Friday, 9 December 2011
Ask No Questions
Over at the restlessly brilliant Lathophobic Aphasia, Vilges Suola does a lovely and revealing self-interview; I've borrowed the format to bring you the following.
What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
Slantwise, earthy, ruminative.
What is your greatest achievement?
Being thought of as more or less sane, professional, and kindly, despite periodic nasty brushes in the schizotypal swamplands of the soul. Or: having made and maintained so many richly fulfilling friendships.
What’s your favourite smell?
Church incense, woodsmoke, wet autumn leaves. All together. (I've done some odd things over the years.) Or---heartbrokenly honest answer---: my ex-partner's hair.
What is your favourite taste?
Artichoke hearts in oil, with goat's cheese and very cold Vouvray. Or: seafood.
What’s your favourite piece of music?
I am a musical dunce, unable, thanks to congenital 'music deafness', to perceive most kinds of musical structure or meaning. Probably Tavener's The Last Sleep of the Virgin. Perhaps Byzantine or Znammeny chant.
What book would you like everyone to read? Why?
I'd be happy with a world in which everyone COULD read.
What website would you like everyone to visit? Why?
Absolutely no idea whatsoever. I'm a terrible, unrepentant individualist and dislike the idea of dictating to people.
What is your favourite sound?
The dawn chorus in late April. The Armenian duduk. Richly textured drones.
If you were an animal, what animal do you think you would be?
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I paint Greek Orthodox icons and garden.
How many languages do you speak and why?
About ten, but I have to problematise the word 'speak'. I learned French at school which I still read happily, and I am fairly fluent in Welsh, which I learned as an adult. I did Latin from the age of eight and Greek from the age of twelve, both to degree level, so I have a thorough working knowledge there. I then learnt medieval Irish and Welsh, added Scottish Gaelic, Cornish and Manx, and have taught Breton and Old English. I read heavyweight academic German and cheapo-airport novel Spanish.
What do you like most/least about your job?
I love academic teaching, and am often identified as a born teacher---not altogether a good thing, as the job brings with it a measure of frustration at the slowness of oneself and others. I do like being able to play with language all day, and the pretence that words are the most important thing in the world for the duration of a tutorial. But I dislike the vamping self-promotion, precariousness, and careerist cant of the profession.
What would heaven be like if you were in charge?
An endless, internally enlarging world of varied, unspoiled, biodiverse, temperate, 'British', landscapes, mainly woodland and meadow. With various young gentlemen famous from stage and screen appearing randomly, all doe-eyed and playful.
When and where are you happiest?
When gardening, between March and June.
Something you are never without.
A manbag with at least two books.
What is your most appealing habit?
Christ, I've no idea. Good manners, probably.
And your least appealing habit?
Gravid somnolence, verbal repetition compulsion.
What is the trait you most dislike in others?
Cruelty to animals, or indifference to nature.
What is your most treasured possession?
My 2,500 volume book collection.
If you could have a supernatural power, what would it be?
Nothing short of full omnipotence, baby.
What words or phrases do you overuse?
'Um...' in a singing note, or, when teaching, 'With me so far!?' Various friends and I share an idiolect, Maux-Hindi, which is literally unintelligible to outsiders, though wholly pellucid to us; in that, 'jhagati namaha agacchanti ma!' is wearing a bit thin as a greeting.
Other than that, 'Your problem, my darling---one of them---' is probably my most overused turn of phrase.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
A bangingly toned body. Or about £10 million.
How would you like to be remembered?
'Inexplicably loveable despite the hint of benign malevolence.'
What music do you enjoy listening to/playing most?
Dead Can Dance, a vast array of medieval music, a lot of Indian and Persian music, old Tozzer Amos, This Mortal Coil, the odd bit of Nu-Disco. Chant, and, broadly, religious music in all its manifestations.
What did you dream of being when you were younger?
A botanist, a garden-designer, a herbalist, a Jungian analyst. Oh Christ, a fucking druid.
What were you like as a student at school?
Mildly disturbed and disturbing. I found everything---Maths, Science, Languages---unforgivably easy and yet I worried all the time. I was always depressed, anxious, manic, enraged, or sexually frustrated. At one point I stopped eating and announced I was a witch. I was also obviously gay as a daisy and without much emotional intelligence, which I have had to learn painstakingly as though from a book. It's been like teaching a badger Urdu. In all, from the inside it wasn't an easy time, but people probably just thought I was a polite, slightly strange boy.
How do you cheer yourself up when you are feeling down?
Meditate, have a glass of red, or ring a friend. Read poetry.
If I hadn’t been a teacher, I would probably have been a...
A garden designer/garden writer. Or a psychoanalyst.
Still might, at that.
Who has been the best teacher you have ever had?
There have been several. My D.Phil supervisor at Oxford was and is magnificent; I learned a tremendous amount from my undergraduate tutors as well. One of the best was the late and lamented Michael Comber.
Something that few people know about you.
Nothing I'd care to klaxon on the internet. Oh: I have a pattern of three moles on my chest that match exactly with the stars in Orion's belt (i.e., one is slightly out of true).
If you could travel back in time where would you go and why?
I'd probably be on the shore of Kent some time in the early 5th century, waiting for Hengist and Horsa with a gatling gun. Being a rich Roman in the Principate might have been OK. Or I might be found hunkering down in the long grass of east Africa c. 2 million years ago with some grunting hominids, saying 'Look, you guys, are you really sure you want to do this?!'
What’s your best learning memory from school?
Reading The Bacchae for the first time in Greek.
Are you a tidy desk or a messy desk person?
Very, very tidy, though I have not deployed Sheila Chandra's improbable system for de-cluttering.
What’s your favourite thing to do when it rains?
Sit under a tree, or if indoors, open all the windows.
A poem you know by heart.
What would you like to learn to do next?
What question would you have liked me to ask you?
When would you like Jonas Armstrong to be delivered?
What would have been your answer?
About 10.30pm tonight, please.