Sunday, 3 February 2013

“I left all the typewriters behind”, and other tales from a trip Down the Coast

Most of the time I can’t be very informative on this virtual soap box that I have erected around me here at DHIATENSOR, but I strive to be a little entertaining. Still, most of that entertainment would come from you, dear readers, reading these words and forming the opinion that I’m an ignorant, teenaged twit. I am teenaged, but in an ongoing bout of self delusion, I would like to believe that I am not a twit. But what about being self indulgent? Yes, I’ll admit to that. And that is what this very post is – highly self indulgent.

The past week has been spent away from home. The summer school holidays here in Australia are in their twilight days – some states have already returned to the concentration camps. Well, you concentrate at school, don’t you? I have but a few days of advanced nose-picking, general idleness and stuff all responsibility left. But in these final hours of freedom – the last taste of true freedom until December this year – will be used by yours truly, the self-indulgent blogger, to describe his week searching in vain for typewriters, but instead turning up other goodies.

I’ve just got back from a week down the coast, a week of relaxed attitudes to changing socks – you don’t need to do it daily, do you? (Yes, that does prove I’m a teenager if my use of long words invokes doubt into your minds.)

On the first day I announced, gallantly and without the thought of repercussions, that I would like to do stuff. But this was very particular stuff; I wanted to visit every second hand shop and op shop and Salvos and Vinnies and book shop within an hour’s drive radius. That first day we walked around Merimbula, a nice, relaxed Australian coastal town. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, and there wasn’t much open. There is never anything open, really, in any Australian small town – coastal or not – after five in the afternoon. But a closed Salvos, a closed Vinnies, two closed book shops and a few other things were spotted that we had to go back to the next day.

The next day arrived. The day was overcast, and I didn’t get out of bed until at least ten, I’m sure. We wandered into town.

The Salvos yielded a John Marsden book for fifty of my good cents, but no typewriters, but the next stop was the second hand book shop. Having read about it online, I knew what to expect – it was going to be very good.

Scene: A book shop. An elderly gentlemen sits behind the counter and a few people are browsing. Enter Jasper. Heads straight for “o” in general fiction shelves. “O” for Orwell, George Orwell. Looks surprised, there’s an odd edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four that he hasn’t seen before. Thinks: Yes, I would like to have it. Jasper extracts old hard-bound copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four and opens it to the title page. He becomes weak at the knees. There it was. A 1949, Martin Secker &Warburg, London, Nineteen Eighty-Four first edition. Here it bloody well was. Jasper’s knees become weak. Thinks: I can’t really be holding this, this should be locked away. What’s this doing here, this can’t be! Looks, Speaks: Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum: it’s two-hundred dollars. Not a snowball’s chance, I won’t be having this one. Exit Jasper, off to find Generous Parents.

Parents turn out to be not so generous, and don’t quite share the excitement that I exhibited for having found a first edition Nineteen Eighty-Four. And no, they weren’t going to buy it. Having found two dollars in the street late in the afternoon the day before, I asked if they were interested in making a one-hundred and ninety eight dollar investment, with absolutely no promise of returns. I’m still confused why they aren’t interested. It really does puzzle me; I thought it would have been an irresistible opportunity to invest without the false, misleading promises of return on their capital.

Tuesday was then spent looking for typewriters in every little op shop that was in an hour’s driving distance. No first edition Nineteen Eighty-Fours showed up in the fifty cent chuck out bins anywhere, which was a little disheartening. But what does show up, in a small op shop with a view of the sea from the front door was a National reel-to-reel tape recorder, model RQ-152S.

It was in immaculate condition – absolutely perfect. It looks like someone bought it new, used it twice and had it in the cupboard for the next forty years. And it had the box, and it had all the paper work, the microphone, the accessories. At a charitable price, my father bought it for me. Back at the room, it turns out that this immaculate piece of kit works well, too. At least, it spins, and it gives feedback with a microphone. We didn’t have any tape to test out the actual playing function, the function that would be the most interesting to see if it worked. I still don’t know – but a post on my little group of reel-to-reel tape players will follow.

On the Wednesday I bought a copy of Orwell’s Animal Farm. I’ve already got one, but this one won’t fall apart every time you open it, which is a step up from my other copy. And then on the Thursday, I bought a Collins Gem Dictionary of Biography. I have a dictionary fetish, you must remember, dear readers, and I couldn’t leave without it – besides it was a small change bargain.

Over the week op shops were searched. There was a broken (appeared to be a missing, non-existent draw band problem) Remington Quiet-Riter going for an off-putting price; the same day I found a red, plastic Petite toy typewriter going for a price out of my budget. It did have the box, though, and was in good nick, but I would rather save my money and buy a typewriter that can be used a lot, not just occasionally and with the daintiest of fingers. And two days later, a Remington Noiseless, sans carriage return lever, for an even more off putting price than the Quiet-Riter, was discovered. Sadly, I have no pictures to offer – unlike my European counterparts. My phone was flat, the camera filled with pictures of sand, beaches, and cliffs and although I love to see pictures of typewriters in the wild, I get a bit anxious taking them myself; it’s a fear that I have to work on, yes.

I had high expectations. I thought that there would be a little typewriter case nestled in between the videos and paperbacks in every op shop and second hand joint, but that wasn’t how it was.

They say that if you imagine a two dollar coin you’ll start to see them everywhere – shoved in corners, lying in gutters – even when you’re only imagining it. I’m sorry to report that it has become the same with typewriter cases, before I even get in the shop. Just looking in from the door, I see the right spots – the spots that would house the Hermes Baby case, the spot that could have an Underwood 5 sitting upon it. But, as I get in and actually have a look around they aren’t there, I’ve made it all up. This must be the effect of dangerous levels of hope and optimism.

It is times like this where I envy the spoon collectors. Every op shop, second hand shop, antique shop, Salvos Store, has a basket of souvenir spoons. They are the ultimate collectable for someone who gets a kick of satisfaction by adding to their collection. But I don’t envy them when they’re trying to find a use for these spoons, with their plastic emblems falling off the ends, and the silver plating coming off – at least the typewriter, no matter how many you have, will always remain a lot more useful than a dainty, thin, plated spoon in a yellowing plastic display box.

The day of return dawned. It looked like it was going to have the best weather of the entire time we were there. But before we got home there was one last typewriter opportunity.

Scene: Candelo Markets, a large country field. A lot of stalls, most of them not second hand stuff; there were jams, and rugs and fresh fruit and hats and god-knows-what-else. But amongst them, surely, I thought, there would have to be a stall with a typewriter. Eventually this stall was found and the typewriter was a Nakijima ALL. I didn’t even ask about the price. So, down beat, I wandered through the other stalls – the stalls with a turtle shell, the stalls with vintage copies of Bega District News and stalls with jars upon jars of different jams. It seemed that it wasn’t to be – I wasn’t going to have a typewriter from this little holiday.

But it wasn’t all bad, I came home with some books, and a very, very nice tape recorder (post on which is following). It’s probably a good thing I didn’t see a typewriter that I had to have, or could afford to have. After all, at home you could almost say I’ve got too many already. No, not too many, just enough to fill the available space.

By the way, as far as I know the first edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four is still in the little book shop nestled between NRMA Insurance and a fabric shop, off the main street of Merimbula. It sadly didn’t relocate to my bookshelf.


  1. Nice work. You're starting to sound awfully like me!

    May that be a warning to how you will be in 19 to 20 years from now.

    1. That's a little alarming, indeed.
      Consider me warned.