Pitman’s shorthand 56 years later

I went to Clark’s College in Walthamstow, which was known as a ‘secretarial college’ at the age of ten.  I started to learn shorthand when I was 14 as well as typing, book-keeping, commerce, etc.  When I left school at 16 I got a job as a secretary to Mr Burrows, a sociology lecturer in the University of London.  I used my shorthand professionally from that day until I was 24.

Thereafter I used it sporadically to take down the lyrics of songs from the radio, long before the internet could deliver them in minutes,  and more importantly to record what the teachers had to say at Parent/Teacher meetings.  I was able to take down verbatim what they had to say about my children and know that the notebook would never be read by anyone.  Sometimes I would look down at my shorthand notes as they eagerly awaited whatever pronouncement was to come.  Very often I told them exactly what was there in what they called ‘the squiggles’ but sometimes I doctored the hieroglyphics to soften the blow or because I didn’t think what the teacher had to say was constructive.  I also use it to write my christmas present list and things in the diary for my eyes only.

Anyway what brings all this to mind is that I have started using my shorthand recently as I am doing some work for an elderly gentleman.  He finds using the tape recorder difficult and prefers to talk to me at his own pace. I find that my ability to take down dictation and transcribe it is as good as ever.  Maybe I will never reach those 150 words per minute days but it is fast enough for him and very satisfying for me.


2 thoughts on “Pitman’s shorthand 56 years later

  1. Ann, that is a great story. Would you consider sending it to Sunday Miscellany? You could expand it, telling what it was like at the tender age of 9 to be learning a new way with words, and produce equally fascinating mini-stories within the main one. I was wanting to hear what kind of thing was being said in those parent-teacher meetings which you chose to ‘squiggle’ into a softer interpretation. It is very amusing to consider that here is this mother of 8, when required, secretly re-shaping the reporting of the mighty teachers so that her children wouldn’t be harmed by harsh words and sent on a downward spiral of negativity. And this is all before we knew anything about psychology! I was reminded too that there is something so warm and tangible in this particular relationship between boss and secretary which defies the cold, hierarchical structures in businesses, and of course which led to many a secret liaison. Technology is wonderful and I wouldn’t want to be without it, but having worked as a shorthand-typist in the mid-seventies, I am thrilled to be taken on a trip down memory lane. It is my feeling that there are others out there who would love this too. Go get em girl. Ali

    • I didn’t think too deeply about it but I am so glad it touched a nerve with you. My relationship with Mr Burrows my first boss meant a lot to me. He used to say I was too young for boys and too old for toys, little did he know. He introduced me to great books and was an inspiration in many ways. In those days (early 50s) I had a typewriter, carbon paper, erasers and not even a bottle of tippex to help me along. Because of that I appreciate the wonders of word processing in a way that a young person will never do.

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