Typewriters and secretaries

Sunday 24 May 2015, 12.01am HKT

M E N T A L   I M P R E S S I O N S   R E V I V E D

SOMEONE once told me:—

“When you’re in anger, you should sit down and start writing something. That usually calms a person down.”


I don’t think so.

However, the words that DO come flooding to mind are Are you deliberately stupid, or were you actually born this dumb?

The last time I checked, anyone who can actually sit down and start writing usually ISN’T ANGRY ENOUGH or isn’t farkin’ angry anymore. Stands to reason, doesn’t it?

Let’s get real for a sec.

Have you ever tried getting an angry person to sit down and calm down? You haven’t, have you? That’s why policemen in some countries are given firearms to give the ole’ two-in-stomach-one-in-head. Technically speaking.

Technically speaking too, some people deserve to get an extra round in the gonads.

This, my friends, probably does a better job calming someone down:—

flat hamster gif

“If you want gratitude, get a hamster,” so says the rat.

Hamsters are not rats.


Clack, clack, clickety-clack

Whilst on the subject of writing (in anger or not), I’m still terribly fond of a rather special brand of typewriter.

It’s the only make of typewriter that’s practically the analogue version of the personal computer.

It’s was until recently the only model of typewriter that North Korea bans from entering into that surrealistic feudal kingdom.

(North Korea has a longer hereditary rule than the current ruling family in the United Kingdom, by the way.)

La macchina da scrivere « Lettera 32 » con custodia

The Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter with slipcase

Get the name right.

You say “L’Olivetti Lettera Trentadue” (lett’ra TREN-tah DOO-weh).

It’s not “Lettera Thirty-Two,” that’s for sure.

The Lettera Trentadue was very popular with journalists and students all over the world in the 1960s and ’70s. Use one and you’ll never want to use anything else (computers excepted).

I was around nine when Dad sponged his Trentadue to me. He bought himself a brand-new Trentadue because it’s more seemly for business appearances. Can’t argue with that.

advert olivetti lettera 32

1970s advertisement for the Trentadue

(Author’s collection)

What’s a nine year old supposed to do with a portable typewriter???

Nothing. Just clack away for fun.

The whole idea behind Dad giving his Trentadue was for me to get used to the thing’s physical presence — having my own typewriter so that one day I’d be comfortable enough to learn touch typing.

Dad was a “one-finger trick” in typewriting with the occasional burst of double-fingered action, so I can relate to his idea.

Dad also said something about writing longhand was just a pointless waste of time — just do it on the typewriter, mistakes and all, mark up, and be done with it.

Dad's Olivetti Lettera 32 (1963)

Dad’s Olivetti Letter 32, version 1963

All metal construction, except for the Bakelite keys

Dad was ultimately right.

Even today, despite our craptastic high technology, it’s still a great deal easier to type manually on index cards and sticky labels than fiddle for hours with computer printers.


8:1 ratio

I took the year-long Pitman’s Typewriting Course around 13 or 14 years old, and went on to do the full one-year Pitman’s Secretarial Course around 16.

Truth be told, I learnt better spelling, better writing, better English and French, had neater handwriting, and probably better chat-up lines with the birds from the secretarial classes than all of my years in normal school classes — or with the lads.

chicks group

I wasn’t the only guy there, but the chicks did outnumber the studs 8 to 1. Can’t complain.

You jelly yet?


Nibbling snacks on pantyhoses

They’re all hot.

The secretarial teacher (Sue Rodwell) was hot.

Classmate Keren (“yes, that’s the correct spelling!”) was hot.

Wendy Marshall (“effs like a tiger”, so Paul Baker said) was hot.

That left “MS,” originally from Iran, two notches down the hawtness scale, but she was hot enough, boyo. Srsly.

For those who sniffs at anything adjectivally branded ‘secretarial’ — meaning they choose to be ignorant about it — they have no idea, no idea at all about the real world.

Secretarial is about the real world. It isn’t necessary to put on ‘academic’ airs.

“We’re training out secretaries and typist-clerks, not bloody scholars or nuns. We’re supposed to take dictation with the skirt up, wiggle our tits now and then, and then go home for the day. That could be a problem for you though, Robert.”

So it’s perfectly fine in class to nibble snacks, bring in drinks (usually non-alcoholic), gossip, and do other real-life stuff — like adjusting pantyhoses and bras and some other bits, which was often enough by the way. Sooner or later you get called up to help adjust the whatever.

Today, I can touch-type at 70 wpm, with bursts of 85 wpm when I’m paid. I’m sorry to say I’m still not built for skirts or tit-wiggling. My fault, I know, but I can’t help it.


Name’s a real larf

It was, I assure you.

You see, the Chinese name for Olivetti is 好利獲得, which is sanitised into the Mandarin “hào lì huò dé” or the Cantonese “ho lee waai dak.” Literally it says “to obtain good fortune/benefits.”

In reality, it was a completely different kettle of fish.

Olivetti the brand name coincided much, much more closely with 偶利吉帝 (orr lay gut daie) — an old, highly idiomatic Chinese phrase that defies translation but kind of means “pwned,” “self-pwnage,” “a lemon,” “a drip,” “orz,” “twerp” and “derp” all rolled into one.

So for much of the 1960s and the ’70s, Olivetti was nicknamed that way.

Actually, Olivetti did roaring business with Cantonese-speaking people because of that nickname more than anything else.

underwood 315 typewriter resized

My Trentadue is long gone (stolen).

Right now, the only portable manual typewriter I own is an Underwood 315 made in former Czechoslovakia.

Still heavy and solid enough to maim anyone who recommends anyone mad should sit down and write something to calm down.

sig tnl autograf


Images: Hamster via c4c | Olivetti Lettera 32 via iNetGiant | Olivetti advertisement in author’s collection | Chicks outnumber 8 to 1 via Imgur | Secretary taking dictation via AllPosters.com | Underwood 315 typewriter via Wanjas Vardagsrum.

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2015 | Site | About.me | FB | Twitter | Policy & Legal | B15134A

One Response to “Typewriters and secretaries”

  1. Ed Hurst said

    I can’t wax so rhapsodic as you about the virtues of various letter-thumping equipment, but I can say that I typed an awful lot on a far cheaper Olivetti portable, but really did prefer my Brother electric that came later. I bought the Brother about the same time I became the master of Enable scripting (Enable software suite) on DOS at my military unit. So I never developed the fondness for typewriters because I used them only so long as I couldn’t afford a computer. I did take a half-semester of typing in secondary school, though. The girls were the ordinary mix.

    Liked by 1 person

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