BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ran a story recently that resonated with many of my journalist and secretarial friends. The piece suggested that shorthand could soon be relegated to the history books. Why? Because the journalism training council (NCTJ) said it would no longer be compulsory for all its students.
As I listened to the programme, I thought of my failure in mastering the craft. But then I quickly think of E. I am not sure how long E has been living in Herefordshire, but her strong Black Country accent is a reminder of another life, into which I have only the briefest of glimpses. She’s the cheeriest of women, but the smile slips from her usually friendly face, when I start talking about accents. “I don’t like mine, never have,” she insists. I gently press on and show her the curious Black Country Translation Service I have found. Nope, she’s having none of it. I follow her gaze to the garden and the birds. “They’re lovely, aren’t they?”
Later, I join E again and she tells me stories of her husband. As I listen, I am taken on a journey of epic proportions. E is probably unaware her words fire my imagination: from such ordinary lives, come great drama. I hear of husband, Bert: “A lovely man. Everyone liked him. A good sense of humour. When he died so many people turned out for the funeral. I wish he was still here. I loved him dearly, but I didn’t want to marry again. Never wanted anyone else.” E continues with a story high drama, featuring a ship wreck and eventual rescue from certain death and a watery grave.
Then E surprises me. She went to college to do typing and shorthand, tools that kept her in steady office employment. I ask her to show me some shorthand, and she does, without a moment’s hesitation.
It was like uncovering treasure, a relic from another life.