The college type

Yesterday I applied for another job. Yes, I am still on the hunt. I still have the boring task of seeking salaried employment, with slightly less desperation but equal amounts of post-application stress disorder.

For yesterday’s application, one of the items on the person specification was “keyboard skills”. I wanted to adopt a Will Ferrell pose, hand on hip and one eyebrow raised, and say, “Yeah, I tinkle a few ivories, in my own classical, yet syncopated, infantile way.” And then I thought that would be super-lame. (And that’s different from everything else I say, how?)

I then realised that I do have some mean keyboard skills. I have worked on PCs, Macs, laptops, word processors, electronic typewriters, electric typewriters and, way back, I learnt to type on an ancient, massively heavy manual typewriter.

Working on those machines, I developed muscles in my fingers in places where I didn’t know I had places. When we made mistakes, we had to use typewriter erasers and backspace the heavy machinery before retyping the letter. When we typed to the end of a line, we would grab the return lever and push the carriage way to the left to start a new line. We had to take out indemnity insurance in case the machine fell and crushed us to powder. It would.

And all of that took me back to my year at commercial college after I finished my first undergraduate degree. I went, kicking and screaming, into that college year at the insistence of my parents. I honestly felt it was beneath me to do a course that taught me typing and bookkeeping when I had a university degree. How embarrassingly arrogant was I? My parents thought it would be a good and practical idea. I hate to say it, but they were right.

Not only did I have fun there, but I learnt skills that I have used in every job I’ve had. I learnt shorthand, which I still use today when I interview people. I learnt touch-typing, which has been useful regardless what machine I have been typing on. And I met two characters who will stay with me forever. Let’s call them Mr M and Mrs P.

Mr M was our book-keeping lecturer. He arrived at college every day in his smart three-piece suit and hair neatly parted. He had a gap between his front teeth that caused him to whistle every ‘s’ through the lecture room. He would close his eyes, nod his head slightly and say, “Ladiessssss, ladiesssssss, ladiessssss!” (We were only females in the class – it was the 80s and it was Zimbabwe).

He would explain everything to us in precise detail, and we would practise and practise until we got it right. In bookkeeping there is no room for error, so being kind of right was never an option.

We had no Excel spreadsheets or any other programme that would work things out for us. We had no calculators or adding machines. We had to work with ledgers and journals, make credit and debit entries, and make the columns balance. All by ourselves. In our heads. I know the accountants and bean-counters out there will be tapping and trilling the tips of their fingers together in delight, but really – it wasn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Mr M would get exasperated with us “ladiesssss”. And he would be delighted when we got things right. Then he would say, “That is execkle what I am tokking about!”

One of my classmates would get equally exasperated with Mr M. She would battle with the concepts and try and make her columns balance. And then she would yell out, “Yussussss, Mr M! I can’t do this!”

Our office practice lecturer was Mrs P. She wore faded cotton frocks that were tightly belted with full round skirts. She wore her hair in a bun and wore pointy spectacles. Seriously. She had stumbled across a fashion style in the 1950s and heck, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? She stuck with that fashion forever.

Her hair was so tightly squeezed into a bun, I was sure sometimes she had grabbed some scalp along with her hair and tied it right in with the bun. That usually explained the raised eyebrows and ears that moved round the back of her head. And a constant, scary grin.

She would totter around in her sling-back heels, occasionally tottering over, and tell us about what good office practice entailed. She would also regale us with tales of her and her husband’s other life in Spain, but that’s material for another day.

She would always start the day with, “A-kay, ladies! Today we’re going to talk about how to watch paint dry. A-kay? Any questions? Good,” and she would then ramble on and on. None of us really listened. We just watched. I think the tight bun prevented her from forming the letter ‘o’.

I left college that year with a diploma in hand, a bunch of valuable skills and a plate full of humble pie. I hated it when my parents were right.

Sunshine signing off for today.


20 thoughts on “The college type

  1. I hated it when my dad was right (still do!)…

    I always said I’d never be a “secretary”, but I have worked as an “administrative assistant” when I couldn’t find work in communications…learning to type when I was a kid was a good move, I think! However, I have no bookkeeping knowledge (or interest)…I’m lucky to do my own income tax every year!

    Loved your description of Mrs. P. – I have a German friend who says “A-kay.”


  2. My younger sister, Mary, and I were in the same typing class when we were in high school. I think I actually attended maybe 3 classes that whole term. It would really piss Mary off when Miss Laverly would quiz her as to my whereabouts. Somehow I passed that class with a B! Poor Mary faithfully attended class and squeaked by with a C grade. I, too, was convinced that I did not need to know how to type. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
    So, it was annoying enough when our parents were right about something, but, it really sucked when we, in our know-it-all youth, were dead wrong!

    Don’t even get me started on math!

    Keep on typing, sista!
    XO – Patty

  3. Do find now that, after typing for so long, you can’t really use a pen anymore? I have that problem. It’s weird.

    You’re right–I think a typing course is one of the best things a college bound kid can do for himself/herself.

    Happy Friday, Sunshine!

  4. Screech! Another laugh! Took me right back to my heavy duty typewrting days. That sure is one subject I am glad I took. In my case the choice was maths or typing….. Bwah! That’s why the good Lord gave me a maths genius husband (on both counts). I was born to type and create.
    So…. I can relate to your typing through the ages. Have an awesome weekend – both Sunshines xx

  5. SO funny! My mom insisted that I learn typing in high school. I took Typing I three times. The first time I got a C, the second time a D and the third time I flunked (the instructor was watching me during the final). My official typing score in my high school transcript is “Minus 3 words per minute.” I knew I had to go to college.

  6. My high school typing teacher was a drill sergeant! She would walk around the classroom while we were doing practice drills with ruler in hand. If she saw incorrect form, she would rap the desk and our knuckles (softer than the desk, thankfully). I feared that woman, but now that I work as a transcriptionist, I appreciate her dedication to making sure her students got it right. Thank you, Mrs. Johnson!! Great post, Sunshine:)

  7. Learning to touch type (I taught myself with the aid of a book – that’s when soft-wear was silk boxers) and it has been a most valuable skill – particularly when I had no secretary and no help from the secretary of the Director of Nursing who thought the Assustant Directors were below her payscale. I recently tried short-hand but ./ ).-/

  8. Sounds like the Olympic Committee needs to add a new sport… Typing and I would be one of your faithful fans with those obnoxious signs. Funny post! BTW: Damn those parents for being always right huh?

  9. You have the best stories, Sunshine! When I was in 7th grade, my dad forced me to take typing class; he said, “If you learn to type, you will always have a job.” He was right 🙂

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