I have had what might be called an eclectic career starting as a secretary in 1963 having walked out of the sixth form and been frogmarched by my mother to the local College Of Further Education.
The course tutor, seeing my impressive O-level results, asked why I’d given up the idea of teaching. I had a September birthday and the training period had increased from two years to three years meaning I wouldn't start work until I was 22 and at 17 that seems a lifetime away. My then to-be tutor uttered unforgettable words which stayed with me throughout life.
She said, ‘Do well on this course and you can then teach secretaries yourself.’
I did do well with an accurate typing speed of 60 to 70 words per minute, an asset when I worked for a Consultant Radiologist,
Marriage and family then intervened and my part-time jobs ranged from managing a paper round and being an Avon representative neither of which required typing skills.
However , when my youngest daughter was three years old, I saw an advertisement in the local paper for a teacher’s training course in shorthand, a skill I had excelled at with a speed of 130 words a minute. These were the days of Pitman, hard to learn but an asset on the CV as success in shorthand was deemed an indicator of ability, even if it was not needed in the job.
For nineteen years I taught on a range of secretarial courses at Uxbridge College, course content including Audio Typing, Shorthand, Typing, Communications, Office Practice and Secretarial Duties. As well as our own tutor group, we would teach other students from various courses including day release, BTec and later, GNVQ. The first three weeks of the autumn term students sat watching a whiteboard screen as letters flashed up on the keyboard along with audio. The system was called Sight and Sound. The result was touch typists.
While working full-time I resumed my childhood hobby of writing, penning two novels set in the 1980s, bashed out on a portable typewriter I had inherited from my parents’ home when my father died.
My mother followed my example and enrolled on a secretarial course for mature ladies at the very same college where I honed my early skills - she even had the same course tutor. Sadly, she died before she could complete the course, her last letter telling me how much she was enjoying learning new skills. My new partner, prone to spoiling me, bought me an Amstrad computer so that I could alter and edit my writing and then print out. This was easier said than done as those of you who used these early computers will give testament to.
Two years later and I had upgraded to a fairly basic word processor, similar to those we were using in the classrooms at Uxbridge College. Away from work, in our new shared home in 1987, I had my first office. E-mail was in its infancy and I was yet to discover the joys of the Internet.
I continued writing and later, after a move to the South coast and a brief respite in teaching and evening tutoring of dyslexic students, I started putting pen to paper again but the previous novels somehow didn't flow. However, I could still write and I could write pithy pieces on my first blog, some of which I then developed into poetry. My first two books, Grandma's Poetry Book and Should I Wear Floral, were typed frenetically on an even more upgraded computer. All the edits, reading of proofs sent from the publisher, corrections, letters of enquiry to agents, and promotional pieces to put online were all typed with what I now see as ‘fast fingers’.
In the last five years of my teaching career I had concentrated on assessing and teaching students with dyslexia. In Further and Higher Education, assessment reports would include a recommendation for the provision of voice recognition technology so that these students could produce work of an equivalent nature to their non-dyslexic counterparts. The students would bring their work to their support session and I was increasingly amazed at what they could produce but very aware of the errors that could arise.
In 2010, when my granddaughter was born in Brighton and I was travelling to and fro every week to help, I watched businessmen and women working on laptops on the trains. It only took one journey to convince me that this was the way forward so for 7 to 8 years everything I wrote was on this laptop and I would type in my usual fast manner, now penning a memoir and also a novel, more poetry, blogs on my WordPress site and e-mails.
Life was to change. Move on seven years and I suffer carpal tunnel syndrome, numbness and increasingly severe arthritic hands.
Rail travel became impossible in 2017 with hips and knees affected and my hands were fairly useless. I remembered those dyslexic students who couldn't type, couldn't spell or put a sentence together, but who achieved such great results at University thanks to the Disabled Students Allowance and programs such as the latest version of Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
For my own use, I did not need the newest version. A quick trip to eBay and I purchased version 11 for £35, loaded it onto my desktop and my laptop - the licence allows for two devices.
Needless to say, this has completely changed my writing life. While I still write in cafes on A4 file pads and in A5 notebooks, I bring home illegible scribbles to read on to the computer. Sometimes, I jot ideas which prompt me. My writing output has increased considerably despite occasional glitches. The commands in Word are sensitive to the software. For example, last night, I had three attempts to send an e-mail because the message included ‘send’. The recipient now has three e-mail messages in his inbox. Similarly, saying ‘home’ or ‘save’ causes problems.
I participate in writers’ events on and off-line and read comments about lack of typing ability in the message box. I try to encourage people with difficulties to explore this technology. Unfortunately, some people think they need the latest version but are put off by the cost.
I do have a Facebook writer page so have decided to post tips. I am not yet up to holding training on Zoom or Eventbrite.
Learning to touch type is a life skill but, if this has not been taught at a young age, it is difficult to acquire later. This software is ideal for them. Many people say ‘there is a facility in Word’ but this is only available on the latest versions and many people do not have this luxury.
However, WORD is WORD.
Why not have a try?
Here are some useful links
www.ebay.co.uk Version 9 £24.99
Version 12 apparently has more accuracy, available on eBay at £69.99