Thursday, May 24, 2007
Harriet has tagged me, and since Harriet is She Who Must Be Obeyed, I obey. I have to write eight random things about me. That's easy enough, but I'm not one for being personal in public, so to speak. I was involved in a departmental team-building exercise recently, and one of the tasks was to describe yourself in two adjectives. The differing reactions were fascinating to observe: some people went for a straight character description, others wanted to reveal some hidden depth. I wasn't really ready to share my view of my qualities, so I took the jokey route - large and northern were my words- both undeniably true. So I approach this with a little diffidence. Don't expect, gentle reader, any startling revelations.
1. I had a moustache for twenty five years. Originally, I grew it because, as a young man teaching in a boys' school, I was more than once taken to be a sixth-former. I found a picture recently on my first id card at my place of work, taken fourteen years ago. I barely recognised the dark haired, moustachioed man in the photo. I'm grey now, and the moustache had grown grey too. It was odd shaving the upper lip after so long. My blogger profile picture is remarkably like a photo taken a few years ago of me emerging from a hot tub.
2. I've taught some people who have since become (relatively) famous. Nigel Short, chess champion, was one. Somewhere on a shelf at Granada (or possibly BBC Manchester) there must be a videotape of me teaching a third year drama class, featuring Nigel. I wore a poloneck jumper that I had daringly substituted for my standard collar and tie in anticipation of a TV appearance. It was a Look North/ Granada Reports feature on this unusual boy- except, he was perfectly ordinary, apart from his astonishing prowess at chess, and the day was excruciating, as he had to be the centre of every class. I never saw the programme. I also taught Kate Gartside, who now writes more than she acts- but I loved her in Preston Front. I directed a school production of Jonson's Bartholomew Fair once, and Kate starred in it. She later went to a drama school interview, where the audition was to read from a play chosen because no-one would know it- and it was Bartholomew Fair... A near contemporary of Kate was Molara, a vibrant presence in drama classes. I didn't know until I read her website that her uncle was Fela Kuti- how cool is that?
3. I still sometimes convert prices to pre-decimal currency. Recently, when stumping up nearly two pounds for The Observer, I said to the newsagent, "Blimey, thirty-six shillings for a newspaper, eh?" He looked blank, as did the lady on the till in the cafe where I work, when I mentioned that the price of a cup of tea had gone up to eleven shillings. Pounds shillings and pence worked very well - divisible by virtually any number, including 3, which, in my view, makes it superior to decimal. My last half dozen box of organic eggs was only a guinea...
4. I find that I am much more interested in science as I get older. I was spectacularly awful at it at school. My Chemistry teacher was genuinely baffled at how utterly useless I was. Now, I'm fascinated by the way real scientists expose the mumbo-jumbo promoted by "Dr" Gillian McKeith and her ilk. I love this website, which gives you an assessment of the quackery quotient of any web text.
5. I've worn glasses virtually all my life. As a baby, a bout of measles gave me a squint in both eyes, so from the age of two, I wore glasses. I had two operations as a boy, one on either eye; the left eye wasn't very successful, but the right eye was. My childhood was punctuated by visits to the Manchester Eye Hospital- first weekly, then monthly, then half yearly, then annually. At 17, my optician told me I didn't need to wear glasses all the time, and since then, I wear them only for what's known as "close work". Being a patient in the eye hospital was great, because no-one was really ill. I remember playing lots of games with other children, all of us with eyepatches, or impossibly thick, milk-bottle bottom glasses. It was like a junior version of Carry On Doctor. Twenty odd years later, I found that, when I was asking questions in class, I was getting responses from the person next to the one I thought I was addressing, and I suspected that my left eye had begun to wander again. I couldn't see anything wrong in the mirror, though.That summer, walking into a very grand room in a museum, with a huge mirror facing me, I saw my left eyeball move very quickly to the corner of my eye, and realised that it was at a certain distance that the effect occurred. I was referred to an eye specialist, and had to report to hospital for tests. I was surprised when I turned up that the waiting room had tiny chairs, and when I was called, it wasn't "Mr Spence?" but "Is Robert there?" My condition was generally one that children have, and the tests I did in 1984 were similar to the ones I remembered- lining up two images of Mickey Mouse, for instance. I had another operation to yank my eyeball back into place. At the time I was starting a new job, and rather hoped to begin sporting a glamorous black eyepatch. I didn't get one though, so arrived at my new place of employment looking like I'd gone several rounds with Mike Tyson. It did gain me some street cred, though.
6. I love radio. I love the BBC's Listen Again facility. I love listening to ancient programmes from my youth on BBC7. I love Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion.
7. I have been vegetarian for most of my life, and so I don't really know anything about meat. I can't identify cuts of meat, and don't know what people are eating in restaurants when meat is served.
8. My father is the same age as Chuck Berry, Jimmy Savile and the Queen. I find that fact oddly disconcerting.
If, dear reader, you feel like revealing eight random things about yourself, consider yourself tagged.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
This is fascinating. Dan Gilbert is a Harvard psychiatrist who has researched into how we synthesize happiness. This talk, about 20 minutes long, gives details of his work. He's an excellent, lively speaker. Thanks to Bibliobibuli for the tip.