Stolen from the Press

Some nights when urgent printing deadlines needed to be met, the machines would burn the midnight oil and keep some of us awake with their ratatatat. It was called Mew Printing Press. And we thought it was a mistaken 'New'. Ignorant as we were of the Greek alphabet.

As kids we often went inside the press to ask for discarded paper and glue to bandage torn kites and make 'wanted posters' of each other. During these trips we'd also survey the unholy mess of letters inside the press. Letters lying in open boxes, each for a different size, different font. The letters were just metal pieces that were fixed in rows to form words and sentences on a page.

Sometimes we stole these letters when no one was looking. This was done just for a lark. Like the shoplifter's thrill.

"I got an L, what did you get?"
"I got a P, and it's bigger than your L."
"Next time we should get whole words."
"Yeah, maybe we can print our own pages."
"But you need a machine for that dumbo…"
"No, but we can trace them on paper… with a pencil… like you do with a coin."
"Hmmm… that's an idea… why didn't you think of it before."

And like that, unthinkingly, we stole words from the press. Without realising how heavy stolen words could get in our pockets. Or how they would sometimes injure our mothers' fingers as they emptied our pockets before the laundry rites.

I don't know about the others but those sharp metallic letters entered my head in ways I cannot explain.

And once inside, they pretty much wreaked havoc, giving shape to everything I felt, thought and… didn't dare do.


  1. I’m always drawn to the old print press parts, letters and drawers, at antique shows/sales. The magic of the written word pulls me to it. I have yet to make a purchase. I look at the pieces and become melancholy at how life used to be. Once it was a great thing to be a journalist; a reporter. A journalist was held in high regard. Now with all the sensationalism that appears in rags it is not an honorable profession. There is power in words. Now if we could only make a difference with the gift….

  2. There's a stall on Portbello Street market that sells old letters and blocks from defunct printing presses. I might just by an alphabet next time. Lovely post.

  3. I got an 'L'.

    M up there-has a lot of nice things to say.

  4. M that's very well said! Like u read my mind :)

    Shoefiend thanks... n that's a good thought... I've lost mine tho

    ~d I agree bout M

  5. u cudve played scrabble with em !

  6. I love this post...

    I like stealing letters and words and they haunt you...

  7. Yeah I cud have Rags... but I was very young and needless to say very stupid... :)

    Yeah Missy, bang on :D

  8. The press ran at noon each day. I would eat lunch early so I could run into the pressroom to grab one of the first copies. The noise and smell of the ink permeated the air. Max, in his blue jumpsuit, would be crawling over and running from side to side making sure ink was spreading evenly as the huge rolls of paper unwound and looped over and through the huge noisy machine.

    The managing editor left for lunch before the press ran that day. I was the only one in the reporter’s room when the press began to roll, and like every day I grabbed one of the first copies to print. A huge glaring mistake in the lead was staring me in the face. I ran into the general manager’s office, and showed it to him asking if I should make the correction. I ran into the pressroom shouting to be heard above the roar, “Stop the press!”

    What a great memory. Just as I had seen in old movies as I was growing up, I had the power to make the press stop by yelling the infamous, “Stop the press.”

  9. letters and words can do a lot with the head.. specially the stolen kind. just like images and tambourines. :)

  10. Man awesome stuff, this and the marilyn post too, you ceratinly delivered at par with the thousand words the picture was worth - and you bumped into Bloggerhead - that's pretty cool too!

  11. md-like i said when i met you, i love this post. Several of the images border on a wistfulness associated with childhood but just before if gets there, as in drowns you in its wistfulness, you pull back. I must confess its great getting to know you as you write.

  12. M, that must have felt great... your own movie moment... makes you wonder whether the power of the spoken word is more or of the written... cool!

    Blow, yup... but 'em tambourines... how?

    Pareshan, thanks... I see that u're pretty updated on things ;)

    Bloggerhead, thanks... this real-virtual crossover has been fun, innit?

  13. There are probably certain things like these that make you believe that you share each other's lives through such memories....we live in a circle where there are no corners and nothing concealed...Just like M even i used to (and still do) rush to my uncle's printing press to smell those letters on those freshly churned out papers....hmmmm......booooo to all those who stare at this 21 yr old body wobbling its way through the park gates to grab the swing.....

  14. Gammat, Love your comment that we live in a circle where there are no corners and nothing concealed. Will have to tuck that away to contemplate ....

  15. crawlie ... age has nothing to do with stupidity !! and considering we get better with age, its only logical to think that ur more stupid now than u were then !!

  16. Hey Gammat Welcome!
    Those who stare at the 21 yr old body wobbling... of course don't have any idea how much fun the child in it is having :)

    Rags, but u haven't even grown... and since u were no child genius... it's only logical to think that u remain as daft as u were born :D

  17. donno whether we love stealing them or they love being stolen...i guess words just reciprocate whatever we feel for them..

  18. S'crow, some words don't reciprocate anything... and they mean nothing to you

  19. yeah some don't.....and its cos they mean nothing to you(u just said that)..
    and its nothing to do with them, just us....actually they just wait to be loved and only act of reciprocation they know is love...u love them they reciprocate and if u don't they just wait.....

  20. :) well I've had more of a love-hate relationship with 'em. Ur lucky, I guess

  21. Good books are still printed that way, the letters make a lasting impression through the ink, striking the words into the paper.

    I love your words and thoughts :)
    And am adding you to my blogroll.


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