Monthly Archives: September 2015

To travel without taking a step-‘The Grand Chaco’ by George Manville Fenn

Well, the book display of Marjon’s authors is up, but I still have a lot more books to talk about. And Untitledthat brings me to George Manville Fenn. Fenn was a student when the St John College was still called Battersea Training School; He was one of the first teachers that were trained here. He turned to writing, mostly adventure novels both for boys and adults. And man, what a list that is! He rivals DeFoe in the number of published books. In our collection there is ‘The Grand Chaco’ one of his books for the younger audience. It tells the story of teen-aged Rob Harlow as he travels up the Grand Chaco in Paraguay and all the exciting incidents that befall him.
When I lived under the metaphorical rock (long time ago, far away AND with no internet access), I would eat up books like that. We all know the story: a boy goes into the world, meets people, has adventures and sees all the wonders of the world- no surprises there. But that was not the point. In my days and the days before me, if you wanted to learn about far-away lands you either buried yourself under dry descriptions in encyclopaedia or read that kind of books. They would tell you how would you go about hunting a jaguar or catching a local fish; What sunrise would look in the deepest jungle and what kind of people would live in that place. Granted, those books don’t age well, some things would make you go ‘ow, my modern sensibilities!’. Still they contain the delight of looking at a different reality, be it thousands of miles away or hundreds of years ago, most often both.

Also, no post next week as I am walking in Mendip Hills.

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Flash feelings- Tobin’s ‘Flash Words.’

Today’s book is a compilation of poems by Paul Tobin. Paul was one of Marjon’s students and nowadays he still works here. We have his Flash Words in our collection, and needless to say that the book is destined to grace our future display. He writes his poems on a wide range of subjects, touching the essence of the human condition. A special place in the book is dedicated to ‘Majon Cycle’, that represents his feelings and thoughts concerning Marjon itself. And it is here that’s where Paul’s words strike the truest, conveying what Marjon means to me, especially the no. 10 of the cycle. Let me show it to you:
10. The first real day of spring.
I shed my thick green coat
make small talk in the coffee queue
curse my forgotten travel cup
realise I am engaged with the now
rather than the chime of overlaid memories
perhaps I belong here.

Do you know this shiver in your spine, where the words of another person say exactly what you feel? That is the flash of finding a connection between two strangers as well as the silent prayer of every author; to understand and to be understood. Go and read Paul Tobin’s poetry, maybe you’d find it too.

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Legal disputes and old-timey science- Gee’s ‘Francis Watkins and the Dolland Telescope Patent Controversy

Microscopes of 18th century inside Gee's book

Microscopes of 18th century inside Gee’s book

The first book that caught my eye in the pile that would go on display is Brian Gee’s ‘Francis Watkins and the Dolland Telescope Patent Controversy’. Gee used to be one of our lecturers and that’s why we have the book. Long story short, there was this rivalry between John Dollond and Francis Watkins and who really got rid of the chromatic aberration in telescopes. At one time, the chromatic aberration was a common problem in telescopes, which made the picture to have rainbow edges because of the way the light refracts in the lenses. Oh okay, I’ll stop talking nerd now. If you’re interested in that stuff see this and this.
But the book is more than an old legal dispute between two nerds. I learned a lot about the life of craftsmen and artisans in 18th century London (ever wondered where the term ‘indented servitude’ comes from?) that still employed the master- apprentice style of trade education. We don’t think of that time as having sophisticated technology or scientific infrastructure. But the truth is there were communities of people that made their living by catering to early scientists, supplying them with apparatus and other supplies that made scientific progress a reality. And those apparatus were a thing of beauty, marrying the cold, scientific principles to the artistry of craftsmanship. I am talking silver bodies, engraved rims and luxurious woods- equipped with intricate mechanisms and high quality glass. That’s the humanist spirit at its best. Check this book out if you ever have a chance, even if it’s just for pictures.

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Return of the books

I have written before about Marjon in fiction and had a closer look at former Marjon students that wrote fiction. But the truth is I have just scratched the surface with the books that were penned by people involved with us. And since there is going to be a new display with books of our people I thought I’ll return to the subject.
The main thing about our authors and their books is that they are so varied: different subjects, different genres, some fiction, some non-fiction, poetry and prose. You’d think that for a place with teacher’s training so deeply in its tradition, that the books produced by its students would be mostly about education or on methods of teaching. So in the upcoming weeks I will talk about the titles that can be found in our collection. I am in for a treat!:-)

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