Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Ladies and gentlemen, we're delighted today to welcome international superstar Mel of the renowned internet sensation I Speak Melsh. We've invited top journalists and TV personalities from all round the world to ask their burning questions to help us get to know Mel a little bit better.

Kate: Shall I start us off? I'm guessing that 'Mel' is short for something. Are you a Melanie or a Melissa, or something more unusual and exotic?

Mel: In my first teaching job I used to pretend to the pupils that my full name was Melandra! (Now I just tell them that the initial 'M' stands for 'Mrs'...) I'm actually a Melanie. When I was growing up I was always called by my full name, except by my Dad who often called me Mel. When I went to university it was my chance to establish myself as 'me' and start to decide who I was - part of that was taking on and 'owning' the name Mel. Now it sounds odd to hear Melanie! A couple of old school-friends still call me that, but otherwise it's probably just The Mother, when I've been naughty. So, obviously, I don't hear it very often!! ;-)

Alexa: We all know you in your super-trendy hat, as it's what you wear most often for your public appearances. Are you an avid hat-wearer - would you say that it's your signature look? And have you always been such a style icon?

Mel: Well, I wouldn't say that I've always had such an influence within the world of fashion - I suspect that brown polyester dresses won't ever really catch on, and neither will lemon yellow ski pants worn with lemon yellow jumpers (as sported by me during my 'banana' phase...) But yes, I'd say that hats are part of my personal style, and I own quite a few. I probably wear one or other of them at least once a week. They're great for fashion purposes, of course, but I wear them more often in the summer (for shade) and winter (for warmth). They're also ideal to help disguise those bad hair days!

Ruth: I was wondering about your career path. Was teaching a long-held ambition for you or did you just 'happen' into it?

Mel: I've wanted to teach pretty much for as long as I remember! There was one short phase when I was aged about 8 that I could clearly visualise my future, and it involved living next door to my best friend, having a stream at the bottom of my garden, being a writer, and having identical twin daughters who had blue eyes and long, blonde hair (but, apparently, no father) but apart from that it was teaching all the way. The only decision I then had to make was regarding the age range and subject specialism - and I changed my mind about those several times!

Kate: Which leads me nicely into my next question! When did you discover that you were a mathematician, and what does that actually mean to you?

Mel: I enjoyed most of my school subjects (well, apart from PE...) and was quite an all-rounder really, which made choosing my options a bit trickier! I always liked Maths, especially any problem-solving activities, but at the ages of 11 to 16 I would probably have said that my favourite subject was English. Knowing that I wanted to go into teaching I decided to keep my A-level options as broad as possible, and picked English, Maths, German and General Studies. I briefly swithered between teaching English or German but by the end of Lower Sixth I'd completely switched on to Maths. I love the logic of it, the way you can work out a problem step by step and prove an answer, and that so many areas of Maths are linked together - sometimes unexpectedly. I love that logic and problem-solving skills are skills for life, just as much as being able to count out your money and check your change when you go shopping. I love the history of Maths - Archimedes and Isaac Newton both fascinate me. Mostly I just love Maths for its own sake. It doesn't need to have a purpose or an application. I'm a pure mathematician!

Elizabeth: And so you became a Maths teacher. Have you always taught in the same school, or have you moved around? And what happened when you started a family?

Mel: My first answer to this was four pages long so if ever I share it in full I think it needs a post of its own!! Here's a summary:

My first teaching post was at a large secondary school, and I started work there just after I married The Doctor. He began his PhD at the same time. When The Boy came along, just over two years into our marriage, we still needed my wage - The Doctor received a grant during his PhD, but it wasn't enough for us all to live on - so, unfortunately, I had to return to work when The Boy was just 3 months old.

When The Doctor finished his PhD he was fortunate enough to secure funding for a 3-year post-doctorate research post, which he was free to take at any university that would have him! It meant that we could move to another part of the country where the cost of living was lower, and his income would be able to support us all - including the new baby I was now expecting! So we duly moved, and I took a career break to be at home with The Children. During this time The Doctor found a permanent post, so we moved again, to the area where we now live.

Once The Boy was at school and The Girl had started at pre-school it was time for me to think about returning to work part-time. Much as I loved teaching Maths I wasn't so sure any more about the secondary age range, and a couple of mornings a week volunteering at The Children's school confirmed that I wanted to switch to primary. I did a return to teaching course then started to do a few hours at that school, and for a while also did some work as an 'outreach' teacher for another school visiting two primaries and two secondaries for short series of lessons. Altogether then I've worked in 6 different schools, though I'd probably say that only two have them have been my 'main' teaching job at any particular time.

Yes, that was actually the abridged answer...

Mary: You referred to The Doctor's studies there - I'd been wondering if he was a medical doctor or another kind. From what you've said I assume now that he's an academic doctor, is that correct?

Rinda: And I wanted to ask, what is he a doctor of?

Mel: Yes, he's an academic doctor - he did a PhD in history. Our interests are completely different - a mathematician and a historian! His studies concentrate on the history of medieval England, and he's written several books on the subject. (I'm a very proud wife!)

Beverly: We've heard now about several of the 'loves of your life', the things that are very important to you: your husband, your children, Maths, teaching - and hats! It's clear from your blog that food is also a big part of your life. I've been impressed by how healthy-looking your lunches appear - is that an accurate depiction of your eating habits, or are you secretly scoffing crisps, chocolate and ice cream, the photos of which we never see?!

Mel: Beverly, you got me....!! OK, the truth is this: I don't generally make resolutions at the beginning of a new year, but this year I did decide - or resolve, if you will - to make a concerted effort to eat more healthily. I also began Project 365, and decided as part of that to share a food photograph from each day. The two combined have made me really think more about what I'm eating. For one thing, I'm trying to vary my food photos and never repeat the exact food or drink (though I've allowed myself to show coffee from various places and count those as different!) I'm definitely eating a healthier and more varied diet this year. There are still times when I've eaten a piece of fruit and a chocolate bar on the same day, and I'll maybe photograph the fruit as representing me in a better light.... But then, neither do I hide the fact that I do eat cake, I do eat biscuits, I do eat chocolate. (Not crisps, though - I suddenly and completely went off crisps round about February this year, and haven't eaten them since!)

Overall, I'd say that the food photos I share do give a fairly accurate summary of the kind of food I eat, but it's probably a slightly - only very slightly, I hope - healthier picture than the reality.

Amy: While we're on the subject of food, you've mentioned a couple of times that you and the rest of your family have quite varied tastes, and you try to (literally) cater for that. It sounds quite a challenge! How on earth do you manage?

Mel: It's true, we do tend to like completely different things! Sometimes I feel that I have 'made a rod for my own back' and that I should just make one meal that everyone can choose to eat or go hungry... Perhaps another time I should explain why I do it - but that was another 2 whole pages of writing, so for now, here's how I do it:

Basically, I try to build the meal around the same components as much as possible. For example, pizza is easy because I just use different toppings for each of us. Pasta's not too bad; I can cook one large pan of pasta then serve it with different sauces (or no sauce at all for The Girl!) I do a lot of batch cooking so it's easy enough to defrost and heat a single portion of a particular sauce. With roast dinners I prepare all the elements and serve up the appropriate parts to each plate. I'm so used to it now that I often don't even think about it!

Beverly: I know that at one time you were vegetarian. Can you tell us more about that, and why you started to eat meat again?

Mel: I certainly can! Though again, I'll try to keep this briefer than the 3 pages I wrote as my initial answer! I was about 13 when I became a vegetarian. I'd wanted to do it for a while, partly for ethical reasons, but mainly because when I looked at meat on my plate I saw dead animal. That's quite off-putting, you know... My parents agreed to let me try, but I don't think they thought I'd be able to stick to it.

I stayed vegetarian for about 12 years. The trouble was, I wasn't necessarily a healthy vegetarian. My nut allergy meant that I couldn't get protein from that source, and I basically just didn't eat terribly well. Then, when I was pregnant with The Boy, I started to get cravings for tuna and cucumber sandwiches. Not a particularly unusual food - not like coal, or chalk, or gherkins dipped in ice cream! - but unusual for me, as I hadn't eaten fish for 12 years. I took it to mean that my body needed protein for the baby, and as it wasn't really a case of going against strongly-held principles for me, I 'gave in' to the craving. I found that I felt so much healthier for eating a bit of tuna now and then! So, after a while, I decided to reintroduce chicken and fish to my diet. Some time after that I figured that I either ate meat or I didn't, so I stopped avoiding other meats such as beef, bacon and so on, too. And I do feel healthier for including meat in my diet now.

Rachel: My question is about a drink rather than a food! As a fellow coffee-drinker, I wondered which is your favourite coffee outlet for an espresso? Is there anywhere you'd particularly recommend?

Mel: That's possibly the hardest question so far!! I've always considered myself to be a Costa girl, as I love their gingerbread lattes (skimmed milk, Fairtrade coffee!) Now I drink lattes far less often and I'm more likely to pick up an espresso - and I'm not so sure about their espressos. I haven't yet found an outlet that makes espressos like those I enjoyed during our holiday in Italy - even those from the motorway services over there were smooth, strong and delicious! I liked the espresso I got recently from Pret a Manger, but I'm going to try a few other outlets too - I'll get back to you on that!

Folks, we're nearly out of time, and our readers must surely be losing interest by now if they haven't already.... Er, I mean, Mel has a very busy schedule, as we know - online classes, long blog posts, cooking four meals at once, etc! Let's just take three quick questions to finish:

Jo: What would you say is your favourite phrase - or the one you use most often?

Mel: Perhaps I should ask The Doctor that! I think probably the one I use most often is 'Just a minute' - to The Children or to my pupils, when I'm already doing 50 million things and they want me to do yet another! But I also often say 'Love you': it's the last thing I say to The Doctor when one of us leaves the house, or when we've been on the phone to each other, or as we drift off to sleep; it's what I say to The Children as I drop them off at school, and what I whisper into their bedrooms when I check on them at night. My favourite phrase to say could be 'I've had a lie-in!' or maybe 'I've won a prize!' - my favourite to hear is 'I love you, Mummy'.

Rachel: We know your children as 'The Boy' and 'The Girl'. Have you always called them that or are those names just their blog personas?

Mel: Here's another abridged answer! I picked those names to be their blog identities, but afterwards realised that I often do call The Boy 'Boy', and always have done - but somehow I never call The Girl 'Girl'! (She's more likely to be called 'Monkey' or 'Brat' in this household....)

Cheryl: One last question. Referring back to that busy schedule of yours, just how do you find the time for everything you do?

Mel: I guess some of it is about prioritising, a little bit of planning and being well-organised, a lot of support from my darling husband, a certain neglect of housework, and a sprinkling of being a Bad Mother at times.... I can't always fit everything in, I do tend to take on too much, and sometimes things do get out of kilter - too much rushing around so I'm not catching up with friends or spending time creating and crafting, or too much work so I'm not seeing enough of The Doctor and The Children, or too much time online so dinner is late and the house is a tip (ahem...), or too much of everything else and not enough sleep.....

But I'm at my happiest, and so is the rest of my family, when all these things are in balance. I like to be busy, just as long as it doesn't get out of hand; I need to spend time with my family; and I have a need to create, whether that be by baking, making a card or layout, taking a photograph, or writing a blog post. They're all part of my life - of what makes me, 'me'.

Thanks for joining us, everyone! If you have any other questions for Mel then please do ask - though we might need to set a word limit on her answers....

PS Apologies for putting words into some of our interviewers' mouths, but we hope we've kept to the spirit of their question!

This is my post for the 26th day of Blogtoberfest - 26 days and still on track!


Lizzie said...

This is such a cooooool post, Mel! I loved reading the questions and answers. It's fun finding out more about blog friends too. Some of your answers made me laugh... and some made me say "Oh, me too!".

Crafting Queen said...

Wonderful post Mel. How brave of you to share so much with the wide world:) Have a great day.

Sian said...

Woaw! I think I might come back and reread all of this excellent Mel-information at my leisure! Brilliant stuff.

JO SOWERBY said...

wow such a fab post mel. i never realised u were such an international icon. i should be licking ur feet clean with my tongue or gratitude for u being my friend ;-)))
Loving the imagery here of the polyester frock and you calling boy and monkey around the house. cant wait to see the scrapbook page for this
Jo xxxx

Linda said...

Interesting post! Typed on your green apple laptop I presume ;-)

I'm glad to read that you juggling all you do is about the same situation as mine. I don't feel so alone in the struggle of balancing.

ComfyMom~Stacey said...

Such a great post! Now you have me wondering if I have read any of the Doctor's books since medieval England was also my field of study & I still read all the new books on it I can find.

Miss Smith said...

This is fab! Love the answers! As a fellow mathematician that was going to be my question but due to internet hiccups yesterday, it wouldn't let me ask.

Fortunately, someone else did it for me!

Maria Ontiveros said...

Wow, Mel, you really rocked this prompt!!! Love how you did the interview style. Do tell, was it as effortless as it looked?
(who's still working on that aspect of the prompt)

emhowl said...

A brilliant and fascinating interview Mel. You've answered so many questions. I was intrigued about the move from secondary to primary school teacher, I particularly liked the coffee answer - I feel a need to try an espresso tasting - and it's good to hear how you feel after giving up vegetarianism. Thank you very much (and thank you to Shimelle for inspiring the interview).

Liberty :) said...

You totally rocked the switching questions around I just can't do it!!! Fab post and so nice to know you Melanie! X

Jennifer Grace said...

Great post Mel, all very interesting reading! I'm glad to think I'm not the only one who lets the housework build up in favour of more creative pursuits! xx

Unknown said...

Great post, loved reading your answers to the questions.

Rachel Brett said...

This is brilliant Mel, I love the way you have written it :)

Miriam said...

This is a fab post Mel, I'm glad I'm not alone on the housework thing!

Lesley said...

Great post Mel- such fun!!

The Creative Beast said...

this was WONDERFUL!! what a treat to read a fabulous interview of one of my favorite international blog celebrities, Mel!! So fascinating to learn that you love MATH - i agree it is about problem solving just as art is about "problem solving", though not many would see it that way. Problem solving skills are important in Math, Art and LIFE!! =-)

Cheri said...

very cute Mel!

Mise said...

Move along everyone, please, move quietly along. Quit the rioting. Mel has left the building by the back door and will be giving no more autographs today.

Sarah said...

This is such an amazing piece of writing. Loved reading it and thank you for sharing it all with us x

Cheryl said...

Wow Mel what a fab post love it x

Amy said...

You are indeed a clever lady :-)

Deb @ PaperTurtle said...

:o) I LOVE the interview style of this post, Mel. It's fabulous! And I loved learning more about you this way.

I had to laugh when I read your childhood dream to have twin girls! Growing up I always thought that would be SOOOO awesome myself. So funny now - I have a close friend who has 18 month old twins and I don't envy her one bit! Ha!

Anyway, very well done post, my friend. I love it!

Mary B said...

Wow Mel that is a great post loved it and it is good to get to know you even better. Thank you so much for sharing.

Linda said...

Fabulous post! Lovely way to find out more about you! (i've always wondered if you wear the hat all the time!LOL)

Kirsty.A said...


scrappyjacky said...

Didn't know you were such a famous celebrity,Mel....but great to find out so much about you.

Anonymous said...

Catching up here. LOVE this post, what a great voice you've chosen for the interviewers and your delightful answers. This was so much fun!

alexa said...

Such a treat to be able to read this, and love the way you have done it! Thank-you for taking all our questions seriously, and for being so informative in your answers ... A joy to read.

Nadja said...

What a creative and fun interpretation of the prompt! Love it =)

Anonymous said...

Great post to learn more about you. I really liked it.

Jo.C said...

Ha ha - brought back some memories here - when I first started teaching I used to say my name was Jemima and that I drove a Reliant Robin. :0)