Window on the Past

Recently I have been transcribing old letters and reports from 30 – 40 years ago into a digital form. My work at that time involved travel to many countries and reporting back to those I was responsible to as well as to friends. I am thankful to have this window. A record, a snapshot into my past. Alas this window can be murky in places. Just like memory some of the typing is now faded. For those old enough to remember such technology these documents were often a typewritten 4th or 5th carbon copy. No copy and paste in those days. Looking back having something typewritten seems very tactile compared with computers. Fingers pressing letters which hit a ribbon smashing into paper. 

My typewriter was a portable version proudly taken on planes as hand luggage. A management tool to be seen with! Perhaps like a top of the range mobile phone today except I think it weighed about 6kg. This, along with my even heavier briefcase and ‘7 Star’ diary* meant you felt a fully equipped executive. Occasional communication tools also included expensive telexes or even more expensive and time consuming international phone calls. Sometimes these calls had to be booked one or two days in advance and involved hanging around in waiting rooms for hours. Even telexes were at times re-routed via bigger cities if you were communicating from a small place. Looking back it seems such a hassle yet at the time any messages sent these ways felt really important and urgent.

Back to the transcribing of these old reports. Some of them have proved not so straightforward to import to the computer by scanning methods such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR). The faded type was just readable but provng a challenge for the software. Instead I find myself dictating to the computer or correcting /retyping chunks of gobbledegook from incorrect OCR. This meant I was re-verbalising, re-thinking and reflecting chunks of what I wrote then. It is a strange but instructive experience using words by the ‘old me’ from several decades ago… 

1. My language and even some grammar don’t sound like what I would use nowadays. This is even though English is my mother tongue and back then I had finished formal education in English. Suppose it is obvious that the experience of life and the passing of the years changes how I express myself. However it is an odd feeling to have clear evidence of this in black and white by having it sounded back to me in my own voice. 

2. How I spoke of my faith back then also seems a bit different to how I express myself nowadays. It is clear I was a product of my time and the people around me. I trust I was sincere both then and now. Hope that part of growth is to use language that is more ‘me’. Words I take more ownership of.

There is a temptation to be wistful for times past. However the good news I take away today from these faded bits of paper is that the old me is still part of who I am today! This is despite the fact I have changed, think differently and have a different lifestyle from then. Also like the old type parts of me are fading! It’s wonderful to know that, like clay, when I need a reworking I can put myself in the hands of the master potter. 

*The contents of these diaries were replaced each year and you kept the leather ring binder. All the rage in the ‘70s and early 80s.