Problems with numbers (and remembering them)

maths“You don’t know what 7 x 7 is?” my children used to ask with utter incredulity in their shiny little faces JUST after they had all perfected their times tables. And there I would always be, sitting at the dinner table, mentally working out what 35 plus 14 was whilst simultaneously thinking “yeah, yeah, laugh it up kids, now tell me how that roast chicken made it to the table?”

But the truth is, I don’t know what 7 x 7 is, nor 6 x 8 nor most of those sodding sums that everyone else seems to take for granted. I can’t remember ‘phone numbers, dates, times nor prices. If I ‘quote’ a statistic that I have heard on the news, chances are, it’ll be a ballpark figure at best. If you ask me for the price of one of my products at a show, you’ll hear Sam shout it over from the other side of the stand.

I can DO maths – from the minute I received my first pay cheque with deductions, I learned percentages really really rather well. Yes, I do mean my first pay cheque, not at school where the worst maths teacher on earth taught me. But it does have to be noted at this point that I always assumed that I was just a bit thick. And that assumption has not abated as much as I’d like to believe in the intervening years.

So many fabulous syndromes have emerged since the 1980’s – dyscalculia being one such term that relates to the inability to remember numbers and I’d love to hang my hat on that particular hook, but I have just looked it up and I can read a clock and I can check change in my hand after a purchase, so I should look deeper into the problem. My primary school education was exactly at a time when (I believe) the Education Authorities decided that learning times tables by rote was counterproductive and therefore not taught. I was generally good at maths at primary school. If it was all written in front of me, I could always work out how many hot cross buns Susie had. Secondary school was challenging, I would be told an equation system and firstly, I’d want to know why. Not in a ‘why should I learn this, surely I’m not going to need to know this is real life?’ way, more a ‘why does that have to be the hard and fast rule?’ the answer, in maths it seems, is simply ‘because it just is.’ Which never sits well with me.

I love history, but couldn’t take it as an option because I couldn’t remember dates – I can name all of Henry’s wives and how they died but genuinely can only guess at what century they all lived. I took Politics A Level and could wax lyrical about the Russian Revolution and Rasputin’s involvement in the downfall of the Tsar, but the date of the Storming of the Winter Palace entirely eludes me.

Being naturally ordered in all things (read that as control freak), my inability to remember numbers rarely caused a problem. My address book for telephone numbers was always in my bag, my running balance on my bank account was carefully written (and then typed *I know!! In my Filofax) and I got by perfectly well. The only time that it can be really very embarrassing is at trade or retail shows, when I’m stuck between wanting to say “that’s £4.99 retail” (thereby losing us money or being investigated for fraud) and “Sam? How much is this?” or “Give me a second whilst I look like an ashamed idiot wasting your time whilst I fumble with the catalogue that I laid out desperately trying to find the product that I designed and priced to get you the right information”.

I can walk into a room and tell you it’s dimensions in BOTH metres and feet. I can look at a piece of furniture and know if it will fit in an alcove, but if you asked me how many feet are in a metre, I’ll say it’s 2 something isn’t it?

I can’t remember the year my dad died, but I can tell you every last tiny detail of the event, of the course of events leading up to that time and everything that has happened since. I’ll even take a guess at my own age – and I’ll hate you for asking.

I now have calculators, a fully synched ICal and the internet and if I were lucky enough to survive a Zombie Apocalypse, I’d like to think that when quizzed on how many zombies I’d killed the day before, my answer of ‘lots’ would suffice.

So in summation, I guess it doesn’t really matter that I can’t remember numbers, not in the grand scheme of things right?

My daughter has optioned in to study maths and further maths for A Level next year, and both sons have made noises about following suit; so I’m very relieved that their abilities outshone mine at an early age.

And now, when they ask me what 6 x 12 is, I have a perfectly good stock answer.

“Eat your peas.”


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