Elizabeth Chats With…Lance Greenfield
The life of this month’s guest spans the Royal Navy; a spell as a dairyman in the Highlands of Scotland; many years in military survey in the British Army; and a fourth career in Information Technology. He has recently become a budding author, which is where our paths first crossed. He has been attending the Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick for several years, and is currently a member of the Committee that organises and runs the annual event. A fascinating man, (and a keen runner), with the personal motto: One World, one people – Care for them all. I am delighted to be chatting this month with Lance Greenfield.
Hello Lance and welcome. Let’s start by taking you back to childhood. What was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?
I have always loved mathematics. It is the queen of the arts. From an early age, my father taught me to mathematically model everything around me. He taught me to estimate and to understand margins of error. He made maths exciting for me. By the time I started studying for my ‘A’ levels, I was well ahead of where I’d need to be at the end of two years of Pure Maths and Applied Maths. It could have been boring for me, but I had a marvellous maths teacher, Bryn Parry. He encouraged me to set questions to fit the curriculum and he taught me how to coach my peers. We had fun and we achieved top results.
My least favourite subject was history. That may seem odd for a writer who loves historical fiction, but therein lies the point. For me, ever since I read Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, the genre has brought history to life with conversations and interactions between historical characters. The problem that I had was that my history teacher was also my current affairs teacher. He told me not to take everything that I read in the papers at face value and that I should verify the sources. When I challenged the dry history that he was teaching me, he would punish me for my impudence. I told him that the historians that wrote “these facts” were just the journalists of the times, and they always represented the winning side. Such statements were met with further punishment.
Talking about yourself, how would you finish the sentence “not a lot of people know…”?
… that I featured in a Hitchcock film.
The 1956 version of the Hitchock film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, starred James Stewart (as Ben McKenna) and Doris Day (as Jo McKenna). This is the film which launched the first song to make it to number one on both sides of the Atlantic: Que Sera, Sera.
At the time, my Mum, pregnant with me, was a classical pianist and a model in London. She was extremely beautiful. As an extra in the closing scenes of the film, she was a member of the choir in the Albert Hall. During the concert, an assassination attempt on a foreign Prime Minister is foiled by Jo and Ben.
Later at the embassy of the foreign dignitary, Doris Day’s son in the film, Hank, who had been kidnapped, hears her singing Que Sera, Sera, and cries for help. He is rescued. A happy ending.
I truly believe that I must also have actually heard that song during the many recordings of those final scenes, as, even now, hearing Que Sera, Sera being sung by Doris Day makes me feel quite emotional!
Re-wind to the real climax of the film, which is Ben’s frantic search for the killer in the boxes of the Albert Hall. Jo can see the barrel of the assassin’s gun emerging from the curtains and is trying to guide Ben towards him. He is waiting for the cymbal clash to mask the noise of his shot. The tension mounts. Jo screams as the shot is fired. It just grazes the intended victim. Ben grapples with the gunman, who falls to his death from the balcony.
As Ben’s search reached its climax, Hitchcock directed the camera to zoom in onto the fair face of the most stunning woman in the choir. Yes. You have guessed it. That was my Mum! Her face filled the big screen. And I was inside her tummy! So, I can truthfully claim to have been…
… the bump in the night in a Hitchcock film!
Where is your favourite place on earth — and why?
During my life, I have been very fortunate to visit about eighty countries. My favourite country is Ecuador because it is like four, diverse countries rolled into one. There are the Andes mountains with their beautiful cloud forests with humming birds, toucans, condors and cock-of-the-rocks. Then there is the Amazonian rain forest with the Rio Napo and its tributaries, populated by caimans, tapirs, hoatzin and pink dolphins. The coastal plains are less intriguing, but the Galápagos Islands are Paradise on Earth.
If you could change one law, what would it be?
I would ban all faith schools, worldwide, in favour of integrated education for all.
It upsets me that there is so much open prejudice in the world these days, much of it whipped up by the media and by politicians. I am very happy to have travelled, lived and worked all over the world. I have witnessed much. Being an emotional man, I can be equally stirred to tears by witnessing great acts of kindness as I can by seeing gross cruelty.
I am very proud of my step-mother, Sheila Greenfield, who was the founding headmistress of the very first integrated school in Northern Ireland: Lagan College. Her ethos has always been, “There will be no prejudice, of any kind, in my school!” What she is saying does not just cover race, colour and creed. Her statement also covers physical and mental ability and disability. It also covers every other difference between two humans that you could possibly think of, no matter how trivial.
Children need to learn, as early in their lives as possible, that we have more similarities than we have differences. Those similarities should be celebrated. The differences should be explored, with curiosity, to aid our learning of our wonderful world.
What would be in your ‘Room 101’?
Clichés. My work colleagues and I often amused ourselves by playing cliché bingo in meetings. We’d start the meeting with a grid marked out with business clichés such as “Think outside the box.” We’d cross them off as they were uttered by participants. There were prizes for a line and a house.
More recently, modern clichés which annoy me include:
• Starting responses with “So…” Hearing interviewees on radio and television start almost every response with that word makes me want to scream.
• Repetitive, inappropriate intrusion of the word “literally.”
• Beginning an explanation with the word, “obviously.” If it is so obvious, we would not have asked you for an explanation.
• Then there are the presenters who throw up a slide with an unreadable spreadsheet or table and then ask the audience to, “Excuse the eye test.”
If you know that we can’t read it, why are you displaying it? Show us a beautiful graphic.
If you could meet one person from history, who would it be — and why?
Occasionally, I write about time-travel coach tours on my blog. One of the most popular people whom we have visited during our travels is that great, Greek mathematician and philosopher. My time travel author friend, Howard Loring, and I often chat about our mutual friend, who we call Archie.
I have long-admired Archimedes, who was also an amazing inventor. He invented the Archimedes screw for raising water, still used in many countries for irrigation. He also invented great war machines, including a massive catapult and mirrors that focus the sun’s rays on enemy ships to burn them up.
I would like to tell him about the advancements in communications technology and the amazing range of apps that exist in the twenty-first century. That would set me up nicely for a brain-storming session with the great man who would help me to create the next killer app which will earn me my fortune.
Upload a picture or a photo that best represents you and tell us why
This is me about to embark on my first day of school in Dronfield at the age of four. My little sister, Kim, came as far as the doorstep to bid my farewell. This is a photo which truly represents my life. It is the first time that I stepped out, on my own, into the unknown. I have been repeating that step, many times, throughout my life. I lost count of the number of times that I ran away, often in foreign parts, during my childhood and adolescence. I have spent my life exploring and have been lucky enough to visit around eighty countries. I definitely learned more outside of school than I ever did in.
If your family doctor told you that you had six months to live but that she had the magical power to grant you any wish to do one more thing in your life before you go, with no limits on time, space, form or anything else, other than your imagination and creativity, what would you wish for?
I would stage my dream dinner and then I could die happy. I like to play the game: “Who would you invite to dinner? No limits.” I even ask the question at interviews. The answers can be quite revealing. So let me expose myself. You may interpret my answer as you wish.
My first two guests would be Louis Armstrong and my mother, June Lawrence, who was an accomplished classical and jazz pianist. What a brilliant duet they would make for our after-dinner entertainment. Could it get any better?
Well, yes, it could!
I would also invite Richard P Feynman, my lifelong hero. This man was a true genius with so many facets. If you don’t know him, or you don’t understand why I can make such a statement, I suggest that you read Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!
In addition to all his other amazing talents, Feynman also played the bongos to a very high standard. Perfect backing percussion for Louis and Mum!
I recognise that my personal level of intellect is inadequate for such august company. So, I need one more guest to take the mealtime conversation into the stratosphere and beyond. In my mind, I have only one choice. It would have to be…
As Satchmo himself would sing at that wonderful evening; What a Wonderful World!
What a wonderful world indeed, Lance. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
Lance Greenfield is author of two novels in the inspirational fiction genre:
Eleven Miles and Knitting Can Walk! He has also published an erotica anthology under the nom de plume, Auridius O’Conner: When Pleasure Blooms. You can find out more about Lance and his writing on his blog: Write to Inspire (by Lance Greenfield – Night Writer)