Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Type setter's toast; presses still roar

During a professional low tide I wearied of giving space on MotorCycling’s letter page to readers celebrating the Golden Age of British Bikes. Disapproving of many models cited I inserted a fake letter decrying this tendency, adding “nostalgia is a suspect emotion”. The foam-flecked response was gratifying. Yet here I am being just as nostalgic.

But not about badly engineered bikes with total-loss oil systems. Rather the mechanisms of publishing. This is a Linotype which set type in the hot-metal days. Press a keyboard key and a brass mould (for a letter, a number, a punctuation mark or a space) came tinkling out of the large box on top. Repeat this until sufficient moulds for a line of type assemble themselves in the machine’s bowels.

Work another control and molten type-metal from the Linotype’s small furnace – Just imagine it! – flows into the moulds to cast that one line of type. Start again. A newspaper might well own two dozen such machines, tinkling away and smelling like… well, over to Proust. Now my humdrum computer can do the same job and I haven’t seen a Linotype for thirty years.

One mechanism still remains. To print many newspapers in next to no time you need a press. And a Heidelberg, a Hoe or a Crabtree in full flight (and full throat) resembles open warfare. The power of the press indeed, all directed towards an ephemeral product with a life-span often measured in minutes. The newspapers I worked on were printed in a Bradford street called Hall Ings and the soles of my feet twitch sympathetically down the years as I remember the roar and vibration of those majestic machines.

2 comments:

Avus said...

I agree about those "classic" motorcycles. Having been around long enough to have sampled (and restored) some of the offerings from the British factories (who never listened to their customers because they alone knew what was wanted).
Just because it's old there are some who now venerate "grey porridge" and dealers who can cynically offer for sale at high prices machines I would not have had in the garage back then.
As to the magnificent and complicated linotype, at least the furnace and mould did it for you - just think about poor old Caxton who had to have each individual letter carved out of wood!

Barrett Bonden said...

My first two bikes, a BSA Bantam and a BSA 350cc (I'm not sure it had a name), both unsprung rear-ends, are not vehicles I would wish to re-visit however badly afflicted with nostalgia I became.