Monday, April 30, 2007

Living by numbers

“If you pass this exam, you will never have to do maths again,” promised my teacher 22 summers ago as I prepared to sit my maths O-level. The first paper was tolerable but I was unable to finish the second. Somehow, I managed to scrape a C; I was jubilant, thinking I would now be free from numbers.

I am a words, not a numbers, sort of person. I think in the main, you are born one or the other. My mother is one of those exceptions that prove the rule. She is especially nifty with numbers: she is able to work out VAT and percentages in her head. I can manage the former with the aid of a calculator, but remain foxed by the latter.

My maths teacher was a false prophet. I am drowning in a sea of numbers on a daily basis. I can easily have used three different sets before 8am: debit card PIN to pay for petrol, the work door access code, and if I am first in, yet another set to disable the burglar alarm.

Figures flummox me. When I did bar work – in the days when a round was totted up mentally – I used to hate the return of a customer ordering the same drinks. What if I charged a different amount? I lived in fear of my incompetence being challenged.

However, I can do simple formulas: to convert dollars into pounds always used to be “times two, divide by three”. I’m even more impressed with the current version of “times two”. Even I can work that out in my head. Long live the strong pound!

26 comments:

dulwichmum said...

I completely agree with you M&M, I however am a numbers person, and can do all manner of calculations instantly. I am dreadful however at punctuation and spelling - and I find the spell checker on 'blogspot' very unreliable.

DM

Brom said...

Did you know that there are three types of people in this world. Those who can count and those who can't.

The Grocer said...

We don't accept dollars yet at The Grocer although many of our customers try very hard to slip them in when I'm not looking so the dollar to quid ratio is completely and utterly irrelevant to me. I bet you got at least a C though in Maths?

Stay at home dad said...

VAT is a percentage!

You should have tried additional maths o level. Simultaneous equations were where my all-rounder aspirations hit the rocks.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Dulwich Mum, I didn't know there was a spellchecker in blogspot. I have to say I am not a fan of spell checks on the whole because I tend to think my English is better than my computer's!

Boo, boom, Brom!

Grocer, I just managed to get a C. Being able to convert dollars into pounds is a useful skill when writing business stories.

SAHD, I told you I was incompetent...

Gill said...

I am only good at very simple arithmetic which is practically based- adding up money, distributing cakes, cutting up pies, working out how much paint I need for a room etc. I can see how these work.
My grasp of abstract mathematics is abysmal and I never got GCE Maths. Fortunately I have never need to use any of it-why did I need to learn about sine, cosine and tangent? What were logarithms FOR? Why did I spend hours in a hot classroom poring over a slide rule when I could have been outside writing a poem about trees?

Scruffy Mummy said...

I decided not to do math in my last year of high school - which was met with horror my many of my peers -'You're giving up Maths? You'll be doomed'

No, I replied, because I seriously doubt I'll ever have to use any of the mathatical concepts in my life ever, ever again.

30 years on and I can safely say I was very very right!

mountainear said...

I too was promised 'no maths ever again'. What a fib that was. It thus underscored my general mistrust of anyone in authority.

Most things mathematical have passed me by - I never saw the point of most of it. As they say round here -'You just need to know enough to count the spots on the dominoes.'

Drunk Mummy said...

People are always astounded that I can't remember my mobile phone number (I have it written down in my diary), but since I never phone myself, why should I remember it?

Anonymous said...

Yay ! A bloody good argument for staying well away from that 'euro' nonsense if you ask me, slim shady..

Anonymous said...

dulwich mum - Look Out ! you've got a bare behind..

Arthur Clewley said...

M&M, I am very exited, sorry to go off topic here, delete me if you wish in your capricious female blogmaster's manner, but Katherine Tickell is playing in Richmond next month. I probably should have found this out ages ago so probably won't get tickets now, but surely she needs groupies..

mutterings and meanderings said...

Dear readers, I vote we stay away from numbers and stick instead with words ...

And I also vote we stay away from the Northumbrian pipes, Arthur. They make a horrid noise! I had a chemistry teacher who was a practitioner...

Arthur Clewley said...

this number from the devine Miss T is for M&M and Mr Robb, and all the chemistry they had, I mean did, together...

debio said...

I can do Maths but I can't do 'problems' - why would three and a half children go into four sweetshops and buy five and three quarter bars of chocolate? And if they're being so damned awkward, why didn't they take the correct money?
Converting figures to words caused me the ultimate confusion - give me Livy's Wars with Hannibal any day.Well, not any day - it's hardly a conversation piece, now, is it?

mcewen said...

Come along now! I need a favourable exchange rate in about 8 weeks!
Cheers

ziggi said...

I was going to say VAT is a % but some clever dick got there first - pah!

I tell you what confuses me measuring horses in cms! I can picture 15.2 I have no idea what 149cm is, but hey I can remember the joy of a threepenny bit.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Arthur, my chemistry skills were on a par with my ability at maths: I was not Dr Robb's favourite pupil!

Debio, problems like the one you describe are probably why we have an obesity crisis ...

Mcewen, get saving!

Ziggi, that is so true. I think 148cms is 14.2 but that's as metric as I get!

Gill said...

I could never concentrate on those problems either. Why were those men filling a bath with water that emptied out? Why didn't they put the plug in? Who gave a toss about it anyway? I wanted to know things like their names and what they were wearing and what they had in their sandwiches.

debio said...

I'd like to know why some idiot, evidently with time on his/her hands was following these people around anyway; trying to work out unnecessary calculations, failing, and throwing the 'problem' to the world in general.

beta mum said...

I have just plummeted in the estimation of my eight year old son (and it wasn't awfully high to begin with) for failing to remember from last week to this, that the Product of two numbers means you have to multiply them, not add them.
I told him he'd got it wrong and he hadn't, I'd just forgotten.
We didn't have Products in my day, we had simultaneous equations and slide rules and logarithms.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Does anyone else see numbers in colours? I have always done this and was delighted to watch a documentary which gave this condition a name, synisthesia, although that is surely not the right spelling. There are some other freaks out there that do it too! For example, you have had 21 comments for this post, 2 is red and 1 is a pale cream colour. I hope you all feel enlightened!
pigx

Karen said...

Yes the synesthesia programme was excellent - I wish I saw music that would be so cool.

I am crap with maths - Vince will test me and congratulate me when I manage to get it right.

I only use simple arithmatic so most of the stuff I learned for my GCSE haven't been used and therefore forgotten.

Gill said...

My friend has synaesthesia and sees everybody's names as colours.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Synesthesia is a totally new one on me. I feel I've learned something new. Thank you.

Karen said...

Kandinsky was a synesthete - he created some of his paintings by listening to music.