Picture by Jan Fialkowski

Picture by Jan Fialkowski

THIS blog was devised to run alongside my exhibition, Last Writes: A Requiem For The Printed Word, currently being staged at Florence Arts Centre, Egremont, Cumbria UK.

It’s the first time I’ve staged an exhibition but I’m glad to report that it is being very well received with a steady stream of visitors. The reactions to it have ranged from abhorrence to excitement. Young people and children have been some of the most excited – primarily because of the typewriter. Few teenagers have ever had the chance to use a typewriter and they spend an hour or more happily learning to get to grips with this piece of steam-punk technology. “Oh, it prints as you type” was one excited comment. There’s one wonderful thing about typewriters that I had forgotten: There’s no exclamation mark. All young people want to end a sentence in a ! or even a !!!!!. But I have to explain that in the old days you typed an apostrophe, then backspaced and then a full-stop. “Cool” is the usual response – no doubt with at least one apostrophe on the end of it.

Also loved by the younger children is the toy train set. It runs in and out of my library which I have relocated to the centre of the exhibition hall. Libraries – I argue – should be enchanting places and so my library has a toy train set, automatons, secret compartments and really nice books.

The abhorrence has come from an unusual source – not the section on banned books or the lyrical terrorist but from a 2,000 year old poem: Thunder, Perfect Mind. The poem is from the Nag Hammadi scrolls discovered in 1945 in northern Egypt. I used it to illustrate how the written word can astound even 2,000 years after it was written but a lady took offence to the rude words (virgin and whore). She didn’t seem to understand that illustrated the power of the written word perfectly: 2,000 years old and it can still upset you.

Finally, the one section of the exhibition which always gets people shouting and shrieking is the part on handwriting. It is illustrated by beautiful handwriting from the children of nearby St Begh’s School. And I point out that American schools no longer teach (joined-up) handwriting, preferring instead to teach keyboarding. “Noooooo!” say most people. But I have persuaded many that it’s inevitable when I ask “And when did you last handwrite anything longer than a shopping list?”.

The exhibition runs at Florence Arts Centre until the end of April 2013.

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