Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Countdown To 1,000 - 2 : As Old As A Typewriter Ribbon

Some days you just wake up and feel older than your years. Your muscles ache and your bones have an archaeological feel about them. With me, it is normally the result of satisfying my well-documented love of beer a little too enthusiastically : but not always, as the next dip into the archives shows. Let me take you back to March 2009.

News From Nowhere : Monday 2 March 2009
How An Old Typewriter Ribbon Made Me Feel Suddenly Very Old

For the last few months I have been caught up in a Kafka novel. It started with a letter from some Government Department - God knows which, they change their names so often in order to re-brand themselves - which stated "According to our records you are now sixty and therefore entitled to Old People's Winter Fuel Supplement". There was a form to fill in which I duly completed and this gave rise to a second letter from another Department - or probably the same one which had re-branded itself in the week or so since the first letter - which said that they couldn't pay me the Allowance because they needed proof that I was old enough to receive it. I tried the approach of "I have a letter from you saying that I am entitled to it ..." but this got me nowhere. I was told that I would need to write to another Government Department and get a copy of my birth certificate. This I did, enclosing my £8 fee.

So this morning the copy of my birth certificate arrived. I cannot recall ever having seen a copy of it before and therefore the first thing I did was to double-check that I wasn't adopted (for many years I have had a strong belief that I am the last surviving Romanov) but there it was in black and white, I was the son of Albert and Gladys Burnett. The shock came when I checked my date of birth only to discover that I was born on the 17th June 1943 and not, as I thought, the 17th June 1948. This is the kind of news that can have a profound effect on a person and it is no exaggeration to say that in that moment I aged five years. Trust me, a lot runs through your mind when you discover that you are five years older than you thought you were : your bones ache a little more, your eyes get a little dimmer and, if you are lucky, you forget the name of the Prime Minister. 

It was whilst I was planning what to do with my back-pay from the Old Age Pension people that I examined the rest of the certificate a little more closely. When I came to examine it my mother wasn't Gladys BURNETT but Gladys DURIIETT. And here was a surprise, my second name - which I have always assumed was Michael - was in fact IIichael. Even worse, I wasn't a BOY but a DOY! And come to think of it, I couldn't have been born in June 1943 because if I had that would make me just five weeks older than my brother which, I suspect, is physiologically impossible. It was 1948 I was born, I'm sure of it. And wasn't 1948 the time of post-war economic desperation. The cold winter, the country bankrupt by the war and in debt to America. Belt's were being tightened all over the place. I could almost imagine the wording of the Memo which cam from the head office of the Government Department (no doubt the same Government Department that sent me a letter sixty years later plus or minus a few re-branding exercises). "Every effort must be made to save money and, in future, typewriter ribbons will only be replaced after six months of usage. By order of TIIE DEPAIPTIIENT OF IADOR"

It is a good example of blogging about something and nothing - and that is the real joy of blogging. It can be about something (the state of the world economy) or it can be about nothing (lamp-post design in the 1980s) - the choice is yours and yours alone. After years of penning worthy articles about European Union Directives on Employment and Social Affairs, it was such a sudden burst of freedom to be able to write about something and nothing, it was almost life-enhancing. I suppose it made me feel five years younger, which in view of the above story, was not a bad thing.

16 comments:

  1. So were you 5 years older than you thought, or was it an administrative mistake?

    If the former, at what stage did you relive the previous 5 years without noticing?

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  2. CB : I am not sure. But there again I am not sure about anything these days. It is a sign of age. It is what you would expect of a 63 year old - or maybe it is what you would expect of a 68 year old.

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  3. Gosh I wish I could knock five years off my age. Hilarious post, Alan. I do hope it was okay to laugh!
    63 or 68... you're a mere chicken yet.

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  4. hahaha, I tend to air on the side of nothing more often then not.

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  5. Wait a minute! In 2009 there was still a government bureau using typewriters instead of computers? Alan, this isn't you getting old, this is the symptom of a fossilized bureaucracy.Compared to them you're "younger than springtime"!

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  6. Ahh Roy, wouldn't it be nice if it were so. But sadly not : the birth certificate was a certified photocopy of a 1948 (or 1943) original.

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  7. smiling all the way through until you were a 'Doy', then just about spit my coffee with a full blown laughing attack. :)

    Don't you miss those typewriters...the ink on your fingers from changing a ribbon, the rough pink eraser before white-out came along? The snap of the keys. Good memories. :)

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  8. It's the strange and sometimes silly things running through our lives that make the nothing something. Sometimes the biggest nothings are really the biggest somethings.

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  9. I thought the reference, to typewriter ribbons, was modern which wouldn't have surprised me given the sums that Government Departments have conspired to waste on computer systems.

    I remember having to use a typewriter for my theses - it was quite a work of art. From the back it could be touch read and when held up every fullstop, comma and colon allowed the freepassage of light.

    Just as an aside I recall correspondence with, I think, the Tax Office some 35 years ago. They both managed to change my marital status and my sex. One I might have coped with quite adequately but the two together was just too much.

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  10. Every now and then I run into someone who thinks the government is conspiring against the people with carefully planned sinister plots. Having worked for the government, I have to laugh: that would require coordination and accuracy. Your story further demonstrates the absence of both.

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  11. Can't believe I actually learned how to type on one of those things. An old Imperial that my dad nicked from work. I hate to say that my spelling hasn't improved with the advent of computers.

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  12. I wish I could say things are better now... only today I noted that a lady, who was deceased according to my computer records, had in fact last week signed a cheque and also had a telelphone conversation with a colleague. Sigh... I won't tell you which government department I work for!

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  13. TERRIFIC DLOG POST, EIIJOYED IT VERY IIUCH!

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  14. Worthy of 'Spike Milligna' who, in the Goons, was ‘that well-known typing error’!

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  15. I, too, remember typing on those old typewriters, greatly enjoy the "delete" key on my keyboard nowadays. I also worked for government departments, and one department in particular has changed their departmental name 14 times since then. It makes it very difficult for one to look them up in the phone book, you never know what their latest name is!!!!!

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  16. I allempted to laern on the typewriter but my rribbon kept braeking! Funny post!

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