It was a good starter.
Suddenly it was right back on them. I'd look around at faces.
Silence inevitably ensued. Some shrank back in their seats. I'd choose one of the shrinkers.
I didn't ask it aggressively; just a casual inquiry. Alarm would show on the face of the one being picked out amongst a room full of people, most of whom didn't know each other.
They'd smile nervously, and probably would say nothing; just shrink back a little more.
'How about you?' I'd ask someone who looked less timid but clearly off-guard.
One of the advantages of being a schoolteacher previously was that I learned to scan student faces and body language immediately and let them know this was going to be a two-way process. Some lecturers came into the lecture room, looked up at the far wall when they spoke, and barely had a clue who they'd been talking at for fifty minutes.
So, very often I got the answer I wanted.
'Brilliant! You must be a mindreader! Those are the very three words I was talking about.'
I don't know. These can be the most liberating words in any language, in the right circumstances. A lot of problems in the world are caused by fear to admit ignorance of something - the courage to say, I don't know.
There are no 'bibles' of history. There are no 'bibles' of anything for that matter, except for those who accept without question the creed of one faith or another.
There's always a place for 'I don't know'. There's rarely, if ever, a place for 'this is the right answer' when it comes to history.
And yet... in my first few years as a tutor at Queensland University, a friend and I collaborated to produce a textbook that was (sadly, I believe now) the set text for the Queensland's Modern History Syllabus for more than five years - and the book went on selling well for another five years.
This became rather embarrassing because it was exactly the sort of textbook I later came to criticise for the reasons I explained above, when I became a lecturer at the University of New England. Some of my university students here were brought up on a solid diet of it. But that's the way things were done in those days in secondary schools....
The books pictured above were all textbooks I collaborated in writing in the early 1970s. The last one shown was in five volumes and looked inside every bit as inspiring as the cover (I say no more on that!)