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July 2015


Alexandra Palace


Almost The Seaside


Pluto Flyby


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 permit*.

* “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 - Lightning conductor



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 and meaning

* 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

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Almost The Seaside (13 July 2015)


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


Sea kale



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 contraction

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. (1012 words)

* "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?

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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 www.long-live-pitmans-shorthand.org.uk/distinguishing-outlines-list3.htm 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 phonetic value

* 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 past tense

* "ten" Always insert the vowels if you use an outline for "ten" or "eighteen"


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 temperature.

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 spectrometer.

PEPSSI stands for Pluto energetic particle spectrometer science investigation, which measures the density of ions escaping from Pluto’s atmosphere.

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 horizons - it's been on my shorthand dictionary for the past 45 years

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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 wpm:


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"

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