Monday, 19 March 2018

Albert Memorial

Recently we went to see the Albert* Memorial which is on the south east corner of Kensington Gardens in Central London. I had seen pictures of it and realised that I had never seen it, despite several years of scouring London for places of interest to visit. We chose a dry sunny day and walked through St James’s Park, past Buckingham Palace and through Green Park, arriving at the eastern end of Hyde Park. We then walked along the edge of the Serpentine, a long narrow lake on the south side of the park. There were* birds everywhere, swans, geese, ducks* , pigeons, crows and a few starlings, and crowds of people standing around feeding them, sitting on the benches watching them, and taking photos* of their friends being besieged by expectant feathered friends, with everything from phones to business-like large cameras. It was like a scene on a Victorian postcard* , minus the long dresses and top hats, with everyone walking up and down to enjoy the park, lake and sunshine. We had our sandwiches much further* along, but we were still accompanied by a few seagulls* , and one slightly lame pigeon who got a personal supply of crumbs without having to compete for them.

* "Albert" Compare with "Robert" Ray + B + Ray halved

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

* "ducks" In another context, inserting the vowel is helpful to differentiate from "dogs"

* "photos" Helpful to insert one of the vowels, as "videos" is similar

* "postcard" Omits the lightly-sounded T

* "further" Note that "farther" is F + Ar + Thee with R hook

* "seagulls" Keeps the stroke S, to match the original "sea"

When we reached the memorial, I was surprised at its size, as I had imagined it to be about 10 metres high. It is actually 54 metres (176 feet) high. On the covered plinth sits the golden* figure of Albert under an ornate canopy and above that a spire rises steeply, topped by figures of angels and a cross. The whole is densely covered in friezes, carvings, sculptures, mosaics*, decorative artworks and inscriptions. At the corners are statues representing agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacture. The monument is contained within a square of elaborate red and gold painted railings. There is a sculpture group at each corner representing the continents of the world, with figures and an animal: Europe with a bull, Africa with a camel, Asia with an elephant, and the Americas with a bison.

* "golden" Insert the diphone in "glowing" to help differentiate

* "mosaics" The dictionary outline has diphone, although modern pronunciation is often just the "A" sound mo-zake

Prince Albert married Queen Victoria in 1840 but died of typhoid in 1861 at the age of 42. He had requested that no statues of him should be made but despite this many memorials were raised throughout the country and throughout the British Empire. This one took two years to design and agree on, and was opened in 1872. The figure of Albert was put in place in 1875. Unfortunately the engineering and manufacture that the Victorians developed* and pursued* with such vigour contributed to the atmospheric pollution that gradually destroyed the gold leaf, and at the beginning of the twentieth century the statue was painted black. Restoration took place in 1990 and the whole monument was cleaned, restored, repainted and re-gilded.

* "developed" Optional contraction, full P for present tense, halved for past tense

* "pursued" Note "pursue/s/ing/er" all use full stroke S

There is much detail to see but it is all at a distance, and the only way to overcome the limitation of the enclosing railings is to use the zoom on the camera, so that it can be captured and viewed later, on the computer screen in the comfort of home. There are tours held each month so that visitors can see the monument close up. Opposite the monument is the Albert Hall, and in nearby Kensington to the south are the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Imperial College London. These were created with the profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, which Albert was the driving force behind and which was intended to improve business and trade. As Prince Consort, Albert took on the role of initiator of reforms in trade and the modernising of education, which benefited both industry and the working classes. The area of the museums was nicknamed “Albertopolis”, which was not only a bit of fun but also a slight satire on the ambitious mission he had set himself. Judging by the crowds still thronging these institutions some 160 years later, his efforts to provide these centres of scientific education and research are his best memorial.

I have one puzzling question about this memorial, which is colourful and in pristine condition, and that is how the pigeons are kept off, seeing as there are so many cosy and sheltered corners and ledges where they could roost* . The use of rows of spikes to discourage perching by pigeons is now widespread. In one covered market in London they broadcast a sound file of intermittent pigeon alarm squawks. Trafalgar Square is devoid of pigeons now that feeding is not allowed and I think this is probably the answer. They are all at the other end of the park by the café, where people sit and eat. Or maybe the pigeons are just staunch Victorians and, in deference to Prince Albert, respectfully sit instead in the surrounding trees, silently thanking him for his wonderful museums a short distance away that attract a steady and endless supply of snack eating and crumb dropping visitors. (821 words)

* "roost" Insert the vowel, as "rest" is similar in outline and meaning

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Wintry Battle

A few weeks ago* we finally had some snow to play with and to test us. The wintry showers, icy* winds and settling snow forced us to face up to how well we were able to overcome the lack of warmth, the inconvenience of tiptoeing* over the slippery patches, driving and travelling on public transport with all its delays and frustrations, and the interruption and postponement* of our schedules and plans. We discovered where the cold draughts were coming in, that were strangely unnoticed during the milder and less windy weather. We found out how well the heating system conformed to expectations, and how long it took for the hot water tap to actually run hot, now that we were impatiently counting the seconds until it did. We found out that what we thought we wanted to go shopping for, we could do without for a while, as the cost was now much higher, not in money but in discomfort and delays, and for some people danger to life and limb.

* Omission phrase "few wee(k)s ago"

* "icy" Insert the final vowel, as "ice" could also make sense

* "tiptoeing" No diphone, as the Dot Ing includes the I sound

* "postponement" Omits the first T and uses "-nt" for "-ment" as the latter would not join

After a while, the normal calm winter weather returned and the appropriate* adjustments have been made. The draughty gaps were sorted with adhesive foam sealing strips. The delayed shopping was caught up with. Days out were resumed, despite some rain which seemed almost warm after the swirling snow dust blowing around every corner. A few frogs arrived at the pond and laid some spawn, and daffodils in front gardens opened with their faces to the sun. Then the weather warnings came telling us that there would be a sudden but brief return to extreme cold. The wind direction changed dramatically from south west to north east, bringing snow, ice and bitterly cold strong winds from Siberia, a place name that has not a shred of warmth in it.

* "appropriate" Insert the diphone, and the first vowel in "proper", as these are similar in outline and meaning

All these distractions from normal life* and comfortable leisurely routines remind me of my shorthand learning days. Putting the lessons into practice was challenging and exciting but it could also be frustrating if the necessary preparation was insufficient or half-hearted. I don’t like surprises, so I always gave that as much attention as I could* . At college, the shorthand lessons and the learning were easy (with all due credit to the wonderful Miss Jefferson, our brilliant and very experienced teacher) but each dictation was a real mini battle, requiring skills that bore no relation to any previous school subject, other than perhaps sports where it is all action and minimum thinking. Taking dictation was indeed just like struggling through a snow storm, leaning into the wind, with slowly freezing* feet, hail stinging the face and nowhere* to hide, and with not even the luxury of spare fractions of a second to lament one’s present discomfort.

* Omission phrase "normal (l)ife" Keep the R hook clear, as this is similar to "animal (l)ife"

* "I could" Differentiate "could" from "can " by never joining it in the middle or end of a phrase. The exception is "could not", because that is entirely different in shape from "cannot".

* "freezing" and "frozen" insert the first vowel, as these are similar in outline and meaning

* "nowhere" Best not joined in a phrase, so it is not misread as "anywhere"

Home and warmth are some distance away (five very very long minutes) and as you are now out in it, staying where you are is not an option and pressing on is the only choice. In class you cannot give up at any time during a dictation, but at home an extra dose of determination is needed, to eliminate any nifty or lame excuse to stop the playback of the recording and start again. This is one skill that can be carried over from other school work, the cultivation of the habit* of getting down to studying and not becoming distracted. For the  squally* and wild shorthand dictation though, what is needed is timely preparation, to be able to ride out the stormy* situation and get to the desired cosy and comfortable destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. (593 words)

* "habit" and "hobby" Insert the first vowel, as these are similar in outline and meaning

* "squally" Note that "squall" has a downward L

* "stormy" Insert the final vowel, as "storm" could also make sense

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Some Stones


Last month was full of visits to museums. During the mostly dull British winter, there is nothing to see in the parks except muddy grass, bare branches and puddles, so we look for places of interest where we can be inside in the warm. The days are not all grey, they can be bright with blue skies and that livens up the journey to and from the places. Often we end our afternoon watching the river Thames, at its best when it is gleaming in the sun*, with the sparkles increased by the wake of every passing boat. A few weeks ago* we decided to “finish off” the Geology room of the Natural History Museum, of which we “did” half last year. There are so many cabinets with hundreds of samples that it would be impractical to fit it into one day. Unlike the tourists* or children on school outings, we are able to return at any time, so we do not have to cram the visits.

* "sun/snow, sunny/snowy" Insert the vowels to differentiate

* Omission phrase "a few wee(k)s ago"

* "tourists" Keep the Ray short, so it does not look like "terrorists"

The main  museum was packed with people and I suspect that a quiet day here does not exist, unless the trains were not running. We were confident though that the geology section would not be as full of kids as the dinosaurs and other animal areas. There were* a few families going round and I did hear one or two* children crying, probably with frustration, boredom or tiredness, as they can see nothing except the wooden sides of the cabinets, and even if they could see the contents, it would not hold their attention at all. The older ones were admiring the diamonds*, gold nuggets*, and large examples of crystalline structures* in the glass-sided cabinets along the side walls. At the far end is The Vault, a more secure area for the most valuable items, a collection of coloured diamonds*, a piece of Mars rock, and other rare gems*, and this had the children and adults crowding round. However it was difficult to get good photos, as it is a dark area with just the gems* illuminated with spotlights.

* Omission phrases "there (w)ere" "one (or) two"

* "diamonds" Always insert the triphone, as this is similar to the outline for "gems"

* "nugget" Note that "ingot" is written with full N+G+T strokes, to differentiate

* "structures" Doubling is used for a small number of common "-ture" words, for convenience

* "gems" Always insert the vowel, as this is similar to the outline for "diamonds"


Here are a few of the treasures that I found of interest. My favourites* are always the brightly coloured rocks and minerals. The monetary or rarity value of them does not really appeal, as I am not going to find, cut, polish, sell or buy one, so that is of little interest. The first picture is of two tiny green parrots carved in serpentine. The colour is exactly right for the subject matter. They are no longer just lumps of green mineral, they are now two birds covered in very tactile* looking feathers, and they must look even more attractive when they have a backlight shining through to make them glow.

Ringneck Parakeets that live
near the Serpentine Lake,
Hyde Park
The mineral is named for its resemblance in colour and scaly surface to serpents or snakes. One of its variations is called lizardite but this derives from the place name The Lizard in Cornwall, south west Britain, whose name comes from the Cornish language. That area is composed mainly of serpentinite* and you can buy every sort of souvenir made from it, although, unlike the parrots pictured, it is a muddy and striated dark green. Items made from serpentine can be mistaken for jade, and the mineral can be dyed to resemble jade.

* "favourites" Note that "favoured" uses the left Vr stroke

* "tactile" Has several pronunciations, tack-tile tack-till or tack-tl

* "serpentinite" Ensure to include the diphthong sign. This is the name of the rock that contains any of the serpentine group of minerals.

The most fascinating stone is this landscape marble, the cut face of the Cotham Marble, which is not true marble but a type of Triassic limestone. Its grey striations* and the row of plant shapes look like a winter’s landscape of snow, bare trees and leaden sky. We have just experienced this in Britain with a week of snowy weather, showing up the trees standing stark against low grey clouds, bringing yet another shower of snow* and frozen* rain, and the cold north wind, which has been more stormy than usual, picking up the powdery snow and swirling it around. Another similar real marble exhibit is an example of Ruin Marble due to its resemblance to a ruined cityscape. Interesting but not so pleasant* a prospect as the trees version.

* "striations" Separate Ish stroke because of the preceding triphone

* "snow/sun snowy/sunny" Insert the vowels to differentiate

* "frozen" "freezing" Insert the first vowel, as these are similar in outline and meaning

* "pleasant" "pleasing" Insert the first vowel, as these are similar in outline and meaning

The Cotham Marble

Ruin Marble

Frosterley marble
Here are another two stones with a similar pattern. The first is of Frosterley marble, named from a mine in the village of that name in County Durham in the north of England. It is not marble but polished black limestone and the shapes that resemble shells and feathers are fossilised corals from 325 million years ago. This decorative rock was used for some of the columns in Durham Cathedral.

Mocha stone

The second is mocha stone, another name for moss agate, from India, consisting of chalcedony with a dendritic (tree-like) crystalline formation of pyrolusite (manganese dioxide).

The blue coloured minerals are all very attractive, as this is not the usual dull earth colour that one expects stones to have. This is a piece of polished Lazurite and to me* it looks like a projection map of the world, but with rather more ocean than real life*. Maybe this is the view of the world before the super-continent of Pangea was formed 335 million years ago, showing drifting pieces of land mass and wild oceans from the beginning of earth’s history. Maybe it is just an unusually* colourful stone in a glass case in a quiet room in busy noisy central London.

* "to me" Although they are short forms, insert the vowel in "me" and "him" when in a phrase

* Omission phrase "rea(l) life"

* "unusually" Insert the final vowel, as "unusual" could also make sense


Olivine crystals
The last item is a large slab, probably 3 or 4 feet long, full of gold coloured gems*, glistening under the spotlights as one walks round it. It is housed in one of the alcoves down in the central hall of the museum. This is a slice of the Imilac meteorite, a 4½ billion year old stony*-iron pallasite rock consisting of iron, nickel and gem* quality olivine crystals and grains. It was formed during the first few million years of our solar system’s creation. Gem* quality olivine crystals are known as peridot* and chrysolite*. This latter name is from the Greek for “gold stone” describing the shining embedded fragments spread throughout the rock. The museum has a collection of 5,000 fragments of over 2,000 meteorites and this is the largest collection of extra-terrestrial material in the world.

* "meteorite" Essential to insert the diphthong to differentiate from "meteor" and "meteorette". Note that "meteoroid" has full stroke D.

* "stony" Insert the last vowel, as "stone-iron" could also make sense

* "peridot" Can also be pronounced as a French word omitting the T sound

* "gems" Always insert the vowel, as this is similar to the outline for "diamonds"

* "chrysolite" Not to be confused with a different mineral called "chrysotile"

Imilac meteorite
This was the last item we saw and as we left, I might have heard this unimaginably ancient meteorite muttering something about the dinosaur fossils being very modern novelties of questionable interest due to their lack of age. I hope it was assuaged by the constant stream of visitors admiring its surface of gleaming jewels, ranging from golden* to dark amber coloured, untouched by the passing eons between its formation and its arrival at its place of honour in its final home. (1103 words)

* "golden" Always put the diphone in "glowing", as these two are similar in outline and meaning

Reminder of pairs to be differentiated:


See also article Frosterley marble

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Wind Chill Factor

I have been looking at the weather forecast for my area for the next few days. Yesterday was gloriously sunny* although there were* some cold breezes, and today is even sunnier* and the wind stronger and colder. Any thought of going out somewhere interesting to make the most of the sun and blue skies was instantly abandoned when I ventured into the garden this morning to remove the ice in the birdbaths and replace with fresh water. A wooden broom does this quite well, as long as only the surface is frozen*. When it is solid, then a hammer and chisel are needed, along with a reminder to empty the baths the night before. Our days out often include time spent on blowy railway platforms and at the moment* there is nothing of enough interest to overcome the menace of the wind chill factor. The only increase in temperature figure in the weather forecast is the number that comes after the minus sign.

* "sun, sunny, sunnier" Always insert the vowels, so these do not look like "snow, snowy,, snowier"

* Omission phrases "there (w)ere" "at (the) moment"

* "frozen" Always insert the vowel in this and in "freezing" as they are similar in outline and meaning

Wind chill is “the lowering of body temperature due to the passing-flow of lower-temperature air” and is often described as the “feels like” temperature. Air at a constant temperature will feel colder as wind speed increases, because the body is being cooled more quickly. I might describe the wind as icy* but what I am actually saying is how my exposed face and fingers feel, as the thin layer of warm air around me, the “insulating boundary layer”, is blown away, the skin is chilled and discomfort and pain increase. When the natural self-warming of the skin is unable to* keep up with this attack, the “disruption of my epiclimate”, then the cold is described as bone chilling, biting, gnawing, bitter or perishing, rather alarming terms that are a reminder to stay outside for as short a time as possible, as it is unlikely to be withstood for long, with the equally vicious-sounding frostbite not far behind.

* "icy" Insert the last vowel, as the S stroke here does not mean the presence or absence of a final vowel

* "unable to" Always insert the first vowel and in "enabled", to distinguish them

In our younger years, the house in which we lived was often very cold in winter, being old, damp at times and draughty, especially as it was on high ground and exposed to the full blast of any north winds. Huddling before the glowing coke fire, or congregating in the small kitchen with the gas jets on the cooker blaring, were the two main ways of warming up. A hot bath would be a good warmer-upper, but then there was the chilly dash* from the bathroom, clad in a large bath towel, along the short corridor to the fireplace in the living room, to dry off properly* and get into the warmed up nightwear*. All this was normal at the time and we knew no different, we did not expect rooms to be warm during winter. Warmth did not come to you, but you went to it, the red and yellow coals in the grate.

* "dash" Ish goes up after D and down after T, to provide some distinction in outlines

* "properly" Insert the first vowel, and the diphone in "appropriately", as these are similar in outline and meaning

* "nightwear" Insert the first vowel in this and in "knitwear" "underwear" "footwear" as they are all similar. "underwear" is using a short form so has no vowel there, but inserting one above the Nd would help clarify if necessary.

I remember one bitter winter’s night piling some cushions on top of the blankets to provide the maximum barrier to the cold. That did not result in much increase of warmth, as I had hoped it would, and the weight of the materials on the bed was probably squeezing out any warm air that managed to accumulate. I should have put the cushions round me and built a little cave, as I now know that it is the retention of the warm air underneath that does the job, not the weight of fabric piled on. Some years later, duvets became fashionable and widely available, and what a revelation* that was, light as a feather and extremely warm. Instead of sucking the heat out of me like before, it seemed to reflect it back. I immediately revised all my previous ideas on insulation and gladly never went back to the heavy blankets. Even better, I could actually turn over in bed without up-ending the mini mountain of assorted materials heaped over me.

* "revelation" Essential to insert the vowel, so it is not misread as "revolution"

Nowadays I am in full co-operation with my “internal thermal resistance”, with a drawer of hats, gloves and fluffy socks, a modest stash of knitting yarn in a box* under the bed and a neck warmer in progress on the knitting needles. The promised snow during next week will look much more* decorative and unthreatening, as the rows of insulating wool-blend yarn form themselves into a cosy tube shape, with extra rows added to cover the annoying exposed area at the back where any scarf tends to unhelpfully fold itself up and still let in the cold. I will finally be able to totally ignore “formulas that qualitatively predict the effect of wind on the temperature that humans* perceive” as I will have achieved thermal victory at last. (777 words)

* "box" Insert the vowel so it does not look like "bags", care also needed with "packs" "packets" "pockets"

* Omission phrase "much m(ore)

* "humans" Above the line, following the last vowel, as a special outline to distinguish it from "humane", similarly "woman" and "women"