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For good communication…

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  • Published: Sep 3rd, 2019
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I will always remember when…

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In the Serpentine Gallery a work of art by Faith Ringgold stopped me in my tracks:

Tar Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach weaves magic with canvas and quilt, colour and words. These words:

I will always remember when the stars fell down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge.

I could see our tiny rooftop with Mommy and Daddy and Mr & Mrs Honey our next door neighbors, still playing cards as if nothing was going on, and BeBe, my baby brother, laying real still on the mattress, just like I told him to, his eyes like huge flood-lights tracking me through the sky.

Sleeping on Tar Beach was magical. Laying on the roof in the night with stars and skyscraper buildings all around me made me feel rich, like I owned all that I could see. The bridge was my most prized possession.

Daddy said the George Washington Bride was the longest and most beautiful bridge in the world and that it opened in 1931 on the very day I was born. Daddy worked on the bridge hoisting cables. Since then, I’ve wanted that bridge to be mine.

Now I have claimed it. All I had to do was fly over it for it to be mine forever. I can wear it like a giant diamond necklace, or just fly over it and marvel at its sparkling beauty. I can fly, yes fly. Me, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, only eight years old and in the third grade and I can fly.

That means I am free to go wherever I want to for the rest of my life. Daddy took me to see the Union Building he is working on. He can walk on steel girders high up in the sky and not fall. They call him the cat.

But still he can’t join the Union because Granpa wasn’t a member. Well Daddy is going to own that building cause I am gonna fly over it and give it to him. Then it won’t matter that he’s not in their ole Union or whether he’s Colored or a half breed Indian like they say.

He’ll be rich and won’t have to stand on 24 story high girders and look down. He can look up at his building going up. And Mommy won’t cry all winter when Daddy goes to look for work, and doesn’t come home. And Mommy can laugh and sleep late like Mrs Honey and we can have ice cream every night for dessert.

Next I’m going to fly over the ice cream factory just to make sure we do. Tonight we’re going up to Tar Beach. Mommy is roasting peanuts and frying chicken and Daddy will bring home a watermelon. Mr and Mrs Honey will bring the beer and their old green card table. And then the stars will fall around me and I will fly to the Union Building.

I’ll take BeBe with me. He has threatened to tell Mommy and Daddy if I leave him behind. I have told him it’s very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.

Personal and universal, imagined and real, timeless and of its time – Tar Beach is quite simply a brilliant story. And happily, it’s one you can buy in book form.

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  • Published: Aug 2nd, 2019
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Smashing records on the ‘Old Cope’ track…

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My local park has in recent years been steadily spruced up. The latest enhancements include renovating the clock tower, opening a small cafe and placing on the surrounding benches a series of plaques cast confidently in iron, such as this one, featuring Victorian running champ Charles Westhall:

Cally Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fine example of civic storytelling, they highlight the rich and varied history of the park.

Good to see stories helping to build stronger attachments to our public spaces.

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  • Published: Jul 3rd, 2019
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The necessary qualities of good business…

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In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I came across a “devoted band that called itself the Eldorado Exploring Expedition. Their talk was the talk of sordid buccaneers: it was reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, and cruel without courage; there was not an atom of foresight or of serious intention in the whole bunch of them, and they did not seem aware these things are wanted for the work of the world. To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.”

Strikes me that the qualities the Eldorado Explorers lack are the very ones that lie at the heart of what goes into good business: hardihood, audacity, courage, foresight and serious intention. These five are a handy guide and inspiration for all of us trying to do worthwhile work in the world.

Better a good business than a sordid buccaneer. Every time.

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  • Published: Jun 3rd, 2019
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Gardening, economics, murder…

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“No matter what you’re talking about – gardening, economics, murder – you’re telling a story. Every sentence should lead to the next sentence. If you say a dull sentence, people have the right to turn off.” Wise words from one of the great storytellers of 20th century affairs, Alistair Cooke, courtesy of John Yorke’s Into the woods: How Stories Work And Why We Tell Them.

Storytelling is sense making. And as Alistair Cooke consistently demonstrated, not least through his 2,869 Letters from America, the best storytelling is both enlightening and enjoyable.

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  • Published: May 3rd, 2019
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  • Comments: Comments Off on Debauching reason and feeling…

Debauching reason and feeling…

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“Debauching reason and feeling, the stilted language of officialdom is also endemic in every nation with writing. ‘Officialese’ in its broadest sense pollutes nearly all ancient Egyptian and Mayan monumental inscriptions, as these to a large degree communicate stylistically convoluted messages about and from self-aggrandizing central powers. Today, the abuse abounds.” As Steven Roger Fischer points out in his A History of Language, business bull is ageless.

Big corporations have replaced pharaohs’ courts, but the tendency to obfuscate and mangle persists. As must our endeavours to resist.

So rather than debauch, let’s do all we can to honour, encourage, elevate and ennoble reason and feeling through the words we choose and use.

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  • Published: Apr 2nd, 2019
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Foolish slang…

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I recently picked up a well-thumbed copy of Ward Lock & Co’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language.

Standard dictionary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in 1925 and priced, as it says in the introduction, “within the means of all” at 6d (about £1 in today’s money), it “sought to give the general reader and the student an up-to-date and entirely trustworthy work of reference…allowing its due weight to modernity, and omitting no word used frequently”.

Accordingly, it defines words “as tersely and briefly as possible…because to the average reader brevity often conveys clearly what wordiness obscures”. Its definition of cognac is a case in point. Aficionados may appreciate knowing that cognac has to be double-distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais, but to the everyday reader (or drinker), cognac is indeed simply “France’s finest brandy”.

On slang it is similarly precise and practical. “The slang that expresses clearly what without it cannot be expressed at all [is] welcomed as the idiom of tomorrow”. “The foolish slang that merely expresses badly what classical English can convey better [is] ignored”.

Clear, concise, confident – this great little dog-eared guide is everything you could wish for from a dictionary for all. Well worth the 6d back in 1925 and an absolute bargain for me today – I’d gladly have paid £1 or so but in the event it didn’t cost me a penny.

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  • Published: Mar 1st, 2019
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To go…to testify…

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To the Wellcome Collection, to see an excellent exhibition on Living with Buildings. It features Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ winning work on the Doctors of the World Global Clinic. Designed to be constructed in one day by doctors and nurses in the field, the clinic is a big step on from the tents and shipping containers the international health charity usually has to turn to when providing critical medical care in often far flung places around the world.

From initial ideas…

IMG_4837

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to finished version…

IMG_4835

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…the clinic is a plywood wonder.

And Doctors of the World is a wonder, too. Formed in 1980 to help the many Vietnamese refugees who had fled the country after the Vietnam War, its aim is “to go where others will not, to testify to the intolerable, and to volunteer.” In an age when it’s increasingly fashionable and indeed good for every organisation to have a purpose, this one really strikes home and sticks in the mind. I reckon it’s that great phrase in the middle: to testify to the intolerable. Meaningful and memorable – it makes it clear that Doctors of the World not only brings help but also bears witness. A mighty fine combination.

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  • Published: Feb 4th, 2019
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Something delicious…

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“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story,” wrote Beatrix Potter. “You never quite know where they’ll take you.”

As the creator of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and countless other classic tales points out, stories are adventures. And like all adventures, if you don’t depart you’re never going to have one. So pick up your pen and head off across the page. Who knows where you’ll end up. Perhaps Beirut. Potentially Gallipoli. Maybe even both places at once – after all, anything’s possible in the wonderful world of stories.

 

 

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  • Published: Jan 13th, 2019
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Natural brilliance…

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For lovers of brilliant simplicity, a block of wood that lights up when you touch it, giving you a lovely way into your online world:

download-1

 

 

 

 

 

“Humans are designed to interact with nature,” says Mui Lab’s Kazunori Oki. “So we put a natural material between you and the information. So you can get a natural feeling rather than touching or talking with plastic keys.”

A great example of the ‘truly good and beautiful’, it is due to go on sale later this year. Add it to your 2019 Christmas list.

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