“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!