Sunday, 19 June 2016

Pitter Patter Raindrops

Parked in the hanger
until skies clear
We have had some very heavy rain in the last few days and more is forecast for the rest of the week. We would normally expect fine weather in the month of June and thunderstorms to come in July, but they are here now. Our roads are perfect man-made stream beds, and as there are hills where I live, those roads that point downwards get the water from all the other ones, providing the spectacle of twin streams racing down the gutters on both sides, clearing out any debris and jumping over the drains that cannot handle the quantity. This is unusual enough to be interesting to watch, but not so much as to pose any threat to the residents or their property.

We have a particular liking for heavy rain, as long as we are indoors feeling safe and cosy underneath the dependable and well-built roof, behind the solid walls and on this side of the two panes of double glazing, watching the giant drops pelting the plants, jumping up off the hard surfaces and turning the pond from peacefully* smooth to a spiky confusion of droplets rebounding up from their* impact with the water. The fish love it, as flies and other critters* are washed in from the air, the* branches and the greenery along the edges, and it also adds to the aeration of the pond, as well as bringing its own fresh flavour to the pond water for them.

* "peacefully" Insert the final dot, as "peaceful" could also make sense

* "from their " Doubling for "their"

* "critters" Note the outline for "creatures" has an Ar instead of the R Hook

* "air, the" Not phrased, as there is a pause

I think our little game of triumphing over the rain started when we had caravan holidays many years ago. The caravans were very small by today’s standards, but it was a hugely exciting adventure for us children. The rain would drum on the metal roof and reverberate around the interior, but we were safe in our little wood and metal box. We could look out of the window and see through the misty glass all the other little boxy caravans with their dim lights on. Somehow we felt that if it rained at night, then the rain was all used up and tomorrow would be fine and sunny, ready for a day on the beach. If it continued into the day, then visits to the souvenir shops had to make up for the lack of good beach weather. There were always the amusement* arcades to fill any* rainy hours, or the choppy angry seas to watch, which left us wondering why we ever thought it was possible or advisable to paddle in it.

* "amusement" It is obvious that it is not "amazement" here, but the other forms of "amaze/amuse" and derivatives should always have their vowel in

* "any" Essential to insert a final dot vowel, as "fill in" would also make sense

Door in the right place - minimum of
six inches from the base to protect
the nestlings from predators
In a former house that we lived in as children, some of the boys decided to make a hut from scraps of wood. They used the existing fence as one side, and built up their hut from any spare bits of wood they could find. It was about the size and height of a telephone box and I was allowed in so that we could all huddle there against the rain, in our private self-built* bolthole. Some bread and water would complete the supplies, but most importantly* of all it had to be raining. Unfortunately one could only get in through the roof, lifting off one of the panels. I did manage this several times, although I felt it was not the best place to put the entrance. Maybe this is where I began planning what a good house ought to be like, continuing to this day, and starting with having a door in the right place. Just struggling to get in added to the sense of adventure and achievement, and I think maybe they put it there as a security measure, as no adults could climb up and get in!

* "self-built" Outlines beginning "self" are always written in 2nd position, to accord with the vowel in "self"

* Omission phrase "mos(t) importantly"

Nowadays I can sit in my greenhouse, which has seats rather than plants, and listen to the sound of the rain hitting the roof. Unlike the caravan, the rain can be seen streaming down the glass on all sides, so I feel that* I am out in it but strangely unaffected by the wet and the wind. It has a small gutter along each side and the rain shoots out of them in spluttering cascades when there is too much water for the downpipes to take. Summer rain is not particularly cold, so it is a pleasant* way to watch the pond get drilled with the watery* missiles and the fish making the occasional lunge at flies that have washed in. Getting back to the house, only twenty feet away, before the rain stops is another story though and one of my favourite nursery rhymes says it all:

I hear thunder, I hear thunder!
Hark don’t you, hark don’t you?
Pitter patter raindrops, pitter patter raindrops,
I’m wet through, so are you! (779 words)

* Omission phrase "I fee(l) that"

* "pleasant" Helpful to insert the vowel, as it is similar to "pleasing"

* "watery" Insert the vowel, as "water" would also make sense

Monday, 13 June 2016

We Like To Abbrev

Pen shorthand is often described as requiring the learner to memorise vast quantities of arbitrary abbreviations and so dismissed as unwieldy, unreasonable and outmoded. As a shorthand student* or writer, you now know that this is not true. Pitman’s, Gregg and Teeline* have a small number of* strokes and signs to learn, and like longhand, these are combined in a logical manner, with various other shortening devices, to form the words. Pitman’s and Gregg follow pronunciation, for example omitting the silent K in "knife" and writing “cough” with just three symbols. Some outlines depart from the rules in order not to clash with others but these are a minority. Teeline, although largely based on spelling, also finds it convenient to avoid these inconsistencies of normal spelling, but writers can include as much or as little of each word as they wish. All these systems are capable of representing the whole word and all its sounds, but find it more useful to abbreviate the more common ones, or those that would be awkward or too lengthy to write in full. This is nothing new as everyone already does this with their longhand.

* Omission phrase "shorthand s(t)udent"

* "Teeline" Insert the dot vowel, as this has the same shape as "outline", although the caps marks helps it to be read correctly

* "number of" This is the same outline as "brief" so always insert the vowel in the latter

With these systems, the shorthand is not really a means of abbreviation in that they do not require every word to be reduced down to a barely recognisable fragment of the original, hence the misconception that everything must be* memorised individually. The symbols for each sound are very much simpler than letters of the alphabet, and this is why they are faster to write, straight lines and curves in different lengths and orientations. Teeline uses cut-down versions of longhand letters and so is more familiar for the learner, but slower to write as the outlines are longer.

* Omission phrase "mus(t) be"

In Pitman’s there are only two signs that are not based on a consonant or vowel sign that matches their sound and these are “and” and the downward thick dash for “he” which is only used in the middle or end of a phrase. The short form “why” is written with a variant of the semicircle W sign, and the short form “beyond” uses the Y diphthong. Both of these marks were replaced early in the development of Pitman’s in favour of the full Way and Yay strokes to begin* a syllable. So these latter two do have a phonetic rationale, although not obvious to the beginner. The majority of words are written with all their sounds represented* in the outline, with true abbreviation (cutting out some of the sounds) being reserved for the very commonest words. These are called short forms and contractions. A short form is like writing the longhand letter B for the word “be”. A contraction generally uses the first syllable of the word, which is exactly what we do in longhand to save writing time, but all these could be written in full if the writer preferred.

* "to begin" Based on the phrase short form "to be" therefore through the line

* "represented" Optional short dash through last stroke of a contraction to indicate past tense

The most compact and efficient shorthand that everyone uses without a second’s thought or hesitation is numbers and other mathematical* symbols. The signs for plus, minus, times or multiplied by, and divided by (called an obelus), are all shorthand for these words. There are signs for “the squareroot* of” (a tick with a horizontal line extended over the number), a superscript two for “squared”, and a superscript three for “cubed”. The list goes on and on, and complicated equations can be written over a page which would take many pages of text if they were being described in words. It looks to me like a map or a timeline with all the relevant points, actions and results marked along the way in simple symbols, until you arrive at the destination, the final outcome of the calculations. Because numerals are so quick to write, it is preferable in most cases to use them rather than their equivalent outlines.

* "mathematical" Note that this contraction is on the line. With a circle S it becomes "mathematics". The shortened words "math" (US) and "maths" (British) are normal outlines written above the line, and should have their vowels inserted so that they are not misread for the contraction.

* "squareroot" Note that Ray is never halved when it stands alone

Throughout the history of writing, scribes have used abbreviations in order to* get as much text as possible on their expensive and scarce writing surfaces. Texts and books were not produced to be read by the general population but by the elite few who were literate, such as royalty, the nobility, priests, officials and administrators. In religious texts, abbreviations were sometimes used to replace the direct use of words and names considered holy, to maintain respectfulness and avoid any semblance of irreverence or worldliness. Heavy use of abbreviations had the effect of restricting readership to those with appropriate training, and so the contents would only be available to others through the spoken word, which would be accompanied by an authorised interpretation of the text. This is a world away from our present-day experience of the publishing and sharing of information, sometimes ad nauseam if one does not control one’s internet surfing time.

* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)

Many of the abbreviations are still with us. The ampersand is derived from the Latin “et” which means “and”. The percent sign is derived from the numerals for one hundred. The British monetary pound sign is an embellished capital L, from the Latin word for scales “libra”. The number or hash sign, two vertical lines and two horizontal lines, is a simplified form of a ligature for the lower case letters L and B, for the same Latin word. The dollar sign is derived from P written through S for peso. Diacritics (marks over the top) were also used as a shortening device, such as a plain or curved line, or extra flourishes attached to one or more of the letters of the shortened word, but these are now used to convert an existing letter of the alphabet into a slightly different pronunciation.

The variety of abbreviations used by scribes and copyists have mostly* disappeared into the mists of history, but new ones are being created all the time for similar reasons. The most obvious is texting “shorthand”. Its origin was to save on the cost of sending the phone message by reducing the number of characters it contained, and later on to save time and effort* entering the text on the early phone keypads (before the arrival of touchscreens and text prediction). The initial flurry of texting inventions has now slowed and it seems to have settled down to a handful of universally useful terms to be used in informal settings, such as comments and forum conversations.

* "mostly" Omits the lightly-sounded T

* Omission phrase "time (and) effort"

Our diverse collection of common abbreviations, and the earlier shorthand systems with their arbitrary signs that must be* memorised en masse, have got our present systems of shorthand a rather bad press. This is only dispelled when you actually begin learning it, although if interest is weak or enthusiasm absent, then any system, however simple, is likely to appear unacceptably complicated when compared with the ingrained longhand that has been learned and used since childhood. Speaking for Pitman’s, I hope you have now discovered that it is a well-designed logical system that reflects the sounds, syllables and phrases of normal speech and, when written with reasonable neatness, may be read many years later by the writer, and by others who know the system. (1171 words)

* Omission phrase "mus(t) be"

Tuesday, 31 May 2016


We have two very beautiful and demure collared doves in our garden. Their plumage is all shades of delicate grey, they are shy and retiring and have only just learned that it is safe to land in the garden, as long as we are standing around and not making any sudden movements. They have been lured down by little treats on the lawn, small pieces of bird feeding pellets. They will sometimes take crumbs if they are broken very small, as their beaks are fine. Crushed peanuts are also acceptable, but a whole one will be taken if it fits the mouth. They cause no problems and do not seem to multiply out of hand like some other* birds do. We started paying them attention some time ago* when one of them was limping, but in time his injury healed, and so they became welcome visitors, and since then different pairs have visited us.

* "some other" Doubling for "other"

* "some time ago" Halving to represent the T of "time"

Also in the garden are some wood pigeons. They are big and bulky when compared with the collared doves. They sit at the top of the nearby trees, and more recently on the greenhouse roof, and watch proceedings. Then they come down for the doves' food. The have learned to run all over the lawn, as fast as their little legs will take them, gobbling up everything as quickly as they can, starting with the largest lumps if it is bread, and leaving the smaller pieces until last. Then they wander in zigzags, behind flower pots, under the shrubs, to clear up any missed pieces. I am grateful for this service so that nothing is left over. They are quite flighty when disturbed but soon return once all is quiet again.

Eyes on the window,
wings at the ready
These wood pigeons are really shorthand students in disguise. They might appear to be voracious opportunists, taking on board everything that is put before them, but they are not averse to working a bit harder to find it. They don’t mind what they do as long as there is something they can grab that will help them in their goal of endless increase and getting ahead with their life. They are alert and attentive, waiting for the action to begin*, and have no thought other than to get down everything that is put before them in the shortest possible time; after all, who knows when the next chunk is coming, so best get this one down sharpish. When they have cleared it all up, they are still expecting more. Their quest is never ending, although when the offerings are good, they do have to spend some time digesting it all before they can enter the fray once again*.

* "to begin" Based on the short form phrase "to be" therefore through the line

* Omission phrase "wu(n)s again"

Hey it's me, remember,
your favourite!
The doves are the reporters in disguise. They are sleek, smart and well dressed. They are well mannered, quietly spoken and polite. They are really outsiders and not part of the general melee, and although they do their best to blend in, they often walk around the outside, taking a studious and accurate note of everything that occurs. When there is danger, they will remove themselves temporarily but keep watch in order to return a little later. Their eyes and ears are their most important assets, in order to* always be in the right place at the right time, and definitely not in the wrong place at any time. They like to position themselves in a prominent* place so that they can see all that is going on and decide if it is worth their while swooping down and taking advantage of any situation for their own purposes. Unlike the woodies, their eyes are at all times on the lookout for happenings other than the current one, so that they can change their location and tactics to suit. It is clear that a quick and alert mind is their most valuable tool, without which they would not be successful in what they do. Although they are not the big players on the scene, it is certain that they will be in the business for a long time to come. (672 words)

* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)"

* "prominent" Helpful to insert the vowel, as "permanent" is similar

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Ted's Essay

It's great to have reliable staff who can fill in when you are a little busier than usual, and if they perform well, it can sometimes lead to promotion. Ted is already Chief Dictionary Looker Upper. 

Pitman's New Era Shorthand

Ted with dictionaryI have been asked to write an essay with no long words, so that the boss can continue working on some changes to the websites and blogs. I always keep to short and easy words because they are much easier to read.  I am using my favourite purple ink in the green pen.

Dino reading map on screen
River Thames with the Letter U
in the middle at Greenwich
My friend Dino is a very slow reader and so I have to write things that he can get through without taking all day. He reads at twenty words a minute*, which is one word every three seconds, and that is quite good for a dinosaur, at least* that is what Dino says. I think it will be easier as well to practise writing it all really fast and get up a good speed, with a number of words a minute* that is a lot higher than usual.

* Omission phrase "words (a) minute"

* "at least" and "at last" Always insert the vowel

Pitman's New Era Shorthand

I am going to tell you about my day out to the centre of London. We went up on the train, and I am very pleased to say that* it was a fast one for most of the way. I like the fast trains but sometimes it is difficult to see what we are passing and it is too fast to see the names of the stations.

Underground carriage join
Then we went on the underground trains and we sat where the two carriages are joined. It is interesting to watch the floor at the join, because it is all moving and sliding. The train is open all the way along and you can see all the carriages at once, moving from side to side and going round the curves.

* Omission phrase "I am very please(d to) s(ay) that"

Pitman's New Era Shorthand

Fountains at Somerset HouseWe went to Somerset House where there is a big open area in the middle. There are lots* of holes in rows where fountains come up from underneath. Children and people were running about through the water. The fountains were going up high and then down low, and the water drains away along all the sides down a long thin gap. It was a hot day and this is a really good idea that is safe for everyone. It is very good for tourists who need to cool their feet after all the walking around town.

* "lots" and "masses" Insert the vowel, as these two are similar in shape and meaning

Pitman's New Era Shorthand

Covent Garden interiorThen we went to another place called Covent Garden where there are lots* of market stalls. We watched the street performers. One man was juggling with knives which I did not really like. Another one did some tricks balancing on a ladder. There were* people standing around in costumes on metal stands that make it look as if they are floating. There are a lot of that type now around the tourist places, but everyone still likes to watch them even though they know it is a trick.

* Omission phrase “there (w)ere”

Cat in basket performer

I liked the one that looked like a cat in a little basket, but it is really a man’s head and he is sitting underneath the table with just his head showing. The children were stroking the fur paws and wondering how it was done.

* "lots" and "masses" Insert the vowel, as these two are similar in shape and meaning

Pitman's New Era Shorthand

Building work with painted sheetingThen it was time to go home. On our way to the station, we went past a building that was being worked on. They usually cover them up with white sheeting to keep all the dust and dirt inside. This cover was not white but was painted to look like a real building. This is a very good idea and I was wondering if the painting was how it was going to look when finished. I think I will only find out next time* we go back that way.

Criss crossing railway tracks
We took the underground train and I am always searching for the old decorations and tiles. The one in the picture may be a modern version of old tiles. We had to change trains when we were nearer home, and the last photo shows all the lines crossing. It was mid-afternoon so it was all quiet and empty. London is very busy and noisy, so I was glad to get back to the more green and quiet area. Best regards, Yellow Teddy (668 words)

* Omission phrase "ne(k)s(t) time"

Undergound tiles "To The Trains"

Monday, 16 May 2016


On Sunday the 15th of May, we went to the 18th Streatham* Common Kite Day. Unlike our usual outings, we and many others did not want a calm hot day to enjoy the sunshine. Everyone wanted a breezy day, but hopefully some sun as well to keep us warm. I am happy to report that this is just how the weather turned out, a mixture of blue skies and clouds, sunshine and breezes. We arrived at Streatham Common railway station and our route towards the green was confirmed when we saw two large high flying kites visible over the rooftops. Streatham Common is a large area of grass and woodland in south London, much like all the other commons in London, but on this day it was completely transformed*. The entire green was dotted with people, and the sky dotted with colourful kites, with lots of white strings between them*. There were* stalls in brightly coloured tents, selling food, souvenirs and of course kites, information on local societies, such as wildlife conservation and Friends of the Common, and a children’s play area with bouncy games and slide.

* "Streatham" is pronounced "Strettam"

* "transformed" Optional contraction

* Omission phrases "betwee(n) them"  "there (w)ere"

A large arena was roped off in the centre for the displays of kite flying that were to take place during the afternoon. The atmosphere was one of excitement, anticipation and exploration, as this event is one of those* where visitor participation actually makes the day happen. Families and children were buying kites, unpacking kites, launching kites and running around with them. The kite stalls had the wind vane types tethered to poles around the tents and I think my favourite* was the rotating circular one with long tails. One always sees these at the seaside and I wouldn’t have been surprised to turn around and glimpse the sea somewhere!

* "one of those" Insert the vowel in "those" as it is out of position in the phrase

* "favourite" Note "favoured" is written with anticlockwise V stroke

Most of the kites were geometric shapes in rainbow colours, with trailing tails. Many were in the shape of animals: swallow, owl, kite (a type of small hawk), bright pink flamingo, black menacing shark, mauve smiling fish, pink octopus and blue and green dragonfly*. There were* some airplanes and I liked the one that had a spiral tail attached to each side of the tailplane, looking like curling spinning vapour trails. A few were indeterminate beasties with big eyes, fangs and waving tentacles that one felt might sting like a jellyfish. One could buy the smallest kite, barely six inches in length, but being made of shiny mirrored plastic, it shone like a brilliant flying diamond, fluttering and glinting in the sun and appearing much larger than it actually was. These are ideal for flying at home* in the garden, with the advantage that they can be flown by running along with them, without having to wait for a breezy day or a trip to the park.

* "dragonfly" The Fl is reversed only when necessary to join a preceding stroke. Fl stroke is never reversed for vowel indication like the Fr stroke is.

* Omission phrases "there (w)ere"  "at (h)ome"

In contrast to the personal kites, there were* some large floating* characters, giant nylon constructions filled out by the wind but held aloft by a large parachute type of kite much higher up. The first we saw was an enormous crocodile, and being long and thin he was undulating in the breeze, but fortunately not roaming around and filling his giant belly with any of us. He was later brought down and next up was a voluminous billowing blue teddy bear, swimming horizontally and swaying this way and that. Before we went home, we saw a third offering in the form of three angel fish tethered along the lower part of the line, also swimming in the air and enjoying every minute of their freedom before being packed away at the end of the day.

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

* "floating" Insert the vowel, so it is not misread as  "flying" or, if badly written, "fluttering"

We watched two of the kite displays, where specialised* kites were danced around the sky above the arena to music, swooping up and down, and crossing over each other and back again. The interesting thing about these is that they are not flat, so when they land, they are still standing up on their points, and can be jerked back into flight again. Dancing kites to the loud soundtrack of Chariots of Fire held our attention completely. The next display was two kites with extremely long tails that formed circles, loops and spirals as they followed the track of the kites. These reminded me of the toys we used to make, with a wooden sewing thread spool on a length of string, with a very long light plastic tail attached to the spool, which could be* swung round in loops in the back garden.

* "specialised" Essential to insert the diphthong, as otherwise this looks like "specialist" which is similar in meaning

* "which could be" Not phrased, in order to keep the "could" obviously in position, so it is not misread as "can"

We left mid-afternoon, and by that time the crowds had doubled and many were sitting on the grass on their picnic blankets, eating and drinking to get their strength up for another session of kiting and running around. The great thing about this type of event is that once it is over, that is not the end of kiting but just the beginning. Everyone who bought a kite can return at any time and continue flying their* kites on the green*. I am sure that once this happens, the children with smaller kites will start to literally raise their sights onto bigger kites, and if the budget doesn’t stretch, then make their own. Plastic bags and barbecue skewers will start to reappear in wonderful new shapes, with a much loftier purpose in mind, attaining the freedom of the skies for their ground dwelling owners. (886 words)

* "flying their" Doubling for "their"

* "green" Helpful to insert the vowel, as it could be misread as "ground"