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My mother and school


Early memories and my father
Richard Gregory Scientist
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I was born in London, in Little Venice, in fact, and my father was at University College as an astronomer, a young astronomer, and I think my parents had been married about 18 months or less when I was born so I was wheeled in my pram around Little Venice, I believe, my first encounter with the world, which I still like. I like that part of London very much indeed actually. Then my father built the Observatory at Mill Hill, which was the University of London Observatory, he was the first director of it, so among my first memories really I suppose were the building of the Observatory which was dramatic and wonderful really with its dome and the whole bit. I used to go for carpentry lessons. Every Saturday I used to pedal along in my fairy cycle along cobbled, well, actually it was rough stone, come to think of it, along the road to get there, which has now got a super highway, it’s ridiculous. About five years after it was built, it became impossible because it was a major road up to Apex Corner and so on, and then all the lights, of course, were put onto the road, and my father and I thought it was infinitely powerful. They had the lights on the, it wasn’t really a motorway, but a major road, covered with a special cowl on the top of the lights to prevent the light going up into the sky and I suppose I felt that a father who could do that, was pretty powerful, you see. He was that sort of a chap. He could make things happen like that actually. He could. I think I was really brought up looking at the universe and wondering what on earth was out there, which is what made me interested in perception. But my father was also a bit of a gypsy. His parents had a large house covered in ivy in Parkstown, full of possessions, and I’ve got rather a lot of junk here as you can see, and my grandparents were like that but sort of Victorian knick-knacks all over the place, you know. Incredible collection of stuff. My father hated possessions, he really felt that he would like to just sort of forget his family, go off somewhere, live some somewhere else at the drop of a hat and possessions tied him down. So he was both tied to the nature of the universe but also to being a free agent in his own world really and he was eccentric. He gave up Victorian values to a very great extent and he was an ardent nudist. He got very keen on nudism, which I found intensely embarrassing, I might say, at the age of seven or eight or something like that. He was very keen on it and used to go on these nudist weekends and this sort of thing, which at that time was sort of fashionable. People like Joad and people; I think they were nudists as well. It was the thing to be if you were an academic but it never appealed to me one bit and I must say still doesn’t. So I think my early life was a mixture of rather, fear of my father because he was a very dominating character who wouldn’t stand idiocy or, you know, he wouldn’t understand normal child behaviour really. Also, wrestling really with a conflict between standards that one was supposed to have in one’s school, behaviour and so on, and then the gypsy-like father who was a reputable academic and also pretty jolly zany. So it was a series of funny conflicts going on.

The late British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, Richard Gregory (1923-2010), is well known for his work on perception, the psychology of seeing and his love of puns. In 1978 he founded The Exploratory, an applied science centre in Bristol – the first of its kind in the UK. He also designed and directed the Special Senses Laboratory at Cambridge which worked on the perceptual problems of astronauts, and published many books including 'The Oxford Companion to the Mind', 'Eye and Brain' and 'Mind in Science'.

Listeners: Sally Duensing Adam Hart-Davis

Sally Duensing currently is involved in perception exhibition work and research on science and society dialogue programmes and is working with informal learning research graduate students and post-docs at King's College, London. In 2000 she held the Collier Chair, a one-year invited professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, England. Prior to this, for over 20 years she was at the Exploratorium, a highly interactive museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco where she directed a variety of exhibition projects primarily in fields of perception and cognition including a large exhibition on biological, cognitive and cultural aspects of human memory.

Born on 4 July 1943, Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance photographer, writer, and broadcaster. He has won various awards for both television and radio. Before presenting, Adam spent 5 years in publishing and 17 years at Yorkshire Television, as researcher and then producer of such series as Scientific Eye and Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers. He has read several books, and written about 25. His latest books are Why does a ball bounce?, Taking the piss, Just another day, and The cosmos: a beginner's guide. He has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He is a keen supporter of the charities WaterAid, Practical Action, Sustrans, and the Joliba Trust. A Companion of the Institution of Lighting Engineers, an Honorary Member of the British Toilet Association, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Merton College Oxford, and patron of a dozen charitable organizations, Adam has collected thirteen honorary doctorates, The Horace Hockley Award from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, a Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Medal from the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, and the 1999 Gerald Frewer memorial trophy of the Council of Engineering Designers. He has no car, but three cycles, which he rides slowly but with enthusiasm.

Duration: 4 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008