I saw an advert for a writing magazine today, explaining why writers used to use double-spacing on the page.
Maybe I should explain the concept, as it’s so obviously now not what people do, yes dear reader, even me.
It used to mean leaving a blank line between each line you type. In those impossibly far-off days when I learned on my bright orange portable Smith-Corona at the South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education I wanted to be a journalist. Sort-of wanted to, anyway. We had to learn how to type and take shorthand, or at least T-line shorthand. The idea was you typed your stuff out and then somebody else sub-edited it, checking it for spelling, typos, grammer and style. I know, ludicrous over-manning, isn’t it? You can get a machine to do that. Well, you can now. You couldn’t then.
Given that the copy was on bits of paper – and yes, I am aware how much this is coming to resemble something Howard Carter (not to be confused with Howard Jones, which is all too easy to do for someone of my generation) might have deduced in the tomb of Tutankhamun, however it’s said now – someone actually had to take a biro, preferably red, and mark-up the errors in a code of notches and marks that even then went back years. If an extra word was needed say, or the sub thought these three words could be two and needed to be moved the other end of the sentence anyway, he’d – no, wait, honestly – write the words on the paper and maybe draw an arrow to show where they should go. The blank line between the lines gave him somewhere to do it. And yes, subs were almost always men in those days. Crazy times, hey?
After that we all trapped a bison in a pit and went down the pub.
But there was always a double-meaning to writing between the lines. Roy Harper even had an album called In Between Every Line. There was a romance to it, often one you’d sadly read into letters from your old girlfriend at school telling you about a trip to York at the weekend or somewhere equally implausible when you lived in Wiltshire, the reasons for which you didn’t really need invisible ink to work out. There was the spice and danger of No Man’s Land about the between the lines concept too, the haunted place that Biggles and Drummond and countless others found themselves pitched into by accident, stuck between the Hun’s front lines and our own, in the mythical 1916 that clearly still tormented some of the most elderly teachers at school. Some of ours were certainly old enough to have shouldered a Lee-Enfield.
So it was odd, anyway, to see double-space typing being reinvented the same day as the news the Telegraph is to merge with the Sunday Telegraph broke. I don’t really care what happens to the Sunday Telegraph but I do care about the inability of the BBC to report a story without non-sequiturs, or to ask questions that mean anything when they’re clearly being fed nonsense. Perhaps they think it’s impolite these days.
The man from the Telegraph explained it. Or maybe he was a Professor of Journalism, which would make it even more tragic. The two papers are going digital, he said. The Telegraph was one of the first papers to do this, even before the millenium. Ex-pats in Spanish marinas could happily fulminate about Engerlund goindahnvatube without even needing to go and talk to people with dark skins at the newspaper stall.
The Telegraph had found it was stuck with all this expensive kit for printing ink onto paper, presses that cost millions and had a re-sale value of pennies if you could find anybody who wanted one in the first place and had the cranes and lorries and the skills to get it out of the building and re-assembled without reducing it to scrap. So the obvious thing to do is sack some of the editorial staff. Obviously. The people who do the things that the readers actually chose the product for. It’s not that the Telegraph isn’t making a profit. Just not enough profit for the people who own it, so they’re going to get rid of the people who make the customers come and buy it. Sometimes I really wish I’d been to business school, so I could understand this stuff.
The Telegraph will turn into Yahoo! News, a home for the useless, reduced to re-packaging Sky News and anything somebody else did to achieve a homogenised product that will investigate precisely nothing at all but will let you know when Kim Kardashian’s silicon enhancement check-up is due. And it’ll have even more errors, real, basic type-errors, because for some reason it’s almost impossible to check things on screen.
I typed 110,000 words for Not Your Heart Away. I checked it again and again and again. Someone else edited it as well. I ordered some proof copies because I wanted it out as a paperback as well. And that was when I saw the mistakes.
I couldn’t believe it. In some parts of the book there was a mistake on every page. Other places it was fine for ten pages or so, but then the most basic typos would be there again. Two words the same. A word that obviously hadn’t been deleted when two sentences were cut and spliced together. It re-convinced me that you can’t edit well on screen, however many times you go over it. I think I’ve got them all now. I hope so anyway.
Odd that now everyone uses a keyboard absolutely no-one is taught how to type as part of their elementary education let alone higher studies but as Molesworth used to say, let it pass.