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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

An end to self-deprecation

Minutes ago I was asked to deliver a 20-minute speech without notes and/or preparation. Yes  I was dreaming but many say this is among their worst nightmares. Not for me. I can speak endlessly (and do) about my favourite subject and people can find it entrancing. Oh, the chutzpah, they say.

If it wasn't a cliché, you see in me a dinosaur. Someone whose career (in my case the word deserves quotes - another cliché) was based on knowing virtually nothing about bugger-all. A journalist of the old school.

I entered journalism at 15 with a blank slate for a mind; a mind untouched by formal education. From 1951 until 1959 I listened to people speak, transcribed what I heard into shorthand, turned the squiggles into articles at the rate of 1000 words/hour. Dull, unenlightening work. So I left for London to work on magazines. Here are the magazines (by subject) I passed through:

Mopeds

Hi-fi

Civil engineering

Motorcycling

Logistics (For the first time)

USA: Instrumentation and control systems.

USA: Data processing.

USA: General technology

Logistics (Second time).

Institutional catering.

Metal fabrication; steel manufacture.

Logistics (Third time).

During which I travelled widely (Japan, Venezuela, USA, Scandinavia, etc), was wined and dined to excess, was paid well above the national average, helped others to progress through this non-profession, received a huge redundancy payment (Here's the irony; I wasn't redundant), gained a well-deserved reputation for unpredictability and stylistic finesse, and retired on a comfortable pension.

Reading this list, certain pillars of society (Oh, let's call a spade a spade - teachers) are outraged. How on earth...?

The answer is: never again! Such a record would these days be impossible. A golden age? There've already been too many clichés. Let's say a Sheffield-plate age.

8 comments:

Lucy said...

I'm sufficiently impressed that you mastered shorthand so efficiently. I tried to learn it once and concluded biblical Hebrew would be an easier option.

Stella said...

May I join your dinosaur herd? The image of the typewriter stirs my heart -- the only machine I ever loved! I bet you never used one -- you would have had a secretary, and that's where I enter stage left. (Only in hushed tones to trusted friends does one now ever admit to being a Secretary, so defiled the occupation has become.) My husband, who has a talent for making money, has even less formal education than either of us and we often speculate whether an MBA would enhance his skills or homogenize them. It seems to me that it's what's in the personality, the DNA, the willing spirit, that moves us along the trail. Well, maybe not so much these days and I know that is your point. We were allowed (forced?) to live by our wits in the Jurassic age.

BlondeTwo said...

Just once in a while Robbie, a teacher can surprise you!

mike M said...

You attribute your grasp of language to.....reading? Innate desire or were you nurtured to read...think WAY back now...

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucy: I woulda bin dead in the water without shorthand. I go to an evening meeting of the Eldwick Horticultural Society and listen for an hour to a lecture on herbaceous borders, thereafter half an hour's forum on the same subject. I am now faced with producing a thousand words on this. Rely on memory? That way a civil action on libel lies. Even more so had I spent the morning in the magistrate's court. We just had to get things right.

Stella: You could say you and I (and the money-making machine, for that matter) have all grown out of our intellectually humble origins. We may have but I for one have not forgotten.

At primary school I learned reading mainly because I wanted to get to the end of the story. Arithmetic by rote. At what you would call high school I was seduced by the temptations of doing nothing and my rag-bag set of teachers, old and often insane (the war had only just finished), lacked the skills to redirect me. I concluded I had no real talent for learning and no real desire to do so.

The RAF made me change my mind. Faced with eights months learning a really hard subject (electronics - the theory and the practice), a skilled set of teachers and a draconian set of punishments for failing to learn - I learned! What's more, an unexpected love of the touchable, physical world was born. But by then my future as a journalist was established and - willy-nilly - I realised it was the only work I would ever be any good at

The DNA and the willing spirit were there, albeit slow-moving, and they drove towards the never-to-be-achieved goal of learning to write.

As to typewriters (and, later, word-processing computers)they were always there, like the ability to breathe in and out. May I refer you to this poignant outcome:

Technie treasure

A rare example where my resistance to sentimentality broke down.

Blonde Two: I wasn't exactly surprised - outraged is a better word - when the geography master caned me because my feet were bigger than his. See:

Misdirected canes

I expected nothing more from the English master sorting through books to be added to the school library and commenting here and there. But what about that book you've pushed to one side, I asked. Forget that, he said. It was 1984.

MikeM: This seems to be a response to the sonnet (now revised) rather than the post above. I came from a family where both parents read, my mother especially. Thus nurture over-prepared me for reading-by-rote at primary school. The problem is - or was - I never saw reading as an academic discipline, any more than going to the toilet. Being able to read was merely a method of discovering about all the things I couldn't do.

Avus said...

An interesting and fulfilled life, RR.

My collection of the motorcycling press (The Motor Cycle, Motorcycle Mechanics, Motor Cycle Sport) runs from the mid '40s to yesterday (by my accomodating wife's sufferance).

May I ask which one you were involved with and the approximate period - a search might cheer up a wet afternoon!

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: You have the blue one (Motor Cycle - Iliffe) but not its main competitor, the green one (MotorCycling - Temple Press). I was with the latter between 1961 and 1963 - doomed to cover road racing at Snetterton, a long round trip to get my report back to Bowling Green Lane (near Farringdon tube station) of a Sunday evening.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

The boy done well!
Bravo for all of it.