Mathematically speaking


THE NEWSPAPER sections I refuse to read and have done for several years now, are the financial pages.

The tables, graphs and forecasts leave me dizzy and the so called experts have got it wrong so many times now, I am puzzled as to why anybody would listen to a word they say.

But it’s the complicated figures that turn me off as much as anything, because ever since my secondary school days I have built a mental block to all that stuff.

Primary school was fine, I coped with fractions and then decimals and even learned how to convert one to the other. As for mental arithmetic, I was a whizz and have been ever since.

It was a breeze.

I had no problem with other subjects and passed my 11-Plus. Well almost.

Then came the Big School and everything changed.

I found myself in the selective stream for those who were border line cases, and for which there was a grammar syllabus which included a new word – ‘Maths’.

In the primary school it was simply termed ‘Arithmetic’ and even earlier, ‘Sums’. Why change the name? But I was soon to find out.

The first geometry lesson was a blur. This wasn’t sums, this was drawing weird shapes with even weirder names – rhombuses, trapezoids and parallelograms. Then there were obtuse and acute angles… who even gave a toss?

It didn’t help that the History teacher had called me obtuse. How could I be described as someone between 90 and 180 degrees?

Then came Algebra, oh boy.

It had taken me an age in infant school to learn by rote the twelve times tables and then get to grips with addition, subtraction and long division – all using numbers. But I had learned them all and was proud of myself.

Now this. Suddenly letters of the alphabet were part of the equation, literally, because ‘equation’ was another alien name that had been slipped into the vocabulary.

I understood about roots, but how could you find the cube or square root of a jumble of letters and numbers? And why bother?

By the time they hit me with trigonometry, or trig as the smart alecs’ of the class smugly called it, with its sines, cosines and tangents, I was done.

I carry the mental scar to this day and the terror of that dreaded beast called mathematics.

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