Please tell us a little about yourself: single, married, divorced, etc? Children or pets?
Born in Yorkshire, and came down south to got a job in London after leaving University, thinking I might move back north after 10 years or so. Still here 28 years later, now married, with one each of wife and daughter. Pets down to a single goldfish at the moment, which at least doesn’t take too much looking after. Living in a south London suburb with neighbours and a garden.
I'm wondering what lessons you've learned about life as a parent. Any funny stories to share with us?
The most important thing, I think, is to enjoy as much time with your child/children as possible, because the time will come to an end and you’ll never get it back. I’m not sure I do have any funny stories, though; or at least none that are repeatable!
What is your real-life occupation?
I’m a civil servant, working in one of the Central Government Departments in London. To be more specific, the Ministry of Defence, in its main Whitehall building. I have a desk on the sixth floor, with a window looking out over the River Thames and the London Eye – which must be worth something in itself!
When you were a kid, what did you expect your adult life would be like? How does it compare to your real life now?
I actually have no idea! I went through school enjoying the subjects I liked, and putting up with the others, and drifted off to University because that was what all my friends were doing. I had a very pleasant three years studying English and having fun with the Drama Society, then went into the Civil Service after passing their general entrance test. I accepted a job in London, and have been here ever since. No complaints at all – have ended up doing some very interesting jobs at the centre of Government, which I don’t think I’d have imagined getting into when I was at school.
It's an absolutely perfect day, the kind of day that usually only comes in dreams, and what do you know: you don't have to work. What's the weather like? What will you do with your time?
I suppose the one thing I miss living in London is ready access to the countryside, but it’s easy enough to get to it by train. So that’s what I’d do – go down to somewhere on the South Downs, spend the day walking along the Downs, then finishing up in a country pub where I can enjoy a few pints of locally- brewed real ale sitting in a garden with a stream at the bottom of it. The weather would be sunny but not too hot, with a pleasant breeze. Hopefully, I’d find a like-minded friend who wasn’t working either to share it with.
Tell us more about your love of music. Do you play or sing yourself? When did you notice music?
I don’t play any instrument (my mother was forced to learn the piano as a child, and was determined not to put her children through it), and my singing voice was once described as an “atonal bass”. I had a friend at school who was “into” classical music, and would sometimes play music that he thought I’d like, so there may have been some sort of absorption by osmosis going on there.
But I can actually pin down the moment when I “noticed” it very specifically. In 1979, I was given a ticket to a concert by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble by someone who couldn’t go at the last minute, and during the second half they played an arrangement for brass of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures from an Exhibition”. It really was one of those “bolt of lightening” moments - I think the sheer brassy exuberance of it must have struck a chord, because after that I started exploring classical music for myself, which has given me a huge amount of pleasure and many great experiences, far too many to list here without boring you to tears.
We both have a love of music, especially classical and opera. Who is your favorite composer, and why?
The one I keep going back to, and finding something different every time, is Elgar. I’m not sure I can define it, but something resonates very deeply with his whole range of music, from the patriotic exuberance of the “Pomp and Circumstance Marches” to the introspection of the Cello Concerto and the Second Symphony (which I prefer to the First). He really knew how to write a good tune, and his orchestration is marvellous. He is also indirectly responsible for one of the best ever “completions of an unfinished work by another composer” – Antony Payne’s “realisation” of the Third Symphony sketches.
Do you have a favorite opera and/or symphony?
Favourite opera is difficult. Wagner’s “Ring” is magnificent, and I’m lucky enough to have seen several great productions in London over the years. Britten’s “Peter Grimes” is also a brilliant combination of drama and music. But if I had to pick the one that really has everything, it is Janacek’s “Jenufa”. Its story could almost be out of soap opera, but the music (which sounds like no other composer) raises it to another level. The final redemptive moments, when Jenufa rises above all the preceding tragedy to find happiness, bring a lump to the throat every time. Again, I’ve been lucky enough to see some great performances of this opera.
Favourite symphony has to be Mahler’s Second – the “Resurrection”. The thing it has in common with “Jenufa” is that it finds triumph out of tragedy – so I’m obviously an optimist at heart! A live performance of this work in the Royal Albert Hall, with the massed choirs stacked up in tiers around the organ, is unforgettable.
"Running, Jumping, or Standing Still?" (I'm rather partial to "Red Palace", myself.) Is there something specific about this album, or song, that made you choose that as one of your 'hobbies'?
This may be a bit of a red herring! I actually had in mind the short 1960 film “The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film”, starring Spike Milligan and directed by Richard Lester and Peter Sellers. It apparently had a budget of £70 (sic). Why it took two of them to direct 10 minutes of nonsense is anyone’s guess, but you can find it on YouTube. Apparently one or other of the Beatles liked it, which is why Richard Lester was hired to direct a couple of their movies. So it predates the 1969 blues album (I had to look this bit up) by 9 years. I have no idea if there is any connection between the two of them!
I've always enjoyed your sense of humor. Whose sense of humor do you enjoy when you want to be entertained?
I have a weakness for silly. I love the sheer absurdity of Harry Hill (has he made it to the USA?) – TV Burp is funny, but his earlier TV shows, and his live stuff, are even better. “Father Ted” was a great TV show, never afraid to be just plain daft. I have twice been helpless with laughter in the live theatre – once about 25 years ago during the second act of Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off”, and much more recently at “One Man, Two Guv’nors” (especially the food sequence).
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” does have a special place (see below). Of books, I like Jasper Fforde for his wit and imagination. P. G. Wodehouse is the consummate comic writer: he uses words perfectly. And “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons – she is the only writer I ever wrote a fan letter to, and she took the trouble to send a hand-written response.
How did you get to become an Editor?
Being a member of the Quizmakers Guild may have helped here, because a number of editors were also members. I do remember, in the course of some message board topic or other, saying that I’d never been asked, but would be interested if an opportunity came up. Much later, I was approached by Bruyere and asked if I was interested. I think I was offered slots in Music or World, and chose the latter because my musical interests are quite limited, and World seemed to cover a lot of different subjects.
Bruyere and solan_goose
What do you enjoy about being a Funtrivia Editor? What's the "least best" thing about being one?
It’s always good to be involved in a good quiz. It’s great to open one up and find out it is already wonderful and doesn’t need any editing at all, but even more satisfying is to find one that has potential, and to work with an enthusiastic writer to make it better.
I’m quite bad at rejecting quizzes, which means that I sometimes find myself trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, when the ear should really have been chucked straight in the “food waste” bin at the start. But the absolutely “least best” is when you get mindless abuse from an author – it’s only really happened once, and ended up getting very messy, with the person in question getting their account toasted, but they then kept opening new accounts and pleading for a second chance. Thank goodness that is very rare.
If you could trade places for a year with another FT member, who would it be?
Maybe someone who isn’t an Editor, so I can enjoy just playing and making quizzes without the niggling worry that I really should be looking at that new quiz that arrived in the queue this morning. Maybe I’d trade places with daBomb619 – it would be great to be that good, and have that good a memory!
Your most highly rated quiz is "The History of the Chamberpot" (at the time of this writing). Recent interviewee Satguru's is "Bird Droppings and Guano." Right. What's the best Top Tip you have for choosing a quiz subject *apart* from "quizzes about bodily functions seem to go down rather well"?
The “Chamberpot” quiz was just something I plucked out of the “Author Challenge” list because I thought I could probably have some fun with it – it’s my only “Author Thumb”. The quizzes I’ve had most fun with are the slightly off-the-wall ones, which have often come from the “Author Challenge” list – “Lobsters in Film” and “The History and Collecting of Beermats” are two others. So I guess my “Top Tip” is pick something that appeals to you, and have fun with it.
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" - do you prefer the original TV series or the 2005 movie?
As a true fan, I would have to say that the original radio series is superior to both. I am really showing my age here, but I remember as clearly as anything hearing the first episode on an old radio in my bedroom, quite late in the evening, and finding it hilariously funny. I read a lot of science fiction in my teens, but to find it treated as funnily as this was refreshing. I still have a special double LP that I ordered from a magazine, which was basically a re-recording of the first four episodes with the same cast – back in the days before the BBC issued its own stuff. It’s probably a collector’s item by now!
Going back to the question, I actually prefer the 2005 movie to the TV series. The latter suffered from the usual woeful BBC special effects and some embarrassingly autopilot acting performances, and didn’t really add anything to the radio version. But the movie took the essence of the original and riffed on it nicely, with some good actors and much better special effects. Even if their Marvin still isn’t right. He’s an android – he needs to look more or less human, just a malfunctioning one.
Tell us what a perfect meal looks like for you.
Something fairly traditional would probably hit the spot best. A starter of some sort of seafood, then lamb chops with fresh mint sauce and roast potatoes (cooked in goose fat), plus some other tasty veg to fill the plate up. For pudding? “Mrs Stedman” makes a mean tiramisu, though you probably shouldn’t drive after eating it.
Which three words best describe you?
Improving with age.
Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo? (Google it - it's an old UK advertising slogan...)
I’m afraid I’m old enough to remember that ad campaign… I think I’d have to divide it equally between my wife and daughter (or throw it up in the air and let them fight for it).
Thanks to all who participated .
FT Editor and Moderator