Friday, 10 June 2016


My eldest granddaughter tells me that she wants to be a journalist like her granny so I told her that she would have to learn shorthand. I had to buy another theory book after the dictation speed-building disc in mine stopped working so about a year ago I gave the old one to her to play with.

She's obviously been working hard at it and recently made me card to show off her fledgling skills. Shorthand students will notice that some of her outlines are a bit squiffy - particularly her use of the NTH blend for the word one, and not using the R principle for words beginning BR/CR/GR etc, plus the use of vowels in words where they are not needed - but she managed to understand the PL blend, generally got the hang of the system and as we shorthand nerds know, outlines are only "wrong" if the person who wrote them cannot read them back. She clearly managed to do that because, for my benefit in struggling to read her shorthand, she transcribed it and included that transcription on the card.

Considering that she is only 9 years old, she's progressing well and has enough years ahead to become a shorthand expert before her journalism training starts - unless of course in the years between she changes her mind about her future occupation.

Either way, shorthand is a unique skill that, as a shorthand tutor, I would say is useful in all aspects of life.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016


About once a month or so, I appear as one of three guests on Radio Lincolnshire's Lunch Bunch slot. Usually, the programme is hosted by the lovely Nicola Gilroy but new presenter Chris Berrow is standing in for her for a few weeks as she hosts the drivetime programme. Other presenters who have stood in for Nicola during my appearances are Rob Underwood and Jo Wheeler.

The Lunch Bunch slot begins at about 1.15 in at this link and fellow Lunch Bunchers were Sue Richie and Phil Crow. I think it's available for another 29 days on iPlayer.

It's a bit like a pub lunch chat where light news issues of the day are discussed. This time we talked about average speed cameras and the family who loved their five year-old goldfish so much they travelled 200 miles across the country to take it to a vet willing to operate on it for £200 after a local vet told them it wasn't worth it.

A new aspect of the show is that we were asked in advance to suggest our favourite three songs and why we like them. It was an impossible task so I chose three that I liked on the day. Chris then chose one of each. Sue's choice was America by Simon and Garfunkle, Phil's was Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie and mine was Sway by Dean Martin which is one of my all time favourites because it is so uplifting and makes me want to dance and more than that it makes me wish I could dance like the professionals in the Youtube video below.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


Whenever you go away there is always something happening at home that you miss and as much as I enjoyed the The concert in Verona I am gutted to have not been present at the Lincoln School of Journalism's ball.

A couple of my students at the University of Lincoln had asked me before our classes came to an end last month if I was going but because of my trip away I was unable to make it. Therefore, it was only today when I had to go into work to invigilate for an exam, that I found out students had honoured me with a recognition award for helping them along with their Teeline Shorthand.

I'm told the applause was massive and I am very sorry that I was not there to hear it or to say a huge thank you to the students for their appreciation, and of course to congratulate them for their own hard work in gaining the relevant speeds from 60wpm upwards that they wanted. Shorthand is not an easy subject but with regular study and practice it can be nailed and I am glad that I can help those who are determined to master it.

I was also over the moon when some of my students presented me with a card, and chocolates, after they finished the course and achieved their 100wpm passes. "Bonkers but lovely shorthand tutor" is a description I can happily live with. I am pleased you have all enjoyed (if that is the right word) your shorthand sessions.

I've often told students the reward is in the effort and maybe they decided I needed some reward for my efforts too. I am truly humbled and thrilled to get this award and really sorry that I couldn't be there on the night.

Thank you all again - and good luck with your future careers. There are some real stars coming out of our university and I am very proud to have been one of the tutors involved in helping to create and train the next generation of journalists to the highest standard expected of editors.

I will treasure this award and your good wishes for years to come. I will never forget any of those who I have met during this first three years of teaching the subject. It has been an absolute pleasure.

Friday, 13 May 2016


Picture by Simone di Luca/Fabrice Gallina from HERE. Right click to translate if it appears in Italian.

Sometimes just one word sums up an experience and the one we had in Verona at the fifth anniversary concert of the 2 Cellos was Wow!

I must admit, I'd never heard of them until a YouTube video of their version of Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us" flashed past my Facebook page one day. I was captivated by it and the drama of Croation Stjepan Hauser and Slovenian Luka Sulic as they played those instruments in a way I'd never seen or heard before. More than that, they gave an edge to a song I wasn't that keen on and made me love it. I followed the links to click to buy tickets for the concert and I'm glad I did. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had.

Despite a nightmare when booking flights and B&B (I got dates mixed up) the trip started great and just got better as we wandered around until the moment arrived we had come for. The venue was magical, the atmosphere electric, the event had me feeling like I was riding some musical astral plane where all the songs I loved and liked were made so new and unique by the sound of those epic cellos it was like hearing them for the first time ever. The passion and energy of the musicians on stage, which included drummer Dusan Kranjc, had me stomping, stamping and head banging all night.

The Piazza Bra in the Italian city of lovers was packed with people waiting to get into the venue and once inside they crowded into every single space and seat available.

Initially, I worried that the security man's legs would be our view for the night but after I took a photo of those handsome legs, and showed it to him, we had a giggle about it and red faced he moved sideways. When the concert began, he took a seat and our view was magnificent. The amphitheatre is great because it allows everyone to see. The acoustics were fantastic.

The supporting acts, Remo Anzovino and Lon Loman were warmly received but when the boys with the cellos came on stage there was a roaring welcome. They thanked everyone for coming and seemed genuinely humbled by the amount of people who turned out, having once said that if anyone had told them five years ago that they could fill a concert hall with just 2 cellos they would never have believed it. And yet there they were, standing in front of thousands of people all screaming, singing and dancing in wild appreciation of a truly new and unique talent deservedly flung onto the edge of superstardom after being discovered by Sir Elton John who, like me, was wowed when he first heard their version of a Michael Jackson song.

(pic credit Simone di Luca/Fabrice Gallina)

The 2 Cellos began in traditional style with a classic that sent shivers down my spine and brought tears to the eyes of my husband. I thought I even heard him say that this was a moment he had waited for all his life. When they finished and I felt the spell break, I heard them say that this was not a classical concert. This was no ordinary concert. This was most definitely a rock concert with songs interpreted and given fresh energy by two young men who play as if they were born with cellos by their side. This was like being carried on a wave to musical heaven for two hours and swept up in the same intense passion of the crowd who couldn't get enough and the artists who held us transfixed with their dramatic performance.

Pic from HERE

They covered hard rock songs like AC/DC's "Highway to Hell", Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" with a splash of Beethoven, a mash up of Iron Maiden's "Trooper" with a slice of "William Tell", and had the audience singing to The Rolling Stones "I Can't Get No Satisfaction", and rocking to headbanging tunes like Guns and Roses "Welcome to the Jungle" and Nirvana's "Teen Spirit." Their interpretation of Sting's "Shape of My Heart" and "Fields of Gold" (which ended the show) took my breath away.

For a full review see HERE Right click to translate.

(pic credit Simone di Luca/Fabrice Gallina)

The surreal experience was made more intense and dramatic by the thousands of lights all around us that were held aloft from mobile phones against the darkness of the Roman Arena in Verona and the clear night sky. Even the predicted rain stayed away. The crowd chanted for more and more and were determined not to let the show end. The 2 cellos did not disappoint and came back for several encores. After the magic was taken away with the instruments back stage, and the artists left the stage for the final time, the crowd reluctantly knew they had to let them go and began to file out of the ancient landmark. We left the Arena in a daze as if we had just experienced a journey to another world. Floating on air as we walked back toward our hostel, the Juliette B&B with the 2 Cellos music still in my head, we stopped at a wine bar and sat for a while because we needed time to come down a bit before heading to our room. As we walked, we passed the occasional piece of silver and gold paper slips that had been fired into the crowd during the concert in an explosive sparkling display. A few must have floated over and into the streets or dropped from people's clothes as they headed home or onwards to end their night as we did. These intermittent lonely scraps were like full stops reinforcing the end. The concert was over and soon the whole experience would be too and we would soon be back home to reality.

If you haven't heard of the 2 cellos then check out some of my favourite Youtube videos of theirs below. They are coming to the UK in July

The show was the highlight of our trip but the Italian city of Romeo and Juliette was beautiful in itself. We took advantage of the day we had there before the concert and the time we had before our flight the next day to see all the sights, including Juliette's house and balcony, and like many other lovers before us, we left our love lock - even though it was tiny and came from my suitcase because that was all we had to hand. We weren't sure what to do with the keys but decided to keep one each and then, later, we dropped one of the keys into a wishing well at Juliette's tomb. The other one got lost down a drain when it fell from my purse as I boarded the bus to the airport. It's just as well that neither of us are romantics at heart but as they say in Italian : " Siamo fatti l'uno all'altra" - we are made for each other - perhaps because we share the same cynicism but with the enchanting venue, the passion of the music, the atmosphere of the crowd, the charm of the City, and some time to care about each other, that characteristic soon melted away. Life could never be better than this.


Tuesday, 1 March 2016


Famous people often look shorter in real life but not Peter Hitchens. He is neither tall nor short but, as a voice to my left whispered as he came on stage, he looked about right. Straight up, solid and as forthright as his opinions, he speaks from the experience of more than 30 years as a political and foreign affairs reporter, observer and commentator.

Delivering a guest lecture at the University of Lincoln last night, he began by saying : "Same sex marriage is unimportant, the EU referendum is a waste of time, New Labour is not right wing at all, and everything you have been told about Russia is completely wrong." If he expected an adversarial or shocked reaction to suggest that these popular issues are irrelevant in the current global storm of war, Britain's uncertain economic and political future, our frenzy with an in/out EU referendum, Russia, Putin, and other world leaders, then he would have been disappointed. Most people either agreed with him or kept their reactions to themselves.

"We are told we face a new Cold War threatened by an aggressive Russian dictatorship which proposes to sweep westwards and we should be prepared to stand up and position ourselves against this enormous and powerful country," he said.

He spoke at length and in detail about Russia's historical relationship with the Balkans and the Caucasus, the public joy at the collapse of Communism and bursting into song himself as he drove through Moscow, the West's lack of understanding of Russian borders and the problem of the EU "following German policy" and moving in on the Ukraine and Georgia which, Hitchens said, provoked the reaction from Russia to annexe the Crimea. "In the Russians' view, this was a bit like parking its tanks 20 miles outside of Guildford," he said. "Which country gave up quantities of land in Asia? Which country has given up 700,000 square miles without any kind of physical struggle? Which power expanded its authority given up by Moscow which no longer controls Belarus, Ukraine or Georgia or any of those old Warsaw Pact states such as Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria? They all come under the control of the nation of the EU."

It is not that Hitchens is a Putin fan. Far from it. But he shares in common with many British people the concern of the EU's empire building and sees Germany as the architect and driver of it all. "I yield to no one in my dislike of Putin," he said. "I was one of the first journalists to write about his threats to liberty. He is a tyrant. He won't speak to me and his spokesman won't take my calls."

Western and British hypocrisy also got caught by Hitchens' sniper fire as he questioned our Government's strong moral tone against Russia while welcoming Saudi officials from a country with appalling human rights and delegates from China including a visit to Buckingham Palace by the Chinese president.

"China is a country that is currently engaged in kidnapping book shop owners in Hong kong, it has gulags, and it executes people and then harvests their body organs," he explained to anyone in any doubt about the regime in power.

He doesn't rate any of the candidates currently running in the US elections. As much as he would like to see a woman President in America, and as much as they needed one, he said, "belligerent" Clinton was not that woman. He's no big Donald Trump fan either but he'd rather him or anyone other than Hillary although he would laugh if Bernie Sanders made the White House, "because there would be no more US sponsored wars."

Questions from the floor included whether he thought that our view of Russia had been influenced by America, whether Russia was right to side with Assad, and whether Tony Blair should face prosecution for war crimes.

I missed the answers to the first two as I was preparing a question of my own but someone then beat me to it. As far as Blair is concerned Hitchens described him as "olympically dim."

"War crime is a misleading term because all war is crime. I don't think Blair should be prosecuted. I think he's too dim to understand what he was doing and in some way it would be unkind to put him on trial."

Something of a school boy smirk occasionally flashed across his face as he spoke. He answered questions with sincerity and held your gaze as he explained his view. My public question was whether he thought there could ever be peace in Syria. He said it could find peace and he hoped it would soon and although Assad was a nasty tyrant, most of his downfall was orchestrated by Saudis. When asked about the refugees, he said the Syrians fleeing war didn't go far from the borders and they want to go home as soon as they can. Others currently walking through Europe are a mixture of economic migrants and others seeking better lives but few are Syrians.

He said he would be staying home for the EU vote on June 23rd believing it a waste of time because even if the country votes no, it will take us a good 15 years to extricate ourselves from the EU but before that, like when Ireland voted no to the Lisbon Treaty - the EU constitution - if the leaders don't get the yes they want then it will keep coming back until they get the right answer eventually.

At the end of the event, as people began to file out of the room, I wandered up to the desk as Hitchens gathered up his papers. I had to ask him a question completely unrelated to anything he had been talking about and I felt a bit embarrassed to ask in the public hall in the middle of so much intellectual analysis of world affairs. I think he was a little taken aback by it.

"Do you do shorthand?" I ventured.

Hitchens smiled and then recalled his days 40 years ago learning Pitmans, something he still uses and can read back but his speed is not quite what it used to be.

"Can I tell my students that Peter Hitchens says shorthand is very important?" I asked. (They need motivation and it helps for them to know their journalistic heroes and heroines use it too.)

"More than that," he replied, "you can tell them that Peter Hitchens says he bitterly regrets not keeping up his speed and he wishes his shorthand teacher was here to help him again," he said.

He remembered the name of his shorthand tutor, as many students do throughout their journalism careers, and of course it would have been churlish of me as a shorthand lecturer not to offer to help him reach that speed in Teeline but he graciously declined the opportunity to sit in with my Year 1 or Year 2 students although I think they would have enjoyed it very much.

The "hated Peter Hitchens" as he often describes himself appeared to charm all who met him in Lincoln and I was one of those. Dare I say he is a lovely man. I profoundly disagree with him on many issues but there are many more that simply make sense.

You can read more from the pen of the man himself HERE and below is a video of Lincoln University student Jarrad Johnson's interview with Hitchens on his opinions, his politics, and his general visit to Lincoln.

Saturday, 6 February 2016


So many musicians from my era have been lost this year, most notably, Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, and Glen Frey, but lest we forget, it is five years ago today that we lost Gary Moore, one of the greatest guitar players ever born who could make that guitar gently weep like no other in its time. We've still got the blues for those greats we've lost but their music is the legacy they left behind and that makes them immortal.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


I don't recall the first time I ever saw the love of my life Marc Bolan, probably much later on Top of the Pops, but I do remember when I first heard his music. I was about nine or 10 years old and listening to Radio Luxenbourg on my transistor radio in bed under the blankets, so my mum didn't know I was still awake on a school night, when the strange and mystical sound of Ride a White Swan rose above the crackling sound of a station that Government tried to block by jamming and interfering with the signal at a time broadcasting was strictly controlled.

I wasn't the only one to be hooked after the first few notes. Millions of children and teenagers around the same age as me knew they were listening to something new, radical, and unlike anything we had heard before. This was music for our generation. My mum was into Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, my dad liked a bit of Beniamino Gigli and my older sisters were still following Elvis Presley and the Beatles even though Elvis was past his best and the Beatles were at the end of their career as a group and about to split up and go their separate ways. T.Rex and Marc Bolan were all about rock, free spirits, electric guitars, glitter, shine and poetic lyrics about wizards, elves, magic and the iconic beauty of Marc Bolan and his unique voice with a cockney twang that was music in itself.

We didn't own a record player when Ride a White Swan hit the charts but mum bought me and my sister a second hand High Fidelty record player to share and gave us some money to buy something we could play on it. The first record I bought was T.Rex's Get It On and with what I had left after spending 50p on it, I went into a second hand shop and bought a 1960s copy of the Tremeloes Greatest Hits and my sister bought the sound track to West Side Story which I had to endure before she had to endure Get it On over and over again. I'm surprised I didn't wear it out.

The Teenybopper phenomenon was born with the Beatles but became a fully fledged and intensive devotion with determination to grab a piece of this beautiful pop idol and his band T.Rex. Fans camped outside his home, followed him everywhere, and stole things if the opportunity arose as they did when T.Rex came to my home town. This wasn't because they were looking to make a few quid from selling on something of value because Marc had owned it, but rather because they wanted to be close to him and in the absence of being able to walk by his side hand in hand, they treasured any scrap of something they could say he had touched.

I eventually got to see my idol in the flesh when the new four piece band, formerly known as Tyrannosaurus Rex when it was an ethereal acoustic and bongo drums hippy duo, when they played at Lincoln's ABC cinema, 45 years ago tomorrow November 9th, 1971. My birthday was at the end of November so this was my birthday present and to date it remains the best I ever had although the satin jacket and Oxford bag trousers I got the year after were a close second.

I wore my older sister's smock top that night with jeans, I think, and we all sat timidly in rows as if sitting watching a film. I couldn't stay seated for long once the music began and got up and just started dancing on the spot. No one else did but Marc noticed me up there jigging about and stopped playing for a moment to say to the crowd :"C'mon be like that chick there and get up and dance." and the place exploded, others joined in, got to their feet and the place came alive. That was bound to be my overiding memory of the event but the other thing I remember is that the band played Jeepster, Marc said for the first time ever, before it was released as their next single.

It was years later when I worked at my local paper that I found the old report of the gig. I've still got it somewhere and read what I didn't know at the time which was that the group's car had been broken into by fans who stole things out of it. It was not me. I wasn't there. By then I guess we were on the bus home. I wonder if whoever stole stuff from the car still has it. Marc always seemed to take these things in his stride and once said in a TV interview that he didn't mind all these children hanging around but his neighbours often complained which caused him a bit of trouble.

As the 70s went on, I never fell out of love with Bolan and often bought T.Rex singles out of loyalty even when I was growing away from the sound as my musical passion moved towards Northern Soul, Tamla Motown and Phillidelphia.

I suppose most people know where they were when Bolan was tragically killed in a car accident driven by Northern Soul icon Gloria Jones I was in the kitchen at home when I lived in North Wales when it came on the TV news and someone shouted at me to come in watch it. It wasn't long after Elvis had died. Marc was just 29 years old. His home was raided by fans and many items were stolen. Like in Lincoln, I wonder if that stuff still exists, who has got it and whether or not they would ever return it to his son who, it appears, has little left of his father except for a few trinkets.

Bolan's music and style has immortalised him and left a legacy of greatness which inspired pop icons like David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Roxy Music. He also influenced a whole new generation of future musicians from punk, new wave, New Romantics, and Rock and he still has his army of fans and now belongs to them. Many Facebook pages are devoted to him and many fans uploads his music to YouTube for new generations to enjoy. But the saddest thing is that he never lived when he still had so much more to give to the world of art, music, literature and film. He was in all things a creative genius which is why I was taken aback with surprise when I recently mentioned him to my students and found that they didn't have a clue who he was.

It's a shame that his son Rolan hasn't made more of an impact in the mainstream. With music like this, he should have done and probably would have done had his father lived.

More than ever Marc now belongs to his fans who have created a shrine to their hero at the spot in Barnes, London, where the car driven by Gloria crashed into a tree. I must visit one day just to say thanks for my childhood memories and the music that will be with me all of my life.