Monday, 16 April 2018

One Million Years BC

A short while ago I watched an old film on the television. I do not normally watch fiction films, as I prefer to spend that time on more fruitful pursuits, ones where I can see what I have achieved at the end of it. I suppose the answer to that is to write the dialogue down in shorthand, and maybe I will remember to do that next time*. However, the film was called One Million Years* BC and the characters did not have much of a language, apart from their names, a few simple commands and the names of the local marauding dinosaurs.

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

* "Million Years" Normally this could be phrased, but as it is a title, context would not help, and if phrased it could be mistaken for "millionaires"

The Rock Tribe were primitive, violent and vicious, and more than willing to kill each other, in order to* further their position of superiority, or just to gain another piece of the roasted meat dinner, which they fell upon and ate like snarling beasts. The more advanced Shell Tribe looked after each other, acting as a co-ordinated group, with orderly and civilised lives, having realised that this is the only way for all of them to survive the dangers of their harsh world. When they needed help or to locate each other, they summoned the others using a horn, clearly the very first* mobile phone, literally, as phone means sound.

* Omission phrases "in ord(er to)" "very (fir)st"

I particularly liked the scene where an old man in the Shell Tribe was teaching a crowd of children about the animals they hunt, and was illustrating with paintings of them on the cave wall. Obviously there was no escape from schooling even for those kids, although it would be of great practical interest to everyone as that knowledge provided their meat and clothing. Current theories generally seem to be on the lines that the depictions were used in pre-hunt rituals to gain spiritual mastery over the animals, to ensure a successful outcome.

The Shell Tribe’s life comes closest to the vicissitudes of the shorthand take, with its rapid changes from easy to hard, from safe to perilous, in a split second, and back again. Their life was almost like a seaside holiday, cavorting in the surf, easily spearing the fish, and at home shaking fruits from the tree and sitting around making shell necklaces. Then all of a sudden* a roaring and snapping allosaurus appeared on the scene and the happy relaxed atmosphere vanished in a moment. They had to summon up all their speed, presence of mind, ingenuity, quick thinking and courage. Of course the chap who had wandered in from the primitive Rock Tribe was the one with no fear of it, it was just another big dinner-to-be, and he used a large sharp-ended stake on which the dinosaur eventually impaled itself.

* Omission phrase "all (of a) sudden"

If you practise a one thousand word passage twice, and then take it from dictation, and do that every day for a year, in that time you will have written over a million words in shorthand. As you will be making full use of intelligent phrasing, you will of course have written much fewer than a million actual outlines. Lessons in survival tactics will be learned from the unrelenting attacks by the monsters of unknown words coming at you at ultra high speed, and the claws of the meat-eating pterodactyl will not carry you away to its rocky nest, never to be seen or heard of again. Having survived the encounter, you will put your Shell Tribe brain to work, to ensure that next time* you are even better prepared, no casualties occur and you can deal with everything decisively, and then afterwards resume your well- ordered, methodical, resourceful and creative life. (600 words)

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

Sunday, 15 April 2018

No Comment

I have just seen, in passing, a few short moments of a television programme where someone was being questioned on his part in a crime. He had been caught on security camera clearly doing all the things he was being asked about. He did not admit to any of it at all. His answer to every question* was “No comment”. He was taking literally the caution from the officers that, “You do not have to say anything at present”. Leaving aside the rights or wrongs* of that case, the “No comment” attitude does have its rightful place in other situations, and it certainly has a real bearing on and relevance to shorthand success.

* "question" Optional contraction

* "rights or wrongs" Avoid phrasing this, as there is a standard omission phrase "right (or) wrong" which is also a common spoken phrase. If you phrased the one here, it would not be possible to know whether "or" or "and" has been omitted.

All through learning and on into speed practice, and even in subsequent real life* assignments, your ability* to recall and write the correct shorthand outlines is only part of what is needed. It is likely that even during your very first* dictation, you came up against the “comments” in your mind, as you were* doing your best to write the outlines without getting left behind. You had no control over the speed of delivery and it was up to you to keep up. This issue of intrusive mental comments has nothing in common with all the other processes of shorthand writing* , that is hearing the words correctly, recalling the correct outlines, and writing them rapidly. If you get left further behind, those comments get louder and more insistent, although they may not form themselves into words. If you were working on a conveyor belt line in a factory, the same thing* would happen if someone sped up the machinery* beyond what was comfortable, safe or practicable for getting the job done properly*. The whole process would collapse into confusion and the desperate comment would be, “Help, slow down, stop, I can’t* do this!”

* Omission phrases "rea(l) life" "very (fir)st" "you (w)ere" "short(hand) writing"

* "your ability" The disjoined B for the suffix -bility can be used for the whole word, where convenient and clear

* "same thing" Avoid phrasing, as that would look like "something"

* "machinery" Optional outline omitting the N, the full outline has N with R hook

* "properly" Insert the first vowel, and the diphone in "appropriately", as these are similar in outline and meaning

* "can't" Essential to insert the vowel, to show it is an apostrophied version

A teacher or shorthand book author may urge you to concentrate, keep up and not be distracted, but further than that, no practical solutions may be offered. My best advice is to encourage you to be constantly aware of the presence and workings of this obstacle to progress. Your observation of it is the beginning of depriving it of its power to catch you off guard. This threat will not just go away of its own accord, even when you are a high speed writer. However good one’s shorthand knowledge, there is always the possibility that an unexpected difficulty will occur such as the speaker suddenly speeding up beyond what you thought was humanly possible or a real stinker of a technical term* or a whole succession of them in a short space of time, during what you expected to be a bland, easy and innocuous speech at conversational speed.

* Omission phrases "tech(nical) term" "short space (of) time"

At those times, thoughts of doubt, unease or alarm are unwelcome and disruptive intruders. As shorthand capability improves, intrusive internal comments will reduce because you have a little more time in hand. That is, unless you are working on speed increase, where every gain you make is matched by an increase in the speed of dictations being undertaken, leaving no time at all in hand. Unless there is a firm and well-practised response* when they do occur, they may succeed in disrupting through the surprise rather than the severity of their attack. A good soldier mentality is required, being aware of everything at all times and prioritising reactions, what to do and what to ignore, from one moment to the next.

* "response" This should always have the second vowel inserted, so it never looks like the contraction "responsible". Although they are different parts of speech, you don't have time to work out whether the context would make it clear.

You may have seen those television games where a person has to answer questions* from the presenter* without using the words Yes or No. An attractive prize is usually the reward for winning this game. The presenters are successful when they speed up the questions* and increase the pressure. The very moment that the contestants become distracted, they use the forbidden words. The ones who survive the onslaught and get the prize are those who have practised saying Affirmative and Negative, to replace the Yes and No. Their success depends on preparation and establishing the safe reaction in advance, thus shutting out the prohibited one.

* "questions" Optional contraction

* "presenter" Insert the vowel before the N, so it is not misread as "person"

You can do the same with shorthand writing*, strengthening the ability to focus on the task before you, maybe by taking down the news, which can be quite fast and full of unusual names, specialised terminology and a host of other distractions, such as the lively subject matter and video* clips, which you can practise resisting and ignoring. If your speed is at present too low for that, just capture one whole sentence at a time. This exercise should be done with the primary purpose* of observing yourself under pressure. You will have neutralised a mental hindrance to speed progress, just like when your computer has deactivated a virus, enabling you to continue with your more interesting and satisfying work unhindered. (805 words)

* Omission phrase "short(hand) writing"

* "video" Always insert the diphone, and a vowel in "photo" as these are similar in outline and meaning

* "purpose" Optional intersection

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Million Daffodils

I am always looking for new parks or features to visit across London. Sometimes investigations will turn up an overlooked item that was missed on other visits. The aerial view of the online map can reveal lots* of possibilities*. A few days ago I found something of especial interest at this time of year, whilst perusing images of some of the parks, and I knew I just had to go to the place as soon as possible*. The location was Hampton* Court Palace on the River Thames at East Molesey to the West of London. The target of my interest was The Wilderness*, a woodland garden on the north side of the palace and formal gardens. It was apparently full of a million daffodils, and so I did not want to miss this spectacular display.

* "lots" Insert the vowel in this and in "masses" as they are similar in outline and meaning

* "possibilities" Optional contraction

* Omission phrase "as soon as poss(ible)"

* "Hampton" Uses the Imp stroke, because in place names, the P sound is not omitted as it sometimes is in nouns, as context or grammar is no help with names

* "The wilderness" Not using Tick The, as it is part of the name, so written separately

It would have been* wonderful if the day had been sunny with blue sky and fluffy clouds, but that did not happen. It was grey and overcast, and the early dawn rain had cleared away, leaving a thick mist over the countryside. As we travelled by train through central London, the tallest buildings had their heads in the low clouds, but fortunately it was not a cold or breezy day, just quite comfortable as long as one had  the right clothes on. It was still hat and gloves weather, despite the date on the calendar. This is normal for Britain, and it is unreasonable to expect warm weather in April.

* Omission phrase "it would (have) been" This phrase is not shorter than the full version, using V and hook N, but the join is easier and clearer

We had walked round The Wilderness before, during summer, a large grassy area full of trees, paths and seats, all very pleasant* on a sunny day for strolling, sitting on a bench and enjoying the greenery. I had not* the slightest idea that a million daffodil bulbs were sleeping underground, and had I known that,* I would have been here in spring many years ago to see the display. As we entered through the gate, we were immediately surrounded by a multitude of daffodils, of all types and colourings. They were not hiding in some far off corner. As our eyes roamed into the distance, the display merged into yellow and creamy* white stripes. The trees were only just breaking into leaf, so there was full light on them and I was relieved to see that the recent rain had not beaten them down.

* "pleasant" Insert the first vowel in this and in "pleasing" as they are similar in outline and meaning

* "I had not" It is quicker to write it as shown here, and not use the halving method to show the "not", as that would necessitate adding the Dot Hay and vowel, to distinguish it from "do not". If you have already written it that way, then inserting the dots is quicker than rewriting it.

* "known that" The following comma in the longhand is essential, to help with reading

* "creamy" Insert the final vowel, as "cream-white" would also make sense

It was probably an advantage that it was not sunny, as that meant fewer people visiting, which makes it easier to get good photos* without having to wait for groups to pass by or go out of sight behind the evergreens. Everything was fresh and thriving, and there were* no patches of blind daffodils anywhere, which means that they are well fed and are left to die down naturally without being cut back before their time. We found a seat on the far side to have our sandwiches, surrounded by the blooms and accompanied by a variety of birdsong, mainly blue tits, great tits, robins and blackbirds, singing their ownership of various areas.

A magpie suddenly landed on a branch close behind us, with a loud caw that sounded more like a bark, but he did not stay* to get the morsel that was thrown his way. Many of the trees have bird boxes, and I was glad to see that they are quite deep, which is important to prevent squirrels and magpies from raiding them. Further along the path, a jay was having a bath in a large puddle, flashing the streak of bright blue on his wings, and then he suddenly flew up into the tree to continue preening.

* "photos" Helpful to insert the last vowel, and the diphone in "videos", as these are similar in outline and meaning

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

* "stay" Advisable to always insert the vowel in this and in "sit" as they could easily be misread for each other, especially in phrases

On the side by the perimeter wall is the Laburnum Walk, a long tunnel of arches covered in tied-in branches, with leaves and buds just beginning to emerge and that will be a glorious sight when it is in full bloom. Finally we came past the 300 year old Maze, made of impenetrable hedging and full of excited children, with their squeals and shouts echoing around. These were very  happy sounds of well-behaved children having a great time, and all the daffodils were nodding in agreement. It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the magnificence and it would have been* no hardship to sit* around looking at it for the entire day. Fortunately the camera was full of lovely photos* and panning videos*, and so I will have it all forever to relive and to share with you here as illustrations. (742 words)

* "sit" Advisable to always insert the vowel in this and in "stay" as could easily be misread for each other, especially in phrases

* Omission phrase "it would (have) been" This phrase is not shorter than the full version, using V and hook N, but the join is easier and clearer

* "photos" Helpful to insert the last vowel, and the diphone in "videos", as these are similar in outline and meaning

Sunday, 25 March 2018

High Speed Race

You may have seen that I have put up some new high speed dictations, as up until now most of them have been below a hundred words a minute. Once you have bust* the 100 speed mark, it is not time to stop but continue up the speed ladder with equal determination. The new dictations give just one paragraph repeated at all the speeds from 100 to 200, in increments of ten. I like to think of this as the sneak method, and it will work if you can ignore the indication of the speed before each section, and resist any alarm it might try to send your way. If you practise each paragraph singly until you are completely at ease with every outline in it, you may find you can go faster than you thought. You start low and sneak the speed upwards, and if you manage to get it all at higher than your usual rate, that is a real confidence booster, even though you know it has been well practised and is not comparable to an unseen passage. It is a real step towards being able to do that speed on unseen matter, because you now know that your hand can move that fast, as long as the mind can supply the outlines rapidly enough.

* "bust" Insert the vowel, as "passed" could also make sense here

Yesterday I watched the two University boat races on the television, where the Oxford and Cambridge men’s and women’s crews row up the Thames from Putney Bridge to Chiswick Bridge, a distance of four miles that takes just under 20 minutes to complete. I had my pen and shorthand pad on my lap and wrote down all the phrases from the commentators that seemed to apply equally to shorthand writers* struggling through their own high speed race in an exam or a real-life* assignment, where there is only one opportunity to get it right and no possibility of taking it easy, if they are to get and stay ahead, in order to* reach their goal successfully.

* Omission phrases "rea(l) life" "short(hand) writers" "in ord(er to)"

At the beginning Team One made a powerful start, and rapidly began pulling away with every stroke. They got into their pattern and maintained a fair rhythm.  They know that stability is what is needed. We are not left wondering how much* effort they had put in, to get this early lead. They are ruthlessly taking the focus and there is a growing amount of clear water between them* and their opponents. They are continuing to raise momentum, keeping the speed continuous, and are constantly making sure there are no mistakes. No matter what it looks like on paper, on the day it is down to the skill and effort of the team. Despite their clear lead, there can be no let-up in their efforts in the race, but it does not hurt so much* when you’re winning it.

* "how much" "so much" These phrases are quicker than writing two separate outlines, even though they include the M stroke

* Omission phrase "betwee(n) them"

Team Two was having a harder time of it. They did not suffer a bit of a standing start as has happened before, but they have got to believe that anything can happen, you never know in this race, and it is clear that they are not fazed by the other team’s initial lead. With all the crew changes, it may be that the race has come a little bit too early for them, but the cox has to try and convince the crew that there is still hope here. They have got to do what they can, but it is hard when you have almost lost hope. Distance per stroke is just not enough and, well, hanging on, that is all they are doing.

Their clear victory showed that Team One were slightly stronger*, slightly better and certainly had more experienced rowers. Team Two were left thinking about what might have been, and suffering the contrast with the joy and jubilation of the winners. The cox of the winning team said, we are a team made of the sum of its parts. We just keep pressing on to get the best out of our crew.  We knew we needed to go out there and do the job. One person said that adventure is addictive and with all the publicity and acclaim for their exploits, it is really nice to suck it all up, after all the hard slog of training and then racing. I wonder how much* of this you can relate to your shorthand tests, and I do hope that you never have to think of “what might have been” but instead get to “suck it all up” when you receive some well-deserved praise for your achievement. (764 words)

* "stronger" Optional contraction that omits the hard G sound

* "how much" This phrase is quicker than writing two separate outlines, even though it includes the M stroke

Monday, 19 March 2018

Albert Memorial

Recently we went to see the Albert* Memorial which is on the south east corner of Kensington Gardens in Central London. I had seen pictures of it and realised that I had never seen it, despite several years of scouring London for places of interest to visit. We chose a dry sunny day and walked through St James’s Park, past Buckingham Palace and through Green Park, arriving at the eastern end of Hyde Park. We then walked along the edge of the Serpentine, a long narrow lake on the south side of the park. There were* birds everywhere, swans, geese, ducks* , pigeons, crows and a few starlings, and crowds of people standing around feeding them, sitting on the benches watching them, and taking photos* of their friends being besieged by expectant feathered friends, with everything from phones to business-like large cameras. It was like a scene on a Victorian postcard* , minus the long dresses and top hats, with everyone walking up and down to enjoy the park, lake and sunshine. We had our sandwiches much further* along, but we were still accompanied by a few seagulls* , and one slightly lame pigeon who got a personal supply of crumbs without having to compete for them.

* "Albert" Compare with "Robert" Ray + B + Ray halved

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

* "ducks" In another context, inserting the vowel is helpful to differentiate from "dogs"

* "photos" Helpful to insert one of the vowels, as "videos" is similar

* "postcard" Omits the lightly-sounded T

* "further" Note that "farther" is F + Ar + Thee with R hook

* "seagulls" Keeps the stroke S, to match the original "sea"

When we reached the memorial, I was surprised at its size, as I had imagined it to be about 10 metres high. It is actually 54 metres (176 feet) high. On the covered plinth sits the golden* figure of Albert under an ornate canopy and above that a spire rises steeply, topped by figures of angels and a cross. The whole is densely covered in friezes, carvings, sculptures, mosaics*, decorative artworks and inscriptions. At the corners are statues representing agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacture. The monument is contained within a square of elaborate red and gold painted railings. There is a sculpture group at each corner representing the continents of the world, with figures and an animal: Europe with a bull, Africa with a camel, Asia with an elephant, and the Americas with a bison.

* "golden" Insert the diphone in "glowing" to help differentiate

* "mosaics" The dictionary outline has diphone, although modern pronunciation is often just the "A" sound mo-zake

Prince Albert married Queen Victoria in 1840 but died of typhoid in 1861 at the age of 42. He had requested that no statues of him should be made but despite this many memorials were raised throughout the country and throughout the British Empire. This one took two years to design and agree on, and was opened in 1872. The figure of Albert was put in place in 1875. Unfortunately the engineering and manufacture that the Victorians developed* and pursued* with such vigour contributed to the atmospheric pollution that gradually destroyed the gold leaf, and at the beginning of the twentieth century the statue was painted black. Restoration took place in 1990 and the whole monument was cleaned, restored, repainted and re-gilded.

* "developed" Optional contraction, full P for present tense, halved for past tense

* "pursued" Note "pursue/s/ing/er" all use full stroke S

There is much detail to see but it is all at a distance, and the only way to overcome the limitation of the enclosing railings is to use the zoom on the camera, so that it can be captured and viewed later, on the computer screen in the comfort of home. There are tours held each month so that visitors can see the monument close up. Opposite the monument is the Albert Hall, and in nearby Kensington to the south are the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Imperial College London. These were created with the profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, which Albert was the driving force behind and which was intended to improve business and trade. As Prince Consort, Albert took on the role of initiator of reforms in trade and the modernising of education, which benefited both industry and the working classes. The area of the museums was nicknamed “Albertopolis”, which was not only a bit of fun but also a slight satire on the ambitious mission he had set himself. Judging by the crowds still thronging these institutions some 160 years later, his efforts to provide these centres of scientific education and research are his best memorial.

I have one puzzling question about this memorial, which is colourful and in pristine condition, and that is how the pigeons are kept off, seeing as there are so many cosy and sheltered corners and ledges where they could roost* . The use of rows of spikes to discourage perching by pigeons is now widespread. In one covered market in London they broadcast a sound file of intermittent pigeon alarm squawks. Trafalgar Square is devoid of pigeons now that feeding is not allowed and I think this is probably the answer. They are all at the other end of the park by the café, where people sit and eat. Or maybe the pigeons are just staunch Victorians and, in deference to Prince Albert, respectfully sit instead in the surrounding trees, silently thanking him for his wonderful museums a short distance away that attract a steady and endless supply of snack eating and crumb dropping visitors. (821 words)

* "roost" Insert the vowel, as "rest" is similar in outline and meaning