Friday, 9 December 2016


A couple of weeks ago we visited a very large toy store in Central London. We passed by two weeks before that, and mentally noted it for our list of places to visit before Christmas. This was an outing that definitely had to be done now and not too near to Christmas, when we would probably have had to struggle through the Christmas shopping crowds. As it was a Monday, it was relatively peaceful, with just enough youngsters about to ensure we were not the only ones cooing over the huge variety of toys on the shelves.

The entrance and ground floor were entirely taken over by soft toys, the most welcoming and friendly sight there could be* for families and children entering through the main double doors. It was very clear that teddy bears are as popular as ever but they were greatly outnumbered* by a complete Noah’s Ark of other creatures, including soft toy versions of vultures, ostriches, crabs and spiders. There were* some large soft greeny-yellow grasshoppers* with dangly legs, not for cuddling and comfort, but a character for a more adventurous story and also, unfortunately, possibly a weapon with which to tease or torment a more sensitive sibling . I think I would need them to pay me to take that one home!

* "could be" The short form "could" is best not placed in the middle or end of a phrase, where it would be out of position and therefore may be misread as "can"

* "outnumbered" Optional dash through the short form to signify past tense

(* grasshoppers - I'm being kind, they might have been locusts!)

We started on the top floor and worked down. I was intrigued to see a very realistic looking crown, with all its jewels, which on closer inspection turned out to be made entirely of Lego building bricks. On turning around, I then saw a half life-size seated Lego figure of Queen Elizabeth on her throne, with her corgi dog at her feet. There were* even more royal figures in Lego looking out over the stairwell, namely Prince William and Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Charles and Prince Harry. When I had Lego I used to build small houses, although they were somewhat limited by the small number of window and door frame pieces I had. It was of great importance to have enough of the interlocking red roof tiles, including the half size edge pieces and the ridge pieces, and not much fun to find myself one tile short of a complete roof, although cardboard from a cereal box folded over made quite a good replacement.

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

The store was full of playful and friendly helpers demonstrating* some of the toys to everyone who showed an interest. I kept seeing boomerang type Frisbees being flown around, safely as it was high up over the shoppers, and tiny remote-controlled cyber flyers (drones) buzzing* over the stairwell like dragonflies*. Fascinating magic snow was appearing almost from nowhere as soon as the tiny granules were wetted. One corner was dedicated to creating your own bear from all the components, clothes and accessories, with a little red or pink heart inserted into the bear before it was stuffed and completed. There werespongypaintbrushes that produced rainbow lines on the paper, and an illuminated clear glass tablet* that caused* the magic marker scribbles to light up with a fluorescent* glow.  Lifelike butterflies sat on a log and flapped their wings up and down.

Inflatable* dinosaurs promised hours of prehistoric fun and a T-Rex bedroom-guarding model that would roar when disturbed and project dinosaur images onto the wall. A small suspended plastic cow was flying in circles with thin fabric wings flapping up and down. I even had a go at driving Thomas the Tank Engine, in front of a screen that gave a driver’s view of my progress along the track and countryside.

* "demonstrating" Omits the R

* "buzzing" Same outline as "bussing"

* "dragonflies" The FL stroke is never reversed for vowel indication. It is only reversed in the middle or end of an outline to enable a join (also in "inflatable" below).

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

* "spongy" Insert the last dot vowel, as "sponge" could also make sense

* "tablet" Insert the last dot vowel, as "table" could also make sense

* "caused" Special outline, to distinguish it from "cost"

* "fluorescent" Insert the last dot vowel, as "fluorescing" has a similar meaning

* "inflatable" It is the FL stroke that is in position on the line, being the first up or downstroke

It seems that toys are really not much different from years ago, except that they are constructed differently, with greater choice and variation, and with more emphasis on “collecting them all”. The main categories seem to be unchanged: soft toys regardless of species, construction toys from stark space stations to cosy homes and gardens for families of little characters, craft work to make usable or decorative items, and action toys and costumes to live out stories or exercise the mind or limbs. The best action toy I saw was a pair of heel skates, with two side wheels per foot. My attention was instantly grabbed when I saw one of the store helpers whizzing past with illuminated feet, lit up by the LED wheels by each ankle, flashing circles of whirring rainbows, making circuits of the stairwell endlessly on the smooth flooring.

We arrived back on the ground floor and made our way to the exit, past the giant animals, including an enormous and rather expensive camel with a four-figure price tag. It would be a talking point but may be* difficult to include in games and stories. Once outside, the rainy street seemed a lot greyer, despite the colourful shops, and I did feel that I could possibly get to the underground station much faster if my heels were on wheels. I resisted the temptation to go back in and I had to tell myself that walking is much better exercise. (837 words)

* "may be" Use separate words in your transcription if these are used as a verb, and joined for the adverb "maybe". It seems unlikely one would hear the difference in dictation, but the grammar should clear this up during transcription.

Flying over the Christmas crowds

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Party Game

When I was buying some fruit in the market a few days ago, the stallholder put the items in my bag for me and it reminded him of the party memory game. He started saying “In my bag I put some apples” then “In my bag I put some apples and bananas” and then the game goes on, with each person having to remember and repeat all the previous items and adding a new one. There are endless variations on this, whether it is adding to a list of words, finishing the previous person’s sentence and giving the first part of a new one, or repeating a simple story and thinking up the next thing that happened. I rather like the version where each person has a secret word on a piece of paper and has to use that word when it is their turn to finish the sentence and then has to continue and somehow justify the nonsense that has just been created. Later on I was reading about stenotyping practice and came across mention of pyramid sentences, where the learner keys the first word several times, then adds the next word, and progresses like this until the whole sentence is being keyed without error. This avoids having to learn the new key combinations all at once*. This method can be used in practising shorthand with exactly the same benefits.

* Omission phrase "at (wu)ns"

I acknowledge your letter.
I acknowledge that you are a capable person.
They acknowledge that he is capable of working in a commercial office.
We acknowledge that you are capable but the commercial side may cause some difficulty.
You acknowledge that he is capable but his commercial difficulties have led to financial loss.

Here is another variation, again practising contractions where each short sentence repeats the last contraction of the previous one. These are much easier to make up quickly and tailor to your own learning or revision needs*, using words that you already know, whether you are at the beginning or end of the shorthand book lessons.

* "needs" Insert the vowel, as "ends" could also make sense here

The letter will inform you of the insurance*policy. The insurance company showed some interest in my case. The interest on this account is identical to last year. We had identical letters from the organisation. This organisation has a very good financial position. The financial report must be sent immediately. Our immediate need is to obtain the fire certificate. I have received* my certificate in the subject of mathematics*. He said that he would do mathematics at university. The university staff had to familiarise themselves with the new subjects. I familiarised myself with the points listed in the preliminary report. Our preliminary plans are to amalgamate the offices. We shall amalgamate the two departments and establish a new one. They wanted to establish themselves in the insurance business.

* "insurance" Can also be written as intersection using N with circle S

* Omission phrase "I have (re)ceived"

* "mathematics" If you need to write the shorter word "maths" (British English) you must insert the vowel to differentiate it from the contraction. The US version "math" presents no such problem.

Lastly* there is that one stubborn outline that you are tired of tripping over, which refuses to allow itself to be written quickly and correctly. You may have, unwillingly, come to expect it to do that and that just adds to the problem. Instead of writing it immediately and without fuss, it is easy to give in to thinking “Oh no, it’s that word again.” Thus the half a second allocated to writing it is used up on anticipating the trouble instead. For the beginner, all outlines tend to feel like that and this solves itself as familiarity and skill increase, but I am referring to one outline that blatantly ignores the call to action and needs stern treatment to bring it into obedience.

* "lastly" Omits the T

I did this with the word “correspondence” and wrote it very large hundreds of times until the paper fell apart under the wet ink. It is easier to include it in sentences so that your pen is always moving and the troublesome outline gets swept along in the flow and is not given any chance to misbehave or protest. Once you have your sample passage or sentences before you in shorthand, there is no need to have any longhand on the desk. You can just read and remember a sentence and then write it repeatedly down the page, saying it out loud to yourself. Line-length sentences are your best friends!

This time last year I was a commercial student. I studied commercial matters at college and had lots* of commercial books. The commercial course was quite easy because I enjoy commercial subjects. I sat my commercial exam and duly received my commercial certificate. I applied for a commercial job and had an interview with the Commercial Manager. He said my commercial grades were very good and offered me a job starting as a commercial assistant. It would be great if one day I could become Commercial Manager of my department and make a success of my commercial career.

* "lots" Insert the vowel in this and in "masses" as they are similar in meaning and outline if not written neatly

Obviously all learning is like this, building upon what you know, but in shorthand it is especially beneficial to spread out the effort. It is not a big deal if you fail to recite the nine times table perfectly, or recall all the chemical elements or the prime ministers of the last hundred years, because you are not being timed to the second. In shorthand you are being timed moment by moment and you have to recall each outline instantly. Getting behind or leaving gaps can put a dent in confidence that will affect future writing as well, if allowed to do so. I would suggest you use this method on all those outlines that need additional effort, as well as new material. Your personal notebook listing outlines that have caused* hesitation is a good place to start, in order toredeem and retrain the troublemakers and get them back into full readiness for service. (954 words)

* "caused" Special outline, to differentiate it from "cost"

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Vintage Cars

At the beginning of this month* we went up to Regents Street in Central London to see a vintage motor show. I am not a car enthusiast but I do like to see historical items, especially ones that have been lovingly restored and cared for, and I am always up for a day out somewhere interesting. The whole of Regents Street, which is normally full of traffic, was pedestrianised for the day and I was amused* to see that the barrier was a plastic hedge of the type one sometimes sees around the outside seating* areas of pubs and restaurants. It actually looked safer than the usual invisible grey metal fences, as its solidity and colour made it stand out from its surroundings. It added a countryside feel (ever so slightly) to a small piece of the hard and dry looking metropolis.

* Omission phrase "of this (mon)th"

* "amused" and "amazed" Always insert the vowel

* "seating" Insert the vowel clearly thick, as "sitting" would also make sense

All the vintage cars would be going on the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run the next day, but today was their day for everyone to gaze, admire and dream. Every single one of them was in perfect condition with smooth spotless paintwork and gleaming brass fittings (of which there were quite a lot), polished and resembling solid gold. The large headlamps and side lamps glistened like miniature lighthouse lenses, and the simile continues with the horns, with their rubber bulbs and coiled tubes, to alert people rather than cut through the fog. There was just one example of an unrestored car, apparently too far* gone to do anything with, a car shaped object of rusted iron full of holes and decaying wood, although I would not be in the least surprised if someone were able to rescue it from complete disintegration and restore it to working order.

* "too far" Use full outline for "far" when alone

The London to Brighton Run first took place* on 14 November 1896 and was called “The Emancipation Run”. The Locomotive Acts up to 1878 had kept the speed limit down to 2 miles per hour* in town and 4 miles per hour* in the country, with the requirement that an escort walk some distance ahead of the vehicle carrying a red flag, to warn of its approach. The Locomotives On Highways Act of 1896 had increased the speed limit to 14 miles per hour*, which obviously did away with the necessity for the red flag. This first run was preceded by a celebratory breakfast where a red flag was torn in two by Lord Winchelsea, and instead of a flag escort they had a “Flying Escort” of hundreds of cyclists. The next Run took place in 1927, and has been held on the first Sunday in November continuously, apart from a break of eight years during the Second World War due to petrol rationing. The organisers emphasise that it is a run and not a race. The maximum average speed allowed is 20 miles per hour* and all the vehicles have to have been built in 1905 or earlier. Since 2010 there is also a “Future Car Challenge” version of the run, travelling from Brighton to London on the day before the veterans, to showcase modern energy-efficient vehicles.

* "took place" Note that the phrase "taken p(l)ace" omits the L hook

* Omission phrase "m(iles) per hour"

Many of the owners were dressed in period costume, the ladies in long dresses and large floral and feathered hats, and the gentlemen wearing full-length* leather coats, a variety of sensible hats and caps, goggles and long boots. All the vehicles were open to the elements and a few had folding hoods which would only cover and protect the back and many with no protection or windscreen at the front. Although the leather seats looked quite comfortable, I don’t think they would have made up for the discomfort of the primitive suspension and the hard narrow tyres, but then maybe the shaking, rattling and rolling, with faces set firmly against the wind, added to the sense of adventure and exploration. I am sure hands would be on hats a lot of the time, with the straps, ribbons and feathers* streaming behind. The wicker baskets fixed to the sides or back brought up mental images of picnic food inside, complete with proper* plates, knives and forks, all carefully* prepared and stowed, ready for the decorous, refined and scrumptious country feast. Some of the vehicles had delightful wicker umbrella holders on the outside of the chassis, so that the passenger could instantly withdraw it when needed, or maybe in summer it contained the lady’s parasol. Considering how the gentlemen felt they needed goggles against the wind, one could assume that the umbrellas served the more daintily dressed lady passengers in the same capacity, especially now that the wind in their faces was not 2 but 14 miles per hour.

* "full-length" The two L strokes have to be at slightly different angles in order to be written in succession like this, see "foully, vilely" etc on

* "feathers" Insert the vowel, as "features" could also make sense

* "proper" Always insert the first vowel, and the diphthong in "appropriate", as they are similar in outline and meaning

* "carefully" Optional contraction, also used for "careful"

There were* also some modern vehicles in the show. We saw a new electric bus, which gives a smooth and quiet ride, and which I am looking forward* to riding on more regularly when they become more widespread. There were several very smart electric cars all attached to their charging points, to show how easy it is, hoping to wean* us off petrol. There were* some racing cars, clean and silent, just itching to start themselves up and zoom away at maximum speed. At one end was a large simulator and it was obvious from its pitching and lurching behaviour that the person inside at the time was scraping around the virtual circuit, demolishing all the virtual barriers and scattering the virtual crowds. We did not* stay to see them virtually stagger out, green faced but happy with their achievements.

* Omission phrases "there (w)ere" "looking fo(r)ward"

* "wean" Helpful to insert vowel, as "win" could make sense here

* "we did not" Not phrased. The outline for "did not" has to remain in position. If phrased, it would be above the line and mean "do not"

Parked under a small gazebo were several chunky police motorbikes, in dayglo yellow and white, with a small boy sitting on one of them, leaning forward and barely able to reach each of the handles, but obviously totally smitten with it and probably in awe of those who ride them as part of their job. We walked back along the street, taking in all the cars again, and I happened to notice a well-known large toy store. I thought, this is definitely somewhere to return to another day, where I will find a multitude of toys to marvel over, just like the car enthusiasts were doing with their larger toys in the road outside. (1030 words)

Friday, 11 November 2016

Last Leaves

Today has been gloriously sunny and not at all cold, just a touch of chilly dampness first thing in the morning, and I have been making the most of it, the last moments of something like summer. I had checked the Met Office* weather forecast, with the promise of all-day sunshine followed by a day of heavy rain, and then grey cloudy weather for the next week*. So I planned to go out to one of the parks, to see what was left of the summer plants and to get some autumn photos. I found that I had the park almost to myself, with just a handful of other people wandering slowly over the lawns and under the trees, enjoying this bonus day of sunshine. The grass was an intense healthy green and there were* circular carpets of red and yellow leaves under many of the trees.

* "Met Office" = Meteorological Office

* Omission phrases "ne(k)s(t w)eek"  "there (w)ere"

The park is well supplied with a variety of mature trees, some native and some ornamental imports, but all with plenty of space around to allow unrestricted growth. They were all casting long shadows on the grass, making for extra interest and contrast in the pictures. The dark fir trees and evergreens* make good backdrops to the golden* autumn leaf display but up close they made me think ahead to Christmas. It is barely possible to see their spiny branches without imagining them dripping with glittery* baubles and tinsel.  I am glad that these ones will continue growing thick and healthy, in open spaces so that they can reach their natural size and best shape.

* "evergreens" and "overgrown" Insert last vowel to prevent misreading

* "golden" OK without vowels, but insert the diphone in "glowing" as this is similar in outline and meaning

* "glittery" Ensure the final dot vowel is accurately placed, so it does not look like "glittering" with Dot Ing

The river was flowing slowly but generously, and the overflow channel on the other side of the* lawns held a long shallow ribbon of weedy water. There were* no longer any laughing and shouting school children running up and down the sides of it, but instead some placid Canada geese wading through and nibbling the grass on the banks. A couple of them made it their job to stand still and stare back at me as I was watching them and aiming the camera. They were not checking out a threat but more expecting or hoping for some action, preferably something edible. I matched my walking to their slow waddling speed and so I got past without alarming them.

* Omission phrases "on the oth(er) side of the"  "there (w)ere"

One area of interest was a newly planted strip next to the rose beds. Last time* I was here it was a sea of holes, waiting for thousands of daffodil bulbs to be dropped in, but now it is covered in green netting, with patchy green tufts underneath, the result of several weeks* of grass growth. This will be a magnificent display next spring, as the bulbs will be at their best in their first season in their new home. I can almost see it now, a long street of golden* flowers waving in the breeze on another sunny* day, but in March and April, with summer approaching instead of receding. (492 words)

* Omission phrases "las(t) time"  "several wee(k)s"

* "golden" OK without vowels, but insert the diphone in "glowing" as this is similar in outline and meaning

*  "sunny" "snowy" "sun" "snow" Generally best to write the vowels in these