Mad About Machines

I DON’T know what came over me, but by the time Dinah Washington was crooning September in the Rain and the concluding credits were rolling on Mad about Machines (Ch4), I was reduced to a bundle of sniffles and tissues. The life story of Louise Brindley that had unwound before us like the black and red ribbon of her beloved Olivetti typewriter (the Dear Olive of the subtitle) was a poignant tale of love lost, loneliness and one woman’s admirable regeneration. It had me completely charmed – and con­siderably moved.

Part of its appeal stemmed from pro­jection on my part: I could see myself a few years from now, alone in my sunset years, sitting in my bay win­dow with its “slice of sea”, talking to my beloved typewriter because “Well, I have to talk to somebody” and churning out novels. Part of it, too, derived from the bittersweet note struck by this slow-tempoed docu­mentary about a woman who discovered a writing talent at the age of 45, when her husband traded her in for a 23-year-old girl: “I just quit the field with dignity and grace”, mused Louise, smiling sadly over her mug of tea.

Under the gentle but thorough inter­rogation carried out by an unseen director (Taghi Amirani), our bespec­tacled 74-year-old writer remembered coming home to Scarborough, “hurt and shattered”, to find a job as a deputy housekeeper at an old people’s home. Hoping to escape her solitude, Louise signed herself up with a local writers’ circle. Here she met James Herriot, who encouraged her to write a novel. She did, and every single word of her 14 novels has been written on her trusty Olivetti (first bought after the war, and in need of only two repairs since), a typewriter we could hear pounding away.

With lovely Scarborough as the back­drop doing wonders for the local tourist industry, Louise typed and reminisced: the childhood wish for a typewriter because she couldn’t play the piano; the habitual visit to Anne Bronte’s grave – “I thought, here lies a writer”; that first letter of acceptance that sent her running to make a telephone call to her sister – “I was lit­erally crying with joy… oh it was love­ly!” From that moment forth, it was Louise and Olive, together against a world that had proved far from perfect: “When she packs up I think I will too” Louise confessed, faithful to the end

Mad about Machines purported to be about the merely mechanical, but what emerged proved to be far more satisfying than one might have expect­ed – a thoughtful and loving exami­nation of the mechanics of one life, where fortitude had triumphed over great disappointments.