Luke Upward’s Lost Love

Luke Upward always experienced a special melancholy on Valentine’s Day. This had nothing to do with the strain of composing sentimental declarations for greeting cards (the occupation attributed to him by his jealous rival, Walter Downer.) Quite simply, Valentine’s Day always reminded him of his lost love – Irene Adler.

Although distantly related to her namesake, the femme fatale who ensnared Sherlock Holmes, Irene Adler had a very different background and personality. She was the demure and soft-spoken heiress of the head of the Adler typewriter company, whose most elegant product had been named after her just as the famous motor car had been named Mercedes in honour of the daughter of its promoter, Emil Jellinek. Irenes could be described as the Mercedes among typewriters. The keys never misfired and caressed the paper when they landed. The carriage glided to its terminus and returned to its precise starting place with a purr. The warning bell could be tuned to any note of the customer’s choosing (Leroy Anderson composed his famous Typewriter Song on an Irene.)

Irene was not only the face of her eponymous typewriters but its typeface, since she designed the distinctive font which made Adler models so popular among writers of detective fiction. (“You observe, mon cher Aysteengs, that the murderer’s demand was typed on an Adlaire…”) Her actual face was not conventionally beautiful, but carried an aura of beauty, like that of the Empress Josephine, with whom she shared the ability to create a calm and serene atmosphere – the perfect match for a restless genius like Napoleon or Upward.

Irene met Upward at a symposium in honour of the legendary typographer, Hermann Zapf, held at the very appropriate setting of Fontainebleau (the one in France). Upward was a great devotee of Zapf, and in his huge collection of “John Bull” children’s printing outfits was a rare edition set in Zapf’s beautiful Palatino typeface, used to print the apps of which he was especially proud.

When Upward first met Irene (at the reception for attendees before the hot metal dinner) he fell instantly in love, head over his faultlessly-brogued heels. The normally cool and cultured conversationalist turned into a shy scholar, as if returned to the school he had attended before his first expulsion. He babbled and burbled, until eventually Irene’s gift for calm restored him to some kind of order. She was taken with her new admirer, and accepted his garbled but heartfelt invitation to ignore the hot metal dinner and come and play with his very special John Bull apparatus.

Together in the soft French moonlight their fingers met over the beautiful Palatino letters. Together, under the approving glow of Venus, they composed a perfect pangram – a sentence using each of the 26 letters in the alphabet once and once only. (See end). As they set down the final H, Upward had an inescapable impulse to plant 26 kisses on Irene’s unlined forehead. But at that precise moment the clock began to wheeze out midnight, and his new love had vanished quicker than a fairy mouse.

Upward rushed out of his lodgings, but the moon and Venus were working to rule that night and he could not see Irene or even work out where she had gone. He stumbled into a small open office and without pausing for breath let alone thought he poured out his feelings in a letter for Irene just as Napoleon had done for Josephine when not commanding the army of Italy. Written from the heart, Upward’s letter had none of the exquisite precision of his normal writing. Words erupted volcanically as he pounded a vacant typewriter: “Sweet and matchless Irene, the moment I saw you Zapf! went the strings of my heart. You are printed for ever on my memory. Your fingers sit over the keys of my Futura, and I love you Bodoni and soul, for as long as the Univers lasts. When you smile at me I’m in Heaven and when you frown I’m in Helvetica and ready to throw myself off a glyph. You probably think I’m a dingbat and you may be justified. I wish I could be Lucida but I think my feelings for you are Clearface. Whatever you think of me, I am yours in Perpetua, Luke Upward.”

PS I am sending this to you by special Courier. Please do not keep him waiting long to send a reply.”

A tad incoherent by Upward’s usual standards, but his sentiments should have appealed to any girl of a romantic disposition with an interest in typography. But in his passion Upward had been fatally careless, as he discovered when the Courier brought back a high-speed reply from Irene,

“Mr Upward,

I do not understand how you could write such things to me on a cheap Remington typewriter.

Yours etc

Irene Adler.”
Upward’s romantic dreams had been shattered by the tell-tail Qs and Rs and the thick ears and crooked shoulders of a rival typewriter.

He never got over Irene Adler’s rejection, for all that some of the world’s most beautiful women and budgerigars were to throw themselves at his faultless brogues. He never spoke of her, except to murmur elliptically: “the word processor has been a curse to writers of detective fiction but a boon to lovers.”

Irene later married an Egyptian character actor, Omar Serif. It was a happy and productive marriage and they had many descenders.

The Pangram of Irene and Luke

Like other perfect pangrams, Irene’s and Luke’s effort required considerable contrivance. It has to be imagined as an abbreviated newspaper headline over the following story:

“The Football Association is holding an inquiry into the post-match conduct of a Nottingham Police Force player, following allegations of rape and violence against an unnamed victim in the back of a Volkswagen Golf. The player has not been named, but police sources have described him as a ‘Jekyll-and-Hyde’ character, who is not allowed to patrol after dark.”

Now here is the headline:


14. February 2013 by rkh
Categories: Belles-Lettres | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Luke Upward’s Lost Love