Almost The Seaside
Short Letters 5
Alexandra Palace (12 July 2015)
Alexandra Palace south west end
Earlier this year we went to see Alexandra* Palace in North London. My
only knowledge of it was that it was a former television transmitting
station and, with that being the only fact in my mind, I had never
stopped to wonder why it was called a palace. Alexandra Palace was
opened in 1873, originally called “The Palace of the People”, as a north
London version of the Crystal Palace in south London. It was to be a
place of entertainment, recreation and education for the general public
- that distinctive and special Victorian mix of enjoyment and betterment
for the masses. It was later nicknamed Ally Pally and I think it is safe
to assume that this friendly version was a token of its acceptance and
favour with the public for whom it was built.
* "Alexandra" Note that "Alexander" uses doubling
We travelled to Highgate, which is a hill
of 136 metres, with expansive* distant views over the whole of London,
glimpsed at first only from the top deck of our bus ride to Muswell
Hill. A short walk away from the shops brought us to Alexandra Park and
we were glad to get away from the traffic and into the quiet and shady
greenery. We soon came upon the building itself, a huge brick-built
edifice on the top of the escarpment. Although it is now semi-derelict,
its façades on three sides are still quite impressive and imposing, and
is still in partial use. I think this is what one might call faded
grandeur and this building is obviously waiting to be brought back to
life, as it was originally intended - “available for the free use and
recreation of the public forever”. In the meantime, it does still host
events and there are plans to refurbish various areas within it as funds
* “expansive” Keep the P low angled and insert the vowel, to prevent
misreading as "extensive" which has a similar meaning
* “permit” Insert the
dot vowel after the M, and the dash
vowel in "promote", in order to differentiate
However, on our visit I found the view from the hill somewhat more
interesting. After all, one can take only so many photos of bricks,
carvings and colonnades. Leaning on the railings with our back to the
building, we took in the 180 degree view over London, firstly down the
green slopes, over the trees and on to the endless suburbs dotted with
trees, and into the distance. The escarpment faces south east, so
straight ahead of us we knew must be Greenwich and we could just make
out the faint distinctive shape of the Millennium Dome. To our left was
Stratford where we recognised some of the structures of the Olympic
Park. To our right was a very faint and purple-tinged row of tall
buildings, the most recognisable being the needle-shaped Shard building
next to London Bridge Railway Station. It was very gratifying to know
that all the noise, cars, trains, fumes and crowds were a long way off,
leaving us to enjoy the fresh air, pleasant breezes and sunshine from
our privileged vantage point from our palace on the hill.
Central London in the distance
At the north east end is the BBC* transmitter mast,
first used in 1935 and still in use today. The blue plaque on the wall
states “The world’s first regular high definition television service was
inaugurated here by the BBC 2 November 1936”. I was interested to see
the substantial lightning conductor, a wide band of green copper running
down the brickwork below the mast, and saw there was a break in it at
eye level, with an extra piece of copper bolted over the crack -
obviously the electricity from any storms would be delighted to be so
well* looked after and enabled to continue its urgent journey
earthwards! We wandered around to the far end, which was the original
frontage when it was first opened.
* “BBC” Acronyms are generally best written
with longhand letters, but this one is clear and well-known.
* Omission phrase "so (w)ell"
BBC transmitter mast -
Behind the building is a large boating pond with an
island in the middle. I rather liked the paddle* boats on offer, in the
shape of giant white swans, green and red dragons and, most
unsettlingly, floating cars. A few of these were being sedately paddled*
around the pond, and being totally ignored by the ducks and pigeons,
whose only interest was those people who had settled down on the benches
to consume their snacks and who might just be untidy and careless enough
to drop a few pieces within safe pecking distance. It is not a good idea
to drop a single crumb unless you have finished eating! Further along is
a children’s playground, much more* interesting to the youngsters than
any amount of historical grandeur and ornamentation.
* “paddle” and “pedal” Insert the vowel, as these are similar in outline
* Omission phrase "much mo(re)"
We walked round to the back of the Palace and located
the former railway station, which is now a community centre. There is no
railway now, but we decided to follow its former route and see how much
of it was still visible. We left the park, crossed the A504 main road
and followed the route of the track through what is now a long narrow
strip of woodland called Parkland Walk North with a bare earth path
where the tracks used to run. We found various posts, wire, metalwork
and concrete structures, decaying relics of its former use. Towards the
end we passed a house alongside, whose retaining garden wall was made up
entirely of railway sleepers. I could imagine that the householders at
that time were delighted when the timber became available for them to
acquire, in order to construct such a durable and handsome boundary
between their house and the new woodland walk. The route stops abruptly*
at Muswell Hill and the rest of the old route is built over.
* "abruptly" Written thus to gain good joins between the strokes.
If it used a
hooked Br it would not be an easy or clear outline.
west Former Station behind the main building -
Viaduct in Parkland Walk North
Another short walk brought us to Highgate Wood which is
full of large ancient trees, but as this was at the beginning of April
they were all bare and we had to just imagine what it might be like in
full leaf. I am always glad to find a woodland of old and mature trees,
as that means that all the wildlife is also well established, and so we
looked forward to a return visit later in the year.
In the centre we found a pink marble drinking fountain that miraculously
still produced a trickle of water when we pressed the button. We finally
ended up at Highgate Station, also derelict, but here we took the long
and steep escalator down to Highgate tube station and made our way to
London Bridge, from where we took the train to our part of north Kent
which had been just a misty purple speck in the panoramic view we had
enjoyed from Alexandra Palace. (1068 words)
http://parkland-walk.org.uk Friends of Parkland Walk
Top of page
Almost The Seaside (13 July
It has been quite a while since we
took a trip to the seaside, although we have been out on lots* of short
trips to nearby parks and attractions, and other places of interest in
and around London. Our recent trip to the riverside at Erith did feel a
little like the seaside as the Thames estuary is quite wide there and
the day was clear, warm and sunny* with a big blue sky. With the peak of
my hat over my eyes, I could block* out the view of the far bank and
just listen to the seagulls and the sloshing of the water against the
underside of the pier. As the water is somewhat salty, from seawater
flowing back on the incoming tide, maybe it counts as seaside. Salt
water can be found as far upriver as central London which is definitely
not a seaside town. I am not volunteering to find out the salt level by
tasting* it and I am leaving that to the starlings that I saw poking*
about for easy worm meals near the surface on the deep Erith mud.
* All these words need one of the vowels written
in in order to differentiate:
lots/masses, sunny/snowy, block out/black out, tasting/testing,
poking/pecking. "Lots" and "masses" have different outlines, but similar
enough to be misread when written at speed.
Last weekend* all thoughts of the seaside were absent
and I was working in the garden. The weather was too hot to go out and
about anywhere and I wanted to stay close to the mango juice supply
lurking in the bottom of the fridge! I decided to clear up the corners
of the garden where things accumulate. I had some bags of pebbles that
needed washing of mud before they could be used elsewhere*. I spread
them out on a large tarpaulin on the lawn and attacked them with the jet
spray on the hose. To get them into a heap, I lifted the corner of the
tarpaulin. As I lifted it, the stones all moved together, making that
familiar rushing and scraping noise, when the waves drag down the stones
as the water draws back into the sea. The pebbles were glistening wet
and I had three more corners to go. But the big question was, was the
tide coming in or going out? I don’t think I will ever find out.
* Omission phrase "last (w)eekend"
* "elsewhere" Downward L to make a good join with the next stroke
Later on I was weeding the gravel under and around a garden seat. Once
again*, it seemed just like a beach where I am always surprised to see
anything growing at all, especially large plants like the blue-green sea
kale that spreads its tough thick leaves over the barren pebbles and
broken rocks with no visible means of support or nutrition. I scraped
back some of the gravel and it was damp and muddy further down -
obviously, I must watch out for invading sea kale plantlets and deal
with them immediately, so that my delicate welsh poppies and little
alyssum and violet* clumps are not compromised. Further down where it
was muddier, some worms had made their home, but as I was not going sea
fishing for mackerel, skate or cod that day, I thought I would leave
them in peace.
* Omission phrase "wu(n)s again"
* "violet" Keep the L short, as "viola" (Latin name for this
plant) is similar
Then I spent some time weeding and tidying around the pond. The
pump had been off for a little while, pending the installation of an
overflow pipe, so the water smelt of algae more than usual, not
unpleasant but distinctly reminiscent of a seaside rock pool. Disturbing
marginal plants generally turns up little shrimps that the goldfish are
always after, but I half expected to find sleeping limpets and little
crabs trapped at low tide. Fortunately I did not have to tread over any
slippery green rocks or end up with sand between my toes. The only sight
was green water, and orange and pink goldfish milling about looking for
the dislodged shrimps or other wrigglies for them to eat.
Suddenly the peace was shattered when a huge shark-like shadow emerged
from the murky depths, its jaws open wide, its pale dorsal fin waving
about in the air, and all the little tails of the smaller fish splashing
to escape. I got my hand away from the edge very sharply, and closed my
eyes against the splashes. Then all was quiet. I looked again and found
my biggest friendly old fish looking me square in the face, calm and
patient, expecting his usual treat of a piece of bread being thrown into
his open mouth, so that he can capture it without having to make further
manoeuvres - he is getting on in years and doesn’t* move as quickly as
he used to. We have this game where he gets the first big lump of bread,
swims off to chew on it, and then the little fishes get theirs.
* “doesn’t” Apostrophied versions always have the vowels
inserted. Without it this
would be "does not".
Fish shop, Whitstable Harbour
Finally I had to wash my feet and rubber sandals with the hose - more
seaside memories as I walked off with the water squelching out from all
sides. A seagull flew over the garden just for my benefit, choosing to
utter his screeching call just as he was directly overhead.
Unfortunately* seagulls would have no difficulty in clearing my pond of
its occupants if they were brave enough to come down and so I have the
whole thing netted against predatory birds, such as herons and ducks. I
have left lots of easy escape routes for small birds that have blundered
in, which does not happen very often.
* "Unfortunately" Optional
If I wanted to experience being cooked by the sun on the beach, I could
always sit and bake in the greenhouse, but that is not one of my
favourite* activities, so I discarded that idea. All of a sudden* the
suburbs seemed like a hot dry place to spend this summer weather and,
after cleaning up from all the muddy work, it will be time to consult
the maps to see which is the nearest place to visit and hopefully
experience all these things at the same time* in one place - minus the
shark of course. The only shark encounter that I am happy about is
eating its smaller relation, the dogfish or huss, along with some crispy
and fluffy chips, at the end of a day by the sea before the drive home.
* "favourite" Compare "favoured" which has normal Vr stroke
* Omission phrase "all (of a) sudden"
* “at the same time” Halving to represent the T of “time”
Can you hear the stones?
Top of page
Pluto Flyby (17 July 2015)
Well, I nearly missed it, all the excitement about the images of planet
Pluto. Only my Google logo alerted me to the fact that* there was an
astronomy event happening now, and all my shorthand devotees were taking
down the news of it without the chance to practise some of the
vocabulary. Taking down difficult or technical matter without having
first sorted out some of the outlines can be either exhilarating if you
manage it, or very disheartening if you are thrown by the unknown words,
resulting in gaping holes in your script. Just reading new outlines gets
them planted in the mind, but further focussed* practising will ensure
that this new information takes root and is made more permanent*, ready
to be recalled in an instant, or at least reduce the delay.
* Omission phrase "to the (f)act that"
* “focussed” Insert vowel, as "fixed" has a similar meaning
* "permanent" See
prominent permanent pre-eminent
The NASA spacecraft New Horizons left the Earth in January 2006* for its
9 year journey covering the 4.8 billion kilometres (3.26 billion miles)
to Pluto, the last unexplored body in our solar system. This is a
momentous key event in the history of space exploration and the probe’s
rendezvous with Pluto will complete our reconnaissance of the 9 planets
of the solar system. It takes sunlight 8.3 minutes to reach Earth but 5
hours to reach Pluto. Another way of understanding this immense distance
is to say that* attempting to view Pluto from Earth is like trying to
see a walnut from 30 miles away. The long delay (4 hours 25 minutes) in
sending and receiving radio signal instructions means that the craft
cannot be controlled in real time and is therefore working to an
automated command sequence.
* “2006” Long slash to represent current century, arbitrary sign with no
* Omission phrase "to s(ay) that"
The first images received show the planet to be not an icy grey globe as
expected* but a reddish orange body about two-thirds the size of Earth’s
moon. It is 2,370 kilometres in diameter which is a little larger than
previously estimated. The red tinge is thought to be of oxidised rocks
like those on Mars. The probe has discovered the chemical signatures of
methane and nitrogen ice in its polar ice cap and later images were able
to capture details as little as 100 metres across, showing up surface
features such as cliffs, craters and chasms. The main hazard that the
craft faces is orbiting dust particles and one the size of a grain of
rice would be enough to destroy it, although this risk is low at one in
ten* thousand. All the information collected will take 16 months to
relay back to earth.
* "expected" Optional short dash through last stroke of contraction to signify
* "ten" Always insert the vowels if you use an outline for "ten" or
On Monday 13 July 2015 the last downlink of pre-flyby data was sent and
then there was radio silence, whilst the probe turned its attention
entirely to gathering images and data during the fly-by. On Tuesday the
New Horizons probe flew past the planet at over 45,000 kilometres per
hour. On Wednesday it sent back engineering data on the status of the
probe. This data showed that the craft has survived the encounter with
the planet. The probe is nuclear powered and fuelled by plutonium
(itself named after the planet) and has enough fuel to continue until
the mid 2030’s, at which point it will have left the solar system. The
gadgets on board are as follows.
Ralph is a visible and infrared imager, taking colour pictures and
helping us identify the hot and cold areas.
Alice is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer to observe the planetary
atmosphere and objects around it.
REX is a radio science experiment which measures the atmosphere and
LORRI is a long range reconnaissance imager, which is a super
high-quality camera and will help us to map the planet’s geography. The
on-board cameras will also obtain images of Pluto’s five moons called
Charon, Hydra, Nix, Styx and Kerberos.
SWAP stands for solar wind at Pluto and is a solar wind and plasma
PEPSSI stands for Pluto energetic particle spectrometer science
investigation, which measures the density of ions escaping from Pluto’s
SDC is a student dust counter that measures the amount of space dust
hitting the probe during its journey from Earth to Pluto. It was built
and is controlled by students.
Pluto was discovered in 1930 by the American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh
at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona and named by an English schoolgirl
in a competition. Seven* months into the craft’s journey Pluto was
downgraded to dwarf planet, in response to revised definitions of
various space bodies. Now that the scientists have discovered it is
slightly larger than first thought, they are considering upgrading it to
its former status. This is just as well, as it may be that our
scientists are about to find out what Pluto itself thinks about this
humiliating demotion and removal of full planet status all those years
ago. It may decide to fling a single particle of high velocity
rice-sized dust at the New Horizons probe in displeasure and
retribution, although I think that by that time the craft will be safely
out in the far reaches of the solar system and on its way towards
interstellar space, all the while quietly downlinking all of its store
of data to its masters at the US Space Agency, thus feeding the
insatiable appetite of our scientists and astronomers for information on
this last and furthest outpost of our solar system. (881 words)
* "seven" Keep the hook very clear, so that it does not look like
"several" which would also make sense
Amazing atmospheric image of Pluto rising over one of its moon's
it's been on my shorthand dictionary for the past 45 years
Top of page
Short Letters 5 (30 July 2015)
Here are some more plain hundred word letters so that you can practise
neat writing without worrying about new vocabulary. This is entirely
different from other dictations where you take unknown matter full of
alarming new and difficult words with the aim of testing your ability to
survive. In the race for speed increase, it is easy to forget the great
importance of compact and neat writing. Outlines tend to get larger and
more sprawling as the stress increases. It feels like fast writing but
this is an illusion, you are merely laying down twice as much ink per
outline, skating over twice the amount of paper, and using up twice as
many notepad lines, for no particular increase in speed or accuracy. I
suspect that it just gives the adrenaline something to occupy itself
with, at no advantage to you.
A determined attempt to neaten up the wild stuff needs to be made, as it
will not magically happen on its own. You might wish to follow the
advice of former high speed champion Emily D Smith, who suggested making
the effort to write smaller instead of bigger at such times*. It does
seem to work, as long as the pen or pencil can still show the details,
and a coarse nib or blunt pencil will not do. It requires a determined
frame of mind* but like anything else in life the more you do it, the
more automatic it becomes and the old desperate and undignified
paper-digging sprawl can finally be laid to rest, never to resurface to
hinder your success. Pretend to yourself that someone else* will have to
read your notes and that they will be paying you serious money for each
outline that they can read accurately!
* “at such times” Halving for the T of “time”
* Omission phrase "frame (of) mind"
* “someone else” Similar to “something else” so insert the semicircle W
sign if necessary
Each paragraph is 100 words, so writing one in 60 seconds will be 100
Dear Mr Robertson, Thank you for replying to our advertisement for our
new range of items for the garden. We are very pleased to enclose our
latest booklet giving details of everything that we can provide to make
your time in the garden an even greater pleasure. Many people have
written to us and said how pleased they are with the products. We are
especially delighted with the new series of digging tools that will help
you with this task that many of us often find rather difficult. I think
you will find many new items of interest. Yours sincerely* (100 words)
* Omission phrase "Yours (sin)cerely"
Dear Friends, I am writing to tell you that the building work on the
Social Club has been completed and we can move back into the hall as
soon as we wish*. It is looking really good and we are sure that all of
our members will find it a much better place in which to have our
meetings. I am glad to say that the* cost was the same as what was
quoted and that everything was finished in good time. We are so looking
forward to our first meeting there which will be held next Saturday.
Best wishes* (100 words)
* "we wish" Lower the angle of the W stroke to get the Ish through the line.
For "we shall" use a higher angle to get the Ish on the line.
* Omission phrase "I am glad (to) s(ay) that the"
* "Best wishes" Upward Ish
in order to join
Dear Parents, First of all* may I thank you all for your support of our
recent Open Day. We are grateful to everyone who helped organise this
event. I am writing to let you know that our donation target was reached
and we are now able to buy the new play equipment for the Under Ten
Children’s Club. We are very grateful to everyone who made this possible
and we hope that you and your family will be able to come and visit to
see what a difference this is making to the children’s time with us.
With best regards (100 words)
* Omission phrase "First (of) all"
Dear Jim, I am so glad that we met the other day when we were both in
the accounts office. I have been meaning to get in touch with you for
some time*. I am writing a book about my time with the company over the
past three decades and wanted to ask you a few things about its history
and some of your anecdotes from your work here all those years ago.
Maybe we could meet for coffee sometime* and talk over those interesting
times in the early days. Just drop me an email* if you are interested.
Regards (100 words)
* “for some time” Halving for the T of “time”
* “sometime” This is an adverb, so written as one word, i.e. not a phrase
* “email” and “mail” Always insert the first vowel
Dear Mrs* Brown, Thank you for your email* informing me of the
difficulties that you have had with your new washing machine*. I am glad
that our man was able to fix the problem for you and that everything is
now working well. We have found this model to be very reliable and I am
sure this problem will not be repeated. If you do have any further
trouble with it, we will do our best to put things right or, if you felt
you wanted a different machine, we would be more than happy to provide
this. Yours faithfully (100 words) (792 words total)
* "Mrs" is written with stroke S to differentiate it from "Misses" which
uses the Ses Circle
* “email” and “mail” Always insert the first vowel
* Omission phrase "wash(ing) machine"
Top of page