The PR glanced at my scribble-filled notebook and did an astonished double take. “You write shorthand?” she gasped. “Wow. You’re the first journalist in ten years I’ve seen do that.”
Her words made me feel like a museum exhibit from a bygone age. But then again, shorthand is one of the most useful skills I’ve ever learned. Before I started as a trainee reporter on a small weekly paper on the edge of Dartmoor I spent eight weeks in a shabby Plymouth Portakabin mastering the rudiments of a shorthand called Teeline. Our teacher was the delightful Ella, who must have been in her sixties and thought Teeline was the bees-knees. Only when I’d got up to a decent speed did my editor send me out to cover the local magistrate’s court, industrial tribunals and the thing I dreaded more than anything, the district council’s planning committee meeting.
Even now I use my 100 words per minute shorthand every day. It’s a bit scrappy these days, with the odd word written in longhand, but when it comes to tight deadlines and interviewing people on the phone, a notebook and pen are still the best tools for the job. Far easier and far speedier than laboriously transcribing from a tape recorder. And there are still places where you can’t use a recorder, like courts for a start.
Shorthand seems to be a dying art so I was delighted to see it in the headlines this week. Why? Because a diary kept by First World War veteran Edward Sigrist has just been discovered in his family’s attic. It’s written in an obsolete form of shorthand and gives a vivid account of the dangers and discomforts of life on the front line.
Like most journalists I’ve hung on to most of my old notebooks. They’re stacked up all over the place in my office – but somehow I don’t think historians of the future will be poring over them.