Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Ted's typewriter

was the office joke. Ted was my boss for the short time I worked in the Education Department Office. I liked Ted. He was irreverent. If we needed to see the Director-General he would pick up the 'phone and ask the great man's secretary, "Is God in?" We would then go upstairs and inform the DG about whatever he needed to be informed about. Ted did not ask the DG anything. He told the DG things. The relationship between them was surprisingly congenial.
But the typewriter was something else. It was so old that, by the time I met Ted, he had resorted to buying new ribbons and rewinding them onto the old spools simply because they did not make typewriter ribbon spools like that any more. He had welded part of the typewriter back together. The keys were worn and the type was getting smudgy because it was even more worn. Ted kept on bashing the keys regardless. He loved that typewriter.
Right around him everyone else shared the latest golf-ball jobs with interchangeable typefaces. Ted typed with two fingers. Most of them typed with more. Ted was faster.
When I arrived in the office as his research assistant he called me in for the first morning chat. I sat there feeling distinctly nervous. Was I up to this job? Then, before he even began to discuss work, he made a couple of 'phone calls demanding one of the golf-ball jobs. "I need one," he told the person in Stationery Supply, "Now. Immediately. Straight away. I know you have some there. I saw some yesterday when I was looking for some letterhead."
Was Ted going to give up his typewriter? I had heard about this typewriter. It was legendary. It was revered. Nobody else dared to touch it. I wondered whose typewriter I would share and whether I would have to come in early and leave late in order to use it.
Ted slammed the 'phone down in what I came to learn was his usual style and began telling me what he wanted me to do. He had typed up a long list. It was. to say the least, idiosyncratic. I thought I (half) understood.
"Don't bother me except for emergencies or unless we need to see God. What you do and how you do it is your responsibility," he told me. By this time I was wondering whether I was mad to have agreed to work for him. It looked as if the interview was over but he seemed to be waiting for something. Then there was a knock at the door and the man from Stationery Supply stood there staggering under the weight of a brand new typewriter,
"Where do you want it?"
"That desk." Ted told him waving an arm at the desk he had said would be mine. Then he turned to me and said, "Cat, I do not read paw prints."

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