Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Auto interview




On his blog, EFL luminary Jeremy Harmer interviews Professor Deborah Cameron. Some of her answers (and books, of course) made me think she and I ought to get together for a few drinks sometime - how about it, Debs? I'll let you know when I can fit you in. I have absolutely nothing to write about at the moment, so I used Harmer's questions to Deborah C. to interview myself.

What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?


Angry, fraught sensualist. OK, that’s two adjectives and a noun. It's my interview, after all.

What is your greatest achievement?

Having made it to 52, I suppose, given that I have lived hand-to-mouth all my adult life. I sometimes have days - and more often three-in-the-mornings - of self-recrimination for not having been more focussed in my younger days, for having so little money sense, for never having realised an an ambition, as opposed to merely day-dreaming about them. Regret is useless but sticks to the soul like gum to a classroom carpet. A.A. Gill said of his life in 2008: 'I still have that feeling that everyone else got given a script and I didn't.' Yes, exactly.

What’s your favourite smell?

Garlic and herbs wafting from the oven, and the aroma of charred red peppers.

What is your favourite taste?

Alcoholic drink in almost all its manifestations except ouzo or crème de menthe. A sharp, fresh gin and tonic smelling of lemon and new-cut Christmas tree; honey and wood-smoke whisky; fruit and cool steel of white wine; berries, plums, cedar and cigars of red wine; almonds and new bread of manzanilla sherry. Yep, alcohol.

To be fair to ouzo, I do occasionally have one in the right circumstances, those being a hot night by the Aegean with the smell of the sea and octopus cooking over coals. Anywhere else, it tastes like Dettol.

What’s your favourite piece of music?

I’m a musical klutz, but I reckon the Sibelius symphony no 7 comes somewhere near to being my favourite. It’s a complete symphony collapsed into a single movement, perfectly controlled whilst seeming organic, and one of the few pieces of 20th century orchestral music whose development I can follow.

What book would you like everyone to read? Why?


Not for me to dictate what anyone should read or not read...

What website would you like everyone to visit? Why?

...or what websites they should visit, apart from mine.

What is your favourite sound?

Rain. I find it enormously comforting.

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

A cat who loves being cuddled and cosseted and fed on fresh meat, then withdraws. I’d also be the only alcoholic feline known to zoology.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I don’t think of ‘spare time’, just time. What I’m doing’s what I’m doing.

How many languages do you speak and why?

I speak French and Greek fairly confidently, having started the former at the age of ten and been in a love-hate relationship with Greece since I was 25. I can read Spanish and Italian but don't speak either well. I can read Albanian newspapers with moderate success, although I'm out of practice now. I can pick out the odd item of vocabulary in Japanese films, and know when someone's used a past tense even if I couldn't tell you what the verb (or adjective - they also have tenses in Japanese) means. My big failure is German. I started it at twelve and stayed with it to part one of my degree, but could never get to like it, despite knowing some lovely native speakers of the tongue of Goethe and Schiller, including the saintly Dr Gertraud Herbert at Cambridge, who tried harder on my behalf than I ever did at the time. I still sympathise with Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘…I don’t like German. It isn’t at all a becoming language. I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson.’

What do you like most/least about your job?

I love to see the ingenuity with which a group of people who have only a little English in common can communicate with one another once they drop the fear of grammatical errors instilled in the past. I like that I have access to loads of books on linguistics. I hate meetings and I’ve never been to one that was not a complete waste of time. I also hate admin, but have belatedly come to the understanding that it is essentially covering your arse.

What would heaven be like if you were in charge?

The food and wine would be first rate, free, contain no calories and be served by naked, ithyphallic twinks.

When and where are you happiest?

In a warm bed on a cold morning when I needn’t get up.

Something you are never without.

Wax earplugs to shut out the world and his iPod.

What is your most appealing habit?


Someone told me (ages ago) it was my inability to pass a dog or cat in the street without petting it.

And your least appealing habit?

Probably making it clear by my tone of voice when I don’t want to talk to you.

What is the trait you most dislike in others?

Making it clear by their tone of voice that they don’t want to talk to me.

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t think I have one, unless I can count my cock as a 'possession'. Like Deborah Cameron, I’d be irritated rather than heart-broken if a fire gutted my flat. It would certainly bother the landlord more than it would bother me.

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

Teleportation so I’d never need to use a train again. Think of the saving.

What words or phrases do you overuse?

The old limbic system and basal ganglia throw up ‘fuck’, 'shit' and ‘bollocks’ rather a lot, and in class I have to make a conscious effort not to say ‘OK’ every few seconds.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

An extra room in this bloody flat – I’m pig-sick of falling over things. And a tumble-dryer had I but room to accommodate one.

How would you like to be remembered?

Couldn’t care less.

What music do you enjoy listening to/playing most?

I don’t play an instrument, something I really regret never having learned. My favourite styles of music are Indian and Persian, plainsong, Byzantine chant and music from the Cancionero de Palacio.

What did you dream of being when you were younger?

First an actor, then in my teens a theatre director. I was going to be the new Peter Brook. I didn’t realise then that you need to be far more interested than I have ever been in what makes other people tick.

What were you like as a student at school?

Probably infuriating, being something of a prima donna. I was exceptionally good at languages and outstandingly bad at maths, physics and chemistry, but couldn’t be persuaded to care. I worked at what I liked and didn’t give a monkey’s about the stuff I didn’t like. I was constantly being warned that one day I would regret this attitude, but that day has yet to dawn. I thought school was brain-curdlingly boring 99% of the time.

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

I listen to the 'Hymn to the Sun' from Akhnaten or pour myself a whisky and soda, or both.

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

Absolutely no idea. Really. I think I was born with the sickness to teach.

Who has been the best teacher you have ever had?


It sounds conceited but the answer is ‘myself’. I’ve always made up my own mind what I wanted to know – other people’s agendas concerning what I ought to know have never interested me. I’m a pain in the arse when in statu pupillari.

Something that few people know about you.


I loathe milk and butter. Do not invite me to dinner if you have used either of these in the food.

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

I’d like to be an invisible visitor to Akhetaten and be the first modern man to know whether Akhenaten was a visionary or a nutter. I strongly suspect the latter: pharaohs had to put up a fair bit of front, naturally, but Akhenaten really did seem to think he was the sole intermediary between men and the God, suggesting a greater degree of megalomania than was customarily permitted. I'd come back and tell the world what happened to Nefertiti - disgraced? Dead of the plague? Elevated to co-regent? - and put paid to speculation about who Smenkhare really was: Akhnaten's incestuous bum-boy or Nefertiti under a new name?

What’s your best learning memory from school?

I don’t have one. I was bored out of my skull from the age of 11 to the age of 18, which is a bloody long time to be bored out of your skull. Odd how often one dreams of being back there, and thinking 'but I'm old now, I've moved on - dammit, I can LEAVE!'

Are you a tidy desk or a messy desk person?

Dreadfully messy, although it's usually hidden mess as I tend to shove my books and papers out of sight and out of mind. I’m disgracefully unsystematic about pretty much everything. The only rule I consciously observe is ‘never throw any papers away’, as you never know when someone is going to come urgently needing them.

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

Wrap myself in a blanket on the bed by an open window, with a good book.

A poem you know by heart.

Jabberwocky.

What would you like to learn to do next?

Speak Mandarin, but I suspect the tones would defeat me. I have tried, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to make them stick and to associate changes in pitch with lexical meaning. Some of my Chinese students have been helpfully demonstrating tones for me. I can repeat a phrase almost perfectly immediately after it's been modelled, but only the once. My one pitch-perfect phrase is 'wŏ bù hē kafé' (= I don't drink coffee) but it's useless to me as I do in fact drink thick black sugarless coffee by the gallon.

What question would you have liked me to ask you?

‘What are you having?’

What would have been your answer?

A very large scotch with a smidge of soda, please.

14 comments:

ydnacblog said...

As we say in South Africa - lekker: usually only applied to food that appeals, but I use it for anything that appeals. I like this kind of interview thing. Making up the questions as the interviewer can be as challenging as answering. I do the cat and dog stroking thing too. I have a tendency to clutch tiny babies to my bosom too - I do ask first.

Vilges Suola said...

Hmm - not that keen on the tiny babies myself. Cannot resist cats, though.

ydnacblog said...

I can understadn that babies are an acquired taste. I'm not keen on them once they can assert themselves in any way.

I am DEEPLY suspicious of people who don't like cats......

Rob said...

Earlier this evening, I was inspired by your post to go and buy some vegetables - now in the oven along with garlic and thyme. But, also, I was inspired to buy a bottle of gin. I'm already sloshed. In the meantime, the rain falls heavily.

Vilges Suola said...

You are in an enviable position, then. My problem is that gin and whisky make a delightful apperitif, but roasted vegetables with herbs cry out for wine as an accompaniment. It's expensive, being an exacting piss-head.

Bo said...

This was lovely. May I borrow the format?

Vilges Suola said...

Thanks! Yes, by all means use it - after all, I took it from Jeremy Harmer and didn't even ask...

David Warr said...

Very nice. (Did you know you are up for a VOSIAWFOT award?)

Vilges Suola said...

Thanks, david. What on earth is a VOSIAWFOT award?

David Warr said...

You have obviously not been reading Hello Cruel World recently ;-)
http://hellocruelworldalanmtait.blogspot.com/2011/11/vosiawfot.html

David Warr said...

Actually, I see you've visited, posted, and corrected. Yes, I agree, you do blog about teaching.

Vilges Suola said...

Yes, I googled VOSIAWFOT and after a couple of attempts ('Did you mean...?') I found the blog.

Fionnchú said...

Great spin on the "Proust Questionnaire"/20 Q's. I may lift this for my students to quiz each other first week of speech class.

Isn't it difficult to get invited to someone's house and not have milk or butter via some edible, this being England? I guess who invites you knows better already, VS? I favor garlic & onions and pepper too, no fear. Buen provecho, amigo!

Vilges Suola said...

I had not thought of using this with students as none of my present lot could manage it yet, but good idea.

It's literally years since I have been invited to someone's house to eat, and when we go out I usually steer us in the direction of Chinese or Thai, where they don't use dairy products. I quite like scottish shortbread, which is very buttery, but it gives me screeching heartburn, so I avoid it

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