Blue Bell Hill
Blue Bell Hill (8 March 2016)
All of my childhood was spent living in the suburbs of London, with few
opportunities to see the countryside around us, other than a rare day
out to the seaside, or in later years the annual holiday. If we wanted
to be surrounded by greenery, then a trip to the nearest park would
provide that experience, and we were fortunate enough to live close to
Greenwich Park in South London. Once we were all at work and able to
afford a car, that all changed and most Sundays would bring trips out to
the countryside, visiting everything that was within an hour or so
driving range. My favourites have always been high places with panoramic
views. Blue Bell Hill, situated between Maidstone and Rochester in Kent,
is just such a place, a south-facing chalk hill overlooking the upper
part of the River Medway.
Promontory to east of Blue Bell Hill
The viewing location is a picnic area with a
small car park just off Common Road*. One can sit in total silence and
look out southwards over the fields and villages of the Medway Valley
and over to the small town of Snodland on the far side of the meandering
river. The grassy slope beneath the picnic area leads down to a metal
paling fence, behind which grow numerous shrubby trees, and below that,
just visible at certain angles, is the chalky* cliff face of a disused
quarry. More quarries can be seen in the near foreground, overgrown and
providing an undisturbed home to wildlife. With binoculars you may get a
glimpse of rabbits. The chalk quarries were worked in the 18th and 19th
centuries, and the scene then would have been brilliant white and noisy,
unlike now, almost entirely shades of green and perfectly silent.
* "road" and "route" Insert the vowel, as these are similar in outline
* "chalky" Inserting last vowel is essential, as "chalk cliff faces"
also makes sense
Quarries below, Burham Village
At the picnic site there is a large upright memorial stone, erected in
memory of three members of Kent Air Ambulance Service who lost their
lives in a helicopter crash near the village of Burham. The men's
dedicated service with that organisation saved the lives of many people.
Sitting in front of the view, I feel I could be* looking out from an
airplane window or about to take off and fly out over the fields. Seeing
the birds gliding to and fro on the rising air currents that such hills
produce makes me wish I could see it all from their point of view*. They
are of course interested only in hunting their next meal hidden in the
long grass below. It is more interesting when the bird is a hawk or
kestrel, hovering almost motionless with just a slight quivering of the
wings, followed by a high speed dive into the vegetation beneath.
* "could be" Not phrased with the "I", because that is too much like "I
* Omission phrase "point (of) view"
River Medway at Aylesford
To the east, behind a small promontory, is the busy A229 road* going
into Rochester, and behind the hill is Rochester Airport. In addition
the North Downs Tunnel for the high speed trains runs underneath the
hill. None of these can be either seen or heard from here and you have
to look at the map to know they are there. There is one little noise
that cannot be ignored and that is the voice of the camera saying ďTake
another picture of it, youíll be glad you did,Ē and so of course I
always obey. Photos of panoramic views can sometimes be disappointing
when seen later on at home and I find that including something in the
foreground, such as leaves or bushes, provides depth and distance, as
well as a contrast of colour between the nearby greens and the blue
distance. As there is no limit to taking photos nowadays, unlike the
days of real film*, I just end up taking snaps from all angles and
viewpoints, in order to avoid a possibly disappointing single picture
and the regret that I didnít take a few more.
* "road" and "route" Insert the vowel, as these are similar in outline
* "real" Insert the diphthong. Use a simple thick dot for "reel", as
these two could be misread for each other in this context
North Downs Way
To the west, long walks lead off along the North Downs Way with more
magnificent views of the "Garden of EnglandĒ. The south west side of
Blue Bell Hill has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest
in order to provide protection for several rare chalkland plants. I have
never seen bluebells here, but the name probably refers to a blue bell
which was used to summon horses to draw vehicles up the hill between
Maidstone and Chatham, hence the name being two words rather than one.
This is a very quiet and peaceful place and on a summerís day I could
sit on the wooden plank bench without any desire to move on to the next
location. I imagine the scene in other weather conditions, rain and
mist, a pink dawn or red sunset, or a sunny day of thick snow, but
realise we are not going to be here at such times*. Only the desire to
avoid* rush hour traffic encourages us to leave and head for home. (803
* "at such times" Halving for the T of "times"
* "avoid" Always insert the diphthong - essential in a phrase, where it
is the same as "evade" and "void" which have similar meanings
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Sales (9 March 2016)
January sales were once the big event of the
year, a chance to shake off the post-Christmas lethargy and dive into
the department store melťe to grab a bargain or two. I learned about
this from my Nan in the nineteen sixties, who stocked up with knitting
wool every January, to keep her going throughout the year. She knitted
baby clothes for friends, to supplement income, and she needed all the
help she could get with the cost of materials. The summer sales are
slightly less of a scrummage with the opportunity to stock up for next
summer. Going by my email inbox, there seem to be sales more or less*
all the time and many of them no longer have names that match the
seasons. With clothing, it is primarily a clearing out of seasonal
stock, swapping between warm and cool clothes, and then all the other
items would also be included in the sale, to take advantage of the
crowds and the impulse to spend money rather more quickly than usual.
* Omission phrase "more (or) less"
Some sales are stocktaking clearances, to
clear the old to make way for the new. I suspect that some sales exist
for the sole purpose of encouraging customers to try something new, with
an alluring low price, which they might not want to try out at full
price, and these are more accurately called promotions rather than
sales. I sometimes wonder whether I am actually paying for my bargains
through the full prices at other times of the year, as the shop has to
make a certain profit in order to* exist. If I only bought items when
they were on sale or promotion, then maybe those paying full price are
subsidising my bargains, although the benefit to them is that they get
what they want, when they want it, in pristine condition, and they can
take it back if they change their mind, which you cannot do with sales
goods, unless faulty.
* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)"
I recall a wonderful shoe bargain that I took
advantage of some years ago. I found a pair of smart sandals on the
sales rack, one of which had been in the sunny shop window which had
caused* the colours to fade. They were good quality and I knew I would
be wearing them out in the dusty countryside, so I did not care about
the fading. I bought them and stashed them away at the back of the
wardrobe. One day, much later on, I decided to start wearing them,
having demoted the current everyday sandals to garden use only. I put
them on and continued getting ready to go out. Whilst in the bathroom I
noticed a strange squelching noise with each step on the vinyl floor
covering. I thought I had trodden on some food. It turned out that the
sandals had been in the wardrobe a few years too many, and the rubber of
the soles had degraded and was sticking to the floor at every step,
leaving a trail of little black sticky crumb marks. The only use I got
from them was the mental satisfaction of thinking I had a spare pair of
good sandals ready when needed.
* "caused" Special outline, so as not to clash with "cost"
Sales have a vocabulary all of their own. The
bargains are wonderful, marvellous and fantastic. You should take
advantage of the special offers, which often get cheaper the more you
buy. You might find it is a Buy One Get One Free offer (sometimes
conveniently or maybe disparagingly referred to as BOGOF, more often
written than spoken, though). The more you buy, the more you save. You
donít want to miss it, so hurry, this offer is available only while
stocks last. Donít delay, save today! One day only, mega sale event,
everything marked with a red, blue, brown, green cross is half price*.
You can get unbelievable* clearance bargains and never-to-be-repeated
price slashes. Prices not only get slashed, sliced and blasted, they
also drop, reduce, fall, plunge and plummet. Take advantage of the
online discounts and get free next day delivery on certain items, or use
the click and collect service. This is truly no-hassle buying.
* "half-price" Using stroke F instead of hook, in order to join the
* "unbelievable" This is using the short form for "believe" in the
Stop press! Itís our annual super sale, so
what are you waiting for, look no further for incredible extraordinary*
rock-bottom, bargain basement, give-away* prices. Find the best deals
and make huge savings, either in store or online. Donít miss a trick
with our mad Friday super price drop. Check out our greatly reduced
designer ranges and grab a bargain. Go on, treat yourself, you deserve
it, itís so affordable with our super low sales prices! And in smaller
print at the end might be the disclaimer, we regret that our normal
no-quibble returns policy is not available for sale items.
* "extraordinary" Optional contraction
* "give-away" Much faster than using the short form, a hyphen and "away"
All your thoughts and hesitations as
a shopper are intercepted*, and repeated or countered, and printed on
large dayglo* notices around the shop, to overcome any hesitation you
might have about the wisdom of the purchase. There is one particular
phrase that tugs at everyoneís desire not to miss out on something good,
which they might not otherwise be able to have, causing regrets later
on. It encourages instant action, something absolutely admirable,
praiseworthy and necessary for the shorthand writer who cannot afford to
miss any spoken word, but possibly less so for the unwary shopper. Itís
what you knew all along, but it is splashed across the posters as an
urgent reminder, in case you are putting off the purchase until
tomorrow. Who can resist the words, ďWhen itís gone, itís goneĒ? (920
* "intercepted" Note that the outline for "anticipated" uses full N and
T strokes, and not a halved N, which provides greater distinction
between these two outlines
* "dayglo" was originally a brand
name so sometimes spelled with capital D
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Frogs (18 March 2016)
We have not been able to rely on the weather this year to tell us what
season we think we are in. Early flowering of spring plants combined
with continuing cold nights and frosty mornings has brought confusion to
gardeners like me who want everything happening predictably and on cue,
either cold with nothing much to see, or warm with the spring flowers
out, so that they can be enjoyed in the sunshine. At least* it is
keeping me from being too complacent and in a rut with my activities.
The one sign that winter is on its way out is the arrival of the
frogspawn at the far end of the pond, on the shallow shelf where there
are lots* of little mounds of weed and overhanging branches from the low
shrubs. At least* the frogs are conforming to the annual pattern,
although there is no way to predict the actual day when our little
friends will appear.
* "at least" and "at last" Always insert the vowel
* "lots" and "masses" Always insert the vowel
Whilst taking some pictures of the frogspawn and the four frogs sitting
on the remains of the blanket weed with their heads up, I noticed a
large number of small lumps beneath the water on the lower shelf. All
the lumps had frog legs and some of the bigger lumps had quite a few in
all directions. I realised that this was one of those bumper frog years,
which is not surprising with the absence of really cold weather that
might have reduced their numbers. Frogs have better distance than close
vision, and almost 360 degree vision, so they always see me coming, and
dip down below the surface before I get anywhere close. I have to
approach from behind the pond, shielded from view by the low plants,
moving slowly and not presenting a dark threatening figure against the
bright sky. I have tried zooming in the camera from afar but just end up
with sharp focus pictures of the netting and pieces of grass.
I think of them as visitors to my garden but they might see it
differently. Frogs are amphibians that have been around for 265 million
years and are related to newts, salamanders and slowworms. There are
about 5,000 species of frog in 33 families. The word can be traced back
to a root word meaning jump. Their leg muscles account for 17 percent of
total body mass. The tadpole is an aquatic larva which sounds much less
attractive. They are amusing* to watch but fall short of being cute and
cuddly, as they eat each other in their race to become the biggest and
the fastest to grow, leave the water and live on land. The word comes
from ďtoad pollĒ with poll meaning head. I rather like the term newtpole
as well, but never having seen a newt in my pond or garden I donít ever
get the chance to use it.
* "amusing" and "amazing" Always insert the 2nd vowel
There are differences between frogs and toads in appearance, behaviour
and habitat, although any frog with a rough bumpy skin is likely to be
addressed as Mr Toad and not Mr Frog. Toad has other meanings as well,
an unpleasant or loathsome person, and a toady is someone who grovels to
another, a sycophant. I would go down to the pond to ask them to clarify
this point, but I think at the moment* they are rather too busy to
bother about names, and by the time they are free to talk, they will
have disappeared back into the shady corners of the gardens, hiding
under sheds, woodpiles and compost bins by day, and roaming at night. As
long as they keep eating the slugs and flies, I am very happy to have
them around. (613 words)
* Omission phrase "at (the) moment"
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Boat Race (28 March 2016)
On Sunday afternoon* I watched the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat
Race, from the comfort of my living room on a stormy day of blustery
winds, heavy rain and some hail, with brilliant bright sunny* periods in
between. Any temptation to go out in the sunny* interludes was firmly
rejected more than once, an easy decision confirmed by the rapidly
changing scene outside the window*, dark grey clouds and driving rain. I
was hoping that the weather was going to be kinder out on the Thames
between Putney and Chiswick*, which thankfully it was, although the
water was choppy. Sat in the warm in front of the telly, I flinched when
I saw the crew of the ladies race, with bare arms and legs and just
hoped that the 15-minutes of strenuous effort they were about to make
would warm them up.
* Omission phrase "Sunday (a)f(ter)noon" Keep the last N hook clear, so
it does not look like the similar phrase "Sunday ev(en)ing" which uses
F/V hook and stroke Ing
* "sunny" Always insert the vowels in "sun/snow, sunny/snowy"
* "window" Prudent to insert the last vowel, as "windy" would also make
sense, if you moved the comma to after "outside"
* "Chiswick" is pronounced "chizik"
An hour later I watched the menís race and I am glad to say that the*
stormy weather stayed away for both races. Oxford won the Ladies race
and Cambridge won the Menís race. I took note of the vocab throughout
and have divided it into two paragraphs of the dramatic and
uncomfortable, followed by two of the hopeful and triumphant, and
finally for the last two I have saved some choice phrases that you can
apply to yourself as you row against the winds and the tide with your
shorthand efforts, overcoming all difficulties and achieving all your
speed goals. By the way, the rowers were rowing at about 35 strokes a
minute but I am sure you can go faster than that.
* Omission phrase "I am glad (to) s(ay) that the"
The state of the water in some reaches was appalling, but everyone knows
that youíve* got to deal with this water. The teams were initially
sluggish, and Cambridge didnít get off to the best possible start, but
now the intensity of the pace-setting is unsustainable. Oxford has
encountered slightly rougher water and is heading for the smoother water
in the shelter of the Surrey bank, leaving Cambridge to deal with the
worst of the waves and the evil waters of the Thames on the Middlesex
side. They were caught napping, you can see the breaking waves entering
the boat, and near the end of the Ladies race Cambridge begins to sink.
History is being made but not the history we wanted, although there is
still an outside chance for Cambridge. They are making a bruising effort
to continue but with this level of fatigue itís incredibly difficult.
* "you've" Apostrophied phrases use full outlines and not short forms
These races can change so quickly. The river is about to get far more
animated and you can see those white horses. With the last few strokes
the crew are starting to slip. They are hanging in, but their hopes have
gone further adrift. Cambridge were beaten by Oxford and beaten by the
river today. Oxford are lagging behind in the Menís race, but with both
crews battling the angry river, Oxford probably has two to three*
minutes to save the race. Itís a thankless task and they are working in
a world of noise, effort and the spray that is being kicked up. The
river is in a dynamic mood today, the tideway is alive, it has character
and personality, and it gets angry. One team member said it was the
worst conditions she had ever rowed on.
* "two to three" Can't use an omission phrase here, as that would be
"two (or) three"
The race is off to a very even start. Cambridge look very smooth and
confident at this stage, they have clear water and are in charge of this
race. They are starting to stretch out that lead and look more relaxed.
You can hear the wingbeats of the boats. Oxford have a commanding lead
and the advantage is with Oxford out in front. Oxford are hanging in and
hanging on but they are rowing reasonably cleanly. They made a couple of
serious mistakes but made an excellent decision to head for safety. The
cox is an experienced and calm steely guy, he is driving them on, asking
for a final push.
It will* take a mistake by Cambridge to lose this race and they working
to try and maintain the lead. Oxford are the winners of the Ladiesí race
and emphatically so. They win by a handsome margin and have mastered
this river. They are worthy victors, especially as those who have lost
before, to come back and win. In the Menís race, Oxford is doing a great
job to stay in the race, they sail on, they row on, towards victory.
Oxford are in control. The moment will shortly belong to Oxford once
again. The race looks like itís done and dusted, itís all coming right.
The Cambridge crew will be feeling light, warm and dry and they can hear
the echoing cries of the cheers at Chiswick Bridge.
* Omission phrase "it (w)ill"
Are we reading about a boat race or a shorthand speed test, you decide.
Itís a real significant moment, a real test of techniques. They have
worked so hard on their technique but itís a very different prospect
when you are out there. They are gathering themselves and battling
through nerves. They are going to have to do it the hard way today. They
need to step on the gas and break clear, keep digging and driving. They
are in survival mode but they are keeping a nice rhythm through the
rough water. They have to make a move somehow and get some confidence.
They have settled into a better rhythm and are reasserting their
It was an impressive performance. They have built so much over this year
and that is what has got them through. They got their strategy
absolutely bang on today. Experience is what is required to win. There
is no second place in the race, itís win or lose or nothing. They look
calm, controlled and confident, they are heading for victory. Victory is
within their grasp. They had to see it through to the end and being able
to finish at all is a huge achievement. Past the finish post they come.
Thereís* going to be some real celebrating tonight. (1008 words)
* If you have already written the short form for "there", add the Circle
S and then also add an intervening circle vowel after the stroke, or put
a wavy underline as a reminder.
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