Friday, 30 December 2011

All About Me-ve

There isn't much I want to write about just now, for reasons I may return to. Now, normally when I've got nothing to write about I don't write - years can pass this way - but I thought I might finish the year with some sort of trivia thing. All the papers do it, don't they?

I borrowed these questions from an auto-interview by/with the wonderful Efler blogger 'Lathophobic Aphasia', written by someone with a better turn of phrase and more of a gift for creative grumbling than most of the people you meet in the staffroom. No apologies for borrowing, though, as Mr Aphasia himself borrowed the questions from an interview that EFL demi-god Jeremy Harmer did with Professor Deborah Cameron, another bright light of the ELT industry. And jolly good questions they are too. Borrow them yourself. Maybe we can make it into a meme.

What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

Creative, disorganised, passionate.

What is your greatest achievement?

You ain't seen nothing yet.

What’s your favourite smell?

The sea, windfall apples lying on winter mud (smelt that on Moushold Heath this morning), cut grass, a clean cat, rain in the desert, burning seasoned oak, mangoes, coffee.

What is your favourite taste?

Liquorice, mint, pineapple.

What’s your favourite piece of music?

Umm, don't know. I'm ignorant about music. I'm most comfortable with baroque type things - they have a pattern that I can just about manage to get my head around, and they resolve. Bach and Handel kinda thang: I haven't evolved as far as Romanticism. At one time in my life I went a fair bit to opera with someone who knew a lot about them (that was in Italy) and I remember the first one I went to which I enjoyed all the way through without a minute's boredom or inattention. It was Cosi Fan Tutte - nothing but the best, eh?

What book would you like everyone to read?

Just one? Impossible.

Books I tend to recommend to people I like: Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall ditto, Mary Renault's historical fiction, The Once and Future King (TH White), Middlemarch

What website would you like everyone to visit?

Not a clue.

What is your favourite sound?

Cat purring. Wood fire crackling. Rain outside. The sea.

If you were an animal, what animal do you think you would be?

Cat in a comfortable home, or small wild cat in a well-protected jungle. But then, I love to swim, so maybe otter or seal or one of the catlike prehistoric critters that went back into the water and became seals or whales or something. Or a Lake Van cat - they swim.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

'Spare' is a bit of an odd concept for me... as indeed is 'time' - perhaps that's why I have trouble getting things done. I don't have a telly, but when I watch dvds (or, rarely, when I watch TV away from home) I feel a need to fidget. In the last few years I've started to deploy this in making things - beads or jewellery, and lately, patchwork. If I watch enough films this year I will finish a patchwork quilt bedspread.

How many languages do you speak and why?

Well, I'm still struggling with English after 51 years. I learnt Italian quite well - I lived there for 6 years, though after 4 I no longer felt I was improving - after the age of 28 and with a history as a 'failed language learner'. It remains the only foreign language I ever got really confident and contented in, although I doubt I ever spoke it perfectly at my best. I'm fairly rusty now, though I still read it with pleasure, and recently have dreamt in it. I can read French and Spanish, but can't claim to speak either. French feels like a failure as I spent years being taught it without actually learning it, and now my 'default language', if I'm not speaking English, is Italian. I learned Anglo Saxon (or Old English if you prefer) per force at University for a year and was frustrated that I could not translate the poems well enough to do them justice: I felt they were wonderful but was not good enough - or indeed keen enough and hard-working enough - to make my versions adequate. I lived in Thailand three years without really getting to grips with Thai, but last week I watched a Thai film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives, and was surprised how much I could catch - but it's at the level of words rather than sentences and meanings. Same with Arabic.

What do you like most/least about your job?

I like the students who make this enormous courageous leap to living and studying in a different language and culture, and who make many small leaps of courage in order to communicate and approach each other and me. I like feeling that they are becoming ever more able to express more of their own meanings. I like getting to know people who do or will do such amazing and interesting things in life and who come from such varied and interesting countries: in what other profession would I meet Kurdish agriculturalists and Laotian ministers (who went to school in a cave and speaks Russian as a second language) and lawyers from the Ivory Coast. I like the strange and varied people who work in EFL too.

I dislike the insecurity of zero hours contracts, the tedium of meetings, and the odium of the occasional embittered colleague one meets who seems to dislike students on principle.

What would heaven be like if you were in charge?

Bliss. Warm sea, flying, music. Everyone I love around.

When and where are you happiest?

Lathophobic A's answer is pretty good: 'in a warm bed on a cold morning when I needn’t get up'. But also sitting in a tree, or on a hillside in summer. Riding a motorbike alone in Thai mountains. Sitting on the bottom stair in my nightie to listen to The Hobbit on my Dad's radio when I was 8. Writing something yesterday that seemed like it was working.

Something you are never without.

Something to read or to write on/with.

What is your most appealing habit?

Not sure I have any appealing habits.

And your least appealing habit?


What is the trait you most dislike in others?

Dropping litter and crap in beautiful places. Seriously. You go somewhere lovely - or even somewhere just passably pleasant - and defile it?

What is your most treasured possession?

Hmmm. My brain, I suppose. I would struggle to save the laptop and my mum's ring, and her diaries.

If you could have a supernatural power, what would it be?

Three, please, and they need not be supernatural at all - just very good technology indeed. I want

a time machine
a cloak of invisibility
a Babel fish.

This last was Douglas Adams' invention - a fish that swims in your ear enabling you to understand all languages in the universe and be understood. It would make my job obsolete, of course. But think of the evesdropping! Think of the history! You could settle all arguments about when people first started using language, for a start... and so much more.

What words or phrases do you overuse?

Like most Brits I swear a lot.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

An income I could rely on.

How would you like to be remembered?

I don't expect to be remembered by anyone, unless I write and publish something really good.

What music do you enjoy listening to/playing most?

Can't play anything. I've enjoyed singing in choirs and want to do more of it, and better. Most perhaps was a piece of music Barrie wrote (and I wrote some of the words for) and Stephen arranged for the Al Ain Choral Society, in which we both sang: Blue Carol. Listening... see above.

What did you dream of being when you were younger?

Writer. Trying to stop dreaming and work on it instead.

What were you like as a student at school?

Space case, then later on enveloped in impenetrable gloom enlivened with sarcasm. I stuttered, could not choose between two words of apparently equal meaning (would say 'tan' or 'kin' instead of tin or can) and could not concentrate on anything.

How do you cheer yourself up when you are feeling down?

I was very influenced by TH White's book 'The Once and Future King'. There's a point in which Merlin says that the one thing that never fails is to learn something - and then goes off into a long speech about the different things there are to learn and how many lifetimes it would take you to learn them all.

But learning is quite difficult to do, so a lot of the time I just read. Which feels similar, but is not quite the same.

If I hadn’t been a teacher, I would probably have been a...

writer sooner.

Who has been the best teacher you have ever had?

Richard Holmes, the biographer. You could sit in his seminars and feel your brain expanding gently under his influence.

Something that few people know about you.

I can't drive a car - never have learned - but I can ride a motorbike.

If you could travel back in time where would you go and why?

All over the place! Specially if I get my cloak of invisibility and my babel fish too.

What’s your best learning memory from school?

Walking in the park after midnight thinking that I understood 'Middlemarch'.

Are you a tidy desk or a messy desk person?

Exceeding messy. It hampers me.

What’s your favourite thing to do when it rains?

Sit by the fire with a warm cat and a good book.

A poem you know by heart.

Afterwards, by Thomas Hardy. This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin. Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll

What would you like to learn to do next?


What question would you have liked me to ask you?

Can I publish your next book for a large sum of money? And can you do a sequel, please? And, how about film rights...’

What would have been your answer?

Yikes! But yes, by all means.


Robin said...

On a day in which you had little to write about, you really did quite well. Now we know almost everything about you.

Vilges Suola said...

We seem to have quite a lot in common - I'm so glad you have a messy desk, as a couple of other people who've done this self interview are fanatically tidy desked and minded. Thanks for the complements!