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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mathematics Maketh Man.

What disappoints me most about the child I was, is that the woman I have become quite likes maths and science. Why didn’t I pay more attention in school? I could have been a contender. Back when my brain was a sponge and I was receiving a free education, why didn’t I absorb all the wonderful things I was being taught, instead of spending all my time trying to subtly turn my shoe upside down so I could play with the puzzle Clarks had built into the sole?

A new report has revealed that half of working age adults - that’s 17 million people in the UK - have the numeracy skills of a primary school child. I think I can stand up and be counted in that statistic.

There’s a lovely anecdote in Ben Miller’s It’s not rocket science (that’s me trying to claw back an education) where he pays homage to his maths teacher at primary school, Mr Bailey, who taught the kids that times tables were fun - something for which you needed a tables license, which Mr Bailey painstakingly made himself using a signature, a counter signature and a photo of said pupil.

He’d issue the license to any pupil who could prove they really did know their tables. And as if to illustrate just what a gifted teacher Mr Bailey was, every child in the top stream for maths at the secondary school Ben Miller went to had come from Mr Bailey’s primary school maths class.

Sadly I had no such Mr Bailey.

Mrs Geary taught me that if you run the cold tap over your wrist you can control a hot flush. Quite why I needed to know that, I don’t know, but it’ll come in handy when I hit the menopause.

Mrs Tew taught me that the six most important words in a relationship are ‘I am sorry, I was wrong.’ But I haven’t mentioned that one to my husband.

And Miss Dick taught me what to do if someone has a heart attack. By pretending to have a heart attack. It was terrifying, but certainly sunk the info into the old psyche.

I remember being very jealous of the kids in Mrs Tatler’s class, who told me they’d learned about division by cutting a cake in half. Then quarters. Then eights. Then they ate it. Not fair.

Aside from that, not really sure what else I learned. After reading Ben Miller’s lovely tables license anecdote, I started testing myself on my tables and I definitely get a bit rusty around the 8s and above.

 Maybe I need this. I do like owls...

Maths needs to be more fun. Schools need to take the anxiety out of it and make it enjoyable - cutting up cakes, for example.

As regular readers will know, maths and anxiety go hand in multiplying hand for me. The very man who would have so loved me to be as swift with my long multiplication as he was, was the very same man who has filled my internal calculator with anxiety instead of mental arithmetic. That’d be you, Dad.

It was his sheer frustration at the fact I clearly wasn’t turning out to be a genius which shut my brain down around maths to the point that I didn’t even bat an eyelid when, after a few months running my own business, I calculated that I’d made £200,000. I just thought I’d been doing quite well, until my husband pointed out I’d somehow added two extra zeros. And I’ve been doing my own accounts ever since.

Being this crap at maths does have upsides though. It means I still need my dad, which I think he secretly likes. Like the time I was writing a feature about a woman who had three children born on the same day, years apart. I needed a statistic for the chances of that happening and had found something online which seemed about right.

Roger Heath-Brown, professor of Pure Mathematics at Oxford University, said the odds of the couple's children all being born on the same date were 48,627,125 to 1.

Not one to instantly trust the internet nor any professor of pure mathematics who isn’t my dad, I asked the old man for his verdict.

Turns out prof Heath-Brown had it all wrong.

‘The mathematical answer is 1:133225,’ Pops explained. ‘1 in 48 million is the figure for 3 children being born on a PARTICULAR date, as in saying to a not yet pregnant woman, 'you will have three children, and they will all be born on January 1st’ - a 1/365 chance, multiplied 3 times.

He continued: ‘The odds of three children being born on the same but unspecified day means actually that first one child was born (probability 1/1) then another was born on the same date (probability 1/365) and then another was born on the same date again (probability 1/365). Therefore the odds of 3 children being born on the same date is these 3 figures multiplied together. 1x365x365, which = 1/133,225.’

Still with me? He added for good measure: ‘In practice it would be less than 1:133225, because the parents might be more sexually active at a particular time of the year (like on holiday).’

It was a shame because my story would probably have sold for more if the chances were in fact 1 in 48 million, but I have to hand it to Dad, he is bloody good at maths. And even though we were now talking about parents having sex, which always leaves me stuffing cotton wool in my ears, we were bonding. Over maths. Which I suppose is what we’d do if I was a mathematical genius and we spent our time bantering about just how different the world would be if Pythagoras hadn’t come up with his theorem and testing each other to see who could remember the most digits in the never ending mathematical number Pi, rather than me just saying ‘that new film Life of Pi looks good’ and Dad wondering where it all went wrong.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our Song

All loved up and mushy couples have a song, right? Ain’t that the epitome of romance, the day you secure an ‘our song’?

I used to think When A Man Loves A Woman would be my Our Song one day when I was older. Then Meg Ryan made a film of the same name and seeing as she was an alcoholic who was always getting herself in trouble, while her ever-adoring husband supported and loved her, maybe not. Although, that does sound strangely familiar.

G and I don’t have a song and mostly forget our anniversary. I’m not entirely sure he knows how to spell my middle name and that’s just the way I like it.

Except apparently we do have a song. I just found out.

And it’s not Michael Nyman's Love Doesn't End from The End of the Affair, which is what G asked me to walk down the aisle to, proclaiming that he’d always imagined it was what I’d walk down the aisle to when the day to do so came.

‘I’ve never heard it before,’ I told him as he played it to me. ‘Sounds like it belongs at a funeral, not a wedding.’

And so the one song that might have become our song got vetoed.

Yesterday G and I were driving along in the Willis-mobile when the other contender for Our Song came on.

I can’t find it on You Tube, it’s that popular, but it is called My Baby, it's by NQ Arbuckle and you can listen to it here

Now this almost does have merit to be our song - first heard on a road trip from Boston to Montreal when we’d been together a few months and hadn’t yet said I love you... Ahhhhh.... And now we're married. I remember the song well. I remember liking it because it builds a picture of what can only be described as the perfect woman, then NQ Arbuckle has a bit of a breakdown at the sheer exasperation that a woman could be so perfect. She must have something wrong with her, he sums up. No woman is that perfect.

‘This song reminds me of you,’ G said, turning it up. He’s a charmer.

A huge compliment, see, as the lyrics are thus:

my baby brings me flowers
my baby lets me stay up late
and she doesn't mind the drinking
or the mess that i make

my baby gets up early
my baby cooks me big breakfast
my baby cleans up the kitchen
my baby is friends with all the neighbours

my baby lights all of my cigarettes
she stays up late to do the laundry
my baby calls just to say that she loves me
and she dances like a beauty

my baby don't mind when i come home late
she doesn't listen to idle chatter
she says she loves me just how i am
and those other women do not matter

well she just lets me watch tv
she just lets me hang around
my baby likes all of my friends
and she even likes this house

what's wrong with my baby?

Now, I don’t want to burst his bubble, but G has got me all wrong. I know we’ve just got married and he should probably know me better, but seriously. Let’s examine the evidence.

my baby brings me flowers Nope, never. Would be quite nice if my baby bought me flowers once in a while though, so I didn’t have to go to Asda when we have guests coming round in order to spruce the place up.
my baby lets me stay up late Nope. In fact I get in a right huff when G tries to stay up later than me as I know it means he’ll be waking me up a bit after I’ve fallen asleep with his big oaf-like clambering into bed and switching on of lights.
and she doesn't mind the drinking Winner! I love it when he drinks. In my opinion he doesn’t drink enough.
or the mess that i make Nope. The mess that he makes will be the undoing of our marriage.

my baby gets up early Well, the early bird catches the worm, right? I’m no night owl.
my baby cooks me big breakfast I do chuck a bowl of porridge his way most mornings.
my baby cleans up the kitchen And makes sure he knows it. A loud declaration of: I CLEANED THE KITCHEN usually accompanies my cleaning routine.
my baby is friends with all the neighbours I hate the neighbours.

my baby lights all of my cigarettes  I once accidentally slapped G’s face in an attempt to remove the cigarette from his mouth. I hate cigarettes and hate him smoking. Which he only does when he’s drinking. Which I try to encourage. Catch 22.
she stays up late to do the laundry I did recently stay up late to empty the machine of G’s clothes because he was really busy and needed a shirt for the morning. Then I went on about what a good wife I was for about a week afterwards.
my baby calls just to say that she loves me Winner.
and she dances like a beauty Loser. I dance like my limbs involuntarily spasm, sporadically adding the odd hump and thrust. It’s a sight best reserved for the blind.

my baby don't mind when i come home late See above section on coming to bed late. I do mind.
she doesn't listen to idle chatter I love gossip.
she says she loves me just how i am He’s alright. Could do with a few modifications.
and those other women do not matter WHAT OTHER WOMEN?!?!?!?!

well she just lets me watch tv Oops. I sold his TV. For £20. Without asking. Then bought scratch cards. And didn’t win.
she just lets me hang around Not if I’m CLEANING THE KITCHEN at the same time G just wants to ‘hang around.’
my baby likes all of my friends Yeah, that’s true. I do. Even the one who has served time for handing out party drugs at festivals. Actually, especially him.
and she even likes this house Damn straight. It has a particularly tidy kitchen.

what's wrong with my baby? I often ask myself the same question.

So you see, when G said sweetly that this song was about me, I just accepted the compliment. At least two to three lyrics do apply to me. And just like when Derren Brown gave out the same astrological reading to people with different star signs and they all thought it fitted them perfectly, let’s roll with G’s selective hearing and let’s not point out to him that his perfect vision of his wife is way off the mark. Hopefully he won’t read this post. Hopefully he’ll be too busy buying me flowers and CLEANING THE KITCHEN.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Great British Boycott

I never used to pay much attention to ethics, shopping as I did for what I wanted, when I wanted it. Then I met my cleverest friend, who was taking a masters in international development when I was sitting around, unemployed, smoking dope. She is very clever about things I don’t understand, and she patiently tried to teach me that my pound was powerful and I should make choices based on a company’s ability to not employ children and not fly mangoes half way around the world just so I can have a stir-fry.

I jumped aboard the ethics bus, keen as I was to impress her. What’s that you say - boycott Nescafe? Sure! I wasn’t even that au-fait with the whole - they bullied breast feeding mothers in developing countries into switching to formula they can’t afford. Which is BAD - thing, but I sprouted what little knowledge I did have whenever I saw someone dare eat a Kit-Kat.
After that, I heard Unilever were a bit questionable. Down with the multi-national corporations, I declared. Being quite a massive company, it meant I had to boycott my beloved ice-cream, Ben and  
Jerry's - because it’s not made by two fat blokes in America - avoid all moisturiser flying the Dove flag, wave goodbye to Hellmann’s mayonnaise, make my own stock because Knorr ain’t got the Know-how, say no to Lipton’s Ice-Tea, a Radox bath, Sure deodorant, a decent hair-cut in Toni and Guy and a shed load of other sacrifices as a result of my apparent political stance.

It was more than I could achieve in an average week just to keep up with their acquisitions. I didn’t even really know what they ever did wrong - I certainly can’t remember now - but when a friend came round for dinner and announced that upon graduation she was going to apply for a job at Unilever, I felt it was my responsibility to shout loud words at her. She quietly explained that in fact Unilever are an exemplary company with an excellent ethical reputation and a sustainable agriculture programme - whilst also helping one billion people improve their health and well-being (and not just through making one billion people have a nice relaxing Radox bath).

Well, that told me. All that boycotting, wasted. I quickly bought some Caramel Chew Chew, just so they’d know I was back.

What good does it do, to boycott, anyway? Does my silent protest really make a difference? In the news of late, some big cats have been naughty: Amazon, (What can’t you buy from Amazon?) Starbucks (love their Chai) and Google (love the days when the Google word is written differently in tribute to someone’s birthday. Those are fun days. Plus they know everything. Quickly.)

They have managed to siphon off a staggering amount of money that really ought to be paid in tax. Our struggling economy continues to gasp for air, while they roll around in their billions, laughing at us as we order our Chai’s and google ourselves.

I want to boycott these companies, especially since Costa started serving Chai, I really do. But is it my responsibility to marshal them? Yes, we should all, as a nation, together, no longer shop at Amazon. But when the next big gun rises up from the ashes, you can bet your bottom dollar that when they start turning over the billions Amazon currently enjoys and their accountant says, hey, there’s a legal loophole here, do you fancy avoiding (and remember, avoiding is legal, evading is illegal) vast sums of tax payments, so you can buy an island instead? - they are going to say yes please, why didn’t you tell me about this before?
In summary, I will try to choose independent, small and local, (which is how all these big boys started out, lest we forget) but ultimately, the government needs to sort out what’s legal and what’s not. They’ve only got themselves to blame when companies find ways to avoid tax. I don’t have all the answers - I mostly just read Grazia - but I am tired of boycotting companies because the government can’t sort it out at the top. Starbucks probably won’t miss my custom, but they might be more abiding tax-payers if there weren’t loopholes to jump through.

Well, if you need me, I’ll be over here, smelling of Dove, eating Ben and Jerry’s and stroking my Toni and Guy-cut tresses. Let me know when it’s okay to google myself again.
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