working shop-front, and Tom is a pleasure to talk to. He showed me some of the other machines he had strewn around the shop - a Royal QLD, a Triumph Adler electric, A cyrillic Hermes baby,  and..... that very interesting little surprise that I was talking about. But I'll write about that typewriter soon. Suffice to say, something came home with me on this Melbourne trip. You can see it just peeking out in one of the photos above.

I was glad I took the time out to visit Tom's shop, and to be honest I really did need Teeritz to show me where it was. It is the kind of place you'll miss if you blink - and is very modestly advertised. But if you need a repair in Melbourne, Tom's shop strikes me as a good first port of call. 

Elite Office Machines Co

Typewriter Dealers & Repairers - Carlton, VIC

188 Elgin St, Carlton VIC 3053

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

007: Typewriters are forever. (Teeritz Agenda)

Welcome to Lygon street. Oh, and it usually isn't this quiet. 

The Gossen Tippa in action under agent Teeritz's hands. 

Agent Teeritz has excellent weapons handling skills. Look at that classic form.
Ahhhhh Smith street. Are you ever not jammed up with cars? Such a world away from Lygon street.