Only one country according to .gov.uk – Britain

This is going to be short. That’s because I am very very annoyed with the Student Finance UK people. My son Luke is going to the University of Kent in September 2016 (to study Anthropology with a year in Japan, thank you for asking and yes, I’m very proud of him.)

He needs student finance which you have to apply for online. The Student Finance website quite reasonably asks me to supply them with my own most recent financial information. Only I can’t.

I had an account with them about seven years ago for Alex my eldest and I haven’t used it since. No, I don’t remember the password or the secret question about musical instruments (whut?) They supply a phone number for me to call to reset my password.

Except this phone number doesn’t work outside the UK. Do they supply an international number for people who have parents living abroad – surely I can’t be the only one?

Nope. Not as far as I can see.

Do they supply an email for me to contact them and tell them I need a number that works outside the UK? Any other address?

Nope. Not as far as I can see.

Stalemate.

Why I stole a French textbook when I was 15 (and never gave it back)

Last week I talked about the three witches in class 11/12 and how they know everything already. And I said I was them, once upon a time.

Kier Salmon asked me on Facebook – what flipped the switch? What changed me from the sullen stroppy fifteen year old who failed all but two of her school summer exams into someone who went to Oxford, got a play produced on Radio 3 and her first book published at the age of 18?

The play and the book I’ve already explained – my Hungarian grandmother effectively gave me a Masters in Creative Writing from the age of 12. But Oxford? How did I do that from 25% in French, among other catastrophic marks, in the exams the year before my O levels.

The answer is simple. It’s sex.

I remember it very clearly. I woke up in my extremely messy attic bedroom one morning in early September, the year before my O levels and I thought: “I will never ever find an interesting intelligent man to have sex with here in Hampstead Garden Suburb.” Perhaps I said it aloud.

I was still a virgin but not because I hadn’t tried. It was just boys seemed to find me frightening and ran away. The most humiliating was the boy who took me to Burger King after taking me to the cinema (I insisted on actually watching most of the film too) and spent half an hour talking about football. I fell asleep. He left me to pay the bill.

“Therefore,” I thought, “if I want to have sex with anyone interesting, I have to go to university. In fact I have to go to Oxford, Cambridge or Durham.” That was because I hadn’t actually heard of any other universities, but being fifteen, it never occurred to me to check because I knew everything.

I thought a bit more, lying there while the sun streamed in with early morning. “In order to get into Oxford, Cambridge or Durham I have to get at least two A grades out of three A-levels. In order to be allowed to do A levels I have to get at least 5 O levels and the grades had better be good because they take them into account at university too.”

And then I thought, “Oh shit. It’s less than a year to the O levels and I know nothing at all. Ohshitohshitohshit.”

What happened after that was a sort of miracle. Once the connection between sex and university had been made and once I had stopped saying oh shit, I became… different. I planned my next year like a military campaign. First I assessed the state of my knowledge and realised that out of nine O levels I was due to take the next summer, I could count on getting an A in one, English Language. The rest – English Literature, French, Latin, Geography, History, Physics with Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics – I knew pretty much nothing about. Maths was terrible because if you failed it you had to take it again. I hated Maths (I may do another blog on the stupidities of the School Maths Project) so I asked my mother to get me a good maths tutor and she hired a lovely man who had worked with my brother. It’s entirely due to him that I didn’t fail Maths, him and my amazing memory. At that time in my life I could read something once and remember most of it – I had no idea this was anything special, mind you, I thought that reading things once was how you learned.

What about Latin, History, Geography etc etc and of course French, my bete noire, Mrs Wood’s class? I bought a Latin Made Simple book, found the text books that were buried in my lift top locker desk. French was a problem because we had a textbook that didn’t mention the grammar (a silly 70s fad that has caused an enormous amount of damage). I sank my pride and asked Mrs Wood if I could borrow a textbook from the next set down which had the grammar and the verbs all nicely set out.

“There’s no point,” said Mrs Wood, “You’ve left it too late. You can’t catch up before your O levels.”

Maybe she said this to spur me into action or maybe she meant it. I went off with rage in my heart, waited until a short-sighted and kindly teacher was in the locked textbook cupboard and stole the French textbook I wanted.

I don’t remember much of the next year because I spent it studying. Some teachers noticed that I’d woken up suddenly and encouraged me, explaining complicated horrible things like moles, DNA and atoms in lunch hours. Most of the time I just worked, feeling a strange thing like a mighty serpent inside me, that powered tirelessly through the textbooks and rammed its head against any obstacle until it dissolved or broke.

Mrs Wood didn’t notice because I didn’t let her. I continued to sleep through her lessons – and I needed the sleep because I was staying up till past midnight every night, plowing methodically through all the books. When we had classroom tests in French on Fridays I made sure I got at least half the questions wrong.

I remember being very surprised by how easy school work suddenly got in the spring as I filled in the holes and caught up with my peers. When we took our mocks, I had increased all my marks by about 50%. I was particularly happy about my French mocks. From 25% the previous summer, I got 64% in the spring.

Mrs Wood didn’t sound happy as she congratulated me on my marks. “I don’t know how you did it,” she said and I knew perfectly well that she thought I’d cheated somehow. I just gave her a long hard stare and left her to know that she had nothing whatever to do with my knowledge of French.

In the summer, the results came by post to where we were on holiday in Suffolk and in fact I’d forgotten about them. My brother came to where I was reading in bed (it was probably raining) and said dolefully that Daddy wanted to talk to me, my O level results had come.

I went downstairs, literally feeling my heart beating in my mouth, shaking all over. Oh shit, oh shit, what went wrong? I wondered, desolately. And also: “now I’ll never ever have sex with anyone interesting.”

My father looked up from the little slip of paper and said very seriously “You’ve got seven A grades.” For a moment I didn’t understand and then he laughed and hugged me and told me how magnificent I was. I had got A grades in everything except Physics with Chemistry, where I got a B and Mathematics which I just passed. There was family rejoicing and I think a special trip to the Orford Ness restaurant where I gorged on smoked salmon.

For the record, when I eventually got to Oxford, I did have sex with several interesting men and married the most interesting of them.

The Three Witches

Actually I’d really like to call them the technical term for lady-dogs, but I’m trying to be nice and clean up my act. I’m calling them witches.
So. These are three girls in one of the classes I teach in Sajokaza. They’re fifteen or sixteen years old and they have total contempt for everyone and everything, especially stupid English women (if England even exists) who keeps talking to them in stupid English (it’s just noise because it’s not lovely clear Hungarian) and even expects them to write stuff down in their notebooks (whut?)
One of them is a pretty fat girl with lovely black ringlets and a round face who giggles a lot. One of them is a classic troubled teen, petite, boyish, constantly playing on her ancient mobile and flopping about with her feet stuck out in front of her and going to sleep theatrically with her head on the fat girl’s shoulder. Often she doesn’t turn up which is good news for me. One of them clearly has a good brain but doesn’t see any reason to use it and makes cutting witty remarks occasionally which the stupid English woman doesn’t understand, but mostly just plucks her eyebrows, gives herself a manicure and puts on her eyeliner and mascara (remarkably accurately considering she’s using her phone as a mirror).
I tried moving them to the side of the room, old fashioned lift-top desks and all, but they came back. They didn’t want to have a beauty party by themselves, they wanted to make sure nobody else got a chance to learn stupid English either.
And I want to say to them – I totally grok you guys. I’m like totally grooving…
No, I don’t. What I do want to say to them is: I was you, once upon a time. I wasn’t quite as selfish because I was happy to sit at the back of the class and write stories. I only broke out the attitude if some stupid teacher tried to teach me some stupid language like French and kept insisting I answer her stupid questions. I slept through most of the French lessons, head on the table, probably snoring. A friend from those days remembered me knitting through one lesson and when Mrs Wood told me to bring her the knitting, telling her I was only doing it to try and keep awake.
Occasionally I would triumphantly take the other girls’ attention away completely by letting them read my “Alias Smith & Jones” stories in the lesson.
I don’t think the Three Witches are doing anything as creative as writing stories, but then if mobile phones with games on them had been invented when I was a stroppy fifteen year old, I would never have done anything except play on them.
Of course I could tell them that they’ll regret all this when they get older and especially when the brainy one realises she could have done something better with her young life than (probably) get pregnant and that possibly learning stupid English might have helped her do it. They wouldn’t listen, of course, even if I could cobble together the Hungarian to say it, because they already know everything.
So I think, well, Mrs Wood, you should see this, it would make you laugh a lot. Karma’s a wonderful thing.

I’m on the train (again)

This is a rant. I’ve said how great BKK is in Budapest, how punctual, clean and genuinely useful it is. I’ve said nice things about Hungarian trains (they have lovely clean toilets on them, when they’re new rolling stock).
This is not nice. Because it’s not nice to advertise a train as arriving in Miskolc at 8.30 am when it’s really going to arrive at 9.00 am. It’s not nice to do this when a lot of the people on the train will be relying on connecting with a local train going to Kazincbarcika which leaves at 8.41 am – me, for example. It’s really unnice to do this with the last train at 19.30 on a Sunday which is supposed to connect with the Kazincbarcika train at 21.40 but doesn’t. I had to be rescued from Miskolc that time because it was that or an overnight stay on a bench in the station yard.
In fact I have never experienced a train to Miskolc which got in on time. Which is pathetic.
I’ve experienced similar lameness with trains in Cornwall although at least they usually hold the branchline train to Falmouth if the Truro train is late.
It’s more important to have punctual trains in country areas because in the countryside very often the next train after the one you missed is the next day. In some places buses only happen a couple of times a day, if that (in Sajokaza for instance). These areas are poor so people can’t just switch to a car. They’re stuck. In fact they’re worse off than their grandparents were because they aren’t such good walkers and they have to walk along the verges of busy roads, not pleasant country lanes. Footpaths? Don’t be silly, the area’s much too poor for that.
It’s worth pointing out that it makes it much more difficult to get a job if you’re stuck in the depths of the country with two buses a day and no car – a fact that probably hasn’t occurred to any politician because he’s got a car, of course.
Things like train networks always make rich-bubble people cross and they say nonsensical things like “it’s time to streamline the rail network” and “public services should pay for themselves.”
You can streamline a fish, you can’t streamline a network because it’s supposed to have lots of little twigs on it. If your body streamlined your blood system, your hands and feet would turn black and drop off.
And public services can not pay for themselves because they deal in distributed goods which benefit the whole of society but are not economic for an individual to pay for. Practically no train services make an actual profit because they can’t charge enough to the individuals – this is why every time South Eastern trains hike the ticket prices again, the roads get fuller of cars and people start muttering darkly about moving back to London to live in the broom cupboard that is all you can afford now.

Apuka

Or why you can’t let a historical novelist near your family history.
Last week I posted a blog about my grandmother, Dr Lilla Veszy Wagner (Anyuka). This has caused a certain amount of controversy in my family and on one particular point I think they are absolutely right.
I said that I thought my grandfather, Counsellor Matyas Veszy (Apuka), had kept kosher all his life – which would mean of course that his conversion to Christianity was not sincere and that in his heart he was still Jewish.
Well I’ve been told by my siblings in no uncertain terms that this is wrong: Apuka’s conversion to Christianity was as sincere and faith-based as Anyuka’s and there is plenty of family oral evidence to show that he ate bacon and pork and documentary evidence to show he was an active member of the Reformed Church in Hungary. It’s also clear from many of my mother’s stories that he felt he had a very special relationship with Jesus Christ, who would always look after him and his family.
Worse still, as my brother has pointed out, to have pretended to be a Christian would have been something he would have considered utterly dishonourable – and if my grandfather was anything, he was an honourable man. It was an integral and vital part of him. In Hungarian one word for “honour” is “tisztelet” which connects with “tiszta” which means “clean.” When he was asked to take the brief for Cardinal Mindszenty in the cardinal’s show trial under the Communists, that was the word Apuka used when he said (against the advice of his friends) that yes, it would be an honour. Mindszenty wasn’t allowed a lawyer in the show trial so Apuka didn’t appear. It was dangerous enough just to take the brief.
So I got that spectacularly wrong and I’m sorry.
Why did I get it so wrong? Well because I’m a novelist not a historian which means I dig around in the great and wonderful quarry of history and when I bring up something interesting or when I find a few little clues that might point to something interesting, I grab them and weave all sorts of speculations and stories around them which might later turn into a novel. I’m doing something similar at the moment with the character of Fr. John Gerrard – a 16th century Catholic priest. That’s fine: a 16th century Catholic priest doesn’t have any descendants to be upset by the stuff I’m making up about him (probably).
I can’t do that with my grandfather. So I’ll start digging and researching now, despite the fact that my Hungarian can’t even cope with children’s stories yet, and document everything as thoroughly as I can. Maybe I’ll write my mother’s story as non-fiction, maybe I’ll do it as fiction if I can’t find what I need – but it’ll be clearly labelled as one or the other.
No more half-arsed speculations.

Anyuka

That’s not what you call a grandmother in Hungarian – the word is “nagymama”. Anyuka means something like “mummy” though now it’s mostly used by older Hungarians. But we called my mother’s mother “Anyuka” because of course that’s what my mother called her in Hungarian. Apuka means “daddy”.
She was small, quite bent, with birdlike bones. As a young woman she was pretty, with brown hair and eyes. When I knew her she kept her hair short by cutting off any bit that grew too long. Her face was no longer pretty, partly from age, partly because she was full of rage and bitterness and depression – some of it entirely understandable, some… not.
Her name was Lilla Veszy-Wagner. She knew seven langages including Hungarian (German, English, French, Latin and Ancient Greek). She had been the wealthy novelist wife of a successful Hungarian lawyer, living in a lovely house in Svabhegy, Budapest. Although both she and her husband were Protestants, all four of my mother’s grandparents were Jewish. Anyuka had converted during WWI and according to my mother, it was a genuine conversion and stemmed from a real faith. My grandfather’s was less heartfelt because he converted so he could marry Lilla – and also perhaps because it simplified his professional life. He certainly kept kosher for his whole life although my grandmother didn’t: he wouldn’t eat pork and claimed to be allergic to shellfish. Anyuka told me a very elaborate Freudian psycho-analytical tale about why he wouldn’t eat szekely gulyash which features pork, sauerkraut and sour cream. I’m not sure whether she believed it herself or whether she just didn’t want any of us to discover our Jewish heritage. By that time my grandfather had died of heart disease so we only heard one version of events. My mother was quite anti-semitic herself, in the unthinking way of children. She was 7 when she learnt of her Jewish ancestry from the servants – and 1940 was not a good time to discover something like that anyway.
Of course from March 1944 Anyuka, Apuka and my then 11 year old mother were in deadly danger. The Jews in the countryside were swept up and “deported” to the camps by the Nazis, where they died. The Jews in Budapest were luckier and sometimes recipients of extradordinary generosity and kindness. That great hero Raoul Wallenberg was working in Budapest at this exact time. Long before anyone else had heard of him, my mother told us we always had to remember him because he was a brave and good man. Did she know him or of him? I don’t know. There’s much much more to her story and that’s one reason why I’m in Hungary – to research and write a book about it.
Eventually Anyuka and Apuka came as penniless exiles to England in c 1950. My grandfather never really learned English but my grandmother retrained as a librarian while simultaneously studying to be a psycho-analyst. She already had a PhD in Psychology & Anthropology which helped. Just as she started to earn real money as a psycho-analyst, my grandfather died in 1959 – which basically broke her. She was always depressed after that and kept a scary looking death mask, a terrible portrait in oils and also a bronze sculpture of Apuka in her flat. For part of the story is the love affair between my grandparents, who married a scandalous three months after they met, but not, as my mother carefully explained, because they had to. It was a coup de foudre, a stroke of lightning, love at first sight.
Anyuka started writing an account of what she and Apuka were doing that dangerous autumn 1944 in Budapest, but then abandoned it because of her depression. She was so angry, manipulative and had at least a black belt in emotional blackmail. My father couldn’t stand her and every Christmas Eve, when she came to us for Hungarian Christmas, there would be an argument – or so it seemed to me. Once she asked him in her heavy Hungarian accent, “Vy do you hate me because I am old?” There’s no answer to that, as my father pointed out.
Yet she taught me how to write on those Tuesdays in school holidays. I got used to someone taking what I had written seriously enough to give me a written critique and her taste was excellent. Even in her third language she had an unerring nose for a cliché and never let me get away with anything. She died around the time my second book was published and although she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia just as my mother is now, I was devastated. It took me nine years after that to write anything but journalism.

My grandmother and novel-writing in my teens

The weird thing is, I’ve always told stories. One of my earliest memories is talking to my little brother who had just been moved from our parents’ room into ‘my’ room – so I was probably about three or four. I was telling him he was NOT to interrupt when I told stories and talked to invisible people –  or else. Another memory I can date is when I was in hospital to have my tonsils out at the age of 5. A nurse came into my room to find out why I was shouting – she thought I was having a bad dream. “I’m telling a story about a naughty hamster,” I informed her coldly. She told me to be quiet so I stuck my head under the blankets and went on with the naughty hamster story.

By the time I was seven I was writing several pages when we had to write compositions at school. It’s true that I usually left it until Sunday evening before I admitted I had to write something and my parents often had to shut me in the dining room which was full of encyclopedias and books so I’d get on with my homework. It was a waste of time sending me to my room because they knew I’d just read one of my many books. So I’d storm and yell that it wasn’t fair and then eventually settle down and start writing something.

This is when I got the story feeling – the feeling that something much larger than me that was also me was leaning down and pouring the story through my fingers and out through my pen. I always wrote a rough draft because I often had trouble keeping up with the story and so the first version was full of mistakes and words that turned into a scribble because I knew what they were. It was a wonderful feeling, a magical feeling and it’s still the reason why I write. Poetry made the story feeling as well and the sense that a poem was there, waiting to be written though I didn’t know what it was yet, was so exciting I couldn’t sit still and paced up and down for hours. I used to get a peculiar ache in the palm of my hand, around my thumb which was always the harbinger of a story and that still happens too.

When I was 12 I demanded a typewriter for my birthday. I got my grandmother’s old one and learned to touch type when I was 15 (I taught myself). I needed the typewriter, I explained, because I couldn’t keep up with the words otherwise. Sometimes I’d sit at the typewriter, full of the story feeling but not knowing what to write; sometimes I’d be writing and writing late into the night, gripped by what I was reading as my fingers typed it.

Around then, when I was 12, my grandmother decided to take a hand. She had been a Hungarian novelist before WWII and what she gave me when I went to visit her on Tuesdays was essentially a writing apprenticeship.

Most of the time she just asked me to write a story or another chapter of a novel and then critiqued it very carefully, usually in writing. She was only a bit harsh with one story which was about a cat and which she thought was twee. I’m still trying to write the cat book in a non-twee way.

I kept on going to her until I was seventeen when she had another stroke that put her in a care home. At least she saw my book in draft form, and said she liked it. She helped me with some of the situations in the story which were too far out of my experience. She knew that my book would be published but I don’t think she saw it as an actual book. I visited her a couple of times – the nurses put my Hungarian grandmother next to an Italian lady so they’d have something in common! – but she couldn’t really talk any more. She died a couple of years later, after my second book was published. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I stopped writing fiction for about five years then because… well, because my grandmother wouldn’t be reading it. I did freelance journalism instead.

Firedrake’s Eye was the first thing I wrote after I realised this and came out of the dry period. I wrote it on my grandmother’s old typewriter in a garden shed while I was pregnant with my first child.

Proofs, proofs, proofs

Back in the Dark Ages, before word processing programs and emails, you sent your vast wad of paper off to the publishers and if it didn’t get lost in the post, they would send back a list of edits. And then you’d do the edits and eventually you would get a much vaster wad of paper, A3 size, called page-proofs which had in fact been printed off the physical typesetting. The first thing you would see when you looked at them was always an embarrassing mistake which you corrected immediately with a terrific sense of relief.
You would have two weeks to do all your corrections in, usually coinciding with the Easter holidays or, I think on one occasion, moving house and you had to use special very precise typesetters’ marks which I still use because… well, because I can.
Despite what the publishers told you about only correcting mistakes, you would take the opportunity to make as many corrections as you could. Mostly they let you unless it got outrageous at which point they would charge you for them.
Some time later you would get your bound proofs, which looked terribly smart because they actually looked like a book. You could still make corrections so long as they were small, and sure enough, the first thing you would see when you opened your very own book was always an embarrassing (and different) mistake you hadn’t spotted at the page-proof stage.
You’d get pulls of the cover which I have to say, I always found a terrific let-down in those far off days. Cover design has got several orders of magnitude better than it was when my first book A SHADOW OF GULLS came out.
Then you’d get your first copy of the actual bound hardback book. And it was always a thrill and a joy because there were the words you’d written, made actually official by print. You’d hug it and show it to your mum and dance around the sitting room.
Then, of course, you’d spot the hideously obvious and crashingly embarrassing mistake in the first few pages which you hadn’t spotted before and was now uncorrectable.
This happens with all books no matter how careful you are and I’m now hardened to it, but it still makes me wince.
I’m going through my nice bound proofs of A CHORUS OF INNOCENTS at the moment, going backwards and reading it aloud in the effort to find every single typo and mistake and I know I’ll miss something.
But I still love getting my bound proofs!

A bit behind with things…

Really, this blog is about excuses. First I am being plagued by a gremlin: I lost my beloved battered Hungarian/English dictionary on the bus on Saturday morning, just left it on the seat and waltzed off and didn’t remember it until too late. Then the power cable for my laptop went missing: I still have a couple of places to look but I’m mystified as to where it went because I’m usually hypercareful about things like that.

And then on Saturday afternoon a glass of water was spilled All. Over. The. Keyboard. Of. My. Laptop.

It was an accident and at least partly my fault for allowing any container of any liquid to be on the same surface as the laptop because you know, and I know, and the Computer Gods know that eventually liquid and laptop will meet.

So we tipped it on its side and switched it off and patted it with paper towels and dried it with a hairdryer and I didn’t start it up again until I could get it to the Computer Guys on Monday morning. It seems OK. The laptop needed to see the Computer Guys anyway.

Plus I’m being plagued by a nasty cold and chest infection that seems to be clearing up but veeerrrryyy slooooowly. I spent the whole of Sunday in bed with a pile of snotty tissues and a brilliant book by Alice Hogge called “God’s Secret Agents” and dozing off in the hope my chest would have stopped making strange creaking noises when I woke up.

So this is it, I’m afraid. I had sort of plans to publish a taster of my peculiar SF story featuring a futuristic Robin Carey and Henry Dodd, but I haven’t got round to anything like that. Maybe next week.

Leonard Nimoy – lived long, prospered, now he’s dead.

I’ve been crying because of an actor one year younger than my father – I mean Leonard Nimoy, of course, star of the original Star Trek series, as Mr Spock the Science officer of USS Enterprise.

Funnily enough, in the hotbed of hormones that was the Upper Fourth of the Henrietta Barnett School for Girls, I wasn’t a Spock groupie. No, I (ahem, this is quite hard to admit to) loved Captain Kirk. In all his chunky male glory, I had the hots for the one who keeps going off at the deep end and behaving in a very emotional manner. Mr Spock was cool. I didn’t like that. I also fancied Dr McCoy which was remarkable because he was really quite ugly – I liked him for his crustiness and medical know how.

But Spock. No. That didn’t stop me from writing two mildly pornographic Star Trek scripts and then blaming them on a friend (sorry, Katy, I still feel embarassed about that.) There was a daughter of Spock’s called Spockina, I dimly recall, and quite a lot of orgying, written by someone who had been kissed but nothing else. It was obviously ghastly crap and let’s hope it never turns up.

A year later we were all faithlessly hot on the trail of Alias Smith & Jones which was a knock off of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I was after the dark-haired gambler, Smith whereas most of my friends were hot for Jones. I wrote stories for those too – slightly better fanfic as it’s now called and one or two stories were actually quite good. I learned that if anything at all, including wrathful teachers, stopped my friends reading the stories, there was something wrong with the story. One story had them all in tears, to my utter delight.

But although I lost the lovely melty feelings in my tummy for Captain James T Kirk, I kept an interest. I was particularly fascinated by some articles about Star Trek in the very excellent science fiction mag Analog SF. They explained that Star Trek had a proper set of blueprints for the Enterprise and that writers were expected to know what each of McCoy’s magic medical thingies did (they were futuristic salt shakers, by the way). Making sure that you have specifications and a full set of Lore for TV series, games and fantasy novels is now so routine as to be banal. But back in the 1960s, the normal thing for an sf producer to do when the action flagged was chuck in another alien and an explosion. Nothing was logical. Star Trek was the first series to do that thoroughly which was one reason why it worked so well, despite occasional dismal Monsters of the Week episodes. There was an underpinning logic that held it all together. Gene Roddenberry, the series devisor, had served in the US Navy and also had a feel for how Starfleet Command might operate – which JJ Abrams doesn’t. You got the sense of an actual Starfleet behind the USS Enterprise in the old series.

Also could I just say that it’s nice that nobody in the original series ever went near a gym. They’re all positively weedy compared with the pumped up kids in the Star Trek reprise. They looked like real people. Mr Spock in particular had arms like spaghetti.

And of course we all looked at what they had in the Star Trek universe and we wanted it: we wanted communicators and we wanted sliding doors and we got them. I love the delicious story of Roddenberry being rung by a major door manufacturer and asked how they got the sliding doors to slide in Star Trek. “Oh, we have scene hands behind the scenery moving them…” I believe it was only 18 months later that the first real sliding doors appeared, without the scene hands. I’m very annoyed that we still haven’t got the dilithium crystals sorted.

Spock I now realise was many fascinating symbols, but let’s remember one crucial thing: at a time when it was still against the law in some southern states for black and white people to marry and have babies, here was a half-alien, half-human hybrid being alien and human on primetime tv. That the man playing him was Jewish, just added to the delicious stew.

My one complaint – I never liked his greeting. The Vulcan salute was fine – but “Live long and prosper.”? How dull. How small-minded.

I much preferred (and still prefer) Captain Kirk’s clarion call, complete with split infinitive. “To boldly go where no man has gone before!” Ta DAH dah dah dah dah DAH…