Wednesday, 8 March 2017


Ostro Stone - 2 kg topaz
I have rows of gems* on the bookshelves in front of me above my computer. They are like gold dust to me, but they are not made of gold  nor are they particularly rare or expensive. They are a girl’s best friend but they are not diamonds*. Some are splendidly coloured but most of them are quite dull and uninteresting looking on the outside. They are all my shorthand books, old and modern, my treasures that enable me to take various shorthand journeys for whatever I want to know. Most of them are second hand, as I wasn’t around in the eighteen hundreds or early twentieth century to buy them new! I still have some of the books I learned from in the nineteen seventies, which were bought new, a pocket dictionary, a phrasing book and the big red dictionary. This last one has now been retired off, having fallen into several fragments, finished off by its extensive use in the early years of the websites. A replacement has now taken its place, as there is no let-up in searching for and checking on correct outlines.

* "gem"  "diamond" Always insert the triphthong in "diamond" as these could be similar when hastily written

A week ago we visited the Natural History Museum in central London where we saw many real gemstones. We wanted to see some historical wildlife paintings that were on a time limited display. Having seen those, we had a mind to revisit the dinosaurs nearby but the place seemed to be filling up rapidly with crowds of school children on their school trips, so instead we went upstairs to the minerals department. It was quite a contrast there, we had it to ourselves most of the time, empty and quiet, with row upon row of flat glass cases containing every mineral in existence, in all their varied forms. We had to be methodical about viewing it all, so we decided to go up one side and down the other. In the end we managed to see about a third of it and decided to save the rest for another day rather than cram in a tour of all the cases.

Minerals, Natural History Museum

Welcome Stranger, replica gold nugget
As we came through the doorway, immediately in the centre is a very large deep blue topaz, the Ostro Stone, weighing about 2 kilograms, which has been treated to give it a deeper colour. It is about the size of my hand, and gleams and shines under its spotlights. We turned right and started with the vertical cases against the end wall. What a surprise, a truly* enormous natural nugget* of gold, at least two feet high. I mused on how the decision was made to either  keep it as it is, a rare find, or to actually use the gold. Then I read the caption, it was a model, and the original had been melted down. The real nugget was called the Welcome Stranger, found in Australia in 1859, weighing 71.4 kilograms and it would be worth around half a million pounds today. The Greek poet Pindar* (5th century BC) described gold as a mythological personage “Gold is the child of Zeus, neither moth nor rust devours it but the mind of man is devoured.” Unfortunately it can also devour the landscape and its health, with certain mining techniques that consume vast quantities of rock to gain small amounts of gold, or the  methods that use mercury or cyanide to release the gold from the ore, especially harmful if unregulated.

* "truly" Helpful to insert the first vowel, as this could look similar to "utterly"

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

* "Pindar" This is the dictionary outline, but I would prefer to write with all full strokes (P+N+D+Ar), so that the 2nd vowel can be shown, otherwise this could equally be "Pinder" or "Pinter"

There were many examples of polished gemstones, displayed alongside samples of their original state, dull rocks looking grey and lumpen, with no hint of what lay inside to the casual and ignorant observer. I was of course on the hunt for beryls of all types, and found every variation from small cut gems to enormous murky looking crystalline structures. My shorthand dictionary defines it as a kind of inferior emerald. In its pure form it is colourless and the colours come from impurities in the mineral. I was interested to discover that in the 13th century the first eyeglasses were made of beryl or rock crystal, before they had the knowledge to make lenses of glass, hence the German word for them “Brille”. The word means a sea-green blue colour, and the mineral is related to the aquamarine. To prevent myself being an inferior green version, I only need to run round the block and then I become a very rare and expensive red beryl. As the element beryllium, I am happy to aim for strong and lightweight  but keen to avoid being steely grey and toxic. It might also be a disadvantage for me to be transparent to X-rays.

Aurora Pyramid of Hope - diamonds

Star dust diamonds
At the far end of the hall is The Vault, a strengthened secure circular room containing the most valuable items that need extra security. The most alluring was the Aurora Pyramid of Hope, a collection of 296 small diamonds in every available colour, collected over a 25 year period, and displayed in a triangle formation. The lighting changes from normal to ultra-violet, to bring out the changing colours. If you are going to collect every colour of diamond, then it makes sense not to aim for the big ones! We also saw some meteorites of Mars rock, and a small vial containing a smudge of white powder, which is a tiny quantity of microscopic diamonds obtained from meteorites. Three very dull rocks suddenly became rather interesting when I saw a large clear diamond sticking out of each of them. This is another type of rarity, in that the original find has been left intact and the gem not removed. Some larger diamonds were displayed at the other end of the hall, large, clear, and cut into various faceted shapes. I should have realised that they were replicas before I read the labels, and that such a collection of whoppers would not be lying around in ordinary museum cases.

Embedded diamonds

Beryl - bad hair day
The study of minerals is called mineralogy* and the persons are mineralogists and they do mineralogical work. The ores are mined by miners or mineworkers, who may spend their life in the mining industry, extracting* coal and metallic and other ores. The word ore is related to the word earth. Study of rocks in general is geology, and geological activities are carried on by geologists. The science of gems and precious stones is called gemmology. The most well-known  gems  are as follows: amethyst, aquamarine, citrine, diamond, emerald, garnet, jade, jasper, marcasite (another name for iron pyrite), onyx, opal, quartz, ruby, sapphire, topaz, tourmaline, tiger’s eye, turquoise, zircon. Note that granite has a different outline from garnet, and that silver and sulphur should have their vowels written in. Amber is tree resin from ancient forests that became fossilized through polymerisation. Jet is the fossilised wood of certain trees. Coral and pearl* are from animal origins. Some gems can be artificially created by growing them as crystals, or treating natural ones to produce different colours.

* "mineralogy" The second version shown is an optional contraction

* "extracting" Insert the middle vowel, and the 2nd or 3rd vowel in "extricating", as these have the same outline and similar meaning

* "pearl" A R-hooked stroke with this particular vowel is considered complete without a vowel sign

Hope Chrysoberyl - This is more me
As a child I was entranced by jewellery, not to wear but to just possess and admire. I did not actually collect it but I would often find a few bits of broken jewellery at jumble sales. I was given a few coins and I had to pay the person myself, this was in the hopes that they would only charge a penny or two, which they invariably did. I just wanted to look at the stones and silver coloured settings, so it was irrelevant if they were broken. Sometimes I wonder if a real diamond or gold setting ever passed through my hands, without any of us being aware of it. As time went by, I came to the conclusion that you could not really do anything with these items, or even real diamonds for that matter, other than gaze at them, and so interest waned.

Not lettuce, more celery
My attention turned to my own version of treasure, this being colourful flowers, which seemed more precious as they would soon disappear and never stayed with us. When I moved to a house with my own garden, I became more patient and only had to wait for them to return the next year. They are always fresh and perfect, with a wider range of colours than the diamond collection mentioned earlier, and everyone can have their own at little cost. Maybe I should be growing a rose called White Diamond, Silver Shadow, Golden Showers, Ruby Celebration or Eye Of The Tiger. Or perhaps Little Gem lettuce would be cheaper and easier, and instead of admiring it I could have it on the dinner plate: one gemstone eating another. (1423 words)

Reminder of pairs to be differentiated: gem/diamond; garnet/granite; nugget/ingot; silver/sulphur; extract/extricate; truly/utterly