Sunday, 17 July 2011
The Good Companion
There was a man, a very minor civil servant. I forget his name; it does not matter, there are many minor civil servants who are forgotten. This man was fashionable, by which I mean, if anything new came along he was all for it. But worse, he derided everything that had gone before - even though they too had been the new thing once.
Now many of us who write; letters, reports, memos, even stories are glad of our computers. Editing your work is easier with the 'copy' and 'paste' functions and there isn't the waste of paper there once was. But we too miss just sitting and taking a slow pleasure in writing by hand as we once did. And, being so used to typing everything our handwriting has deteriorated to terrible scrawls as we fall out of practise. This man had awful handwriting until he was asked to write everything so that it was more legible. Even then he struggled.
It happened that he saw a film on the television about the war reporter Martha Gellhorn who had travelled everywhere with a small portable typewriter. He was amazed that she had managed without a laptop computer at all. He could not sleep that night for thinking about the amazing Ms Gellhorn and was struck with the idea that he too might become a journalist. He would not buy a typewriter however, but take his laptop.
He saved all the money he could and went out to Latin America where his laptop was promptly stolen. He was bereft until he came across a shop selling typewriters. Inside the shop an old woman was quietly repairing old typewriters. To the civil servant it was like walking into an antique shop, yet he remembered Ms Gellhorn, though he was miles away from Spain and indeed years away from the 1930s. He wandered around the shop fascinated, looking at the typewriters until the woman looked up and smiled a mischievous smile.
"You want a typewriter, senor?" she asked in her heavily accented English.
The civil servant had noticed an Imperial 'Good Companion' a typewriter from the 1930s and imagining it to be the kind of typewriter Martha Gellhorn would have used, he thanked the old woman and bought the 'Good Companion'. It was heavy to carry, heavier than his laptop, but the old woman had thoughtfully added an instruction manual and several typewriter ribbons in a charming wooden case. He bought several reams of paper and carried the typewriter back to his hotel. In it's battered case, nobody stole it from him.
In his hotel room that night, he woke up suddenly and began to write at the little typewriter. When he became tired he fell asleep dreaming of all kinds of very strange things. In the early morning he awoke to the sound of typing. He opened his eyes but could see very little for it was not yet light and he dared not get out of bed to turn the light on. As his eyes became accustomed to the dark he saw that his white kid gloves were at the typewriter. He had bought the gloves from an antique shop with the idea of wearing them out to supper. Now there they were typing away at his 'Good Companion'. Every so often the left handed glove would reach up to use the carriage return lever. When the present sheet of paper was finished, it would tear the sheet from the roll and put another in. The finished sheet would drift like snow to the floor or the chair by the table.
The civil servant told himself he was dreaming and drifted back into sleep. However, the next morning when he awoke, all around the typewriter were sheets of writing. He looked into the drawer of the dresser where he had put the gloves and they were still there, though the fingers were a little more worn than they had been. He ignored the possibility that leapt instantly to his mind. Instead he had a shower and dressed for the day. Only then did he gather up the sheets of paper that lay around. The typist had used all of his paper and written a novel it seemed. He made some coffee and sat in his room putting the sheets of paper in order. That done, he put them in his case, tying them with a tie he had intended to wear but had not due to the heat.
He wandered out of the hotel with the Good Companion and sat at a hotel having breakfast, trying to think what to do. He could not very well publish the novel as his own. He had not written it. But if he wrote a foreword explaining that his dress gloves had written it he would be thought quite mad. After breakfast he wandered back to the typewriter shop. The old woman noticing him outside smiled and murmured a word. Then she went to the front of the shop and invited the man inside.
"You like the Good Companion senor? It's a good machine, no?" she asked.
"Er, yes, very fine machine," he began, then taking a deep breath he explained what he was sure he had dreamed.
The old woman smiled and nodded.
"I am afraid I could not help tease the senor. I put a spell on the typewriter. But I have removed the spell so you will be fine now. There is news senor, a civil war in the south it seems. The people are overthrowing the tyrant - again. Ah me, it's such a foolish world we are born into and we make it more foolish, no?" she answered him.
"A spell?" the civil servant asked.
Then he paused, a civil war in the south? Martha Gellhorn would have been on the first train down there. He asked the old woman where he might hire a car. The old woman told him. He did not have his laptop, so he could not email his dispatches home. He would have to write and trust to fate.
He hired a grand old solid car called the Hispano-Suiza J12 Sport Torpedo and drove south. He was fired upon by both sides during the civil war and typed on the bonnet of the car and crouched down on the floor in the back as bullets flew around him. He felt an exhilaration and a vitality he had not felt before. When he could he posted his dispatches back home, first class air mail to a famous Manchester newspaper. Some years later and after some considerable adventure he returned home with the car and the typewriter intact. The car had suffered somewhat, but was repair-able. The typewriter had lived up to its name being a very good companion to him. As for the man himself, he was scarred and tattered and battered, but alive. In wet weather his right arm twinged a little with pain, but he merely swore and continued to type his reminiscences of the civil war. The 'History of a Pair of Gloves' was sent to the publishers and was quite a bestseller. His memoirs of the war came out a little after and he soon became a famous writer. Curiously, he never brought another laptop.