Sad farewell to a Brother in arms

Sad farewell to a Brother in arms

by The Codgers' Club Friday, November 30 2012

by Alan Watkins

It doesn't matter what the technophobes may say – there will always be bits of paper floating round the office, especially in the newspaper world.

Letters come in (though increasingly rarely as the email takes over our world). Reports and court lists, agendas, cuttings, clippings and notes – they will continue to flood in.

Some things do change. You can have an email from Australia, reply in little more than a nano-second, and keep batting the correspondence back and forth several times in the next hour.

Is it more logical to spend 60p on a letter? It will be shoved in a damp red box, then collected by a man in a little red van.

Sat in a strange place called the sorting office it will be shoved through sophisticated machinery and if you are lucky it will be shoved through your letter box a couple of days later. Or maybe not.

When we Codgers were young, it used to be worth waiting for the letters to arrive through the letterbox at 7.30am, and again about 11am.

You never knew, among the red and blue images of the Queen you might find a pictorial stamp from some exotic place.

I remember getting postcards from Sierra Leone and Nigeria from an uncle who was zealously doing missionary work in Africa. (He forecast back in the mid-Fifties the Biafran war, and the rising of militancy among some Muslims in northern Nigeria.)

As a kid I would immediately make a quick visit to the bookshelf to find where my postcard or letter had been sent from, and then have a look at my stamp collection to see if I had got the stamps already (I still have them!).

The problem is that all these bits of paper mount up. They form heaps. An office guru I once met described mine as a volcano desk: stuff slid down the slopes every so often like chilly white lava.

The other day a gentleman came in the office demanding the immediate return of a magazine he had brought in some weeks before.

There wasn’t anything in it to make a story, but that wasn’t the point. It was his and it had disappeared.

My volcano hadn’t buried it. I knew exactly where it should be, but it had gone.

As the days passed I began to have nightmares that it had been inadvertently thrown out.

Eventually, one of my colleagues discovered he had picked it up and put it on his volcano (or a least someone had). Full of contrition I took it round to the gentleman, and apologised.

Just think if we had relied on scanned documents. But we are of a generation that doesn’t.

So many things have changed from my early reporting days half-a-century ago.

Gone are phone dials – come to that, the button types are now outdated by touch keys.

You no longer plough through a blue haze of cigarette smoke from ciggies threatening to set light to the massed volcanoes. Cigarettes were stolen from the communal packet that (until you mislaid it) had been yours by right of purchase.

The clatter of typewriter keys is no more, just the dull thump on keyboards caused by the older reporters. We were self-taught on Remingtons in the pre-electric days.

Codgers cannot break the habit of bashing hard. It was a habit spawned by letters clogged with worn-out typewriter ribbon debris.

Somehow, the machines kept going.

They had their individual vagaries. One had a missing “e”, another an overly noisy bell that sounded at the end of each line. Most had been hit so long and hard the letters had disappeared from the keyboard itself. They were museum pieces.

Last week Brother produced the last typewriter to be made in Britain. It was packaged up – and sent to a museum. There, it will be gawped at by future generations

They know nothing of moving those black cast-metal hernia-makers, or even the pastel-shaded beasts of more recent past.

Nor will they know the Beryls and Joans who terrorised anyone who wanted something typed neatly – unless you were the MD.

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The Codgers' Club

They are the old boys who like nothing more than to moan and groan about life's everyday problems. The Codgers' Club members - Peter Cook, David Jones and Alan Watkins - grumble through life, always viewing the glass as half-empty. Here they share their latest wit and wisdom.

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