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Last Fling (7 October 2016)
All the carefree summer days of roaming around London with neither jumper nor coat are well and truly past now and so I have been having my last fling at going out to the local parks and green spaces while I still don’t need to wear hat or gloves. Having looked up the word fling, it is quite gratifying to find a complete description of what I had in mind but which I could not quite find the words for. The phrase “last fling” means a short period of unrestrained pursuit of one’s wishes or desires or a period of indulgence on the eve of responsibilities. The wishes and desires refer to getting outside and visiting places in the last few mild and pleasant sunny* days before the colder weather arrives. The responsibilities refer to my ten staff (fingers) to keep them properly* clothed and protected from the cold so that they can continue working with reasonable accuracy, speed and comfort.
* "sunny" and "snowy" Always insert the vowels
* "properly" Always insert the first vowel, and the diphone in "appropriately", as these are similar in outline and meaning
Today has been the first chilly day of the year, gloriously sunny* but very windy with fluffy clouds scudding across the blue sky, alternating with times when the clouds join together and the wind increases. When the wind stopped it was obviously the last fling of almost summer weather but as soon as it started again I was sure that winter was only around the corner. The last of the summer flowers are waving in people’s front gardens and in the shops snow* scene Christmas cards are beginning to appear. Like the person who put their trousers on back to front, I don’t know if I am going out or coming home again. This is a rather sorry admission for a born and bred Briton as this is perfectly normal for the time of year. In other countries the blue sky is sometimes grey. Here the grey sky is sometimes blue and worthy of grateful comment when it is.
* "sunny" "snow" Insert the vowels
There are good and bad flings. One particular last fling that is not a good idea is just before a weight reducing regime or perhaps during one but when the party food or sweets are not* going to be there for long. This is clearly not helpful for the plan of action and the desire for quick results. A desperate last fling is really a lack of determination, proof that resolve is weaker than it needs to be and maybe the decision was not really a firm one. A good last fling is doing just a few more lines of shorthand practice before putting the books away and doing something else. I sometimes have a last go at shorthand about bedtime. I always have a pen and pad on the bedside table anyway, as ideas or words to be looked up can occur at any time.
* "are not" Full outlines in this case, not halving and N hook, to achieve a clearer outline
* "weaker" Derived from "weak" therefore keeps the basic outline, compare "wicker" which is not a derivative so uses Way and Kr.
I often listen to a talk on the Ipod* when settling into bed, as nothing else is going on to take attention from it and just occasionally I attempt to write some of it in shorthand. Mostly it is way too fast and as I don’t actually have to do it, I end up producing scribbled nonsense that could never be read back. It would be better to make a good effort or none at all rather than get into sloppy habits. I do better if I just take whole sentences which in practice means getting every other sentence or utterance. This reduces the pressure but with effort still required in order to* reach the end of the sentence either by speeding up or remembering it. Sometimes it is easier to just listen for unusual* words or interesting phrasing opportunities. The talk is generally more interesting than shorthand writing* so it is easy to abandon the good intentions and promise to resume the practising some other* time.
* "Ipod" Insert the vowel in this and "Ipad"
* Omission phrases "in ord(er to)" "short(hand) writing"
I am introducing some new flings for the shorthand learner’s consideration. Early fling is practising during the morning getting-ready routine, while waiting for the toaster to pop and the kettle to boil. Mid-morning fling is practising in break time. Midday fling ditto, both before and after eating lunch. Afternoon fling is the same as morning but probably shorter as you will have been working very hard all day. Evening fling is a session of serious study with no other distractions and will probably include some “extra mile” pages of shorthand. The bedtime shorthand fling is optional, possibly confined to practising some delicious flowing phrases that are going to save precious seconds, which is an incentive to do them, even though you are more than ready to turn in. Night-time fling is only if you wake up unable to sleep and make the sensible decision to read a page of printed shorthand in order to* replace the troublesome thoughts with soothing, calming and friendly shorthand outlines. All these little flings add up and instead of flinging your pencil away in disgust, you will be flinging your hat in the air in celebration of obtaining your shorthand exam pass and certificate. (831 words)
Cut-Price Shorthand (13 October 2016)
When I learned shorthand in 1972, there was a price to pay. The cost of the year’s secretarial course was £50, a goodly amount at the time but not excessive considering the value of a year’s practical education that would lead to employment. Clearly this was a token amount with the true costs being subsidised by the education authorities*. Unlike my fellow students, I had to pay for the course because I had already had two years of further education studying for A Levels, so I was not entitled to any more free education. We had to buy our pads and pencils, which I got as cheaply as I could, mostly* from the newsagents shop, although they were available from the college shop as well. The New Course book was given to us, no doubt the cost being covered by the fee. Quite soon I began to obtain a few other books, firstly* a small pocket shorthand dictionary, then phrasing and revision books, and later on the big red shorthand dictionary.
The internet did not exist, it was way off in the undreamt-of future. Daily information came from television, radio and newspapers, and if you wanted educational* information, you went to the library or bought books. Mobile phones also did not exist, and landline home telephones or public telephone boxes were the only means of verbal communication over a distance. Offices used the Telex system with a basic teleprinter that clacked out the text all in capital letters, an early and very cumbersome precursor to email. Someone would tear off the paper strip with the message and walk it to the recipient’s office. If you were* a CB* or ham radio enthusiast, you could talk to others who had the equipment. So there was no expectation* or ability to have instant access to a wide variety of information and I can state with complete confidence that you don’t miss what has not yet been invented!
Now that we have the internet, “cut-price” shorthand learning is possible for anyone who has access. The only items you need to buy are your writing materials of paper and pencil, plus a sharpener. Top bound spiral pads are best, but if you have to use larger sheets of lined paper, divide it up so that you have a writing area as near as possible to normal pads, which is about 8 by 5 inches (20 by 12 centimetres). An A4* size can be divided into four smaller rectangles, which would then have to be used without drawn margins. Without margins, notes can be made on the top line, left blank for that purpose. Lines that are closer than 8 millimetres are too narrow and will result in tiny, pinched, unclear shorthand. Eventually, spiral pads will become a necessity, as the faster the dictation gets, the more urgent it will become to be able to flip up the page in a fraction of a second, and continue writing even before the page has settled on the far side. Beginners’ dictations may be short enough to fit on one page, but this will not* be the case indefinitely.
Medium softness pencils are necessary to form the thick strokes without digging, so HB is ideal. It is helpful to have several and sharpen them both ends before the session, so that the shorthand is never held up or deteriorates during a study period or lesson. There should be no indentations visible on the reverse side of the paper, and if you cannot get the thicks without making a dent, then the pencil is too hard. A blunt pencil is a no-no, making hooks and circles barely discernible, and encouraging overly large outlines in an attempt to get some clarity into the grey blurry shapes. A sharp point takes less effort to write with, encourages a light touch and produces clear detail. This is why you need as many pencils in your pile as possible for each session. Another important reason for having several sharpened pencils ready to hand is in case you come across a broken lead and you need to swap pencils very quickly. As we are aiming at minimum cost, the shorthand pen although far better may have to wait until funds allow.
Although books are more convenient in some situations, everything you need for learning shorthand can be obtained online at no cost. The Shorthand Instructor for Pitman’s New Era is now available from archive dot org and this contains not only graded lessons for beginners but also lots of extra useful phrasing and practice material towards the end. You will at some point need a shorthand dictionary and although a New Era one is not available online, I have provided for you my own workaround by creating a New Era update to the online Centenary shorthand dictionary, so that you can find any New Era outline by consulting both. In addition, you can use the search boxes on my websites to find individual words and phrases, with a good chance of success. My main website, although not a teaching one, provides additional explanations on the entire shorthand theory, to help you as you work through the Instructor, and also several common word lists. Once you have completed the theory, you will find plenty of reading material on the reading website with a choice of downloads: blogs, facility drill pages and dictation ZIP files.
(See below for links to these resources)
There are two other non-monetary costs to consider and these are your commitment and the time you have available. The level of commitment will determine how much of your available time you will wish to dedicate to study. As long as there are several longer periods of study per week, all the short pieces of time here and there* can be used to full advantage for practising. It is a good habit to make sure you always have some practice material with you throughout the day. You will be pleased to know that such short moments are ideal for this, as fatigue or loss of enthusiasm will never set in and it keeps the momentum going all the time. Little and often gets the shorthand learned almost without noticing it, in the same way as other habits of life are acquired. For fast writing this is what is most needed, automatic production of the shorthand, with concentration on the task but without stress or hassle. As with any type of learning, short breaks are beneficial, and will keep the fingers, eyes and mind fresh and working at their best to get you to your goal, to become an accurate, reliable and unflustered writer of shorthand. (1105 words)
www.long-live-pitmans-shorthand.org.uk/downloads.htm Downloads for dictionaries, print your own pad, common word lists and more
Kempton Steam Museum (18 October 2016)
Last week* we made a visit to another steam museum but not quite like the others that we have been to. Crossness Pumping Station in south-east London is amazingly* beautiful and decorative, as well as worthy of admiration for its engineering elegance. Markfield Beam Engine in north London is a solitary machine in a small engine house, also with interesting decoration, working all on its own in smooth and well-oiled glory for the delight of the visitors on steaming days. I like the architecture and decorative features of such places and I admire the skill, inventiveness and excellence that went into the installations. For me they are understandable machines, where you can see everything working and moving. Our latest visit was on a much larger scale, to the monster machines at Kempton Park Water Treatment Works, situated in west London, just to the south of Richmond and Heathrow Airport.
* "intervals" It is the V that goes through the line, being the first up or downstroke, so it does not matter where the doubled N sits
* "Lilleshall" pronounced "Lil-ez Hall"
www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ORy9JAMTlI My visit to Crossness Sep 2012
Battle of Hastings (20 October 2016)
Two weeks ago*, one of our Saturday travels was to Hyde Park in Central London to see the encampment of a group of Anglo-Saxons, on their way to defend their land from Norman invaders on the south coast. They had marched all the way from York in the previous weeks, and had stopped over in London to show the rest of us how they lived, ate, worked and fought. Their journey would then continue for another week to take them on to Battle Abbey near Hastings in Sussex, where on Saturday 15 October they would re-enact the battle of 1066 at which Duke William of Normandy defeated King Harold of England. This corner of the park was dotted with their tents and awnings, and they were demonstrating* all aspects of their daily life, including weapons and armour, clothing, basket making, food, medicine and pottery, all in the interests of historical accuracy and educating us modern folk in a much more* direct and pleasant* way than books can do, at least* when it is not raining.
As might be expected, the most popular items were the weapons and armour, with youngsters crowding around, eager to try on costumes, helmets and swords. I don’t think they were likely to be focussing their minds on the carnage that battles produce, the death and destruction, or the horror of finding your peaceful village being overrun by spear and axe wielding invaders intent on wiping you out. The medical table and the description of wounds and their treatment may have helped to persuade the younger ones that those battles were not a fun game that one could walk away from unharmed* at the end of the day.
We listened to detailed explanations of what we were looking at and the background information and history to put it all in context*, and there was an opportunity to have a go at the crafts, weaving a tiny basket from fresh willow branches, dipping a candle or making a pot. The only things absent were the grime on their clothes, the missing teeth and the pungent and unpleasant smells of the time, which might have added to realism but would end up sending the onlookers hurrying on their way, not the purpose of a living history demonstration. I tried to imagine that I was standing in a real past village, watching real folk of the time, and this had the effect of underlining the fact that* people then were exactly the same as us, although with entirely different lives, customs and traditions, but no less intelligent and resourceful, maybe more so as they had to be more self-reliant than some of us are in our soft and relatively comfortable times.
* "context" Always insert the Con Dot, not using proximity, to prevent misreading as "text" which is also likely to make sense most of the time
Spread out on the grass was a large white sheet, painted with the outline of Britain and France. The English were represented* by rows of apples, the Normans by rows of onions, and Norwegian invaders by other vegetables. The knowledgeable* and energetic narrator went through the entire history of the conflicts of that year, moving the fruit and veg around to show movements of the armies and their strategies. This made the whole train of events exciting and memorable, and we just had to stay and find out what happened next and why.
Duke William claimed the right of succession based on an oath given by King Edward The Confessor, whose death in January 1066 led to these battles over the throne of England. Although the claimants to kingships* have some fact, ancestry, agreement or oath to back their claim, it seems that a battle has always been the deciding factor in who actually ended up as ruler, with their attention firmly on others with the same ambition. The famous arrow that is supposed to have killed King Harold was part of medieval iconography to show an oath-breaker’s death. The Bayeux* Tapestry did not originally show this arrow but it was added in a much later repair (seventeen hundreds or later) covering empty needle holes in the cloth, although the original stitches may have shown a lance. Historians still disagree over these details.
* "kingships" This suffix can omit the P as long as there is no confusion with any other word
* "Bayeux" This sideways dash signifies this French vowel, and also the German "ö", similar to the one in "earl"
It was quite a culture shock to leave the park and get back into the modern world just a few minutes away, with nose to tail traffic, endless red buses and black taxis streaming past, neon-lighted pedestrian crossings, underground trains with recorded announcements at the stations, and every other passenger looking at their smartphone. Somewhere there is a Harold and a William sitting opposite each other on the tube train, with no thought of pursuing or defending their right to the throne of England and all thoughts of battle confined to the football field or computer game. (782 words)
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)
Charlie's Fight - save this baby's life - https://www.facebook.com/Charliegardsfight Online petition to continue his life support: https://www.change.org/p/parliament-to-keep-charlie-gard-alive-and-allow-him-to-receive-treatment-from-the-usa
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