The Blog

Seven Deadly Things.

It started, as these things do, online. One of those Facebook trends: spot someone sharing some facts about themselves, comment on it or 'like' their words, and you've self-nominated and before you know it, you're under pressure to share Seven Things You Might Not Have Known About Me.

It started, as these things do, online. One of those Facebook trends: spot someone sharing some facts about themselves, comment on it or 'like' their words, and you've self-nominated and before you know it, you're under pressure to share Seven Things You Might Not Have Known About Me.


I'm not so terribly interesting, really. In fact, I'm often the person you don't really remember being there at a social gathering, the invisible one in a crowd: and that's perfectly fine by me. I suppose it means that I succeed in my attempts not to offend you, and if I've managed that: mission accomplished. If I were an item of interior décor, I'd be one of those Farrow and Ball paint colours which you hardly notice but which could become offensive just by coming on a tiny bit stronger: Skimming Stone, perhaps, or Borrowed Light. But even the person who's most comfortable talking to one or two close friends at a busy party might have surprising things to tell: even the one who seems to be all about work and seldom about fun. I'm going to try.

1. I've never quite felt certain about what I want to be when I grow up. Aged 4, a little bit dyspraxic and terribly shy, I started ballet class; to everyone's surprise I wasn't terrible at it, and grew to love it. Many lessons and some birthday treat trips to the theatre ensued, and before long I was the typical little girl with the dream of ballet school and a career on stage. It wasn't to be, of course: when I was about 14, as realities of homework and demands and growing up struck, the pirouetting ended. I was no longer "on point": the choreography of all those competitions and exams, the costumes, the tutus and the screaming rows of pushy backstage mums was over. I loved it all, improbable as it may seem to anyone who knows me now.

2. Next came music: having learned piano and then violin at school in an era when being able to respond fairly well to some simple aural tests secured free or cut-price lessons, I fell completely in love for the first time, aged about eight. The usual adages of strangled cats apply, but I got there in the end, moving from endless scales and studies through sight-reading and set pieces to the sheer joy of playing in a couple of different youth orchestras and the Great Adventure: going on concert tours. Music has that alchemy, doesn't it: heightening emotions and crashing through pointless walls. The friendships formed in the Music Room in school or at youth orchestra rehearsals or residentials are ones I'll never forget. Of course, my enthusiasm made me dream about doing this for the rest of my life. I changed my mind about that too, of course, but I've never fallen out of love with music. I never will.

3. My students are always a bit surprised when I tell them I didn't really love English at school until sixth form. Truth is: I didn't really love school until sixth form, when I got to focus on the subjects I liked best with the most like-minded people in my year, and got things like free periods to read, or do homework, or catch up with piano practice, or drink coffee in the Common Room. English up to fifth form was fine. English in the sixth form was amazing. The books - the discussions (which replaced the endless, soulless chapter summaries) - the teacher's ironic sense of fun. How excited I was, attending a school reunion a few years ago and exploring the old buildings with a friend from years ago, when I stopped outside my old A level English Room and discovered it had the same number as my own classroom does now: English 4.

4. I was an awkward child at nursery and primary school: that surprises people who consider me compliant now. Aged three or four, I got into trouble for refusing to join in with If You're Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands, one afternoon. I wasn't happy: I wasn't joining in. A few years older, I was the child who asked 'But why?' In Religion class one afternoon, the teacher instilling the fear of God as First Confession approached by telling us how our seven-year-old souls were black with sin, I raised my hand. Would the soul show up in an x-ray, I wondered - could we get a sort of soul health-check and find out how bad the damage was so that we could prepare our lists of sins for the priest accordingly? Red faced and furious, the teacher didn't answer: I spent that and other afternoons in the reading corner, on my own...

5. Reading. Ah, reading. If my husband is the love of my life as far as people go, then I think reading is the other, non-human one. As a child, I was always getting into trouble for reading past my bedtime, and nothing has changed, except exhaustion rather than a telling off is how I pay the price. Having so many books that I'd need to retire early to have any hope of reading them is my security blanket against the icy blast of things like the recession, the climate, people's petty cruelties or an overwhelming workload. I always have to carry a handbag big enough to fit a book or Kindle: inelegant perhaps; essential, definitely. Immersing myself in someone else's life is my refuge from my own shortcomings... sometimes a turn of phrase can redeem the darkest day.

6. Weird things happen to me, now and then. Like the time when I found myself in a room with the feuding Gallagher brothers just before Oasis split - then noticed that Van Morrison was in a dark corner 15 feet away. I amused myself by imaging some sort of terribly grumpy flashmob. Or the time I met Aleksander Petrovsky long before he was in Sex And The City. Or that I was at school with Duke Special or at university with Jacob Rees-Mogg MP. Or that one-to-one writing tutorial with Seamus Heaney. Or that time in Charles de Gaulle airport, my flight delayed for about nine hours by snow, when someone tried to persuade me to carry "un pacquet" in my luggage, and I had to fend them off in French... I could go on. I won't, though. You'd get bored.

7. We've been under pressure, of late, at work... and for those who think I dealt with it easily, well, I'm ill as a result. When pressure descends I go into what I nickname "Oxford mode": working constantly, never resting, sleeping poorly. I become an efficiency machine and get stuff done. Usually, soon afterwards, my health crashes, and my February flu is no exception. Oh: and to the colleague who said that: "This will be nothing to you, you're so confident!" I'm not. If I were any less self-confident, I wouldn't leave the house every morning; as it is, I sometimes have to pretend things are all right. Too much information? See? I'm already worrying that I've overshared. I work on the assumption that whatever I do, it won't be good enough. I get bored with thinking about myself, though, and fix my eyes on a beautiful landscape or a good book, or even just into the depths of a mug of coffee. Things always look better then.

My seven deadly things are not exciting. They're not even particularly deadly, sinful, revealing... but they're true. You can add three things that you already knew, if you like: call it Ten Things You Hate About Me. Has that background paint-colour suddenly become obtrusive? Has the ambient music got a tiny bit too loud? Irritation rising, are you thinking those were seven things you really didn't want to know? Is this just typical of social media: share and overshare alike, the refuge of boredom where you go to be even more bored than you already were?

Do as you will... like, dislike, share, self-nominate... or simply shake your head and say it's just what you'd expected all along.