Passed/Failed: Jancis Robinson

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The Independent Online
Jancis Robinson, 48, is a wine columnist and presenter of the Thursday-evening BBC2 series, `Vintners' Tales'. She hosted `The Wine Programme', the first TV series on the subject, edited `The Oxford Companion To Wine' and is the author of `Confessions of a Wine Lover', out today in paperback

Early vintage: For about a year I went to Miss Elton's private kindergarten in Carlisle, where I met most of my long-term Cumbrian friends. When I was five my parents got TB and went into hospital, so my brother and I went to stay with my godmother, who lived next to the village school in Kirkandrews upon Eden. And we went to this school, which had two teachers and a total of 28 pupils. My brother was made the senior infant because he was beefy and didn't mind carrying in the coke for the fire.

A terrible nose: I still have nightmares about the outside loos. They were very smelly and this must have been one of the first nasty smells I experienced. Most of the pupils were farmers' children who would write essays about pig-killing, and we used to get a week off for the harvest. Also, we were recruited after school to pick rosehips - I think for syrup.

Ticked off: The teaching was very old-fashioned and, perhaps, set me on the wrong trail of needing to look for the "v.g." tick on my work. There was basically one person a year who passed the 11-plus, and I was that person for that year. Your lives were divided by the 11-plus and you didn't see people who failed again. It was a shock going from a school of 28 to Carlisle and County High School for Girls with 600 or 700 pupils.

Economical with the maths: I happened to be good at maths - all mathematicians are "economical of effort", as the teacher put it. The English teacher said: "You will regret dropping English." But you couldn't do English and double maths; you had to do physics. Physics is another recurring nightmare. I got As in my maths and general studies A-levels, but a C in physics.

Waiter, there's a crouton in my soup! Normally one person a year went to Oxbridge. I sat entrance exams for New Hall, Cambridge, and St Anne's, Oxford. One of the New Hall questions was: "You are dining in the restaurant at the top of the Telecom Tower revolving at x miles per hour. Describe the path of the crouton in your bowl of soup." I thought that was socially divisive; some people would not have known what a crouton was. I wasn't asked for an interview by New Hall, but I was by St Anne's, who were taken by the fact that I'd answered the philosophy questions in the general paper - and were just starting a new degree called maths and philosophy. I got a 2.1.

Not a Cumberland sausage. Oxford was a culture shock but a very exciting one. By my penultimate term I summoned up the courage to offer my services to Isis and my first job was a restaurant column - I'd come from a small Cumberland village and didn't think people like me did those sort of jobs.

Chateau Robinson: I didn't grow up in a wine-drinking household, but I had a great wine mentor at my college, a girl whose father had a cellar and encouraged her to drink wine in a cerebral way.

Days of wine and rose: The Master of Wine exam is pretty difficult, four days of exams with two papers a day. Three of the papers were practicals, which meant tasting 36 wines altogether. Once the exam had only been for people in the wine trade, but in 1984 they relaxed the rules and you were allowed to take it if you were otherwise connected with wines. I think I had a fair wind behind me when I took it. It probably helped that I was pregnant (five months - past the morning sickness stage); people say it heightens your senses.

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