Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Marvellous Dr. Samuel Johnson

It is the 300th anniversary of the birth of the 18th century genius Samuel Johnson (1709-1784).

If you don't know much about the man, you will surely recognise some of the quotes - how about "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."?

He came to London from Lichfield in 1737, and found fame with the publication on producing the first English Language dictionary in 1755.

He went on to become one of the most celebrated men of the eighteenth century, attracting praise for his poetry, essays, biographies and conversational talents. Much of what we know about him comes from his famous biographer, Boswell. I'm chewing threw his biography of Johnson right now, and very enjoyable it is for a book from the 1700s.

The National Portrait Gallery has a small but interesting exhibition on Johnson, focussing on his role as popular biographer. There are also some additional portraits round the corner in room 12.

Look out for the celebratory 50p coin in circulation

The Life and Lives of Dr Johnson at the National Portrait Gallery, free and running until 13th December 2009 in Room 16. The Great Lives Podcast about Dr Johnson is available here, though I'm not sure for how much longer.


"We are all Cinderellas at the Ball"

Delight by JB Priestley is a book illustrating the many joys to be found in the smallest things in life. Published in 1949, it consists of a series of short essays, focussing on delights such as walk in a pine wood; Sunday papers in the country; reading in bed about foul weather, suddenly doing nothing and waking to smell bacon, a new box of matches.

This leads me on to one of my little delights in life: The BFI London Film Festival's programme booklet. Available a month or so before the festival kicks off every autumn, this free 100+ page magazine has a good paragraph for each of the couple of hundred films on show.

I love to pour over the descriptions, reading the fantastic ideas, stories, emotions, each accompanied by a photograph which may or may not give much away. Titles which spring out at me at a glance now include "Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly", "Dear Lemon Lima", "Have You Heard From Johannesburg", "Jelly Fishers", "Men Who Stare At Goats", "Woman Without Piano" and so many more. Roll on 14-29th October, and the London Film Festival.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ancient Chinese Animal Classification System

Came across this marvellous classification system for animals on Thinking Allowed Podcast recently. Supposedly it was taken from an ancient Chinese encyclopedia by Jorge Luis Borges.

Animals are divided into:

· those that belong to the Emperor;

· embalmed ones;

· those that are trained;

· suckling pigs;

· mermaids;

· fabulous ones;

· stray dogs;

· those that are included in this classification;

· those that tremble as if they were mad;

· innumerable ones;

· those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush;

· others;

· those that have just broken a flower vase;

· those that resemble flies from a distance.

Of course, one thing you can be sure of with the Chinese - they all fall into the "things that can be eaten category" :)