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5 June 2023

Frieda Hughes’s Q&A: “The Bible taught me everything”

The poet and painter on motorbikes, frog migration, and why all politicians are children.

By New Statesman

Frieda Hughes was born in London in 1960 and moved to Australia in 1988, gaining dual citizenship in 1992. A poet and author of children’s books, she also regularly exhibits her paintings.

What’s your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is of my American grandmother trying to persuade my mother, Sylvia Plath, to leave my father, Ted Hughes, in the summer of 1962. I walked to the telephone intending to call him and tell him what was happening, but realised I had no idea where he was, couldn’t read an address book in any case, and when I put my fingers in the dial, they were too small to make it turn.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was my father before I discovered that he had human flaws. My adult hero was – and still is – my father after I discovered that he had human flaws.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Bible. I’ve twice read it from cover to cover, once as a child, once as an adult. It is so full of contradictions that it taught me how everything, especially dogma, must be questioned and challenged and tested.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I don’t. I see them all as simply human beings, children in the obstacle-strewn playground that is life.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

The migration of frogs: time of year, weather conditions, destination.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I like my own. Any time in the past wouldn’t have access to the science that has already saved my life twice, or dental facilities that have proved vital, or flushing toilets that have freed us from our own stench. Any time in the future is entirely unknown.

What TV show could you not live without?

I have been addicted to Neighbours, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, currently, Lucifer.

Who would paint your portrait?

Me.

[See also: Edward Hopper’s city of still lives]

What’s your theme tune?

“Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I ride motorbikes and sometimes do track days. When I first passed my test 15 years ago I was told by another biker, “Ride your own ride”, meaning don’t get caught up in a race with idiots who could maim or kill you. That applies to life in general for me.

What’s currently bugging you?

When I was born the world population was three billion and now, in 2023, it is eight billion, and you wonder why you can’t find a parking space? My conscious contribution to saving the planet was my refusal to reproduce. An ageing population would be difficult to negotiate, but at the moment we are a pollutant on every level because of our sheer numbers.

What single thing would make your life better?

Financial security combined with good health so I could get more painting and writing done. Failing that, a 38-hour day and the energy to make the most of it.

When were you happiest?

Having almost sell-out art exhibitions, camping on the Nullarbor Plain, driving through Utah, falling in love.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d be a psychotherapist or a geologist in another life; one mines the mind, the other minds the mine. I’d love both.

Are we all doomed?

Of course. It’s just a question of how effectively we can defer our end.

“George: A Magpie Memoir” by Frieda Hughes is published by Profile Books

[See also: An unmissable view of Vermeer’s secret worlds]

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This article appears in the 07 Jun 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Reeves Doctrine