My best teacher

10th November 2000 at 00:00
When I was four my parents bought a house in France - in Troo, near Tours. We spent several months of the year there and I went to primary school in France, so by the time I became a boarder at Oxford high school for girls I spoke French well. If you are good at a subject it can go either way with teachers. Mrs Deborah Rogers, who taught French, was pleased.

Mrs Rogers was an extraordinary woman and an exceptional teacher who spoke nine languages. She was a White Russian, but you would never have guessed she was anything other than English because she spoke without an accent. She had lived in France, which gave us a link.

I was one of 50 boarders among 500 day girls, and I think Mrs Rogers felt a bit sorry for us because she often brought in little treats. I can remember her once bringing us some very nice coffee.

She was enormously supportive and encouraging and really took an interest in her pupils beyond the classroom. She writes to me occasionally and I have bumped into her in Oxford a few times. Sometimes she sends me a birthday card, which is extraordinary when you think how long ago I was at her school.

She had a very good understanding of girls and was keen to impart more than just language. At the end of term she would organise quizzes, which were fun and educational. I'll never forget learning through one of these quizzes that the French gave the Statue of Liberty to America, that it was designed by Monsieur Eiffel (who designed the Eiffel Tower) and that his wife was the model for the statue. Mrs Rogers also told us that there is a prototype of the Statue of Liberty on one of the bridges over the Seine in Paris.

She was a small woman with grey hair drawn back off her face and always nicely turned out, and her lessons were interesting because she always seemed to impart more than just the basics of the language.

When I was 15 or 16 I studied Russian with a teacher whose name I can't remember. Mrs Rogers and the Russian teacher arranged a school trp to Moscow and Leningrad, which was thrilling. Both women still had relatives in Russia who booked tickets for us to go to plays, the ballet, puppet shows and the circus. It was an amazing 10 days.

Mrs Rogers gave me a fascination for languages, and I think the way she taught French made it easy for me to learn other languages. Since then, I have picked up quite a lot of Italian and bits of Spanish. I find it quite easy to pick up the basics of a language and the accent.

Despite being good at languages, I chose to read maths at university. It was probably partly out of rebellion at having two literary parents. Maths was a subject I knew I could be better at than either of them. I did two maths A-levels. The marvellous woman who taught us was not that great as a teacher, but she was a brilliant mathematician and, like Mrs Rogers, enormously kind. I'm afraid I can't remember her name either, but she too was inspirational because of her passion for her subject.

One of the things I love about maths is that there is a beginning, a middle and an end and you know when you've got to the end. There's a right and a wrong, which you don't have with an essay, which can always be improved.

Compiling a recipe is a mathematical process. I know what I want to end up with and work backwards from there.


June 19, 1959 Born in Wiltshire

1964 Attends Broad Town primary school near Swindon

1965 Attends local village primary in Troo, France

1970 Attends Oxford high school for girls

1978 Reads maths at UMIST. First cookery article published in student union newspaper

1983 Writes first paid-for article for Sunday Express magazine

1986 Starts daily column in London Evening Standard

1987 First book, Food for Friends, published

1993 First TV series, Grow Your Greens, Eat Your Greens, broadcast October 2000 Fourteenth book, Sophie's Sunshine Food, published

Food writer Sophie Grigson was talking to Pamela Coleman

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