The first non-English words I learnt were in Arabic. My Irish father, who had been stationed in Baghdad with the RAF, taught me to count to ten while we walked the dog. His Gaelic, which he’d learnt at school, only got us up to six. But six was enough. Six, sitta, a sé – from an early age I couldn’t help but notice the similarity, and wonder why different languages had different but somehow similar words. Maybe the seeds of my degree in Linguistics and Italian were sown as we threw sticks to knock conkers from the horse chestnuts.
To my handful of Arabic and Gallic numbers, and sadly rather decayed Italian, I can add a little French from early ballet and compulsory ‘O’-level, the occasional recollection of a Latin word from three years’ compulsory school study, plus just enough Sanskrit to get you through a yoga class. I come to the programme after many years working in administration at Oxford University, most recently as Deputy Head of Administration at the Blavatnik School of Government.