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May 2012


Get In The Swim


Nesting Update 6 May


Chinese Shorthand


Petts Wood May Fayre


Lucky Goals


Nesting Update 17 May


Olympic Flame




Glorious Sixty


Get In The Swim (4 May 2012)




Here we have lots of contenders doing their best to keep up with the fast and furious flow. A moment or two ago they were chatting amiably, but now it’s everyone for himself, putting on his best speed, taking in everything and missing nothing. Many of them are reaping the benefits of days spent practising their curves, flips and changes of direction. It is quite noticeable how some of the participants are dropping out of the flow and then coming back in, and I think they will find that their more determined friends will be the more successful ones in the long run. There is a great sense of excitement and even after it is over, the exhilaration continues and they will be talking about it for ages.



Many of those who were* previously doubtful actually found that they could go a lot faster than they had anticipated, and the encouragement gained will see them leap forward to greater achievements in the very near future. The lazier and more sluggish ones who just dipped in and out are now beginning to wish they had put in more effort and maybe next time* they will be better prepared for the event. Once the flow has finished, there is always a great relief, with some of them wanting more and some wanting to flop out and recover. But the nice thing is that everyone tried their best and it will give them something to talk about until the sun goes down. It is really very easy once you get in the swim! (260 words)


* Omission phrases "many of those who (w)ere"  "ne(k)s(t) time"



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Nesting Update 6 May (6 May 2012)




Here are our friends the robins hard at work. It is almost a month since the nest was started and for the first two weeks* we wondered if they were still in residence. We were relieved after a time to start seeing endless quantities of worms and grubs being delivered, rather than the tiny bundles of leaves and moss. The weather has been constantly rainy during that time and so there are plenty of worms readily available at no effort, driven to the surface by the watery conditions. This shed must be the biggest nestbox we have ever provided and I think that next year we might put one up just inside the door, so that when they begin building we know exactly where they are and maybe also organise a webcam for easy remote viewing and recording.


* Omission phrase "two wee(k)s"



On the other side of the garden we have great tits nesting in a box outside the kitchen window. They approach via the leaf-covered trellis at the back, and then, when all seems to be safe, they cautiously make their way down through the tangle of branches to their box. When they emerge they fly away rapidly in a straight line. They seem to prefer caterpillars picked from the higher branches, whereas the robins are happier looking on the ground for their food. Mr and Mrs Blackbird have also nested in the evergreen* bushes that cover the fence. Daddy Blackbird was getting somewhat bedraggled-looking but dutifully kept up the constant work day after rainy day. The two speckled youngsters are now hopping around the garden and with the glut of worms on the surface they are quickly learning to feed themselves, although they are not averse to a free effortless meal when Mum and Dad appear with a beakful of goodies. (299 words)


* "evergreen" Helpful to insert vowel, and also in "overgrown" as these are similar in both outline and meaning




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Chinese Shorthand (7 May 2012)



Pitman’s Shorthand was designed for English but it has been successfully adapted* for other languages, with a few modifications. The greater the similarity a language has to English, the easier it is to write an approximation of its pronunciation. English has a large number of French phrases and with a few changes to the vowel signs, the outlines can accurately indicate the original pronunciation, as well as an anglicised version. Foreign words are eventually altered to conform to the natural sounds and syllables of English, and when this happens, they are even easier to make outlines for, without any change to the basic system.


* "adapted" Always insert the vowel in this and in "adopted" as the meanings are similar



One might suppose that something like* Chinese with changing meaningful tones would be a bit beyond standard Pitman’s but this was in fact* achieved by Mrs Julia A Barrett* in Sacramento, California, in 1883. She experimented in using shorthand to write other languages and finally concentrated on creating a Chinese version of Pitman’s. In her own words: “I felt also a great desire to teach the missionaries who should go to China, because of the great saving in time which it would* mean to them in laboring among the Chinese, many of whom are not able to read the Bible even in their own language.” Her system could also provide illiterate people in China with a simple easy-to-learn way to read and write their own language and dialect, using a phonetic form of writing, and reduce reliance on the few practitioners of the traditional method of Chinese ideograms, which took so long to learn. She hoped that increased literacy would bring improved opportunities for education, to the benefit of the whole nation, not just individuals.


* "something like" Downward L in order to make the phrase, normally it is upward L


* Omission phrase "in (f)act"


* "Barrett" Personal names tend to have more full strokes for greater clarity, especially as context cannot help


* "which it would" Halving to signify "it"




Although she could not speak or understand Chinese, she wrote down Chinese spoken to her using her shorthand and read it back to the satisfaction of the speaker, and these successes greatly encouraged her to continue. She taught the system to various Chinese nationals as she had opportunity. After many struggles and despite opposition from some who did not believe it could be achieved, her system began to be accepted and circulated. In her brief* book published in 1902 “Universal Stenography, or Chinese Shorthand” the system is described, followed by a summary of her experiences en route to achieving her goal. The book is freely downloadable from The Internet Archive website. (390 words)

* "brief" Always insert the vowel, as it could be misread as "number of"

“Universal Stenography, or Chinese Shorthand” by Mrs Julia A Barrett, 1902 http://archive.org/details/universalstenogr00barr


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Petts Wood May Fayre (8 May 2012)



Yesterday we visited the annual Petts Wood May Fayre where the new May Queen is crowned. This is a traditional event to mark the beginning of summer. Last year’s May Queen leads the procession, the new May Queen is crowned in the village hall and then the Queen dances with her maids round the maypole. Although this tradition has its roots in Celtic religion, it is now a secular event and an opportunity for everyone to join in the fun, and celebrate and strengthen the community spirit. The gardens round the hall were full of stalls, with craftwork, bric-a-brac, games and home-made cakes, mostly raising funds for charities. In the car park there was a funfair for the children, singers and music on a mini-stage, and stalls selling sweets, candy floss and snacks. More entertainment and music was provided by the Morris dancers in the village hall, where the wooden floorboards did a good job of amplifying the effect of the dancers’ clogs. Outside, the brightly-costumed drumming group gave some very loud performances in the Brazilian style, and the drum beats could be felt through the feet and into the stomach! Orpington Beekeepers Association were offering their wares for sale*, and had some of their bees in a glass case, so that children could get a closer look in complete safety.


* "for sale" Downward L in order to make the phrase



May Queen's entourage around maypole; music and dancing by Kettle Bridge Clogs



Rather less traditional was the Reptile Events stand, who had brought a selection of their lizards and snakes for children to handle briefly. These animals are mostly rescued from unsuitable circumstances, and now spend some of their time visiting schools and clubs to educate people on how to care properly* for such animals, as well as the dangers of buying unsuitable pets. The photos show Slinky the skink with Bruce the bearded dragon, and Citrine the adult Burmese python with his handler. The Fire Brigade brought their engine and the children enjoyed getting into the cab and sitting behind the steering wheel. Lots* of more grown-up boys were admiring the row of vintage classic cars, all polished and gleaming in the sun, Austin and Daimler badges everywhere. By mid-afternoon the sky had clouded over and spots of rain were beginning to appear, although it did hold off until the event closed at 4 pm. (375 words)


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


* "lots" Helpful to insert the vowel, as this could look like "masses" which has a similar meaning




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Lucky Goals (14 May 2012)



I once saw a cartoon that depicted a glum-looking football supporter arriving back home after the match, greeting his sympathetic wife with the words, "They won by eight lucky goals!" This amusing illustration of the capacity for self-delusion set me wondering how many times something has to happen before the idea surfaces that there is an identifiable reason for the results in a game of skill. Without a change of attitude, such a delusion can be extended* indefinitely, at least until someone else, even a cartoon character, shows up the futility of it.


* "extended" Insert vowel in this and in "expanded" to prevent misreading



In a similar vein are the responses of "Well done" to someone who was successful in a particular activity, but "Bad luck" if they were not. The commiserating "Bad luck" phrase slips out without much thought and is offered in the spirit of friendly support, to make the person feel better about the failure. It is really a verbal shortcut for "I am sorry you did not succeed". But if taken literally, this phrase discounts any personal control over the matter and indeed any responsibility, and implies that skill or knowledge did not affect the outcome, and will not do so in the future either. I would be greatly discouraged if I believed* that success or failure in my endeavours was entirely beyond my control. I would prefer to find out the reason for the result, so that I can do something about it. Of course reversing the phrases would be even worse, "Badly done" if someone failed, and "How lucky" if they succeeded. Friendships might be a bit strained with those versions! My favourite replacement wording is, "Let's consider that a practice run."


* "believed" Optional short dash through last stroke of contraction to signify past tense



Here are a few positive and constructive “luck” quotations that put this questionable commodity into a more practical perspective:


"Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect." Ralph Waldo Emerson


"The only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work." Harry Golden*


"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it." Thomas Jefferson


"A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck." James Garfield


"Diligence is the mother of good luck." Benjamin Franklin


"Good luck is another name for tenacity of purpose." Ralph Waldo Emerson


"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Seneca (386 words)


* "Golden" Personal names do not use short forms


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Nesting Update 17 May (17 May 2012)




The robins are still working remarkably hard and do not look any* the worse for their non-stop dawn to dusk efforts. At last* we have had sight of the nestlings, as two of them suddenly appeared at the shed window, and we had a full view of them being fed by their parents. They seemed to be fluttering* back and forth* across the shed, and as there is plenty for them to land on at all heights, it seems as if they will have no trouble reaching the gap over the shed door for their final exit. As one nest becomes empty, another is being built by the bluetits, in the nestbox located in the greenery on the fence behind the shed. The bluetits can be seen all over the garden, hanging from the twigs and branches, picking off the caterpillars. It will be easier to video and photograph this nest as it is more visible and we can set the camera up nearby, zoomed in to the entrance hole. (170 words)


* "any" The short form has no vowel, but it is helpful here to insert it to aid reading


* "at last" Always insert the vowel in this and in this "at least"


* "fluttering" Keep the F well doubled, so it does not look like "flying"


* Omission phrase "back (and) forth"



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Olympic Flame (19 May 2012)


Yesterday the Olympic flame arrived from Greece at the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose in Cornwall, England. Princess* Anne brought the lamp off the plane, and the flame was transferred to the torch and the cauldron by footballer David Beckham. Just like the London Marathon, the Olympics are something that many people consider to be not just about winning a race or a medal, but the taking part and the honour of being chosen to represent one's country. I am not a sports fan but I do admire excellence and the determined frame of mind* that the participants possess, not only in the run-up to the games, but no doubt for many years previously. Some people use their skills, intelligence and abilities for wrongful and harmful activities. These games are the opposite, all those qualities being used to gain accolades that they are willing to share and ascribe to their country, seeing as the point of it is to represent that country.


* "Princess" Full stroke S, not the SES circle, as it is a stressed syllable, and also to differentiate it from the plural "princes"


* Omission phrase "frame (of) mind"



I guess there must be many people sitting at home watching the events, convinced that such achievements are beyond them. But just a little bit of that single-minded and unwavering attitude can only be* of benefit in daily life, and small victories are just as sweet as big ones, and may lead to the bigger ones in time, whether in home life, at school or in business. If you are a shorthand student, of course, you know exactly where you can best use a similar amount of determination, will-power and resolve, and, not only that, you can take down some of the commentaries in shorthand whilst watching the high achievers do their stuff on television. You know that the runners are thinking "Must go faster!" and you will be able to sympathise with them completely. (298 words)


* "can only be" Stroke N with L hook can often be used in phrases for "only"


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Dinosaurs (23 May 2012)



I recently visited a museum exhibition of dinosaurs in the Discovery Centre in Stockwood Park, Luton, England, called Dino-Mites. The models are life-size baby dinosaurs in a variety of poses, amidst their natural surroundings of plants and trees. The whole area is in darkness and the dinosaurs are lit by coloured spotlights, accompanied by a continuous soundtrack of growling and roaring. It was all very noisy and almost drowned out the squeals of delight from the excited children running around. I am not sure if delight is the right word, as I think it is probably an expression of relief when scary things have been “captured” in a safe environment.


Deinonychus "My dinners are actually queuing up and paying to come and see me!"



Some time ago* in another museum I did once meet an even larger dinosaur that was not so safe. Although everything was brightly lit, I did not see the creature when I entered that part of the* museum. One would have to look to the side and upwards to see it was there, and I was busy looking ahead to the other smaller exhibits. It was adult size and was glowering down towards the unsuspecting visitor, with its face a little too close to the walkway. As I went past, the motion sensor switched on the growls and gave me quite a fright. It was a deep booming rumble, the source of which I could not quite pinpoint. This was very unnerving, as even at the age of 55 I was not immune to the natural reaction to a sudden confrontation with a tyrannosaurus! This exhibit broke the boundaries of the perceived “safe environment”. I would imagine that some children would be holding onto adult legs and skirts but I ended up with my rational head trying in vain to talk some sense into my fluttering stomach. I am not at all fond of being taken by surprise and I did not feel inclined to spend longer looking at the other items.


* "Some time ago" Halving to represent the T of "time"


* Omission phrase "part (of) the" This keeps this phrase distinct from phrases containing "number of the"


Deinonychus & Stockwood chickens in the Dig For Victory Wartime Garden



The photo shows deinonychus, the one with the tearing toe-claws. This fellow is one to avoid having in your neighbourhood, as I am sure he could outrun us without much effort. It is possible that* he was one of the feathered dinosaurs. Elsewhere in Stockwood Park are some dinosaur relatives in the Dig For Victory Wartime Garden, namely four beautifully* coloured chickens, obviously chosen for their smart plumage. They were very inquisitive and making friendly clucking and cooing noises, but of course if you or I were a lot smaller they would eat us as quickly as deinonychus would. Next time* I see a dinosaur I will do my best to think of him as just a big chicken.


* Omission phrase "it is poss(ible) that"  "ne(k)s(t) time"


* "beautifully" Final vowel is essential, as "beautiful" would make equal sense





It is difficult to see the tyrannosaurus or the velociraptor without drawing an analogy with the shorthand exam, the desire and necessity for superhuman speed to enable you to leap ahead of the relentless pursuer (dictator). Your place of safety is a full five minutes away but you cannot afford to think about that at the moment*. If you want to survive the encounter, you cannot let your guard drop, you must deal with and jump over all obstacles as rapidly as you know how, without getting tripped up, and you surely don’t want to find out what happens if you slack off or give up. If ever there was a powerful incentive to be prepared ahead of time, this is it*! (563 words)


* Omission phrase "at (the) moment"


* "this is it" In another context, this same outline could be "this city"


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Glorious Sixty (28 May 2012)



Last weekend I went to a Jubilee Celebration Fair in my local park, held to honour the Queen’s sixty years as monarch. A service was held in the display area, attended by local church ministers, the Mayor, veterans of the local branch of the Royal British Legion, and a multitude of young cadets who provided music and marching displays. A short address was given emphasising the supreme importance of selfless service over personal gain. Prayers were said for the Queen and all those in government to ask for wisdom in the governing of the United Kingdom. After the service, sixty balloons in red white and blue were released by some of the children, who then went on with their families to enjoy the funfair and stalls, every one of which was decorated with Union Jack flags.





The number sixty looms large in our lives. Everything we do is done in minutes of sixty seconds and hours of sixty minutes. Counting in sixties is thought to have originated with the ancient Sumerians or Babylonians, who used a base of sixty for their astronomical calculations, and this number is still used to divide the circle into 360 degrees. It may be that sixty was considered the most convenient number for creating fractions and other mathematical* calculations, as it can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, as well as 10, which is the base of our normal finger-derived counting.


* "mathematical" The shorter words "maths" and "math" are normal outlines, above the line and vocalised




For the shorthand aspirant, sixty words a minute represents one word written every second. It is a very easy speed to imagine, although not necessarily* to write if you are in the early stages of learning, and impossible if you are a complete beginner. But I am sure you can imagine yourself effortlessly writing one numeral every second. I suggest that you try this by setting an on-screen metronome to one beat per second, and writing the single numerals from zero to nine, six times in all. Assuming that you are not an overly slow longhand writer, you could probably even manage two numerals every second without much trouble. You will certainly not be thinking about how to form the shapes, and anxiety and mental blocks will be entirely absent. Many shorthand outlines are roughly the same length as one numeral and a large number of them are considerably shorter. I am sure you can now congratulate yourself that your hand can potentially write shorthand at 60 words per minute, or 120 words per minute if you managed two numerals per second.


* "necessarily" Departs from the normal rule of Upward L after Ray when a vowel follows, in order to achieve a more compact outline



Certain knowledge of your hand’s existing ability to write quickly will, I hope, free you to concentrate on what is most needed, namely making the outlines as familiar as numerals or letters. Speed victories are very encouraging at all levels, and if you can build upon them confidence will “take wings” and a satisfyingly rapid shorthand performance is not far away.(483 words)


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"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

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