The graduate

In July 2021 I graduated from the Open University with a Bachelor of Science First Class Honours degree.


I had began studying with The Open University in 2002 and in June 2009 I graduated without Honours.  For someone who didn’t enjoy school and was painfully shy, never wanting to put her hand up in class to give an answer or ask a question, for fear of drawing attention to herself, this felt like a huge achievement.

I always tried hard in school but the grades I got for effort, never matched my attainment grades, which were often disappointingly low. I chose to leave school at 16 years of age having convinced myself it wasn’t the place for me but when I told my English teacher I was going out to work, she told me I could do better for myself than that. It was as I recall, a short exchange of words but it was the first time anyone had indicated they thought I could achieve anything and the words stayed with me, niggling way, until eventually I embarked on my first OU course, some 15 years after I left school.

Beginning with a short course about The Human Genome, a subject I was interested in because I am diagnosed with a genetic condition. The course was only for a few weeks long but it gave me a chance to get back into learning and also get into distance learning, which is quite different to studying in a classroom and requires much more discipline. My final course was titled ‘Innovation: designing for a sustainable future’ and was a project based course. The blog I created during the project can be viewed below.

Steps and a shiny floor are not a good combination for someone with a neuromuscular condition and as I watch the film my dad took of me graduating, it really shows but I was so proud of myself that day and even more so when I watch the film and hear my dad shouting as I collect my award – I didn’t hear that on the day, as we were sat miles apart, although I see me looking for him and having safely reached the foot of the stairs I remember turning and giving him a big wave, as I now knew he was sat somewhere up in the Gods.

Exhausted, having worked full time throughout, I decided to take a year out before completing my Honours year and that year turned into twelve. However, in late 2020, I found myself with the opportunity to finish what I started and I enrolled to complete my Honours year. When given the opportunity to write my own research question, I chose to write about the material and attitudinal barriers faced by people with disabilities and gained my second distinction. It was a tough year as I knew it would be, made tougher still by a global pandemic but in July 2021 I proudly accepted an offer of a First Class Honours degree, the same year that I turned fifty years old.

Toni’s graduation: 5 June 2009, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

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The lost art of typewriting

Recently while reviewing a document I had written, Microsoft Word admonished me with the warning ‘only one space between words is better’. Oh no, I thought, not you too. The issue had come up in an office I worked in a few years earlier, with younger members of the team happy to inform me what I was doing wrong. The world it would seem had changed as the typewriter gave way to the computer. Type ‘one space or two after a full stop’ into a search engine and you will see the debate that is raging.

Thoughtful typist.

I learned to type in high school, in the 1980’s on a manual typewriter. I can still remember the click clack hammering sound of the keys being struck, the sound of the carriage return lever being hit when I needed to start a new line, the bell as the roller returned to the left hand margin and the sound of the roller as it turned moving the paper up out of the machine. Electric typewriters came along not long afterwards (although my first exams were taken on manual typewriters) and computers came fast on their heels.


In the 1860s, Christopher Latham Sholes, an amateur inventor in Milwaukee invented the first typewriter, which he developed with Samuel Soulé, James Densmore and Carlos Glidden and first patented in 1868. Resembling a piano, it was originally built with an alphabetical arrangement of 28 keys, so everyone would know where to find them. In 1878 US Patent Number 207,559 marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout and a deal with gun maker Remington, proved to be a huge success.

Remington typewriter advert.

By 1890, there were more than 100,000 QWERTY based Remington produced typewriters in use across the country and in 1893 when the five largest typewriter manufacturers – Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore and Smith-Premier merged to form the Union Typewriter Company, they  agreed to adopt QWERTY as the design we know today.  However, the monospace type of a manual typewriter did not create a sufficient visual space between the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next, so users needed to use two spaces in order that sentences did not run into one another. Today with proportional fonts, only one space is necessary to create the necessary separation but for those of us who had it drilled into us that two spaces should always be used after a full stop, it a hard habit to break. 

Vintage typewriter keyboard.

A learned skill

If you wanted to work in an office, typewriting was a skill that had to be learned and for which exams were sat and qualifications achieved. Typewriters were complex pieces of machinery as can be seen in the illustration below. The strange unfamiliar arrangement of the keys was the first of many things I had to learn before I could begin typing, such as how to insert a sheet of paper, how to wind the roller to bring the paper in and out of the machine, how to adjust the paper if it wasn’t straight and how to hold the paper in place with a ruled metal bar which was also used for setting margins and tabs. 

Remington typewriter parts.

Diagram showing Remington typewriter parts.   

As my training progressed, I learned to touch type by typing the same letters over and over, for example asdsd, fadsf, dfsaf, so I would learn where the keys were without looking, before progressing to ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’. I was taught how to layout letters correctly, sometimes with full punctuation (that is using commas within dates and addresses); how to type envelopes and labels and I learned that the word ‘stet’ next to words that had been crossed through or changed, meant the writer wanted me to ignore the alteration – the word means ‘let it stand’. If my letter was to have an enclosure, the letters Enc needed to be added to the bottom of the letter.


Example of a letter using full punctuation.  

Then there was carbon paper, thin paper coated with ink which was used for making duplicate copies of a  document. So for example you may be asked to produce a letter with two carbon copies, say an office copy and a copy for another recipient and would have to construct a sandwich made of paper and carbon paper which then needed to be fed into the typewriter. Copy letters needed to have the letters  CC and the name of the recipient inserted at the end of the letter, so that everyone could see who received a copy of that letter. However, if you wanted copies of a letter to be sent without everyone knowing who had received it, you had to instead handwrite the letters BCC, which stood for blind carbon copy, along with the name of the recipient on the copy letter only (and also remember to put the right letter in the right envelope). Speed tests were undertaken too, as typing exams were timed, so you needed to be able to produce your work in the allocated time when you came to sit your exam. I remember feeling terrifically proud of mine, which were signed by my typing teacher and my headmaster.

Speed test certificate.Speed test certificate.

There was one font size and font style but no way to emphasise text in bold or italics. The typewriter ribbon, black on the top half, red on the bottom half, allowed the typist to type in one of the two colours, depending on how the machine was set. The ribbon also needed to be changed regularly by reaching into the top of the machine, removing the ribbon spool and replacing it with a new one.  Underlining if required was done by repeatedly hitting the underline key the length and distance of the text that needed underlining. Tables were created in a similar manner and rows and columns of figures had to be lined up correctly and evenly spaced. It was slow, methodical, detailed work and any mistakes had to be corrected manually, using a typewriter pencil, tippex liquid or tippex paper. However, presentation was of the utmost importance, so if errors could not be corrected neatly, you would need to start over with your document. 

type-a-letter-exerciseExample of an instruction to type a letter.


I remember undertaking many practice papers in preparation for my exams and anxiously waiting my results. RSA and Pitman were the typewriting qualification boards and they had strict rules that needed to be adhered to if you wanted to pass your exams, meaning that attention to detail was a must. Two spaces after a full stop or a colon and one after a comma or semi colon were essential and you lost marks if you failed to do this.

RSA exams were timed and assessed in three areas – production (completing the work in the given time), accuracy and presentation. Failing in one area meant you failed the whole exam. Candidates could achieve RSA qualifications at three levels – elementary level (RSA one), intermediate level (RSA two) and advanced level (RSA three).

Instruction to type a letter.

Today I am the proud holder of RSA qualifications at levels one, two and three, an RSA elementary qualification in audio typing, Pitman advanced and elementary qualifications, along with Computer Literacy and Information Technology (CLAIT) and European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualifications. Then I learned how to create and update websites too, which I have now done for over 15 years. And I feel proud, not only for me but for those who went before me, doing it the hard way, learning their craft before computers ruled the world and then, as we entered the digital age, learning new skills and ways of doing things. 

So, if you feel annoyed when seeing two spaces after a full stop, just for a moment consider how important it actually is. And remember, there was a time when two spaces were the standard and the only way to do things. Typing wasn’t always as easy as it is today. And finally, you never know what changes may happen in your own lifetime, so maybe take a moment to think before you dismiss someone’s way of doing things out of hand. Be kind to those who may do things differently to you, as one day, you may find yourself in their shoes.


Microsoft Word now enables users to change document spacing. If like me you find two spaces a hard habit to break but need to work to a house style, select editor on your toolbar, then ‘punctuation conventions’ and ‘one space’. Further information can also be found in help by typing ‘change the spacing between text.’


Further information 

School days

My sister and I spent our childhood in a place called Vicars Cross in Chester. The house we grew up in was on Langport Port Drive, a cul-de-sac and part of a large estate, with two schools, the Square One youth centre (the Youthie), a scout hut (here my dad would disappear one weekend a year for the Jamboree on the Air event, making radio contact with scout and guide groups around the world), a pub, a church, a library and a shopping parade with a home and garden store (later a chemist),  post office, newsagent and greengrocers (Meloncauli) right on our doorstep.

Oldfield infant school was two minutes walk from our house, which mostly meant  we got to go home for lunch. I remember milk time (milk was delivered in crates by the milk man and each pupil received a bottle of milk to drink each day) and a tuck shop. Mrs Cope was my teacher and I remember her teaching us patchwork. Mrs Hale was the headteacher – I remember she had a glockenspiel in her office and the sound the wooden bars made when they were hit. I also remember Mrs Simpson – she once told us that it snowed on her wedding day in June.  (I have learned in recent years that snow fell in the UK in June 1975, halting a Derbyshire versus Lancashire cricket game).

The junior school was a hop, skip and jump along a path which took you across the school playing fields to the larger school which still stands – the infant school has now been demolished and today houses stand in its place. Here we were prepared for attending high school, so lessons were more structured but I also remember singing (the headteacher, Miss Payne I think, trying to get us to sing The Beatles ‘When I’m 64’ and gently reprimanding the boys who really weren’t feeling it) and country dancing classes in the school hall.

I don’t remember there ever being any question that Rachel and I would attend the local schools or go to the same schools as one another, it was just the way things were then. Rachel and I both attended the same high school too, in the pretty nearby village of Christleton.

Each school day we would get the bus with other pupils or at least try to – there was always lots of pushing and shoving and shouting and not being the pushing and shoving and shouting type, I frequently landed up standing, as the bulging bus made its way along the winding roads to the school. I really don’t know how the drivers put up with us – we were perfectly horrid.

I remember my first day at Christleton High School very clearly – it was a sprawling metropolis compared to my earlier schools and I felt very much like a small fish in a big pond, with my huge school bag full of books. I guess the school must have realised that the younger pupils might feel this way though, as there were two playgrounds – one for years one to three and a second one for the older pupils including the sixth formers, who all seemed very grown up and had a room at the school just for them.

English and Home Economics were my favourite classes. Maths and science, not so much. One year I got straight A’s in Religious Education (RE). No one was more surprised than me. Called to Mr Birch’s office (the deputy headteacher), I thought I was in trouble but was rewarded with a stick of rock.

There were a number of school canteens and we had to eat with members of our school house. I remember we used to cover our school books in wrapping paper – maybe to protect them or maybe to be individual, anyhow, it was the thing to do. Also, we had two school uniforms, a winter uniform and a summer uniform made with fabric from Laura Ashley. It seemed that every year we would petition for the girls to be able to wear trousers during the winter months but this was never allowed. I also remember my science teacher, Mr Bradley shaving his beard off for charity and everyone crowding into the school hall to watch.

End of year assemblies were held in the sports hall, the only place big enough for the whole school to congregate and I remember sitting on the hard stone floor, usually reserved for tennis, football and five a side. One year I remember a teacher telling us all we would not need to know Pythagoras Theorem once we left school. He was right but they made us learn it anyway … the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Why I still remember that I have no idea and more importantly, what does it mean?

There were no proms back then but on my last day, 22 May 1987, I took my camera into school and took photos of my school friends and we signed books and school shirts to wish one another well. By this time, I was pretty much going in for exams and revision sessions only – I remember spending a lot of time with my friends Emma and Claire at their home in the village and walking home with friends along the canal.

Later that summer, I started work as a YTS trainee earning £28.50 a week which at the time seemed like a small fortune and with which I think purchased a George Michael single and some makeup. At the time of writing this, it has been almost 30 years since I left school, sometimes it seems only yesterday, at others, a lifetime away.


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