OK, OK, my excuses about travelling and backlog are wearing thin, so here are two more interviews.
- Do you like living in Belgium?
Yes, I do. From the professional point of view, I think the sort of international work I am into can be done only in Brussels, London, Geneva or Paris; my French isn’t up to the latter two locations, and who wants to live in London? Added to that, the health system is excellent, so is the restaurant food, and it’s close to lots of other places as well.
- What’s your job? Is it what you studied for?
I’m a political analyst, the head of a team doing research on the Balkans and South Caucasus (and a couple of other places), and also responsible for selling our recommendations to those international officials who have the power to make things happen.
No, it’s not what I studied for at all; my first degree is in astrophysics, and my postgraduate degrees are in the history of science. See here for how my doctorate failed to intersect much with my career.
- I used to have this friend who moved to Belgium when she was 6. After 12 years she could speak Dutch because she went to school here but her mother and grandmother couldn’t say one word besides “nee” and “hondje”. Can you speak Dutch? What do you think of people who move here and don’t learn the language?
As it happens, my family lived in the Netherlands for a year when I was thirteen; I went to a Dutch school and retained enough of the language that I still count myself as fluent in it. But these days I mainly use it to communicate with my children’s schoolteachers.
Living here for twelve years without learning it is a bit much, but I can see why if someone is working and socialising in a largely international environment (as I am) they might not take the bother. I also have to say that when we lived nearer Brussels, in St-Genesius-Rode, the neighbours did not make much effort to get to know us. That has changed since we moved out to Leuven.
- What’s your favourite genre of music?
I waver between classical and ’70s rock.
- What does your username mean?
Very boringly – my initials! But it also turns out to mean “they” in Welsh, so blog searches on “nhw” tend to pull up ten times as many references to parties in Aberystwyth as to this journal…
- What interests you in my journal? (What made you choose to read it?)
You kindly introduced yourself to me at WorldCon, saying that you occasionally read my posts via friends’ friends lists. So I added you directly, as I tend to do when lj users introduce themselves to me (witness also
, another WorldCon hello-in-the-corridor); I’m very much on the fringes of British fandom, but enjoy reading about it vicariously via various people’s journals including yours, and I like the way you write about day-to-day hassles with banks, eBay, university, etc.
- What’s your favourite Gilbert and Sullivan song and why?
Perhaps an unusual choice, it would be “I Have A Song To Sing, Oh!” from The Yeomen of the GuardIolanthe, the whole climax of Act I of The Mikado and the songs surrounding the Emperor’s arrival in Act II, and the Major General’s song (and the policemen’s songs) in The Pirates of Penzance.
- What is a psephologist?
According to WikiPedia: “Political journalists ridicule people who try to scientifically predict future elections by calling it psephology, suggesting it is akin to astrology. Thus journalist David Broder has explained, ‘The science of interpreting elections has a fancy name: psephology. A shorter, simpler and more accurate title for much election analysis is: fiction.'”
- What, if anything, do your favourite authors have in common? (What do you look for in a good book?)
I like good characterisation, mind-stretching ideas, wit, and sensawunda. Does that explain why I particularly like both Brian Aldiss and Roger Zelazny?
- What do you feel are the most interesting cultural differences in the countries you’ve lived in?
Bearing in mind that my experience is almost exclusively of Western and South-Eastern Europe: I think there is a real difference between where the Enlightenment has permeated political culture and where it hasn’t. As I look at places where the forces of nationalism remain dominant and sometimes violent determinants of political discourse, such as certain Balkan and Caucasus countries, and indeed my own native Northern Ireland, I sense that the missing factor is a kind of modernity, of realising that in fact you have to find ways of working along with your neighbours and not plotting to expel them. In press interviews (see previous entry!) I often refer to the difference between 19th-century games of territorial aggrandisement and the 21st century game of European integration. I see the transition to modernity happening in Macedonia, in Croatia, and to an extent in the other countries of the Balkans; the Caucasus still has some way to go.
That is one very striking difference. Another is whether they believe in good food (Italy, Belgium, France, Georgia) or not (Balkans, UK, Ireland).
As ever, if you want interviewed, comment. (And I owe questions to one person already.)