It took me several years to succumb to the blandishments of those who swore that I would write twice as easily on a computer as I had always done (perfectly satisfactorily, I thought) on a 1955 'sit-up-and-beg' Olympia typewriter. Apart from the fact that the index finger of my right hand was split by the force required to bash it, so that a hard evening's typing would leave a trail of bloodstains across the keyboard, my old Olympia and I were perfectly compatible.
Had I not started work at the Independent in 1988, arriving to find an environment devoid of typewriters, I would no doubt still be typing on that handsome, olive-green, lovingly serviced machine. But at City Road it quickly became obvious that if I were to do what I was being paid to do - namely, write - I would have to learn how to use a computer.
It was nightmarishly difficult, even on the village-idiot friendly Atex system which this office relies on. But after three months or so, I had mastered it. For me, that transition was this decade's technology leap.
Soon afterwards I concluded that it was time to retire the Olympia to the country. I bought a second-hand Amstrad for pounds 175 from the man who runs the office computer-room, reasoning that he was likely to know a good machine when he saw one. It dated from 1986, which in the speed-of-light world of computer technology is equivalent nowadays to the pterodactyl, but it was ideal for my purposes: then and now.
My Amstrad has two advantages incomprehensible to computer buffs. It is simple, yet a huge advance on the Olympia, just as the typewriter, even in its earliest versions, was a huge advance on the quill pen. And it offers nothing to distract me. I sit down at my desk, switch on the computer, press a couple of buttons and an 'F' or two and lo] - the novel, article or letter yawns. I have no excuse not to set to work.
But if I were to convert to a more sophisticated computer or a more advanced program (or do I mean language?) than Multimate, two things would happen. The actual writing would be suspended while I grappled with the novel brain ganglions and command modes required to master the new technology. Unanswered correspondence would pile up before I was finally ready to benefit from the advances made since 1986. Yet most would be irrelevant for my purposes.
If only I would upgrade, people keep telling me, I could spend my time playing Beethoven's Fifth or the restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally on my computer. I could frolic like a dolphin amid the variously-coloured screens on offer, or like a Gutenberg amid its many combinations of type-faces, fonts and sizes. I could receive E- mail from computer buffs all over the world, to say nothing of junk mail from suppliers keen to reel in a new customer. I could insert a program bearing the complete Oxford English Dictionary and tell the computer to search for all words with 'death' in their definition; I could insert another, and have the complete corpus of English poetry since the 14th century at my fingertips. I could browse through the world's great art galleries, its museums, its photographs. I could do thousands of enticing things - all of them distractions from the computer's only necessary function in my life: a machine for writing.
All these other delights are still to be had. I have only to go to the study and open a book, and there is the poetry, there are the definitions. I can go to the National Gallery or the Royal Albert Hall and look at the paintings or listen to the music, both all the more enjoyable for taking me away from my desk (sorry: work-station) and out into the real world.
Meanwhile, the next novel, article, or letter lies curled in the womb of the computer and my unconscious mind, to be extracted only after hours of single-minded concentration. This is how the business of writing is for writers, and ever shall be. All else is time-wasting and self-delusion.
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