There is currently a push on to get more children interested in mathematics. Personally, I reckon it would be easier to get them to drink liver flavoured milkshakes, but I wish them luck anyway.
You see, my generation was caught between two math systems, Metric and Imperial, and as a result, I’m hopeless at both. Eventually I morphed into someone who measures height in feet, distance in metres, and body parts in inches, eg: I’m six feet tall, my finger joints are an inch long, and each foot is nearly one foot. I don’t know the lengths of any other bits…
Every now and then I’ll have another crack at my arithmetical nemesis, but as soon as I open one of my daughters’ math books and see the words, “Train A is approaching the station at an unknown speed, while Train B…” I feel my skin crawl as the old terror comes creeping back.
Suddenly, I’m back in school gazing at test questions that made as much sense to me as a cars’ wiring diagram. Are the trains’ diesel, electric or steam? What colour is train B? How fast was the station moving again? And should we be worrying about a hypothetical train smash when President Reagan was about to nuke the Russians and plunge us into WW3?
I recall late nights hunched over exercise books filled with crossed out equations, rubber shavings, and dried tear stains. Eventually I’ll close the math book and pick up a novel, preferring the fun of fantasy to a book full of frustrating formulas. My mathematical illiteracy remains a dark cloud in an otherwise sunny existence.
Words and wordplay thrill me; I can ‘see’ words, or what they represent, eg: mountain, green, numbskull, etc. But for the life of me, I just can’t put a picture to the number 647, or any of its’ numerous associates. Fractions continue to remain a complete mystery to me, and Roman numerals have only come in handy for working out what year movies were made.
So while I heartily cheer the efforts of those passionate mathematicians who are hoping to improve our children’s calculating confidence, I think I’ll stick to wrangling with words. The only time I’m ever going to get slightly enthusiastic about numbers is when I see my Lotto numbers come up; and then I’ll pay one of those whiz kids to do my sums for me.