September 1997: I'm 15 and on work experience at the Oldham Evening Chronicle. My aunt, who was deputy news editor at the time, managed to organise my placement and I'm now following the journalists around town and shadowing their work, making what notes I can. They take me to meet a Golden Jubilee couple, we visit the police station, the fire station and the courts.
In the latter of these, we watched as a number of people come face-to-face with a judge. The first was a young girl, maybe 20 or so with dark hair. She was terrified. The guard, a stocky-looking woman, held her hand and walked her to the dock. She'd been busted shoplifting in Boots, and timidly mumbled “guilty,” behind shaking fingers. She was given community service I think, and the guard took her hand again and led her away.
Next up, the judge called up a lad in his twenties. He'd been done for indecent exposure to a female on a country path somewhere. The judge asked him if he had anything to say.
“Yeah,” he said. “I just wish I hadn't done it.”
I bet, I thought. I wrote down “I just wish I hadn't done it.”
I looked to the left of me and my aunt and the other journalists were writing in shorthand, something that looked like a foreign language. But in the middle of the hieroglyphic squiggles, the quote from the defendant was in clear English.
It dawned on me at this moment that shorthand would be great for me. Even as a teenager I needed to make notes due to memory difficulties and, both then and now, I can't always get the notes I want due to conversations moving too fast. It would also mean I could make private notes- it's only journalists who can read shorthand, so anything I might write would be fairly secure. Even today I kick myself for not learning this skill. Meetings in work, book signings, meetings with the NHS relating to memory or confidence- these encounters would be much more streamlined if I could get the info down quicker. There's normally silent pauses, particularly in one-to-one meetings, to account for me taking down notes. Occasionally I arbitrarily write the word SHORTHAND in block caps next to the notes to remind me to learn this one day.
Nearly 20 years after I visited the courts with the journalists, I've decided it's time to make time for this. I've found a series of videos on Youtube that act as a guide for learning shorthand, although there's some debate over which version is better to learn. Shorthand has 3 popular forms- Greggs, Pitmans and Teeline. Greggs and Pitmans, I understand, are more for secretarial work. It appears Teeline shorthand is better for journalism, which is what I'm hoping to get into. And hence I'll be looking into Liverpool John Moores University's videos, fronted by Shorthand Sue.
Her videos appear to have more hits than her competitors, so she's my best bet. That said, there are only 6 videos in the playlist, so I may need to do more looking around. Let's see how far I get in a month.