Tag Archives: maths

April 10

Ha ha, we got our dump of snow – 8 straight inches, so we’ve done even better than our friends up at Tomintoul, who measure in metric. Here’s a picture of my holy-of-holies on the morning after and guess what, I forgot to shut the door again the night before.

That’s a week ago now, we’ve had lots of family and friends up before, or for, Easter, the snow took a few days to clear and now it rains and the drips are cascading through the caravan roof again and the ground is as it should be, ie capable of supporting life and it’s time to think about sowing seeds.

Ben, Abby, Will, Robin – they’ve all been helping with major cobbing jobs – the insulation layer for the floor of the new room in the Long Byre and, in Robin’s case, some wall creation in the little new (temporary) bathroom – he was stuck for a whole day with his head in a dark corner finishing off the rough parts of the wall there, poor lad, while I prannied about trying to elicit sympathy for the difficulties I was having with the plumbing work above his head. I think I make these difficulties for myself because we’ve spent so many years now washing crouched in a little hip-bath that the very thought of reclining full-length in a real bath gives me night terrors.

However, now it’s Easter Monday and, us being in an irreligious country, Annie has had to go back to work at St Andrews this morning, with Abby and Robin on the Magebus – I mean Megabus of course, but that slip-of-the-finger gives me a nice idea…. They get off at Dundee, from where they go on back to Glasgow (they don’t have to work Easter Monday for some reason). Will and James have meanwhile headed back to the wilds of upper Donside to pack in as much as possible before the tree-planting season ends. How any saplings survive planting in that kind of drought is anyone’s guess, but I guess that these operations are on such a scale that even a thirty percent failure rate can be coped with. When Robin was engaged on some tree planting a couple of years back he was outraged at the disrespect shown to the baby trees. Now I hear chaps with planting-spades are to be replaced by low-flying aircraft which will fire the saplings into the ground in sharp-ended plugs. Maybe it was April 1st I heard that.

So, I’m back to raking through the piles in the little caravan again, trying to avoid the drips (I really must order that pond-liner); unsuccessfully hunting for the last page of “Manhunt in Golden Mall” which will hopefully have a link or something in this posting. It was the year before the London Bombings that I wrote it – I remember that, because Annie was regularly using buses into Russell Square in the week we were there – and the thought of trying to remember the ending after so many years seemed an effort too great to contemplate – and why, with all these disks and storage devices, floppy, hard, pocket-lighter sized, I only had one single hard copy, and an incomplete one at that, is just one of life’s minor mysteries, my life’s anyway – but in the end I bit the bullet, wrote a new ending and it didn’t take too long. I wrote this particular story for a proposed anthology about boys’ relationships with their dads, but it wasn’t accepted; however by that time I’d got rather fond of Baddo and Nazir and I’ve written, or roughed, or planned, three more stories about them, with ideas for a few more to boot. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve just remembered that other thing I’d been going to mention in the last posting; the book on mathematics which I came across in the little caravan, one which I’d been going to use with Maddy when we embarked on the fascinating matter of circles – 360º maths, as we call it. It’s called Vicious Circles and Other Savage Shapes by Kjartan Poskitt and it’s one of a series of maths companions he’s written to make the subject more accessible to youngsters. I think they’re quite popular, though whether amongst students or teachers/parents I don’t know. I have to admit the book brought back all the old smells, sensations, twitchings and sweats which maths books always induced in me at school. I don’t know, there’s always been the same progression with me whenever I try following a new approach to understanding maths, and it goes a bit like this:
Step 1, usually an anecdote – love it, most interesting.
Step 2, a bit of mathematical information – got it, yes I’m following this.
Step 3, more anecdote – yes, yes, I’m still amused.
Step 4, a little more information and – yes, I am truly following, this I do believe this will finally be the approach to maths….
Step 5, a bit more information and – what!?!? How did you arrive at that? How can 5 possibly follow from 4? How can you say it’s an easy step.

That’s how it’s always been. Roger (“very-simple-for-someone-with-the-most-basic-maths-understanding”) Penrose is the Emperor amongst the Names but many other names hover on the dim rim of my consciousness – maths geniusses every one, I’m sure, but I just don’t get it. I don’t have maths in my soul.

– Take Paul now. He’s my oldest friend, so I assume we must have some stuff in common. But Paul says he loves how maths takes you out of the real world into a world of pure logic and beauty: sometimes when he’s on a plane he shuts his eyes and sets himself a mathematical problem to solve. Well, I don’t know. When I’m on a plane I like to watch angels up against the blue-black sky, so I keep my eyes open. Mediaeval mystics used to calculate how many angels could be fitted onto the point of a pin. See what a nexus you can stray into when you step out of the real world. Maddy seems to have a natural feel for numbers, which doesn’t mean that she willingly consents to twenty minutes of the kind of basic maths tuition I can offer; but it also doesn’t mean that she has any more positive a reaction than mine to Kjartan’s excellent guidance… She reckons there’s only one number that’s important and that’s four, and only one unit important enough to count in and that’s horses’ legs.

My own idea of congenial – nay, comprehensible – maths is more like the one I tried out with Robin, during one of his home-education years, on the windy wintry beach at St Andrews, when I demonstrated the construction of a perfect square with a stick and a piece of rope – much to his chagrin, as he reckoned all passing students or dog-walkers were staring at the mad old geezer and his unwilling accomplice in a very disconcerting way. He wanted – at that stage of his life anyway – the magic without the science, the knowledge without the embarrassment; but I don’t think it can be done.

I suppose, when you consider the gulf between that kind of carry-on with ropes and sticks and the modern-day repertoire of symbols and processes for every conceivable thing, you realise what an incredible work of construction mathematicians have been doing over the centuries, turning abstract concepts – little more than elusive shadows across the mind to begin with – into a formal language that others (well, some others) can comprehend and record and pass on to posterity. But which posterity? Because I do wonder if the human race is actually dividing up into those who can enter that other, perfect, conceptual world and those who just can’t. The division may be evolutionary, and already irreversible.

Well, where was I?…. maths, Penrose, physics, geniusses, angels…. I’m also going to leave a link to my story “The Page Boy and the Stars”, which was one of four I sent as a birthday present to my father a good few years ago (it was the only one of the four he liked; the others are currently being hammered into the texture of a bigger book I’m writing for Anna). Like everything else I write, I don’t know if it’s a children’s story or not.

Paul re-read my “Timeghost” the other week and felt impelled (I hope it was impelled, he might just have been being nice because I’d written a review of Gaia’s Children) to give it a review on Amazon. He reckoned it was in the tradition of George MacDonald, which I take as a compliment, especially in a book that, in retrospect, really feels quite lumpy. But the same would be even truer of Page-Boy, which I do think of as a sort of homage to our great local forebear.

I see Anna’s also put “The Sundial” into the collection. It’s from even longer ago.

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