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Risking prosecution by trespassing on the South Downs


Lessons with my mother
John Julius Norwich Writer
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She taught me Reading Without Tears, with the aid of that book which did its stuff extremely well and I could read by the time I was four, I should think, easily. Thanks entirely to my mother, not thanks to me, just thanks to these sessions every morning. And we did arithmetic, and we did addition, subtraction and multiplication. We never did division because my mother, all her life, claims that she never understood the principle of it. So we didn't do that but we did the other three. And we did geography which meant really, as far as I could make out, memorising the capitals of all the great countries in the world and so that by the time I was four, I could tell you that Caracas was the capital of Venezuela. And people were furious when I... when I got to my kindergarten because I knew it all already.

And she was also wonderful, my mother, she didn't only educate me. I mean, she took me out on wonderful jaunts. She had a yellow, open Packard it was a Packard by the time I remember it – a car. And she always kept it open unless it was actually pouring with rain. And it was... we lived in Gower Street, Bloomsbury and when I first remember looking out the window, it was the only car that was parked in the whole of Bloomsbury, this large yellow car. And she used to take me out in it in the afternoons and we used to chase fire engines and... Oh, we had a most wonderful time. And when she took me to the zoo, she always managed to inveigle her way past the keepers into the sort of... the back rooms, you know, where I was draped with a python round my neck or something like that. It was most terrific fun. But always keeping up a sort of pressure.

John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) was an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, at Eton, at the University of Strasbourg and on the lower deck of the Royal Navy before taking a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. He then spent twelve years in H.M. Foreign Service, with posts at the Embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1964 he resigned to become a writer. He is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, 'The Popes: A History'. He also wrote on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: reading, arithmetic, geography, Packard, zoo

Duration: 1 minute, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018