The strangest things happened at Mr. Slade’s Typing Academy. To begin with, there was the gramophone. He maintained that it was a helpful aid to rhythm. When he put on a record, you could be easily forgiven for thinking that it was a dancing class. He would stand in front of his students and conduct them with his fingers. Everyone agreed that his timing was perfect. To begin with, he played records at rates of speed which enabled the finger movements to be made at one stroke per second and then he built it up to the equivalent of four strokes per second or, to put it another way, 48 words a minute. “You’re movement must be in perfect accord with the rhythm,” he’d say, “until it becomes automatic”. The effect was almost hypnotic. “A relaxed posture is so important for continuous work at the keyboard. Repeat after me.” He was a stickler when it came to the study of rhythm – the rhythm of the beginner and the rhythm of the rapid operator.
On the first night, he took his students through the whole spectrum of commercial abbreviations: everything from A.a.r (Against all risks) to A/v (Ad valorem). They learnt how the ampersand should be used for the names of companies but not as a conjunction in the body of a letter; how accents could be substituted for existing type and he made sure that they had all the necessary typewriter accessories (erasers, cloths, oils and rollers) to hand.
Mr Slade was dapper. He was tall and thin and practically bald. He had a small moustache. He believed in courtesy and punctuality and sharp medium-grade pencils. He had a penchant for Pica type because it was neat and wrote ten letters to the inch with no appearance of cramping. He shouted respectability.
The second class was devoted to the next letter of the alphabet. Everything from a backing sheet to a button. Nobody dared to step out of line or make a mistake. Mr Slade was not a man to tolerate mistakes. He was far too correct in everything.
After the warm-up and the military marches, everything at the third class revolved around the letter C. Before the night was out, Mr Slade had tutored his students in capital cases, concave keys and the correction of carbon copies. They reflected on how short the class would be when they reached the letter X but this was not to be.
Between the third and fourth class, on a calm summer’s evening somewhere in the London suburbs, Mr Slade died. They should have known that D stood for death and that he was now a d/w (a dead weight). For such a tidy man, it was an untidy end.
Nobody heard the warning bell. The bell-trip had failed to connect. Somehow or other there was a patent need for a word of explanation.
In mourning his passing, his students considered that their education was incomplete. The class of ’59 had only just begun and a little knowledge was a dangerous thing.
Neil Leadbeater is an author, editor, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books includeHoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey(Littoral Press, 2010), Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments(Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014) andFinding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017). He is a regular reviewer for several journals including Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement) (USA)and Write Out Loud (UK). His work has been translated into Dutch, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.