Leonard Eric Grogan, 1903 – 1989

During his retirement, my grandfather wrote some notes about his life, family, and memories of his work as a barber and tobacconist, and some of the people he knew in Bristol. Some of his material I have recorded here.

Leonard, myself and sister around 1965
Leonard, myself and sister around 1965

Reflecting back upon my life, I often light upon some incident or detail, which is then as soon forgotten. So it was that I resolved to write them down as I could, ‘for the record’.

Regarding my maternal ancestors, I have only vague information. My grandparents were Yarnalls, Tewkesbury born and bred, and conducted a very successful Ironmongery, corn and forage business in Barton Street, occupying two shop premises. Continue reading Leonard Eric Grogan, 1903 – 1989

‘How to run a company with (almost) no rules’

Interviewing Ricardo Semler of Semco Partners, for TED.com.  Technology, Entertainment and Design, is a clearinghouse of  knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers.

Ricardo Semler montage

Ricardo Semler advocates revolutionary stuff that only a handful of companies worldwide practise. He dismisses as corporate window dressing ‘mission statements’ and ‘employee consultation’ and points out how far we claim to defend democracy, but practice Eastern bloc centralisation in our workplace.

He encourages people to start where they are and affect the few people under them, instead of moaning that it’s impossible. He notes how many business schools and consultants preach empowerment, but run autocratic, tightly controlled organisations themselves.
He writes about how he works constantly to pull back from being placed in the role of a guru with the Midas touch, how he wants the business to be sustainable through the efforts of all employees, not only the one with a reputation.

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Jonathan Swift and the moons of Mars

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others”. “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him”. [Jonathan Swift]

Born on November 30, 1667, Irish author, clergyman and satirist Jonathan Swift  grew up fatherless. Under the care of his uncle, he received a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College and then worked as a statesman’s assistant. Eventually, he became dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Most of his writings were published under pseudonyms. He is best remembered for  Gulliver’s Travels. He died on October 19, 1745. Although not a scientist, he had friends and acquaintances that were, and was familiar with the work of astronomers such as Johannes Kepler.

Jonathan Swift 1667- 1745
Jonathan Swift 1667- 1745

Gulliver’s Travels was published on October 28th 1726. It is regarded as his masterpiece. As with his other writings, he had the Travels published under a pseudonym, the fictional Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon and later a sea captain. Though it has often been mistakenly thought of and published in abridged form as a children’s book, it is a great and sophisticated satire of human nature based on Swift’s experience of his times. Gulliver’s Travels is an anatomy of human nature, a sardonic looking-glass, often criticised for its apparent misanthropy (a generalized hatred for mankind). It asks its readers to refute it, to deny that it has adequately characterised human nature and society. Each of the four books—recounting four voyages to mostly fictional exotic lands—has a different theme, but all are attempts to deflate human pride. Critics hail the work as a satiric reflection on the shortcomings of the then current Enlightenment thought.
In the third chapter of ‘Voyage to Laputa’ we read:  ‘They (the Laputans) have likewise discovered two lesser stars, or satellites, which revolve about Mars, whereof the innermost is distant from the centre of the primary planet exactly three of his diameters, and the outermost five; the former revolves in the space of ten hours, and the latter in twenty-one and a half; so that the squares of their periodical times are very near in the same proportion with the cubes of their distance from the centre of Mars, which evidently shows them to be governed by the same law of gravitation that influences the other heavenly bodies’.

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Rudolf Diesel 1858- 1913

Rudolf Diesel

The first production passenger car equipped with a diesel engine was the Mercedes 260 D (1936), widely used as a taxi due to its efficiency and reliability. Until that time, diesel engines had been considered too slow and heavy compared to the automobile petrol engine. In industry and in trucks, trains and buses, the diesel engine was well established. However, it was many years until the gradual disuse of steam engines. At the time they were seen as  inefficient, heavy, and complicated in operation. Diesel engines, named after inventor Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel, found their way into every sector of the transport industry.

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The Set of the Sails (1949)

Rating: ★★★★★

I like brand new, shiny books as much as anyone. But every now and again an old, scruffy paperback a minute away from the rubbish bin proves to be a real gem. Such was ‘The Set of the Sails, the 1949 autobiography of Alan Villiers (1903- 1982).

    The Set of the Sails (Pan paperback-condition as found)
The Set of the Sails (Pan paperback-condition as found)

Alan Villiers was the second son of Australian poet and union leader Leon Villiers. The young Villiers grew up on the docks watching the merchant ships come in and out of the Port of Melbourne and longed for the day on which he too could sail out to sea. Continue reading The Set of the Sails (1949)

Peter Williams (1723- 1796)

It is often said that any persons who cannot accept the Trinity doctrine, common to Catholicism, Orthodox and most denominations, are not Christian. Since even before Nicea (325AD) however, there have always been outspoken individuals who rejected it as unscriptural, and often suffered for it. In the eighteenth century, a time of ferment in the history of Welsh faith, such a man was Peter Williams.

In addition, Peter Williams knew that Bibles were financially beyond the reach of most families and that, in any event, Welsh Bibles were virtually unobtainable. He was also aware that his own fervor for spiritual knowledge was shared by increasing numbers of the ordinary people of Wales, but that the copyright for publication of the Bible was held by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which made accessibility even more difficult..

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The Incredible Tool Chest of Henry O. Studley

In July 1988, the back cover of Finewoodworking magazine featured an awe-inspiring object: the vintage 19-century tool chest of master carpenter Henry O. Studley(1838-1925) . If the workmanship in the tool chest is any indication of the maker’s talent, then the craftsmanship of Studley must have been a wonder to behold.  Now Studley’s chest has resurfaced as part of Lon Schleining’s book, Treasure Chests: The Legacy of Extraordinary Boxes (2008)..

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Nina Simone 1933- 2003

I Put a Spell on You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone

Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), better known by her stage name Nina Simone, but also known as ‘The High Priestess of Soul’ was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. She composed over 500 songs and recorded over 40 albums. Simone aspired to become a classical pianist while working in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, soul, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.

Born the sixth child of a preacher’s family in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina’s prodigious musical talent prompted her ambition to become the first black concert pianist, but the realities of poverty and racial prejudice forced her to redirect her ambitions. Her musical path changed direction after she was turned down for full scholarship at a prestigious music institute, the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia. She then began playing in The Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City to fund her continuing musical education, after realising a pupil was earning more than she was by teaching piano, but the bar required her to sing as well. She was approached for a recording by Bethlehem Records, and her rendition of “I Loves You Porgy” became a smash hit in the United States in 1958. Over the length of her career, Simone recorded more than forty albums, mostly between 1958, when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue, and 1974…

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Penguin, 2000) by James Thurber

You can fool too many of the people too much of the time”… 

The most famous of Thurber’s stories, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty first appeared in The New Yorker on March 18, 1939, 72 years ago, and was first anthologized in his book My World and Welcome to it. It has since been reprinted in James Thurber: Writings and Drawings, and is one of the most popular American short stories. It is considered one of Thurber’s “acknowledged masterpieces”. Thurber is known as a cartoonist and ‘humorist’ (‘Is there such a word? I wonder how anyone can apply for the position’?). The best introduction to Thurber is his own work. “James Thurber left his own monument. He created it . .  in the pages of the New Yorker.” (The Economist, Feb. 17, 1996.)  ‘Walter Mitty Syndrome‘ is a phrase occasionally used by psychiatrists and others in describing a person who prefers a fantasy world to reality, particularly if others consider him a failure, or the potential for real harm results from his behaviour. One example of such a man was Frank Abagnale, immortalised in the 2002 Steven Spielberg film  Catch Me If You Can. Another would be Arthur Orton, The Tichborne Claimant. Ironically, Thurber loved to send up the psychiatrists and others of whom he thought,  “You can fool too many of the people too much of the time”..   He was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes (Mame) Fisher Thurber on December 8, 1894. Both of his parents greatly influenced his work. His father, a sporadically employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or an actor, is said to have been the inspiration for the small, timid protagonist typical of many of his stories. Thurber described his mother as a “born comedienne” and “one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known.” She was a practical joker, on one occasion pretending to be crippled and attending a faith healer revival, only to jump up and proclaim herself healed. She sometimes told startled visitors her husband locked her in the attic to prevent her running away with the postman! James Thurber died November 2 1961.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. “We can’t make it, sir. It’s spoiling for a hurricane, if you ask me.” “I’m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg,” said the Commander. “Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated dials. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” he shouted. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” repeated Lieutenant Berg. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” shouted the Commander. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. “The old man will get us through” they said to one another. “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell!” . . .

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An appreciation of artists

What an artist creates and how he goes about it , in what choice of subject or medium, is not only his own business but his alone to judge.

Max Beckmann (1884- 1950) rejected abstract or non-representational painting, unlike so many of his contemporaries, and instead, he took up and advanced the tradition of figurative painting. ‘I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting.’

Max Beckmann greatly admired Cézanne, but also Van Gogh, Blake, Rembrandt, Rubens and the Northern European artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance such as Bosch, or Bruegel. His style and method of composition are also rooted in the imagery of medieval stained glass.

Encompassing portraiture, landscape, still life, mythology and the fantastic, his work created a very personal, authentic version of modernism. Beckmann re-invented the triptych, and utilized this compositional form of medieval painting as a looking glass of contemporary humanity.

“Carnival” by Max Beckmann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From his beginnings as an artist until after World War II, Beckmann’s work reflects an era of radical change in both art and history. Many of Max Beckmann‘s paintings express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his imagery refers to the decadent glamour of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture, but from the 1930s on, his works often contain mythologized references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Persecuted by the Nazis, he was forced to flee his homeland and work in relative isolation while the war turned Europe upside down. Beyond these immediate concerns, his subjects and symbols assume a larger meaning, voicing universal themes of terror, redemption, and the mysteries of eternity and fate.

Beckmann said “Height, width and depth are the three phenomena which I must transfer into one plane to form the abstract surface of the picture, and thus to protect myself from the infinity of space.. If the canvas is filled only with a two-dimensional conception of space we shall have applied art, or ornament. Certainly this may give us pleasure, though I myself find it boring as it does not give me enough visual sensation. To transform three into two dimensions is for me an experience full of magic, in which I glimpse for a moment that fourth dimension which my whole being is seeking.”

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