the gorgeous berries are here - so many to see, oranges, reds and blacks....


a view across my neighbourhood on an October morning

49 - a prime number? (Maths in the 80's)

A birthday is coming up - next month I will be 49. I know a few people who turned 50 this year and realise it can feel like quite a big thing. I don't feel 49, or close to 50, my feelings on age change from day to day. This week I had a painful knee that I just hoped would get better - and it did! I realise one should not expect to get aches and pains, just because.... I often feel much younger than forty-something. I hope this feeling lasts.

I was pondering on 49 and if it is or is not a prime number. I asked my son who told me in a straightforward way that it had been over a whole year since he has had to study Maths so how should he know! I googled it and found out 49 is a semi-prime number, for some reason I am still not sure about. I had never heard of a semi-prime number before.

Maths was not my favourite subject at school. I went to an all-girls' state comprehensive school in a London borough (this was in the 80's). My school took pride in being better than many and attempted to foster an atmosphere of something a bit posher than it was. The headmistress wore a floating black gown. There were clear rules on showing respect for teachers (standing up when a teacher entered the room for example). We had an unconventional (no tie) uniform - and shared recreational areas with the next-door boy's school, allowing for break time mingling (though this was not really encouraged). There were a lot of good things about the school: I liked the respectful atmosphere, loved having a drama teacher as my form tutor, enjoyed being a lunch time librarian. However, I decided quite early on that I was not going to bother much with Maths, and so I never did.

I was a bit of a nerd, a swot - I worked hard and was in the top group for most subjects - except Maths of course. It seemed that teachers were happy for me to be in the bottom group for Maths - if not happy, they accepted I was not good at everything. Being in the bottom group meant I was never taught algebra and other things my children's homework has baffled me with since. My teacher sat at the front of the class with a bottle of cough medicine on his desk, offering help to the girls who asked for it. We worked through a big box of every day Maths work cards. I worked very slowly and chatted too much. Maths was the only class I chatted in - it was my social skills class, more than anything. None of us in that class were entered into the O Level exam. Instead, I sat the CSE and managed to get a grade 1, something I will never understand - which gave me the equivalent of an O level anyway! In contrast to this experience, my two children began studying algebra in primary school and had to work very hard to pass the modern Maths GCSE. I wonder now how attitudes to girls learning Maths have changed. Or if it wasn't so much me being female - was about me being very good at the arts subjects? Were girls pigeon-holed into being good at arts or sciences? I think to some degree they were. Is there still an acceptance of a child not being good at everything? Had I actually tried a bit harder in Maths, would I have done any better?


Where was I last week? (See, I am getting older, I just had to check) - I was halfway through Strangers by Anita Brookner. I read the rest of that novel quickly, enjoying it more during this re-read than I did the first time. The ending was handled so deftly. I enjoy Brookner's writing so much.

Now I am almost halfway through Under The Net by Iris Murdoch. I have not read this before. I've read a few other Murdoch novels and felt it was time to give her writing more consideration - as I am someone who particularly favours women writers of the twentieth century. I remember reading The Bell, many years ago. That book had a profound effect on me as a reader and writer. For a time after reading it I felt quite disorientated, as if Murdoch's writing had hit me sideways with so many things to think about, it made me reconsider how characters can behave. Ask me now what The Bell was about and I could not tell you exactly. I must re-read it some time. Under the Net is set in London and takes the reader on quite a pub crawl (literally in places) all about the various neighbourhoods. As someone who used to visit central London frequently, I can picture many of these places and am enjoying walking about the lesser-known spots. If there's one thing I am not keen on it is the first person narrative - it works, that's not the problem, it's just I tend to prefer third person story telling. All the books I have read recently have been third-person so it's taken me a while to adjust my 'ear', if that makes sense.


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