Letterpress Time…

At 3pm today, GMT, I will be on Radio 4’s Questions, Questions, talking about my washing up recordings.

That is the BBC Reading flag, photographed at the studios on Tuesday, when I went over there to link up to Radio 4.

At the end of this post I have put links to some of the washing-up interviews I did last year so they can be enjoyed in full and unedited. I have also supplied – in honour of the occasion – an mp3 of the adventures in washing up jingle that I made for the Fantastical Reality Radio Show.

In other news, the project I hoped to launch yesterday (1st October) – SOUNDBANK – will have to begin later this month. I really wanted it to all begin yesterday but the record cards don’t fit in the envelopes and retrospectively revising the records once the design is sorted out is so far out of keeping with the project’s ethos that I will have to wait until I have got the design right to begin. I also need to complete the project folder so that wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I will have access to everything I need to augment the archive. So hopefully by the end of today I will have the correctly sized record cards printed up and enough stock to get going with the daily archiving of sounds (for a year) but my recent experiences of printing have really led me to think twice before glibly nailing that point to a specific time or date.

My normal way of thinking about time this week has been seriously stretched and warped by using The Letterpress. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Letterpress printing, but it is basically typesetting documents by hand. That means getting every single letter and placing it manually beside every other letter and using fiddly little snippets of metal to justify and correctly space each paragraph and character. It is made doubly difficult by the introduction of different sizes of type into the same document.

This is a process that does not bode well for a terribly impatient person, like myself. Even a determined, focussed, pumped-up, I-just-ran-round-the-building-and-drank-14-espressos approach doesn’t really work with The Letterpress; all that happens is you arrange the incorrectly organised letters that former students have lazily replaced in the wrong compartments, faster. Yes, I am full of hatred for whoever put all those h characters in with the ts, whoever left the italicised f character in the ordinary f box and whoever put the 18pt letters in the 14pt tray. Curses on you! The room with the letterpress in it is airless and windlowless and by the end of yesterday, I was to found in there, hunched over the bench and muttering like a gremlin about the ‘d*ckhead’ who put this letter or that letter in the wrong compartment. I was put strongly in mind of Griff Rhys Jones, whose excellent recent series on anger definitely struck a chord. Perhaps I ought to download the losing it anger sheet for future stints in the Letterpress room?

Whatever about my irritations, the loveliness of the letters and the physicality of the process somehow draws me away from the computer and back to the tiny, sharp-edged letters.

Returning for a moment to Rhys Jones, I am put in mind of the relationship between time, stress, strain and anger. And I love how a process like Letterpress printing forces me to slow down. It is rather like knitting; a repetitive, mathematical process that requires attention, long stretches of uninterrupted time, and quietitude. I realise I may have to concede that typesetting the poster I have in mind may take 4 or 5 full days given that this is what I completed yesterday:

But maybe it is good to slow down to this pace, to get away from the immediate gratification of the computer and word processing? Good to use my hands and to marry the slow process of the letterpress with the early nights I’ve been prioritising and the water I’ve been trying to drink more of, each day. Good to slow down and to work at the body’s pace, rather than the mind’s frantic racing.

The Letterpress – like handmade clothes – brings me back to this issue of how things are made and produced. Can I ever value a computer designed and printed (2 hours maximum) poster as much as I will value whatever comes out of this Letterpressing mission? It is an open question, one I’ve no answers to right now. But one I’m bearing in mind… and I think it’s also time to re-read SLOW by Carl Honore and perhaps to order the book Needled discusses here, which may help me to better understand the relationship between production, value, patience and materials.

4 Responses to Letterpress Time…

  1. Kate says:

    hurrah! I will be listening.

  2. Lara says:

    I’ve just caught up on listen again – fabulous. I was thrilled when they introduced you. I thought you sounded very good and loving the different sonic potentials of the washing up basins. See you soon xxxx

  3. Kate says:

    I was VERY excited to hear your adventures in washing up coming out of the radio in my kitchen! You were fantastic

  4. Ali says:

    Yay! Just de-lurking (love your blog) to say how brilliant the programme was! I must be terribly un-British, I don’t use a washing up bowl either 😉

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