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The narrative I am hammering out, on my portable Adler-Tipper, typewriter,  is the opening scene for the sequel of a war thriller book called Captain Caprivi. I am using a title like An Attack on Kariba Dam.

Captain Caprivi could think of only one way to free a bayonet that was stuck like this, he squeezed off a burst of three rounds of 9 millimeter parabellum, full metal jacketed bullets into the dead terrorist’s chest, The lightning-fast rounds cut through the gaping wound left by the bayonet, the suction around the blade now released, threw the body several meters back towards the camp entrance… End of scene one.

Handwritten Copy Of A story Like Daniel Carney’s “Wild Geese.”

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.

~Jules Renard, “Diary,” February 1895

A writer’s mind seems to be situated partly in the solar plexus and partly in the head. ~Ethel Wilson

I read somewhere recently that Godrej and Boyce, typewriter manufacturer based in Mumbai, India had only a small quantity of manual typewriters left in their warehouse and once depleted, they will start producing refrigerators instead. America, still have a limited requirement for them, especially in prisons and schools.

It makes perfect sense why prison authorities would want to make use of them since this would severely limit inmates wanting to produce “more” than just poetry and short stories.

Getting access to illegal digital information is severely limited on a piece of mechanical office equipment like a typewriter. My first and only typewriter is a used 1970 model Adler–Tipper, portable, which, when I had bought it back in 1976, had set me back about $30, a small fortune for a young guy earning $100 a month as a rookie cop.

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I tapped out several movie scripts and a short story based on my experiences as a cop, Al Pacino, style none of which ever saw the light of day, but I was immensely happy! I was writing.

During the last few years of the 1970’s, I got some priceless writing coaching from the well known and celebrated South African novelist and movie scriptwriter, Basil Stols, one of which was the classic S.A. musical film titled Song in my Heart which has since been remade and released in 2011.

At first, there were fears that the 70’s storyline, would not appeal to a younger audience. However, it soon became evident that the old adage: ” Love conquers everything”, is still as evergreen as when love and compassion were first written about, almost 2000 years ago. This new release topped local South African movie charts for a record period and received dozens of reviews.

As a rookie cop, I was conscripted as a member of our country’s first line of defense called the police brigade. The brigade’s illustrious history spans the two great world wars as well as the Korean campaign, immortalized by the 14 year long-running of the American MASH comedy hit series.

It was between stints of 3 to 6 months periodic call-up duty, when author and scriptwriter, Basil Stols first became inspired to start his movie script, Captain Caprivi. My true-life stories of living in the “bush”, as South Africans called the Northern border area which we were sent to protect, and prevent terrorists from infiltrating.

During one of my visits to his home, he shared some rough, handwritten copy of an almost mercenary kind of group, reminiscent of stories like Wild Geese or The Dirty Dozen.

Dusk creeping in from The Namib Desert…

My job was to give the story the necessary authenticity, based on my own hands-on combat experience fighting in the very same war. I helped create the five characters which were loosely based on actual officers, some alive at the time and some posthumous.

The sounds and smells of carnage both during and in the aftermath were painfully real. In the process, Basil had written the character of the Chinese colonel in command of the enemy camp, Ling Fu, with me in mind. The character of Colonel Ling Fu who captures the renegade, “Delta Force” styled group and who displays some uniquely authentic torture methods is on screen for about 30 minutes.

In the process, I was given rare glimpses behind the scenes of the life of an author. After completion of the script for Captain Caprivi, I was flown to Brigadiers Studios in Johannesburg South Africa where I joined several salted actors like Will Sealy, Ken Hare, and a few newcomers like Robin Alexander. The day of the screen test went off without a hitch and the actors were all signed up.

A week before shooting on location, I was called back to police Headquarters with orders to ship out, for real, to the border where my unit had taken some serious hits and all qualified personnel had to fly out on a kind of rescue mission. A backup actor, iManny Parks was hastily contacted to take my place.

The director of Brigadier’s film studio, Albie Venter offered me the starring role in a forthcoming thriller with a corny sounding title, My Brother’s Glasses, which as it turned out, was another local box office hit.

The actor who played my part this time around, a man by the name of Cobus Rossouw, made his film debut in that movie and went on to star in dozens of local and international movies. He is still alive and well and acting out a storm. I was kept busy with real-time border duties for three more years and sort of dropped out of the movie business completely.

I did write a kind of sequel to Captain Caprivi which I gave Basil Stols since the story was based on the surviving characters he had created for his movie. I can still remember my opening line: “Dusk creeping in from the Namib desert, and shading the plains with purple, in the distance, there is the mournful cry of a fish eagle, as it heads off to its nest, clasping its last tigerfish for the day.

The film was never made, but the memories of writing those plots, making the characters spring to life in new and unheard of sets of circumstances acting out daring and death-defying sequences, all aimed at leaving the reader and viewer alike, breathless with anticipation, are etched eternally into my memory, at times the keys of my Adler Tipper would rattle with the urgency of a machinegun. It felt as though the age of the portable typewriter would last forever, but my faith in its longevity soon turned out to be unfounded.

If I had made the film, the soundtrack and location would have been something like in the YouTube clip below:

The sad day came when it had to be replaced or “digitally re-mastered by the laptop, but that space-age piece of electronic gadgetry never had quite the same appeal to me as the adorable brown Adler–Tipper, without which I would never have ventured into the fascinating world of writers.

If you love typewriters tell us all about it in the comments below, I would love to hear your typewriter story.


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  1. Back in 1984 I learned to type on a typewriter just like that. It stood me in good stead them old typewriters and gave me the ability to touch type, for which I am grateful. I moved onto an electric typewriter (on which I passed my typing exam!) And then my first computer was Windows 98. How the world evolves hey?

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