Thursday, 27 May 2010

Blog Focus

We have come to the conclusion that Great Women Blog and the Design Blog probably have rather different audiences. Maybe some are the same, and that would be nice. But we have decided to tease them apart.

So, if you wish to see all the Great Women together (We are adding to them monthly) please subscribe/follow:

If you wish to follow tales of design, where we kicked off with Douglas Adams (on Towel Day) please subscribe/follow:

We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Great Women No.4

The collaboration continues apace between our very own illustraor, Sandy Nightingale and Sandi Toksvig (Star of TV, Radio, Writer, Performer and National Treasure). The Great Women series to date has celebrated Emily Post, Elizabeth Woodville and Dame Ethel Smythe. They are published in The Lady magazine.

We are proud to introduce a very controversial figure. Combining Religion, Power and beards we bring you . . .

Pope Joan
Pope Joan is a rather clear figure in history – either she was the only woman ever to be Pope or some anti-Pope person made up a load of Papal bull.  Thus her title was either Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God or she didn’t have one.

As she may have been made up we can be a little cavalier with the facts. Obviously she would need to live in Rome (the Vatican has rarely moved house) but exactly when is unclear.   This not surprising because it was most likely in the ninth century which was also known as the very Dark Ages when hardly anything was clear.

Fact or fiction she is quite a girl.  If she did exist then she was the only Pope to wreck a Vatican ceremony by giving birth.  If she was a legend then she was a strong enough a story for someone to spend a lot of seventeenth century man hours shredding references to her in history books.

If Joan existed then she was probably originally called Agnes or possibly Gilberta or maybe Jutta (OK, I’m not sure) when she was born in Germany of English missionary parents. Annoyingly for a girl in the ninth century she was very bright which was, of course, unnatural and dangerous. This was a girl who wanted to break the glass ceiling before most people had glass.  They say (you will note I am starting to get vague here) that at the age of twelve she was taken in ‘masculine attire’ to Athens by a ‘learned man’, a monk described as her teacher and lover which even today is a poor combination. 

Anyway she was very clever and Martin of Troppau (who was Polish and wrote the history of the world in the ninth century which must have taken less time than it would now) wrote that ‘there was nobody equal to her’ when it came to studying science.  Eventually, her knowledge of the scriptures led to her election as Pope John Anglicus where Martin reckons she ruled for two years, seven months, and four days before giving the game away by giving birth on the Via Sacra during a Papal procession. 

According to most versions, tourists and passers by were somewhat surprised when Pope John Anglicus tried to mount a horse, went into labour and gave birth to a son. At this point one of two things happened – 

The crowd tied her feet to the horse’s tail, and stoned her to death.

She was banished to a convent where her son grew up to follow in the family business and become a bishop. 

The case for Pope Joan includes the fact that there used to be a statue of Joan alongside all the other Popes in the Cathedral of Siena until Pope Clement VIII, commanded the sculpture be ‘metamorphosed’ into Pope Zacharias. The Church also brought in the ‘chair exam’ after her supposed reign which compelled each newly elected Pope to sit naked on a chair with a hole in the middle while others had a look and declared ‘Mas nobis nominus est’ - Our nominee is a man.  This was surely an embarrassing addition to an otherwise joyous day.
The case against is . . . uhm . . . there are no tea towels for sale with her face on in St Peter’s Square. 

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Great Women No. 3

The third in the Great Women series has appeared in The Lady. They ignored our layout suggestion (!) but the illustration are no longer enlarged which is good. And they seem to have got control over the rather over-vivid colour, which is good. Illustration by Sandy Nightingale and text by our dear chum Sandi Toksvig. So here she is . . .

Dame Ethel Smythe

Have your heard of her? Probably not. Should you have? Absolutely. She was a fabulous composer to whom George Bernard Shaw once wrote “It was your music that cured me for ever of the old delusion that women could not do man's work in art and all other things ...your Mass (in D) will stand up in the biggest company! Magnificent!” She was famous in her own time (4/4 and 3/4) partly because she was eccentric, often conducting (especially at winter afternoon concerts) in tweeds and never being the least bit interested in whether her hat was on straight. So – great with a tune, less clever at fashion.

Dame Ethel’s dad was a General (JH Smyth) while her mum Nina was not. She was born on April 23,1858. Everyone argues about exactly where she was born but it might have been in Sidcup, Kent. This would be good for Sidcup as it might be the most famous thing about the place. From her earliest years Ethel appalled her father by wanting to study music. General Smyth was having none of it so the teenaged Ethel went on strike. Like all youthful protest this mainly consisted of locking herself in her room. Unlike any similar protest of teenagers today it ended by her father allowing her, aged 19, to go to Leipzig to study.

Leipzig has the world's largest facilities for primates but Ethel ignored this and instead made friends with Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Clara Schumann, Joachim, and Brahms, all of whom she was able to name drop later in life. Having had a taste of sorting her own life out Ethel returned to England where she joined the militant suffragist movement and wrote March of the Women, the rallying theme of the suffragettes. She was a vigorous supporter of the movement, so vigorous in fact, that she served two months in Holloway prison for throwing stones at a conservative politician’s windows. The legendary conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, visited her in prison and wrote “I arrived in the main courtyard of the prison to find the noble company of martyrs marching round it and singing lustily their war-chart (March of the Women) while the composer, beaming approbation from an overlooking upper window, beat time in almost Bacchic frenzy with a toothbrush.”

Smyth never married but can I put this? ...she had many ‘devoted friendships’ with famous and infamous folk like Emmeline Pankhurst, Edith Somerville, and Virginia Woolf. Bearing that in mind it won’t surprise anyone that she was a sporty girl - a keen rider and, before anyone thought it a good idea for women, terribly fond of mountaineering, cycling and golf.

She was made Dame of the British Empire in 1922, was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Oxford University and the first female composer to have her work performed at the Metropolitan opera in New York. She died on May 8th in 1944 and her obituary in The Times quoted a friend as saying “I cherish a picture of her, sitting bolt upright in the corner of a first-class carriage between Surbiton and Woking; she was armed with a great bundle of weeklies, which she examined rapidly, crumpled into balls, and hurled recklessly aside with snorts of disapproval, while the rest of the compartment submitted meekly to this astonishing bombardment.” Glorious.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Michael Foot

The recent passing of Michael Foot, former leader of the Labour Pary, reminded us fondly a day photographing him, for Victor Gollancz, in his garden in Hampstead. The photo was subsequently used by The Daily Telegraph.

At six o'clock out came Michael's wife Jill with a tray of TUC mugs containing Scotch. I swear it was not the strong liquor at this very early hour but things got decidedly stranger . . .

As our hosts entertained with tales of political life in the kitchen, a visitor arrived. She was welcomed and then left to the task that was the purpose of her visit. She was Michael Foot's chiropodist. And, I kid you not, we all sipped the whiskey while toenails pinged like shrapnel off our TUC crockery and most other things in the room. And the bizarre thing was that nobody made any reference to it at all!

Thank you, Mr Foot, for a memorable afternoon. And a barely resistible store of puns.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Like Minds

Let's be frank, I thought Twitter/MySpace/Facebook/ et al was just dumb. Not for me. Do I care about the minutiae of other people's lives? No. Do I think anyone should be interested in mine? No.
So when Richard Carpenter of Enterprise Assist suggested  attend Like Minds Social Media Conference in Exeter, I  was sceptical. But it is always worth listening to Richard. He's is a smart cookie. So I booked in, scrubbed up and turned out. 
There was a definite buzz in the queue at the venue. Everybody, and I mean everybody, had a nailed on, maximum battery-drainage, iPhone/PDA. Was it a press launch for a new Apple iTeacup? A rumour that the next-best-thing band might turn up? Bit geeky for me surely? This Social Media gig has to be a blizzard of personal trivia meeting an avalanche of marketeers digital junk-mail? Sign-up bandits . . . bullshit detectors on stun.

Wrong! This is one class act.

At every stage the LikeMinds event was slick, organised, fast-paced, informative, highly professional and very good-humoured. I sat up and just listened- and listened. Blimey! Great speakers, lively panels and open floors to lively participants. Heard how the NHS was effectively reaching out to youth advising on STDs. How information could outpace the bad guys. Why everybody loses when big business tries to coat-tails youth vibes. How major corporates can engage with, and respond to, customers as multiple-individuals. How SMEs can communicate with some character and personality. How ideas can light a wild-fire. Hang on, that's where I live!
Still percolating my thoughts, but in kernel-form it comes down to this for me. Content and quality tops my list. And yup, you can Tweet "Starbucks, 11, cool!" but "E=MC2" fits in 140 characters too. Social Media may be in need of a better name (?) but a lot of smarter people than me are finding a gazillion ways to use this phenomena for good, for profit, for better communications, and still evolving . . .
So now I am a Week Two Newbie on Twitter @GaryDayEllison and learning how to engage with people online while living and working somewhere beautiful. And present ourselves and our skills in a way we can feel comfortable with. 

More than just a Thank You, these are smart people you should check-out. LikeMinds,  JonAkwue, Kevin Anderson, John Bell, Olivier Blanchard, Trey PenningtonSteve Bridger, Heléna Holt, OK, too many to list - Follow the LikeMinds link. There is not a dull one there. Chris Brogan - come and live in Devon!
Special thank to ScottGould & Drew Ellis for conceiving LikeMinds and making it run a hell of a lot better than clockwork.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Great Women No. 2

The second in the Great Women series has appeared in The Lady. We had a bit of a grumble about the layout especially as the portrait miniature by Sandy Nightingale was enlarged! But being constructive we sent in a suggested layout for the series to the magazine. Sandi Toksvig likes it too, as does her splendid agent Carol MacArthur, so we wait to see if they thought it was helpful.

Great Women No.2 - Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth was born in 1437 to a noble family who were good at most things apart from spelling. Today we write Woodville but in her own time anything from Wydeville to Widvile would have been just fine which suggest a pleasing medieval disinterest in identity theft.

Elizabeth was said to be the most beautiful woman in Britain with ‘heavy-lidded eyes like those of a dragon’ – not a compliment you hear much these days. When she was about 19 she married Sir John Grey of Groby, a Lancastrian, who history books say ‘fell at St. Albans’ in 1461. Many have fallen at St Albans during parky weather but sadly, John was killed in battle and left Elizabeth with two sons. By now Edward IV, a Yorkist, was King of England (hold on tight as we race through some parts of history). As a Lancastrian Elizabeth was on the other side of a dispute over the correct colour for roses that had managed to rage with the Yorkists for about 100 years. Liz, however, was bold. She wanted land for her sons so she went to see King Ed and, after one of those romantic meetings in the woods you normally only get in films, she and the king plighted their troth and married secretly.

It’s fair to say no one was pleased and things got worse when Elizabeth, who I think has been dead long enough for me to get away with calling her greedy and unscrupulous, kept getting the King to give land and money to her relations.Liz and Ed had ten kids of whom the ‘Princes in the Tower,’ Edward V and his brother, Richard, did least well. When Liz’s husband Edward IV died a heady game of numbers followed where, trust me, I can only scratch the surface. Ed V was only twelve so his uncle Richard of Gloucester (the hunchback one in Shakespeare) took the throne as Richard III, imprisoning Ed V and young Richard. Richard III then demanded that Elizabeth also turn over to his custody her daughters so she did. Eventually Richard III was killed by Henry Tudor (Bosworth Field but there isn’t the time). Henry became Henry VII and married Elizabeth’s daughter (also called Elizabeth) who followed in the family business and became queen. The Princes were probably murdered in the tower and Elizabeth Woodville retired to a nunnery where she had plenty of time to consider her failure to win Mother of the Year. She died there in June 1492 aged 55.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Abbey Road Revisited

A while back we posted about our homage to the Beatles iconic album cover. Click. Well, it just popped up yet again. This time, as we rummage through the archives for material for The Music of the Lord of the Rings. While using the hallowed recording studios, Director, Peter Jackson and Composer, Howard Shore stepped out to get their own snap. Come on English Heritage get the studios listed!