Saturday, February 07, 2009

The rest of the interview by Tracey

It's taken me a while to find enough time to answer Tracey's other "interview" questions, but here we go. Some of them were hard! (Clears throat and pats hair nervously.)

2. Each generation bemoans that "kids aren't like they were when we were young." What have your years of working experience shown you to be enduring qualities of children, those that are inter-generational?

I actually spent only 6 years teaching secondary school pupils; then I spent nine years at home being a mummy; then I gradually went back into teaching – part-time at first - but this time in further education. However, most of our college students are young, ie between sixteen and early twenties. So I’ll substitute “young people” for “children”.

I think that young people haven’t changed fundamentally at all – or not the ones I teach. The best thing about them has always been that they can be fun. The school where I taught between 1973 and 1979 was in a working class area in a small town outside Edinburgh, where most of the boys went into mining or fishing and most of the girls expected to marry and be full-time mums. Behaviour was not always good and academic expectations weren’t particularly high. In the college where I teach now, a lot of our students haven’t succeeded at school for various reasons – family circumstances, bullying, skipping school, too many outside distractions or simply not being particularly “academic”. But the pupils in my past and more recent students have taught me that there are different kinds of cleverness. Some people who can’t write a coherent sentence are nevertheless very quick-witted – far more so than I am – and have given me a lot of laughs – intentional ones.

They’ve always been concerned with their appearance – though of course fashions have varied hugely, many of these reappearing with slight variations and then disappearing again. Young folk are mainly lovely: peachy skin, shining eyes, slender bodies. Of course there are always the genuinely unattractive ones with pitted skin and bulgy noses, which seems so unfair. But so much depends on personality: often the most popular students are the ones who, looked at dispassionately, are rather plain.

Most young people are very good at socialising, quickly forming little groups for support; but there have always been those sitting in a corner who just didn’t have the ability to break into conversations, make the right kind of jokes or give eye contact in quite the right way. You don’t need to be a genius to be good at social interaction – it’s an instinct which most of us have, more or less, but some have to learn painstakingly; and it’s been very interesting watching this over the years. Young people are mainly very loyal to their friends, even if (as happens at college) they’ve only just met them. Nowadays they have each other’s mobile phone numbers and text each other to find out whether a missing student is late or absent – very useful for the teacher.

And I have to say that in my experience, young people don’t like doing homework! (This is definitely an inter-generational thing; I didn’t either…)

3. Summer or winter? Which do you prefer and why?

Summer! No doubt about that – since I'm a teacher, my 6 week summer break is a huge joy. However, Daughter 2 has just told me that it’s 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit) in Melbourne, which is just unimaginable to me - I wouldn’t like this at all. I start complaining when it’s about 75 Fahrenheit (23.8 Celsius). That’s about as warm as it ever gets here and even then I consider it too hot to garden except in the shade, and certainly too hot to walk anywhere in the midday sun.

But I love flowers, I love balmy air, I love sea breezes and blue sky.

Winter here is usually not particularly cold – not often below freezing – but it’s often raw, damp and windy. And the days are short.

Summer here means that my herbaceous border is in full flower (above) and the days are long; the sun is below the horizon only for a few hours and I can work in the garden until after 11 at night. Bliss.

4. What is a wise saying that your mother said to you, that you said to your children, that you hope your children will say to their children?

I found this a difficult one to answer. My mother is indeed a wise person. She’s much more discreet than I am when it comes to handing out sage advice and therefore I actually can’t think of any particular sayings that have become part of family lore. What she has consistently said is that war is wrong. She lived in London through the Blitz, while my father was in bomb disposal in Egypt and built bridges over the Rhine later on. The war covered the period when she was 17- 23 and my father was 19-25, so their youth was completely taken over by it and they lost many friends. She was strongly against the war in Iraq.

Strangely enough, my grandmothers’ words come to mind more readily. One of my grannies developed dementia in her early 70s – scary thought – and used to say, “It’s a funny wee world”. And we repeat this sometimes – it is indeed a funny wee world which continues to surprise and interest me. My other granny, whom I knew much better, and adored, used to say (when I, a rather timid child, said I couldn’t do something), “Never say ‘I can’t’. Always say ‘I’ll try’.” I fear I haven’t followed this good advice all the time, but I agree with the sentiments.
Maybe I would like to hand down what my mother-in-law once said to me. I had managed to bash the car slightly on our gate and was upset - we were quite hard up at the time. And she said, "It's only money." Which is so true. Money and stuff in general don't really matter. People, health and happiness do.

5. Tell us something impulsive that you did as an adult that worked out to be a very good decision.

This is the hardest question! I’m still rather cautious and my life would probably have benefitted from a bit more impulsiveness. I’ve always had an embarrassed sympathy with Logan Pearsall Smith when he wrote, “People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading”. But I suppose there are four main things which – ridiculously, since they turned out to be very important – I did kind of on impulse: I asked a young man to my school dance when I was 17 – and he became Mr Life in due course; and we had three children - with very little idea, certainly the first time, what we were letting ourselves in for. These were four very good moves.

(Quite a few people have asked to be "interviewed" and I've really enjoyed making up questions and reading the answers, so if anyone else would like their moment on the big leather sofa, just ask.)


  1. What wonderfully thoughtful, considered answers. I am tempted to ask you for questions even though I have already done this meme-type thing once!

  2. Your comments about how little the young have changed - made my day. I have a supervisor who thinks the current young folks are nearly a different species that must be coddled, at the expense of everyone else, and that seems such a contemptuous attitude to lump them together so.

    Yes, it is a funny, wee world, isn't it?

  3. I had trouble thinking of sayings too, and strangely - or perhaps not - my grandmothers both sprang to mind, and so did the things my father used to say! Maybe we only really remember them when they are a generation or so older than us!
    Interesting thoughts on the kids of today. My experience has been an eye-opener while teaching. Perhaps the kids of schools I have worked in play a part in that though.
    Have a great weekend, Isabelle! We still have now and are freezing. Apparently our village made the national and international news yesterday!

  4. Yes, 46C was hideous. I've never been so glad that I put air con in the house when I renovated the kitchen. I was also glad it was on a Saturday so we weren't all trapped in classrooms.

    You made me laugh when you said that 23C was just too hot for anything except gardening in the shade. To us that's a very pleasant sort of day... not too hot, not too cold.... just right!

  5. Fab answers....made me think about the questions myself. So, yes, seeing as you've offered twice, I would like some questions please. Only when you've got time to think them up, so no pressure....

    Ooooh, I'm all excited now...

    Lesley x

  6. Great questions and fabulous answers. 47 is too hot - especially if you don't have air conditioning! Love 23 as it is quite pleasant to do anything.

    Count me in for some questions - only when you have some time.

  7. I'm so glad you're feeling better. Poor girl. That virus sounded very nasty.
    I heartily agree that kids haven't changed fundamentally. The bemoaners really irritate me.
    Oh yes, I'll take summer over winter anyday. I'm smiling at you thinking 75ºF (23.8C) is too hot. It's a perfect temperature to those of us here in the frozen northeast :)
    The only advise from my mother that springs to mind is, "Hold your tummy in!" I still don't do it :)
    Here's a funny coincidence...I asked my hubby to dance, at a wedding..and we ended up married less than a year later. That was impulsive, and out of character for me..but it ended up being a very good decision :)

  8. BTW, I love those 2 photos of your children, and the one of the kitty on the pillows too.
    Be a good girl and rest so as to allow yourself to get completely better now.

  9. I'm a Summer person as well - but 23 degrees is a bit low for me. It's just after 7.45pm and our outside temprature has just dropped back to 26.5 - probably was 29 - 30 today. That's more like it!

    Working in your garden until after 11.00pm? You are really a night owl!

    Onto the rest of my questions tomorrow.

  10. Bravo Isabelle! What a fabulous post -- great questions and wonderful thoughtful answers -- I enjoyed every sentence! That impulse question would have been an easy one for me -- one day I clicked on a blog that requested a cat-sitter and I jumped at the offer -- I'll have a wonderful memory that will last my lifetime!

    Now...that was so fun...and oh dear, I do believe you've been swamped with question requests, but when you find yourself at the end of the list, I'll meekly raise my hand. Go easy on me, dear Isabelle, you know how shy I am ;-).

  11. I find that I am becoming quite interested myself in this virtual "interview" ... And I wouldn't mind being questioned.