Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Ubiquitous Oh-Jive

The English language certainly contains some strange words, often with obscure etymological origins. Even everyday objects can be difficult to name. I came across the word ‘ogive’ last year. Not knowing its meaning, I looked it up, and now see ogives almost everywhere. (The more you know, the more you look and the more you see.)

An ogive is defined as the roundly tapered end of an object, be it two- or three-dimensional. Geometrically, it is formed from two parallel straight lines and two intersecting arcs whose radii are greater than the distance between the lines (Figure 48.1).

Figure 48.1: Diagrammatic representation of an ogive. The so-called ‘sharpness’, normally denoted as ‘E’, of this particular ogive is given by the ratio 120/100, i.e. 1.2. The greater the ratio, the sharper the tapered end.

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Arguably the most common example is the Gothic (or ogival) Arch. Although widely considered to be a medieval structure, it is, in fact, Islamic. Europe is full of Gothic architecture, which often defines its most celebrated buildings, particularly cathedrals and churches.

Andalucía provides one of the most striking portrayals of this feature. Despite the Christian Reconquista of the 13th to 15th century, much of the original Islamic mudéjar style remained popular, and for good reason. Christians built their churches with ogives large and small, thus tacitly acknowledging the artistry of their Muslim predecessors. The finest testimony has to be Seville Cathedral – or, to give it its full title, El Catedral de Santa María de la Sede. This is the largest Gothic building – and third largest cathedral – in the world. It took the entire 15th century to construct, and an entire day for me to explore.

The cathedral’s ogives are too numerous to count, although its stained-glass windows and 15 exterior doors would be the best places to begin (Figure 48.2). Aesthetically, the ogive is a masterstroke; but that is, I admit, purely subjective. What would be impossible to deny, however, is one of its most important functional attributes: the ability to resist the enormous gravitational force of the wall above it. (Perhaps this indicates to us the origin of the word: obviare being the Latin verb ‘to resist’.) A frame with a horizontal header would be susceptible to stress fracture in the centre. The curves of an ogival arch, by contrast, help to dissipate an enormous load to its lateral supports. Those 9th century Muslims really were clever mathematicians.

Figure 48.2: Nested ogival arches above Seville Cathedral’s Door of the Prince

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

The ogival shape is not confined to architecture. Three-dimensional examples are commonly found in aerodynamics and ballistics. If an object is to move efficiently, through any medium, the shape of its ‘nose’ is crucial. Here, the streamlined ogive comes into its own. Bullets are ogival, as are submarine casings, Japanese rail locomotives and even suppositories. A wide range, for sure.

So, keep an eye out for ogives. As I say, they are everywhere – in churches especially (Figure 48.3), but even as garden features (Figure 48.4).

Figure 48.3: A delightful depiction of a 14th-15th century English church, complete with ogival-arched windows

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Figure 48.4: Not quite Seville Cathedral, but small-scale ogives can look good, too.

Copyright © 2011 Paul Spradbery

In case you were wondering, ‘ogive’ is pronounced ‘oh-jive’. I didn’t know, either!

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery

Monday, September 03, 2012

Venetian Nostalgia

The greatest blessing of old friends is that you can get away with being stupid with them. Thus spoke Emerson, I think. Thank heavens someone thought so, as I have, in one way or another, been stupid with most of mine – occasionally in multiple ways at the same time. Being once described as having ‘a great brain but with bits missing’ left me wondering whether I ever had the right to excuse myself or not.

Last Wednesday, I received an unexpected email, via this website, from an old friend with whom I have had no contact for several years, and not seen since July 1991. That is an appallingly long time for me to neglect someone who was innately kind and honest. Way too long. The two-year-old son with curly red hair and striking eyes, playing cricket on the front-room carpet, will now be in his mid-twenties, as I myself was when I saw him. I can but ask forgiveness.

In the two years that El Escritor Inglés has been afloat, I must have received thousands of emails, from all parts of the world, the vast majority of which have been friendly and thoughtfully written. I have been fortunate enough, too, to receive offers of sponsorship and for the site to display advertisement links with free software products thrown in with the commission. None of it warrants serious consideration. I would rather readers know that, first, I am not writing in order to broadcast views which might not reflect my own; and that, further, I have no wish to make money. It will remain a serial labour of love.

I wish I could find time to correspond with everyone – to say thank you, if nothing more. Today, however, I should like to indulge myself just once by sending an open letter in return.

For the past few days, countless different words, images and sounds have flitted through my head: ’60s Motown; Woodstock; coloured pasta shells; a brown Vauxhall Nova; hand-written correspondence; scorers I could never be troubled to trouble; note-perfect barbershop harmonies; Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30; a long-leg fieldsman; a single-leg epidural; overshooting Newcastle and ending up in Scotland; the peal of church bells during a last-wicket run chase; a rucked-up tarmac path between two rows of bungalows; undergraduate nights spent reading anything that wasn’t on the syllabus; pints of Ward’s best sludge which I was, mercifully, never old enough to be served; not knowing one end of Edinburgh from the other; not knowing one end of a cricket bat from the other; a green-and-white rugby shirt complementing jeans with the customary hole in the crotch (check your photo); the coincidence of a Sixth Form Maths teacher who looked (to me) like Jesus after a fortnight in Marbella; former team-mates (Savage, Littlewood, Hammerton et al.) who are gone but never forgotten; the fact that Durham Cathedral is, and forever will be, York Minster sort of back to front (you’re smiling); listening to Phoebe Snow singing Every Night and howling along to it in the bath (you’re laughing); and, I hope, a sun that shines most brightly in the hour before it sets.

Yes, the rain man with the elephant’s memory remembers, you know; and he does so with unwavering fondness.

My friend, and all your tribe, this one is just for you (Figures 47.1 to 47.4).

Figure 47.1: Postcard from the past

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Figure 47.2: Spot the difference

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Figure 47.3: The North East branch committee of Dark Glasses R Us, all clearly oblivious to the raincloudy sky, pictured the moment afore gannin doon te the booza. The blerk – sorry, bloke – far left is standing on a box, the one far right down a hole.

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Figure 47.4: I remember a crescent in Venice ...

Copyright © 1993 Paul Spradbery

Copyright © 2012 Paul Spradbery