Did you know that Dean Crane...?

My top-rated tunes on my iPod include a lot of REM, some old Peter Gabriel, and Emmanuel Ax playing a Brahms piano concerto.

The Environmental Stewardship Committee challenged the F&ES community to reduce paper use by 10% during the 2013 spring semester. As an additional incentive to acheive that goal, the organizers asked Dean Peter Crane to answer an array of personal questions to be submitted by students and staff. When the results were compiled in May, the school actually reduced paper use by 32.5% over the previous year, and the Dean gladly fulfilled his committment. Please enjoy the questions and answers below, and also read about Crane's reappointment as Dean of F&ES.

Sir Peter Crane
Sir Peter Crane

Q: What's the most British thing about you?
A: There are not so many truly deep-seated British things left in me, after living in the U.S. off and on since 1981. However, I still carry with me lots of habits and perspectives that were formed during the early years of my childhood in post-World War II, 1950s to early 1960s, Britain. Among them is the idea that waste is somehow morally wrong—waste of food, waste of money, waste of time, etc. Beyond that, I still enjoy a few simple British pleasures, like watching a game of football (soccer), rugby, or cricket. I also prefer to spell colour with a u.

Q: What is the history of your moustache? And if you could have the mustache of any prominent figure, alive or dead, whose mustache would you want?
A: In general I don’t have moustache envy, although President-Elect Salovey did once have an amazing moustache. My moustache is most like that of my grandfather, a farm laborer and foundry worker. It reminds me where I come from. Maybe that is why I grew it, and why it stays. I know it’s skirting the question, but in the facial hair department one of my predecessors at Kew (and close friend of Charles Darwin) Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, had an Abe Lincoln-type beard. I guess that would be pretty neat. But even more impressive were his eyebrows. Apparently they were so long that he could hold them between his lips and then release them to spring back. It was a good way to amaze his young grandchildren.

Q: Do you support abolishing the British monarchy and replacing them with a system of electing a Head of State in the UK?
A: I’m a big fan of the British monarchy. They are an integral part of British culture, what makes Britain, Britain. I would not want to see them abolished and even though the Monarch is the titular Head of State there is no real power of government there. We had a civil war about getting that relationship right back in the seventeenth century. So, no, I don’t support abolishing the British Monarchy. Lovely to see the celebrations of the 60thAnniversary of the Queen’s coronation this week (check the BBC web site).

Q: Dean Crane, what is your favorite beverage?
A: My favorite beverage depends on the circumstances. There are times when nothing tastes sweeter than a cold glass of water. I went cold turkey on coffee many years ago (after drinking too much). Today I like a cup of tea in the morning—sometimes with milk (no sugar) [an English habit], sometimes without milk (especially really good tea like Darjeeling). When I’m relaxing and not working I like a pint of cool (not cold) English beer. My favorite beers, which sets the standard against which all others are judged, are Brakspear’s Ordinary Bitter (abv 3.4 – not too strong, brewed in Henley on Thames—not far from where I went to University) and Fullers London Pride (abv 4.7 - brewed on the Thames close to Kew). In the U.S., I often enjoy Bass, with its famous red triangle trademark (the oldest in the U.K.). Bass is brewed in Burton-on-Trent, a famous old brewery town not far from where I grew up.

Q: What are the privileges of being a knight?
A: There are no real privileges of being a knight, except that of having the honor bestowed in a very special ceremony, in my case at Buckingham Palace. There is also some limited use of a small private chapel beneath St. Paul’s Cathedral. There is an old saying that where there is a privilege, there is a responsibility. I feel the responsibility of being a knight more than I feel the privilege. The responsibility, in a general way, is one of public service.

Q: When was the last time you were nervous?
A: The first time I read the F&ES degrees at the main degrees ceremony on Old Campus. On that special day, it is quite a crowd down there!

Q: What’s the #1 most played song on your iPod?
A: I don’t use my iPod as much as I would like. In general, there is not enough music in my life, mainly because I need quiet to work at my best. However, I have eclectic tastes in music. My top-rated tunes on my iPod include a lot of REM, some old Peter Gabriel, and Emmanuel Ax playing a Brahms piano concerto.

Q: If you won the lottery (and money was not a concern), what would you do for the rest of your life?
A: I would read, write, and do research. I never have enough time for any of those three things. I just enjoy the thrill of new discovery and of understanding things that no one else has ever managed to do. I also wish I had more time to read and to learn, and then to fuse that with my own experiences in written form.

Q: If you could have dinner with one person (dead or alive), who would it be?
A: Very tough to choose among all the great figures in history - Darwin? Churchill? Ghandi? So I think I’d have to go with someone from my own family, maybe either of my grandfathers who I did not know well enough.

Q: I enjoyed your book on the Ginkgo tree very much, and I have a question about something particular that I was wondering about. Your book mentions that the Tsurugaoka Big Ginkgo at the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine in Kamakura, Japan, has a legend attached to it: that the assassin of the Third Shogun, Minamoto no Sanetomo, hid behind that same Gingko tree in 1219. However, there is no written evidence of the existence of this particular tree until 1659. I was wondering --- was the mystery of the age of that tree solved when the tree fell during a storm in 2010?
A: I’m told that this famous big old Ginkgo (which I saw before it fell a few years ago) was rotten in the middle. But I think it ought to have been possible to get some idea of the age from the rings if the authorities had tried. To my knowledge this has not been done. I do know that the authorities at the shrine also are trying to replant and propagate the tree.

Q: Would you rather fight one ginkgo-sized gecko or 100 gecko-sized ginkgos?
A: A hundred gecko-sized ginkgos for sure. A ginkgo-sized gecko would be pretty huge.

Q: What are your three favorite foods?
A: A really tough question to answer. A bit like the question about beverages, it depends a lot on the time and place. My ideal lunch (on vacation) would be a pint of beer, fresh bread, a lump of Stilton cheese, brown pickle, and a small salad. I’m looking forward to a lunch like that when I’m in England for our daughter’s graduation this summer. At home, I like to make a fresh salad with arugula, spinach, tomatoes, spring onion, avocado, and croutons with my own special (and rather garlicky) dressing. With some fresh bread, and a nice glass of red wine, sitting in our screened porch at home, that is just perfect. Choosing my third one is hard, but I guess it is tough to beat fresh fish and chips (another high spot of British cuisine!), with a hot cup of milky tea with some bread and butter in a small local café (often in the rain!) somewhere on the British coast. I like a hamburger too, every now and then, but fish and chips is a good standby that for me falls squarely in the category of “comfort food!”

PUBLISHED: June 12, 2013

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