Mind The Gap
Sheep Drive (11 December 2015)
A couple of months ago we went up to
London to see a traditional event taking place, the annual Great Sheep
Drive over London Bridge. I imagined that the bridge would be closed and
a whole herd of perfectly groomed sheep would be trotting across on
cue*, surrounded by their shepherds, with crowds of onlookers lining the
edges and at both ends. When we arrived, it was rather different. The
traffic was still flowing over the bridge as normal, but on one side the
path and the edge of the road had been closed off with railings to make
two narrow routes across. In the pen were ten well-behaved and very
cuddly and woolly sheep, reasonably tidy but definitely a little muddy
on the undersides. They were standing still, very calmly and patiently,
with the occasional bout of milling around. They had their drink and
food buckets nearby, and the green-shirted shepherds were stationed
around the pen waiting for the order to open the gate and set off with
the sheep. Another group of ten sheep were also penned on the far side.
* "cue" for signal or billiard stick, "queue" for a line of people
The event allows the Freemen of the City
to exercise their ancient right to bring sheep into the city, but today
it is done to publicise the lamb and wool industries, as well as raise
money for charity. Over 800 Freemen and members of the Worshipful
Company of Woolmen, dressed in billowing black and red robes, took turns
to cross the bridge in small groups, with photographers recording their*
progress every step of the way. We realised that it was an all-day
event, unhurried and slow, to allow for all the stops for publicity
photos, although it seemed that the shepherds might have preferred a
more steady progress, to keep the sheep moving along calmly and
sedately. The next group of Freemen and Woolmen would be doing the same
a little later, with the same sheep going back and forth*. Tourists
walking along the other side of the bridge were stopping and wondering
what it was all about.
* “recording their” Doubling to represent "their"
* Omission phrase “back (and) forth”
Peeps and sheeps
We stood right next to the pen, waiting
for the sheep to be released to start their controlled ramble over one
of London’s historic landmarks*. The sheep continued milling about,
poking a nose over the railing, in the hopes of taking a bite of
someone’s jacket corner. I narrowly avoided having my camera bag become
a sheep’s snack. Eventually they set off over the bridge and we joked
that they might think they were getting their freedom or going back to
their field, only to find themselves arriving at another identical* pen
on the other side*. Once the sheep were on their way, we walked across
the bridge and saw the marquees and bigger crowds where the main event
was gathered. This was obviously the sheep farmers’ annual jamboree,
undoubtedly a pleasant* change from the mundane business of sheep
rearing, an opportunity to meet others in the trade and swap information
and stories, and a chance to dress up to the nines rather than slopping
about in green wellies in the mud and rain.
* "landmark" can also be written "land" with intersected M, but it is
not a very clear outline due to the halving
* "identical" is a contraction, therefore on the line
* Omission phrase "on the oth(er) side"
* "pleasant" Helpful to insert vowel, as outline is similar to
"pleasing" which is close in meaning
Nobody was interviewing the
long-suffering sheep, who had so graciously given up a day of their
valuable time*, which could have been spent on the important business of
munching grass and avoiding sheepdogs. I resolved to obtain a report
from the dominant member of the group where we were standing. He told me
he was very excited when he heard he was chosen to take part in the
event, and he then organised a draw to see which of his friends would be
coming with him. He thought it was the only fair way to decide, and
fortunately all those chosen did have a good thick coat of wool to show
off to passing tourists.
* “valuable time” Halving to represent the T of "time"
He went on to tell me that they had spent a lot of time bathing in the
stream in their field and combing themselves as best they could on some
thorny bushes. In the truck on the way up they all sang their favourite*
songs, as one does on special day trips, and they planned to hold a
get-together during the evening to tell all their friends about their
interesting day in the big city. For some reason, not one reporter or
photographer was able to get this story, being more interested in the
ladies and gentlemen in their flamboyant* regalia, so I think you and I
are quite privileged to be the first and probably only people to know
the ovine (as opposed to human*) side of the story, much to the delight
of the other rams, ewes* and lambs back home on the farm. (776 words)
* “favourite” Note that “favoured” uses normal Vr
* "flamboyant" Imp is only halved when hooked, see
* "human" above the line following the second vowel, to differentiate
* Singular "ewe" is also written with the stroke. The U diphthong short
form is only used for the pronoun "you"
"Excellent, excellent - Highland spring
water with a hint of peach"
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Christmas Nativities (16
The year is 1964 and Christmas
is a few weeks* away. I was practising my fleeting role in the primary
school Nativity play, as one of the host of angels appearing to the
shepherds in the fields. The head angel had delivered the message of the
birth of the Saviour in Bethlehem. We were waiting for our musical cue*
to leave the stage and return to the place whence we came and this was
Bach’s* Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which begins with several very
dramatic chunks of sound with short pauses between, in the manner of an
important announcement*. With each chunk, the backmost row of angels
turned and rushed off the stage, and this was repeated until all four
rows had gone. No doubt the loud organ music drowned out the sound of
our clattering and thumping feet. A week before the big day, we angels
had a good time making our haloes. This was a crescent shaped piece of
card that fitted over the top of the head, and we covered it by winding
strips of gold paper round it, from one end to the other. Children often
fuss over who is chosen to be Joseph and Mary, but I was very happy to
wear the beautiful white robe and have a golden glow around my head.
* Omission phrase "few wee(k)s"
* "cue" for signal or billiard stick, "queue" for a line of people
* "Bach's" Little S sign through the stroke to signify the German guttural sound,
similarly Scots words like "loch"
* Keep the last Nt short, so it does not look like Ing "announcing". The
same applies to other words ending in "ment" that are using Nt instead
of Mnt stroke
The rehearsals* were very interesting and entertaining. There was a
scene of a meal where all the characters had to suddenly jump up and
leave in a hurry. Whether it was the villagers joining the shepherds or
the kings hurrying to start their journey, I have no recollection. All I
remember is that some of the children taking part in that scene found it
impossible not to grab some of the food from the table before they left,
despite the admonishments from the teachers. This was definitely not
part of the story but probably unwittingly true to life! Maybe they
should have used cardboard bread to prevent this unseemly interruption
to the smooth flow of the story. Some of the characters had to carry
candle lamps and they used gold paper to represent the flame. I was
convinced that there was a better solution to this, but no matter how
hard I tried, I could not think of an alternative**, especially as all
the props had to be cheap and hand made.
* Four unavoidable upstrokes, therefore write it sloping very shallowly
* "alternative" can also be written as an intersection using the Tr
stroke, for common phrases such as "there is no (al)ter(native)". This
should not be used for "alternate".
Cutout Nativity see
The high point of my Christmas creative efforts was the making of a
model Nativity scene, generally consisting of a barn, stable or shelter,
all the figures and animals, with a backdrop of blue sky and stars, one
giant star attached to or just hovering over the roof, and the
compulsory snow, completely disregarding the likely climate of the area
at that time. Small cheap plastic Nativity figures were easy to obtain
and tiny toy animals were already to hand in the toy box. All my
ingenuity went into creating the landscape and buildings, using cereal
cartons with white paper stuck to them so that the details could be
drawn and coloured in. White detergent powder made good snow as it
consisted of tiny granules that could be piled up or glued to the roof.
Its pungent aroma had to be ignored, and could be forgiven when one
stood back to view the perfection of the glistening snow. Background
hills were the usual folds of cotton wool. The ultimate enhancement was
a small solitary torch bulb inside the stable with the battery hidden
behind. Yellow interior walls made the whole thing glow from within and
placing it near the Christmas tree meant that the silver stars took on
the colours of the tree lights.
Silver glitter was essential for finishing off the snow scene as well as
making other decorations. The stash was always kept topped up, and I
became a connoisseur of glitter quality. Cheap ones were dark coloured
and came in bendy plastic tubes. The worst cheap ones were a mixture of
colours, and despised as the unattractive sweepings from the factory!
The good ones were lighter and came in glass tubes and those I sought
out everywhere I went. I did with them what I now do with my printer
inks - make sure I have several in each colour to cover every
eventuality and not run out at a critical moment. The favourites were
silver, gold and white, the latter being tiny pearlescent* flakes that
brought a shimmer without obscuring the colour of whatever was beneath.
I could not resist improving the Christmas cards with them, before my
parents sent them out. Every snow scene, candle, lamp, fireside, starry
sky or glistening holly berry had to be picked out in glitter and I
vicariously joined the recipient in gasping with delight at receiving
such a gloriously dazzling card, far better than could be bought in any
shop. I am sure they also found a small residue of excess glitter
falling from the envelope as well.
* "pearlescent" Downward L in order to join the following stroke, like
"lesson" and "coalescent"
Christmas Nativity in Trafalgar Square London -
"Christmas Crib 2006" by Tomoaki Suzuki
and Jessica Ogden, commissioned by
St Martin-in-the-Fields Church
I recently visited Trafalgar Square in London where once again* there is
on display the beautiful Nativity scene created in 2006, in a large
perspex case near the base of Nelson’s Column. All the carved wooden
figures are fairly plain but lifelike, spread out widely, each
spotlighted, and all their gazes directed at the baby in the centre,
wrapped in cloths and lying on the ground. It is amazing how mesmerising
this simple arrangement is, where time has been halted and the
components of the scene separated, so that the viewer sees and considers
each character in turn, trying to guess how their real-life counterparts
of two thousand years ago reacted to the event and what effect it had on
their lives from that moment on. The distance between the figures seems
to represent their personal space, empty of intrusions that might
interrupt their thoughts on this astounding moment in history. Passing
children were instantly drawn to the lamb and donkey in two of the
corners. I took photographs from different angles but they cannot quite
capture the arresting effect that the scene has when you are actually
standing there. I much prefer this Nativity scene to all those I made in
years past. (1025 words)
* Omission phrase "wu(n)s again"
Christmas Nativity in Trafalgar Square London
Cutout Nativity from www.lucypaintbox.org
Make your own - Free downloads from my other website
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Mind The Gap (24 December 2015)
During December we have been making more visits than
usual up to Central London*, to see the Christmas decorations, markets
and other seasonal attractions. We mostly go up by train, which often
involves some waiting around, whether on the concourse staring at the
departures board to see which platform* our train will be arriving at,
on the platform itself until the train comes in, or sitting on the train
waiting for it to depart.
* "London" The L is written downwards to enable the hook and N to join,
to form a shorter outline for a common place name. "linden" and "Landon"
are written with upward L, stroke N, Dn, as per normal rules.
* "platform" Optional contraction
I find that most passengers are occupied with the
screens of their smartphones* but I think the regular commuters can be
identified as those who bury themselves in their book or work on their
laptop. I prefer to follow the scene beyond the window as we travel
through different types of district. The views are interesting but not
always the smartest or most appealing. Most of it is close-up views of
the unkempt back yards of factories, warehouses and building sites, with
broken fences, graffiti and rubbish accumulating in the corners. The
least attractive are the tiny backyards of the terraced houses from the
19th century, which provide little scope for making a garden or a
sitting* area out of the few square yards of land at the base of the
* "smartphones" The halved Ray is the "first up or down stroke", so as
long as that is above the line, it does not matter where the F stroke
* "sitting" Keep the dot small if you choose to insert it, and an
large dot for "seating" as meanings are almost identical
In each carriage there is generally an LED* display with a scrolling
message showing the names of all the stops and the final destination of
the train. It is accompanied by a spoken version of the message,
although the voice goes much faster than the display. It is a good piece
of shorthand practice material and I sometimes find myself doing mental
outlines for all the station names. Firstly I look at the display and
think how each word should be written, and then after that just follow
the voice on the next repeat, and visualise the outlines. Being entirely
place names with no ordinary words between, this can be a bit of a
challenge. A learner obviously does not need to know obscure place names
but it is good practice in the art of getting something for everything,
even if it is* only a mental picture of what might be written. When a
particular word defeats your efforts at bringing to mind a readable
outline, the best method to follow is to write a separate outline for
each syllable, and so prevent a gap in the notes. A gap causes
disturbance to the rest of the notetaking, so it is better to write
something, however small, rather than nothing.
* "LED" Preferable to use lower case longhand for such abbreviations,
unless it is pronounced as a word like “Nato”
* "if it is" Note that "if" can be
halved or doubled for such phrases, whilst "for" does not, to help
No escape from lines
There are many other messages to be heard
on the train or platform, just waiting to be converted to shorthand, but
preferably not those that occur whilst you are on the move, for the sake
of safety. If you do a regular commute, it might be worth making a list
of those occurring on your route.
“Welcome to this south eastern service train. Please mind the doors.
When leaving the train, please mind the gap between the train and the
platform. The first two doors and last two doors of this train will not
open at the next station, please move to the centre of the train to
alight. Please remember to take all your personal belongings with you
when you leave the train. Do not leave your bags unattended, they may be
removed without warning and destroyed or damaged by the security
services. Please stand well away from the edge of platform one, the next
train is not scheduled to stop at this station. If you see anything
suspicious, please report it to the police or a member of staff. The ten
fifteen to London Bridge will be arriving at ten twenty five. We
apologise for this delay and any inconvenience caused to your journey.”
Buses also use standard voice messages, and I have often wondered*
whether they are recordings of real people or computer generated. I use
a good quality text to speech programme to check my typed paragraphs
against the scanned shorthand, and although it is excellent for this
purpose, the voices are not always accurate either in pronunciation or,
more often, correct intonation. With this in mind, my best educated
guess is that they are voiceover actors. I then looked up the subject
online and the link below reveals some interesting facts about the
origin of some of the British travel announcements. On your regular
journeys, such announcements will always be the same ones, an ideal
opportunity to consolidate knowledge of outlines, if you prepare your
list and look up the outlines beforehand*. Two half-hour journeys a day
add up to five hours of extra practice a week, which seems to me* a
profitable way to redeem the travelling time. You not only arrive at
your physical destination, but also at your desired speed destination.
* "before(h)and" Optional contraction
* Omission phrase "which seems (to) me". Advisable to insert the vowel
in “me” as there is a similar phrase “which seems important"
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Twixmas (31 December 2015)
We are now in that in-between period after Christmas and before the New
Year. Only a few days ago I discovered that there is a name for it,
Twixmas, the period "betwixt" the two celebrations. I do not know how
long this word has been about, but it exactly fits the situation. If
there* were no New Year afterwards, it would be tempting to pack up the
Christmas things quickly and get on with normal life*, but we need all
the trimmings to remain for a while so that the New Year celebrations
are also full of light, colour and sparkle. The word seems to be*
British slang introduced by the tourist industry and no doubt this word
was sorely needed to avoid having to continually use a long phrase such
as "the period between the 27th of December and the first of January".
If you Google the word, most of the entries will be advertising holiday
breaks and get-aways. I think it is in the process of escaping from its
former existence as tourist industry jargon and has found an exciting
new life in the winter holiday brochures and adverts.
* "if there" Note that "if"
can be halved or doubled for such phrases, whilst "for" does not, to help
* Omission phrase "normal (l)ife", see more at
* Omission phrase "seems (to) be"
This leads very well* on to some revision on how to represent this
particular pair of initial sounds. Sometimes the stroke Way is used to
get an outline that is clearer to read back and sometimes the semicircle
sign is the correct form, which, as it is mostly omitted in writing,
results in a faster outline. Writing shorthand does not in the main
involve creating outlines, it involves writing ones that you already
know, and the best way* to do that is to practise them in bulk. It does
help if you concentrate on sets of words that have a similar rule or
sound, as each one consolidates knowledge of the others in that group.
There is not* a large quantity in this set, so practising these
paragraphs several times should be no hardship. Once they are more
familiar, it would also help to make up your own sentences using more of
the derivatives of each word.
* Omission phrases "very (w)ell" "bes(t) way"
* "not" It is safer to always insert the vowel in "not", especially in
phrases, so it is not misread as "no" or "any"
‘Twas the night before Christmas. I looked out of my window at
twilight*, just before darkness fell. The stars began to twinkle in the
clear night sky. I heard a late blackbird twitter in the tree and a lone
robin tweeting from the top of the twining and twisting vine growing on
the fence. I twisted the belt fastening on my twill fabric skirt and
gave it a twirl before the mirror. I searched twice for my new tweed
coat, a present from my twin sister. I twined my scarf around my neck. I
felt a twinge of hesitation at the door, before going out into the cold.
The twinkling frost made me feel even colder and my nose twitched as if
* "twilight" Upward L to keep the original form of "light". Compare with "twill"
below, and "dwelt", both downward
I was going to meet my friend Edwina from Ghana, whose first language is
Twi, and who speaks with a slight twang in her English. She will be
bringing her brother Dwayne who is an expert guitar twanger. In fact* he
twanged* his first notes at the age of six. He is also an enthusiastic twitcher, which means he likes to spot all the rare birds on his list.
His dwelling in the countryside has a garden planted with dwarf shrubs
to attract the birds and his house is dwarfed by a huge oak tree.
Twitching is a healthy outdoor hobby*, but I would feel like a proper
twit and twerp* standing in a muddy field for hours looking for a bird,
twisting my neck skywards, and twirling the binoculars left and right. I
would rather sit at home* with a cup of Twinings tea, eating a Twister
ice lolly, and reading a twee little book on the feathered tweeters in
* Omission phrase "in (f)act"
* "twanged" Stroke Ing cannot be halved
* “hobby” Helpful to insert the vowel, so it is not misread as "habit"
which has a similar meaning
* "twerp, twirp" was current in the mid 20th century, meaning a stupid
or inept person
* "at home" The H is always omitted in this phrase, although it can be
inferred by the fact that the vowel is against the M and not after the T
Today is the twenty-first* of January, the day of the shorthand exam.
Some of my friends think my writing is nothing but twaddle but I have
not been lazily twiddling my thumbs. I have been practising since the
twelfth of September last year and filled up twelve notebooks in the
first two months. I have tweaked my exam technique and cleaned out the
pen with tissue paper and tweezers. So here I am at the college at
twenty to ten on the day after the twentieth of the month. The saying
goes "Many a slip twixt cup and lip" but I am sure that by the time the
twigs on my apple tree are in bloom I will have my certificate in my
hands. I will not let my enthusiasm dwindle and I will continue to
practise betweentimes* and, as you might have twigged* already, by next Twixmas I will have doubled my shorthand speed. (790 words)
* Omission phrase "twenty-(fir)st"
* "betweentimes" Halving for the T of "times"
* To twig means to find out or suddenly realise, derived from Irish or
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