I was listening to Tom Hanks’ Desert Island Discs on the bus this week when I realised I was in no way emotionally prepared for it. This should not have been surprising, of course, since Desert Island Discs, particularly with Kirsty in charge, has a formula that helps get beneath the skin of its guests like no other interview programme. Hanks is typically great from the off, inevitably, but if you want to find the moment that killed me, it’s around the 24 minute mark on the podcast, just after the theme from 2001 has played. Kirsty asks a gently probing question about Hanks’ challenging childhood experiences, and after a slightly strangled “Ahhhh,” there’s a surprisingly long pause. Has the feed cut out? No. Because then Hanks asks, “What have you done to me?” and although he’s chuckling it’s clear that he’s also crying. Then, through the snotty nose of the weeper, comes the line that floored me. “I’ve put far too much thought into this list.”
This, right here, is not only what makes Desert Island Discs great. It’s what makes Tom Hanks great. The man is basically the biggest movie star in the world. He has four movies out this year, and all of them, I suspect, will contain something of magic. Also, as a 37 year old, I’m willing to admit that I spend most of my time under the illusion that either Harrison Ford or Hanks is my dad in some strange spectral way. He’s the dad of my generation, and yet, when asked to come on a BBC radio show, he takes it sufficiently seriously that he puts “far too much thought” into the list of records he is asked to choose, records that will travel with him to the desert island he has been sent to, a place much like the desert island he is sent to in Cast Away, which is Zemeckis and Hanks, and thus money in the bank as far as I am concerned.
When I got off the bus, I felt even closer to Hanks than I did before, which is already alarmingly close, as you might have gathered. I was also struck by his choice of an item to take with him to the island: a Hermes 3000 typewriter. I’ve known for years that Hanks loves typewriters. In a New Yorker profile from the 1990s, I think he was trying to track down a Skywriter or somesuch, a specially designed machine that would fit snugly into the folding tray of a 1950s commuter flight seat. Then, a few years back, some fans sent him a 1934 Smith Corona when they asked him to come on their podcast, and he typed them a lovely note on it in reply. A note from Hanks! Or Hanx, rather, as he signs his Tweets, many of which – Hanx really is the best – revolve around items he has found on the street and wants to get back to their owners. You know the lone glove you always get propped on one of the railings outside of a cemetery? Hanx is there for that glove.
Then I realised that he had released an app a while back. A typewriter app.Hanx Writer. How on earth had I never checked this out? So when I got to work, I downloaded it. Don’t disappoint me, Hanx!
Like Hanx could disappoint. As if. Come on. Hanx Writer is developed by Hitcents.com, Inc, and it “recreates the experience of a manual typewriter, but with the ease and speed of an iPad and iPhone.” I am all for this. As a man with a fetish for mechanical keyboards, there is something truly soul-renewing about the clitter-clatter of fingers striking letters, of hammers impacting ribbons. Hanx greets you when you open his app with a little note about the typewriters he has owned, and how “each one stamps into paper a permanent trail of imagination through keys, hammers, cloth and dye – a softer version of chiseling words into stone.” He wants Hanx Writer to allow people to hear “the rhythm of [their] work with SHOOK SHOOK or FITT-FITT.” Hanx cares about the rhythm of text!
So it’s a writing tool, basically. You can type, save, export and print, and you can even buy different typewriters that affect things like the sound of your fingers on the keys. Even the starting machine, that comes free, is pretty special. I love the animation for changing a sheet of paper and I love the dull thunk of the shift key. I love the fact that Hanx Writer doesn’t auto-correct, since this would break the spell it is creating (no pun intended). You suddenly get to see how you really think the word ‘silhouette’ is spelled, and the reality probably not pretty.
Within all this, there is something of Hanx – or Hanks – himself, of course. Something old fashioned and warm. Something that blends practicality with indulgence. The genius of Hanx Writer is that it takes something that’s already joyous, and it just makes it a bit more of an event. It makes you think of the wonderful analogue lineage of typing, the physicality and impact of setting down thoughts. If you’ve spent much time with manual typewriters, particularly the really old, heavy ones, you’ll know that striking the keys comes at a pleasant cost: after a week or so you’ll have little calluses at the ends of all your fingers. You will be hardened by the words you are casting at the page. These calluses were the true mark of the 20th century writer.
I’m going to keep this app around, I think, and I may even buy one of the typewriter bundles. Hell, I might even buy an actual manual one day. A Hermes 3000, I think. Swiss and curvy and indestructible. Just like the one on that island so far away.