Saturday, 24 November 2012


The Brother factory in Wrexham made its final typewriter last Tuesday and donated it to the Science Museum. 

Not just the last typewriter to be made in Wales but the last typewriter to be made anywhere in Britain.  I was surprised to read this and had thought that typewriter production would have ceased decades ago.  I find it heartening that somewhere there are people who use typewriters out of habit, confidentiality, stubbornness or economy.  I hope they will continue to be able to source new ribbons and indulge delaying habits such as cleaning the keys with blu-tack and mopping up residual dirt with a fine paintbrush.  Somewhere there are writers still hearing the warning bicycle-bell ring that says they have come to the end of the line and can go no further.

I still have an ancient portable (a Litton Imperial) which was briefly brought out of retirement about seven years ago to type up teaching hand-outs during a week-long power cut.  I look at it gathering dust in the corner of my study and wonder if Oxfam would take it.

Earlier this month, Valerie Eliot, T S Eliot’s second wife died. 
She was a shorthand-typist and T S Eliot’s secretary.  One of her great achievements was liberating the original typed drafts of The Waste Land.  After Eliot’s death the drafts languished in the New York Public Library.  In 1971 Valerie Eliot published the facsimile and transcripts of the original drafts of The Waste Land, showing the crucial part played by Ezra Pound in editing and revising Eliot’s original ideas. 

When did you last see a job advertisement for a shorthand-typist?  Yet for millions of women in the last century (including my mother) it was their daily employment.  


Just there – the iron black typewriter –
Remington in gold letters.  Dust between the keys –
filaments of paper, skin cells, hair, threads
from a utility dress.  I remember her clothes –

the coupon bought shirt-waister, knitted cardigan,
straight seams in her seamed stockings,
the scent of Yardley lavender.  It’s as if I clicked                  
copy this file and all the pages she ever typed

come flying across my memory, the letters
grey with age, the paper acid yellow.
Her fingers rest on the home keys;
as she touches s a diamond glints,

swaddled in white gold.  The ribbon spools
and unspools until it wears to rags.
She is the concert typist of the keyboard,
her bobbed hair a permanent wave to the past.

©  Mary Robinson 2012

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


Many thanks to my good friend, Anne, for her comment on my last post.  I did not know that Edith Pargetter was an important translator of Czech literature (as well as being more well-known for her Brother Cadfael books).  Her translations included quite a bit of Czech poetry.

Lots of information at

Sunday, 4 November 2012


I've just come back from Prague.  I stayed in a hotel in a street called Na Porici.  I was just a couple of doors along from the building which used to house the Workers' Accident Insurance offices where Kafka started work in 1908. 

There's a sizeable ex-pat population in Prague as I discovered when I went to a rumbustuous performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It in English with American, English and Czech actors.

One of Shakespeare's literary contemporaries was Elizabeth Jane Weston c.1581 - 1612 (known as "Westonia").  She was born in Chipping Norton.  Her family moved to Prague when she was a child and she became a poet of international repute.  Later this month Prague is celebrating the 400th anniversary of her death.  I visited her elaborately wordy memorial in the cloisters of the later much-baroqued St Thomas's Church.  She wrote in Latin, the lingua-franca of Europe.  David Vaughan has written: "Within a few years of Westonia's death, her whole universe was to be swept away forever and Central Europe was dragged into thirty years of devastating war.  Her poetry captures beautifully this fragile moment on the edge of the abyss." More about Westonia at

Over three centuries later the Orkney-born poet, Edwin Muir, and his wife Willa came to Prague.  They were a self-styled "translation factory" and had already introduced Kafka to English readers for the first time.  Edwin Muir spent the years 1945 to 1948 as head of the British Institute in Prague. In 1945 the Muirs travelled through defeated, traumatised Germany to get to Prague.  In the city people had made shrines with photographs of loved ones shot during the German occupation.  By 1948 Communist intimidators had silenced Edwin Muir's university students and kept a close watch on the poet's words and movements.

Remembering a Prague poem I turn to R S Thomas's Residues.  Here, in "Went to Prague", are the lines

   "... The Gestapo
    have vanished, but the uniformed buildings
    were still there
    haunting us with the story
    of the man turned
    into an insect."

Prague's turbulent history, resilient inhabitants and cultural richness continue to draw writers.  I've come back with a notebook full of ideas - all I need now is the space to work on them.