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Never have I looked forward to a parcel delivery with such excitement. This anticipation was tinged with a sense of regret that, from the perspective of a now thirteen-year-old in secondary school, my carefree days of freedom to pursue a leisure interest were apparently over for ever. The burden of homework and the prospect of important exams, leading to more exams and then university and then work gave rise to a sense of regret that I had not really made the most of my life!

Letterpress printing is a painstaking process. The text must be assembled by hand, picking out individual letters with tweezers and lining them up right to left (you had to ‘mind your p’s and q’s’!), with lead spaces inserted between each word. The spaces came in five basic sizes – em; en; thick; middle and thin. Each line of words and spaces had to be exactly the same length to facilitate clamping in the chase. Too short and there was a risk of loose type falling out when mounted on the machine, too long and it would be impossible to tighten the lines above and below.

To centre a line, exactly the same amount of space had to be placed either side of the line. To justify text, line breaks had to be decided with care, and an equal sized space inserted between each word – very tricky!

The choice of point size and font was decided right at the start, because if you wanted to increase or decrease the size or change the typeface later, you would have to literally undo all your work and re-set it from scratch!

Terms like ‘point’ and ‘font’ are generally understood nowadays, thanks to word processing. In the 1970’s however they were used only by printers, and I had to learn a whole new lexicon as well as some new skills. Thankfully my father’s colleague Albert Makinson was a keen amateur printer and he taught me the basics.

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