Thursday, February 26, 2015

Where Are They Now? (Anyone Know?)

Official Wayne State College Bowl photograph.
In the early sixties the program managers at NBC figured they could swell their audience share with a show which pitted students from two universities each week, not in sports, but in brains. And it was a success. The show was College Bowl, sponsored by GE, and each week from 1959 to 1970 one school was knocked out and another took its place.

In 1968 Wayne State was invited to take part. We never knew what prompted the University authorities to decide that the perfect person to select and train the WSU team would be a member of the College of Liberal Arts who had arrived in Detroit a scant eighteen months earlier. Possibly it was because Ernie had become good friends with Sherwin Collins, the go-to man for the College who had the ear of the Dean. There was no shortage of knowledgable students from which to choose, but the trick was to pick four who together could cover the whole gamut of arts, science, sports, culture—and who would not fall apart at the sight of a camera. In addition they needed quick reflexes, because the first person to ring the bell in front of him/her would have the opportunity to give the answer. The College of Engineering supplied ersatz bells which were taped down to a table with duct tape for training sessions.

Here's a casual practice photo of the team of Chuck Zastrow, Dennis Staszak, Sanford Cohen and Joel Shulman, fingers at the ready. Ernie had John Gregg from the Communications Department to help him and I did my bit by sending down practice questions. That made three of us who knew next to nothing about Astronomy, Geology, Physics etc.

A week before the big day Brandeis beat the school against whom they were pitted, so we knew Brandeis would be our opponents. I don't recall the flight to New York, or the journey to the Warwick Hotel, but I do know that we were shepherded by Mike Sibille, the university PR guy.

I think we flew out on Saturday
morn-ing, which, accord-
ing to my note on the back of this photo gave us time for a visit to the Central Park Zoo. Those of you who know Kate may recognize her peeping through my large pink coat. My only explanation for the white gloves for a trip to the zoo is that this was the 60's.

In the evening we all went for dinner at Mama Leone's. The next day we prepared for the show which was broadcast live.

The WSU team was wonderful, but in the end they were no match for the seasoned team from Brandeis. We excitedly flew home after the show. The cameras had concentrated on the team, of course, but we knew there were occasions when they had been turned on us. Our friends and relations in Detroit and all over the country had been watching. We went straight to the friends with whom we had left eleven-month-old Al to ask their reaction.

The golf match which NBC ran prior to our show had run over-time and College Bowl was not broadcast.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

This Nearly Was Mine

The Oscars will be awarded this evening. As usual I will start watching the show and then groggily go up to bed half-way through, bored stiff. I have seen two of the films up for consideration. I love Turing's story in The Imitation Game, a mathematical equivalent of the puzzle classicists found in the decipherment of Linear B and I have written before about my interest in all books about Enigma. I can't say I have much interest in Hawking's exploration in cosmological inflation and quantum gravity. But as a person he is fascinating and therefore The Theory of Everything is equally fascinating.  What do these movies have in common? Cambridge University.

Turing's Cambridge of the 30's has obviously little connection with me, but not so the Cambridge of Stephen Hawking. There is a scene in The Theory of Everything pretty much identical to the one shown here which we took on a trip back to England (except the view in the movie included a random cow or two.)  My trips to Cambridge are because my brother lives just outside the town, not because of any nostalgia.

I came very close to that nostalgia. At approximately the same time as Hawking was riding his bike through the streets of Cambridge to his lectures, I was sitting the exams for Girton and Newnham. There was a general exam which required a precis of a long passage and a couple of essays to test our writing ability. For some reason I wrote on polar exploration. What a great job I could do of that today. At the time I think I had only heard of Scott's tragedy on his return from the South Pole. What could I have written? Instead of the question on eccentricity, I would love to get my claws into question 8, "Old People." Old people? What were you thinking of, Girton?  In addition there were chunks of Vergil, Horace, Livy, Cicero, Hesiod, Sophocles, Xenophon and Plato to translate into English and blocks of English to translate back into Latin and Greek. Joy of joys, I was summoned for an interview. By letter? Phone? I suppose today they tweet the applicants. Anyway, dear reader, I went.

I do not remember the interview. We must have had dinner in hall and I know I was expected to spent the night. I remember a freezing cold room in a stone building and making myself cocoa in an equally cold kitchenette.

I returned home, only to hear sometime later that G & N would not be requiring my presence the following year. Now here comes something which in future posts I will refer to as a Brian Williams moment, somewhat different from a senior moment. You will either understand or you wont. I am convinced that somehow, maybe even from the university itself, I heard I was next on the waiting list and that if anyone were to drop out, a place would be extended to me. It wasn't. I don't think I could have crossed paths with Stephen Hawking. He would have arrived to study for his Ph.D. just as I left.

The ambience of Cambridge is unique, and I like to think that this nearly was mine.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Two Hundred and Twenty Five Years

We first met in 1945. At least, that's my best guess. No pre-school in those days, just First Form at St. George's Elementary School in Freezywater, Enfield. Come to think of it, I doubt it was called "Elementary" School and "First Form" would have been reserved for Enfield County School (our high school). Yvonne and Diana on the left probably met a little earlier, living as they did in The Greenway, dark-haired Yvonne at no. 7, blonde Diana at no. 4. I lived on the other side of the Hertford Road at 27 Bedford Crescent. I don't remember us being in the same class together, though I suppose we must have been. All I remember of St. George's is sitting with Mrs. Wilson, the Headmistress, and knitting. I am sure we walked to and from school together.

After three or four more years at Chesterfield Road School (our middle school) all three of us passed the 11+. This showed we were in the top 33% of the population, but the streaming was not over. I found myself in the form designated "L" for Latin, a stream destined for university, the other two in "S" for Spanish and "DS" for Domestic Science. Don't ask. The streaming meant little to us and we much of our spare time time together, at  Brownies, playing tennis or taking long walks.

This photo was probably taken at Easter in the mid 50's. By this time we had all decided on a path in life. Or it had been decided for us. I would go into 6B Arts and continue on my path to University, these two would go into 6B Secretarial and become upper class secretaries. Both, I must add, would have been totally worthy University applicants and  they made up for that omission in later life.

Diana and I went on from Guides to Cadets, but when the Cadet summer camp in Cornwall was arranged, there were not enough of us going, so was invited. Here are the three of us on Porthcurnick Beach. Looks a little rocky!

Soon we all went our various ways. We all left England for various periods, we all married. But we kept in touch and the photo at the top of the page is from my visit to England in the 70's. Yvonne was living in Swindon, Diana in Eaton Royal where we got together, together with Diana's parents, for a lovely afternoon. 

Some time after that we lost touch. When people marry, change their names and move around the country, it is hard to find them again. The ace up my sleeve was Yvonne's brother, who for professional reasons was not too hard to find and who put me in touch with his sister, who had never lost touch with the third member of our trio.

They have both had more than their share of tragedies in their lives. By the end of April we will all be 75—that's almost 225 years of combined friendship. How nice, perhaps, if we could go back to St. George's and our days of Sir Brian Botany.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What to wear?

An article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal brought back a memory. It is an incident which will remain vivid as long as my husband, my sister-in-law or any of the people who attended her wedding in 1965 are alive. And I regret there are not too many.

I still have the invitation, but my attempts to look through photographs (I am still organizing) have not met with success. I didn't take any and I am sure the official photographer was told to keep me out of the photographs until it was certain that I was actually going to join the family.

I figured out that Iowa in June was going to be as hot as California and that I could wear my rather nice cream colored two piece linen dress. It looked good—I was a lot skinnier in those days. I hadn't been to many (any?) weddings in England, but I had the suspicion that hats were worn. (This was before the days of fascinators, you understand.) So I was lucky to find a cream linen, rather simple and elegant hat. Thought no more of it.

On the day of the wedding I caused a sensation. A hat! From that day on I was known not for my brains, or for my wit, or even for my origin—I was the woman in a hat. It made sense—I had to cover my head. This was the era when mantillas covered heads in church like never-ending lace curtains. Now when I meet an odd aunt or old friend, I hear, "You wore a hat to Mary Ann's wedding".

So what did I see? An article that hats are the new scarves, rather like orange is the new black. The best point that someone made is that if that is true, hats should come in varying sizes. I have tried on a hat or two in an attempt to keep my reputation going, but they tend to rest on the top of my head like a pin cushion.

My husband claims there is a photo of the side of my hat in a photo in his album in  the basement, but now it is simply a memory, kept alive by a relative or two—and the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Well, not really. A friend wrote in her blog the other day that at the beginning of last year she had chosen a word, "a personal theme for the year and her role in it." While she remained true to her word, she kept the word secret until the end of the year when she made it public and analyzed how successfully she had achieved her goal.

It's the word part I am copying, but I am not keeping it to myself. I don't care who thinks I have succeeded. I will know.

The word is organizing. I have written about it many times before, but usually in terms of macro-organizing. My bar, which gets lower all the time, is inching even further toward the floor. I can't deal with the flood of decisions with which I seem to be faced. I will be happy if my organizing can take care of the relative dispositions of the two photographs I had in my hand three minutes ago, one of which seems to have disappeared for ever. One micro-organizing success a day—and I will be happy.

 I'll let you know when I find the other photograph.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Magi Have Returned

It's fifty years since I ordered the Platonis Res Publica I wrote about yesterday. My son asked me today about a step I had forgotten to mention. When I had a rather loose contract with my artisan in England, I completed one step of the process by ordering a copy of the text from Blackwell's in Oxford and having it sent to my Dad. So any mistake in the edition etc. was mine.

I described it as the perfect gift. And now, half a century later, there were two more perfect gifts. Within two weeks of each other.

It is common knowledge in this family that Ernie is a marmalade nut. We even made a pilgrimage to the manufacturer of his favorite tawny marmalade last time we were in England. So what a delightful experience for him to open a box from his niece Megan Gottig and find two jars of home-made marmalade and one of lemon curd. Megan explained she had been gifted with a bag of meyer lemons—and what better use to put them to than to make lemon-ginger and lemon-clementine marmalade for her uncle.

She completed her elegant gift with a label made from an early photograph of Ernie (don't you want to pinch those cheeks?) and a printed inscription in somewhat original Latin which surely means, "Real men eat marmalade." Way to go, Megan.

Enough for one Christmas, right? But there was one more gift yet to come; this time it was for me.

Things were a little crazy around here on Christmas Day, so it wasn't until the evening that I opened a gift from Ernie, which completed the trifecta of perfect gifts.

Another book—but one written by me. All my blog posts from July 29, 2005 to a couple of weeks ago in print in a beautifully produced book. He used the service Blog2Print. Their banner is on the right of my page. I had used them to produce a book for my daughter-in-law Marcie as a memento of the first two years of the life of her daughter Veronica. It is a great idea for a present. Later I will write of some of the reactions I have had to seeing my words in print. Thanks, Ernie, for such a thoughtful gift.

So, as Christmas recedes into the past, let me tell you how wonderful it has been to have had these three gifts in my life. I trust Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar felt the same way.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Time I Felt Like the Magi

Sometimes a person knows a gift is wrong before it is even bought. Sometimes that realization comes a little later. Sometimes a gift is O.K., sometimes it seems pretty good. But only rarely does a person hit on a perfect gift. I did once.

In 1964 I left Los Angeles to return home to England for the summer. I had been a graduate student at Southern Cal for a year, which is what I had signed on for. My goal had been a kind of gap year before I got a job teaching, but I liked LA and my fellow graduate students. And I liked the chairman of my Ph.D. committee, which didn't seem as big a problem as it did in England at that time.  So I had the vague feeling that if I went back to California I was crossing a Rubicon which might mean the end of life as I had known it.

I'm not sure how I spent my days back in my childhood home, but some evenings I accompanied my father the The Gun and Magpie for a half or two of bitter. My dad introduced me to one of his fellow imbibers who had a son apprenticing in the bookbinding profession. (Remember books?) I saw some examples of his skill, the gilt edges of the books, the beautiful marbled endpapers and many other facets of the bookbinding profession. I talked with the son in person over a half pint or two. A few weeks passed and soon it was time for me to make a decision. Dear Reader, I returned to Los Angeles. Alea jacta est.

I was invited to Iowa for Christmas with my professor and his family. I wanted so badly to find him the perfect gift. A book was a suitable choice, Not just a book, but the book. In those days he talked of little else except Plato's Republic, but he had every edition on the face of the earth and a few from the moon. But what he didn't have was a hand bound copy with gilt edges and marbled end papers and his initials on the blue leather cover. So I embarked on a complicated transatlantic order which in those pre-computer days took for ever, but thanks to my dad was hurried along.

 The book in its cardboard cover arrived in California in time for me to wrap it in elegant dark green and gold paper with gold ribbon. I travelled with it to Iowa and was so proud to place it under the tree. The perfect gift. One I was so eager to give. No later gift required so much time, so much effort, so much imagination.

Even the Magi should have realized that gold, frankincense and myrrh were pretty second rate in comparison with my book.

To be continued  . . .