Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sailing North: Why I wish I had paid more attention in Maths.

6th July 2011
Burnett Heads - Yeppoon
Why I wish I had paid more attention in Maths.

I was born and raised in Sarf London. Not South London, Sarf London. Amongst other life skills, kids learned very quickly how to be self reliant. My parents both worked full time jobs and so from aged 5 I walked to and from Ennersdale Road School on my own. Actually everyone did. A mother turning up at the school gate would have been very novel. Social Networking was talking with your friends on the way to school and back. A neighbour would look after me from 4pm until Mum came and collected me at 6pm. Lewisham, the suburb of Sarf London we lived in had at one time been quite up market, our house had 4 bedrooms, two reception rooms downstairs, a kitchen and a scullery. The original bell pushes ,used to summon the maid were still in the reception rooms. However, like many inner city suburbs, Lewisham had fallen on hard times. With the advent of the car, people had moved to the outer suburbs, away from the smog and congestion. The large houses had been converted to flats and were rented to a largely migrant population who had realised that if the British were generous enough to give British passports to all its Empirical subjects, sitting on the dole in London was preferable to sitting on a beach in Jamaica or Africa and starve. (Interestingly, while these people all wanted to live in England, the English, or at least the wealthy ones were holidaying in their home countries. I suppose the grass is always greener.)
Our school classes were more like a meeting of the United Nations and every nationality was represented in our teacher body. My French teacher for example was a beautiful African American  woman who spoke English with a Southern American drawl. What I didn’t consider was that her French may have been similarly affected. Without knowing that, and having studied studiously for three years thinking I would be very impressive should I ever meet the ten year old equivalent of Bridget Bardot, I was to be extremely humiliated on a school excursion to France in later life. I would have had more luck with Dolly Parton.
Our teacher of Mathematics was Indian. He certainly knew his subject but his delivery was also suspect. One would think that when learning a science, as compared to a language, little could go wrong and certainly I had no inkling of any problems as I graduated to long trousers and Senior School.
The British School system of the day was simple, if a little confusing to outsiders. Top of the pecking order were Public Schools. Contrary to the name these were not actually for the children of the public, well not my parent’s public anyway. These had been founded by merchant bodies or groups of people who were wealthy, but not quite wealthy enough to be able to afford private tutors. Eton and Rugby are well known examples of Public Schools but there are many more, including Haberdasher Askes, founded so that England would never be without well educated haberdashers. You didn’t need to be intelligent to attend, indeed that could be a drawback. You just needed to have been born to rule.
Next came Grammar Schools which is where the bright kids went having passed a single one day examination called the Eleven Plus in primary school. Then came Secondary Modern schools, which were huge establishments that had anything up to 250 children in one year ranging in intellectual ability from Not Quite Bright Enough to Get to Grammar, to By The Time He Graduates He Should be Able to Put his Pants on the Right Way Around.
Labour was the government in power, in the UK very thinly disguised as Communism. The Hammer and Sickle flew over the London County Council building and Political Correctness abounded in the New Order. (There was even a proposal to name every Council Refuse Vehicle or dustcarts as we called them after a prominent African leader until someone suggested that might be an insult). Public Schools were a bastion of class privilege and so the faceless labour powerbrokers set about dismantling them. Legislation was introduced to force Public Schools to take a certain number of ordinary kids and, because there would be no reason for me to write this unless I was one of them, I with 5 other unfortunates from my school missed out on Grammar, which would have been bad enough with my friends enrolled in Secondary Modern, and were given scholarships to Public School.
My first day in my new school proved interesting. We were about as popular as a fart in a phone box. Neither my classmates, the Seniors or the Masters wanted us there and it showed. My father was not a lawyer or a doctor and I was not from an Embassy Official that lived in some far flung part of the British Empire and sent his progeny to be educated at the Old School. My father was a lorry driver, my Mum worked in a Government office and I lived in Lewisham. Later in life I empathised with the black kids in Little Rock, Arkansas who in 1957 were forced into to a white school. In that instance it took 1000 US Paratroopers to quell the riot that subsequently ensued. By 1963 the British Government hadn't learned much from their American cousins. The ideology is great, and I am sure the architects behind these great pieces of social engineering are pure of heart.  I just think it is unfair to expect innocent little kids to be the builders of their vision.
As I recall, Sport was good. These upper class Hooray Henrys were no match for
London Street
kids. They cried when they got tackled and called for their Mummy. English was good, I had the presence of mind to say South with my tounge between my teeth rather than Sarf, but then I always was a quick learner. French, through my earlier studies was OK. But Maths, Oh, Mr Singh, what did you do to me? It’s a Parabola (pa.ra.bo.la) , not a Para Bulla. One word, not two. The Master had drawn the shape on the board and asked the class what it was. I, foolishly thinking I might impress my classmates and win their friendship answered. As I uttered the words and heard the sniggering I realised that Maths was not going to be fun. The Master, a Mr Thorpe handled it very well by getting me to come to the front of the class so that he could belittle me and humiliate me in front of the class. Did I know any other useful phrases in Bengali? Learning by Public Humiliation I think it was called. Regardless I certainly learned a useful lesson that day.

Which is why we were up at 4.00am and trying to pick our way in pitch dark through a hole in the sea wall. We have decided to push for Rosslyn Bay in one hit. We were going to spend the night in Gladstone but the high tide over the Narrows, which we need to navigate is not until midday. We would therefore not get far before having to wait another day and get into Rosslyn Bay late Thursday. If we sail through the night, we will be in Rosslyn Bay midday Thursday which gives us time to get the boat cleaned and tidied before flying back to Brisbane on Friday. Good plan last night, not so tempting at 4.00am but go we did.
Having had a few scary moments we finally got out to deep water and I consulted the Oracle while Rona put the kettle on for some tea. I programmed in our waypoint as Rosslyn Bay and The Oracle gave me all the information I needed to get us there. Even the amount of time we will need, 21 hours. So our ETA is in 21 hours time. At 1.00 in the morning. We could have stayed in bed until 10.00am and been there at 7.00am tomorrow. Oh well. At least we are in the deep water channel.  Now comes the tricky bit, I have to tell Rona she could have stayed in bed another 4 hours.

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