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The Dictaphone: how old technology gave my father back his voice

My Dad (79) has a lifelong aversion to technology.  As a result he has ignored mobile phones, computers and the television remote.  With advancing age so his manual dexterity has declined to a point where he now can’t write very well.  As a man who has 50 years of handwritten notebooks and a shed full of diaries lovingly stored this particular element of ageing has been a profoundly depressing challenge for him.

It took me a while to recognise that Dad’s writing, or lack thereof, was becoming a problem.  Cheques unwritten, thank you letters absent, responses ignored.    Dad tried the computer, but single digit typing is soul destroying for a man with all his faculties and a brain that nips along quite nicely thank you.   My brother and I tried to suggest we could rig up the computer to be voice activated – definitely beyond all of our tech capabilities; we then offered to do the writing for him – an organisational challenge we decided.   Finally we decided to go back in time to see if  a Dictaphone and someone to transcribe it might work.

Easy I thought.  Difficult I discovered.  Dictaphones ain’t wot they used to be…. So the first challenge was to find one Dad would even recognise as a dictaphone;  the second challenge was to find one that hadn’t been shrunk  in a bid to make it so portable as to be completely invisible and utterly useless for anyone with hands bigger than a very small elf….. the third challenge was finding someone to transcribe them – who a) still did transcription and b) still had the kit to do it……

So far, the process has taken about 9 months, but I’m pleased to report that Dad now correspond regularly.  He fills blank tapes up with letters  and notes on various subjects, and posts them off to be transcribed; they are returned to him in hard copy for him to post etc.   Its not ideal,  but it works.  So – if you’re expecting a letter from my Dad, it will come, eventually.

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