Best days of their lives?

Writer Josceline Dimbleby and MP Lembit Öpik remember good teachers, especially in music

The cookery writer Josceline Dimbleby has turned her hand to history. Her latest book is
A Profound Secret: May Gaskell, Her Daughter Amy and Edward Burne-Jones. The author admits her career path would amaze her former teachers at Cranborne Chase, a girls' boarding school on the Wiltshire borders.

The cookery writer Josceline Dimbleby has turned her hand to history. Her latest book is A Profound Secret: May Gaskell, Her Daughter Amy and Edward Burne-Jones. The author admits her career path would amaze her former teachers at Cranborne Chase, a girls' boarding school on the Wiltshire borders.

"I really didn't do much work," she says. "The natural swots would work away but people like me, who just wanted to have fun, could get away with it. Partly it was the era because it still wasn't thought that important for a girl to have an education and I do sort of wish now that I had done more work.

"My first experiences of school were quite distressing. I'd been in Syria with my mother and stepfather, who was the British ambassador. But, after two disastrous governesses, I was sent to Knighton House boarding school in Dorset. I was very homesick for my mother and used to cry at night under the bed clothes. But it was a good [school] to go to. It was like being part of a family because it was based in a house, and the headmaster and mistress treated us as if we were part of this huge extended family."

"I made some great friends there, who are still friends today. And I started singing at Cranborne, which was very good on music. I had proper singing lessons and took leading roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas we put on with the boys from Bryanston. I was hopeless at maths but I always loved writing. We had a very good English teacher and I always got very good comments on my creative essays.

Strangely, however, I was rebellious in domestic science. I wanted to do my own thing."

Lembit Öpik, the Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire and one of the rising stars in the party, says his schools days at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution were among the happiest of his life. "I loved school and it just got better the older I got. I used to go in early to spend time with my pals."

An inspiring set of teachers made studying a pleasure, particularly in the sixth form, Lembit says. "I loved economics. I had the most fantastic teacher and I was fascinated by the subject. I was into music, again because we had an excellent teacher, who wasn't just teaching us to play the recorder but was getting us to really listen to the music.

"I was less keen on sport.Otherwise, I was a keen participant in academic and extra-curricular activities. I was involved in drama productions and the debating society. I lost my first election at school when I was standing for some position in the debating society. It's quite ironic that I'm now in a party that supports proportional representation because that was my downfall in my first election."

The MP says a cherished memory was being asked back to his old school to speak at the prize-giving day. "When I was at school the guy who gave the speech on prize day was so inspiring that it made me want to work really hard and have some ambition for my life. I said to myself that, if I ever got to speak on the prize day, then I would have achieved something really important in my life."

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