Posts

Featured Post

Jan and Cora Gordon, 1928: Salesmanship in California

Image
I smiled last Saturday as we found ourselves taking part in an earnest time-share sales presentation in San Diego, experiencing some insistent and misleading salesmanship, quite alien in style and content to anything a Brit would have come across at home. This prompted a recollection of the encounter between Jan and Cora Gordon and California real estate salesmen in 1928 recorded in " Star-dust in Hollywood ". The similarities are astonishing. ".. every real estate firm, in an agony of cut-throat competition, was trying to catch every 'tourist' as he arrived with his savings, to induce him if possible to invest his money in land before he could discover the real conditions. All along the streets near the centre of the town large rubber-neck wagons waited to abduct the wandering visitor. Young and often charming women pounced upon one from doors, waving prospectuses and promising free drives, free lunches and the rest ." Cora Gordon " was willing

Jan Gordon's WW1 Dazzle design for H.M.S. Southampton

Image
Dazzle painting of ships has fascinated many since its first deployment during WW1, spawning numerous articles, books and imitations. The artist and writer Jan Gordon was one of the original protagonists; he designed dazzle patterns, wrote about the principles and practice of the art, and remembered those days fondly when later dedicating one of his books to a dazzle painting colleague,  Steven Spurrier. One of the dazzle designs produced by Jan Gordon was that for HMS Southampton and I discuss below the available information on this design. I also recently bought the book " A Naval Lieutenant 1914-1918," which gives an account of the wartime experiences of the Southampton, with several contemporary comments on camouflage and dazzle. Camouflage of ships in WW1 At the beginning of WW1 in 1914 , Stephen King-Hall (as "Etienne"), serving on HMS Southampton ,  recalled,  " After the big sweep we all went to Loch Ewe to coal, and here I remember noticing the ba

The Colour of Spain by Jan Gordon 1921

Image
Colour Magazine in February 1921 carried an article by Jan Gordon on "The Colour of Spain." Delightfully for me, the first picture shown in the article, "La Rambla" by Cora Gordon, is of a painting that currently hangs on one of our walls. It successfully evokes the heat and sunlight of southern Spain. The Gordons recorded their impressions of southern Spain in two very enjoyable books, ""Poor Folk in Spain" (1922) and "Misadventures with a Donkey" (1924).  In the article, Jan Gordon considers Spain to be a painter's paradise, though not without its difficulties. He writes, "T o the painter, as human being, Spain has serious defects ." These included  prickly heat, thirst and the effects of drinking " water none too pure " and,  " Old Father Sol drives away the man where the artist would linger ." He adds that, " Dust, flies, vermin, and a courteous but over talkative population, add to the painter

Jan Gordon's 1917 story "The Soul Box" set in British Malaya

Image
In addition to factual articles published in the magazine Land & Water between 1915 and 1919 , Jan Gordon also contributed a short story for the 1917 Christmas edition. It was called "The Soul Box" and was set in British Malaya, drawing on Gordon's own experiences in the area. The Soul Box The story begins with a Scotsman, Thompson, speculating about wealth to come as he sees grains of tin ore in a stream bed. His reverie ends abruptly when his servant, Ahmat, knocks him out with a blow to the head. Ahmat then ties him up securely before carrying him into the forest. Ahmat had shared the local stories of demons and ghosts with Thompson: ".. Ahmat told how Hantu Longgak had attacked his mother's sister, so that she ran through the village with foam flying from her mouth as though she were a beaten horse; of the terrible eyes of Jadi Jadian, the were-tiger; of Batara Guru, the old man of the sea ; of Sa Raja Jin, the Black King of all the Genii (or Jinn), who

"Freebooters of the Balkans" in Land & Water 1916 by Jan Gordon

Image
Land & Water, March 16 1916 carries a piece by Jan Gordon on "Freebooters of the Balkans," a subject he expands on in the book,  " A Balkan Freebooter: Being the True Exploits of The Serbian Outlaw and Comitaj Petko Moritch . "  Here below is the text. FREEBOOTERS OF THE BALKANS. [Mr. Jan Gordon, the writer of this article, acted as engineer to Dr. Berry's Serbian Mission from the Royal Free Hospital. He was in the Balkans for six months and more, and travelled widely both in Serbia and Montenegro, taking part in the great retreat. He and his wife, who was also attached to the Mission, have just published, through Messrs. Smith Elder and Co., an account of their wanderings entitled "The Luck of Thirteen," illustrated by themselves, both of them being artists.] IN modern armies we have now discarded the freebooter, but in the Balkan States they have not yet learned that the undisciplined auxiliary is of little use in the warfare of today, and here t

The Flight from Serbia by Jan Gordon, 1915

Image
After watching the WW1 sequences in "Tolkien" last night, I found myself revisiting some of the WW1 writings of Jan and Cora Gordon . Their early Serbian experiences in the war were documented in "The Luck of Thirteen." An interesting and appreciative review of the book appears in Land & Water, 23rd March 1916, as follows:  " Mr. and Mrs. Jan. Gordon, wandering in Serbia, have perpetuated an exceedingly inconsequent volume in The Luck of Thirteen (Smith Elder and Co., 7s. 6d. net), which is as scrappy as a feminine conversation, and at the same time thoroughly fascinating. Here and there the grimness of war stands out with startling realism, and the fate that has befallen Serbia is tragically limned in vivid sentences, then one is caught away from horrors by the femininity of "Jo," and again interested in some Serbian Comitaj or Biilky municipal dignitary. It is all "live" and full of the spirit of courage and energy in a time of utter t

The Tatler (1932) reflects on social masks and the "perfectly natural" Jan and Cora Gordon

Image
The Tatler of Wednesday 03 August 1932 has an affectionate article about Jan and Cora Gordon , emphasising their refreshing naturalness and lack of pretentiousness. This is a quality noted by a number of their contemporaries, such as Myron Nutting . Here below is the article, in the flavour of a stream of consciousness, not originally broken into separate paragraphs, though I have done so here in order to make the text a little more accessible: " So Few People are Human. HOW seldom you meet people who are unashamedly content to be human. And how friendly and delightful they are when you do meet them! Most men and women create such fantasies around themselves. They are so very different from other people in their own estimation. Schoolmasters, parents, clergymen especially, all like to assume towards others whom fate has given into their charge, an innate superiority which they expect will be regarded as example. Even elderly people require deference on account of their age if for

Cooking and Writing: Jan and Cora Gordon give a return to London party, July 1932

Image
In the Daily Mirror of Saturday 23rd July 1932, there is a paragraph mentioning Jan and Cora Gordon under the header " Cooking and Writing ."  " Is there something of an alliance between the arts of cooking and writing ? Miss Helen Simpson writes novels and broadcasts on cooking, and at the party Jan and Cora Gordon gave to celebrate their settling in London after many years, dishes from many lands were served, all of which they had cooked themselves. And cooked for forty people in a very small space ! Entertainment was provided by the guests themselves and by the playing of strange instruments by Mr. and Mrs. Gordon. " This return to London from Paris i s described in " The London Roundabout " (published 1933).  Over a decade ago, on April 4 th   2010, I was busy with a house move (to Oman from the Netherlands) when a copy of this book arrived in the post. The book is " a roundabout trip of London, where one may catch glimpses of the four quarters