Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A School Memory (Part 2)

Following on from my a previous tale from Mr Pugh's class which I wrote ages ago, here's the second instalment of a not-very-consistent-series:

Magor VAP (voluntary aided primary – no idea what that meant) School, sometime in the early eighties. I was about eight years old...

Each Friday we had a maths test. It was a series of questions (ten, I think) designed to test our abilities in all things mathematica.  I remember that the early questions were simple ones like 10 x 24 but then got more and more difficult and/or abstract as you got closer to the big one-zero.

Teacher would read out these questions, pub quiz master-style before getting us to mark each other's papers (presumably because Mr Pugh couldn't be bothered to do it himself).

Now, I normally sat next to a kid called Lyndon and each week we dutifully swapped papers and began merrily marking away. The thing is, we had a hustle going on. Me and Lyndon were the Kray Twins of Friday morning Maths – without the gang-based violence or weird mother-worship. We weren't going to be bound by the system that tried to control our minds and erode any sense of hope we had. We were fighting back in our own small way, just so we could stick it to the man.

What we'd do is give each other decent grades regardless of what our answers were.

It was the perfect plan. We were both in on it, so we both benefited – and the great thing was, we didn't even have to try. My maths at that age was pretty appalling, so getting a grade upgrade was good for me. We were so clever, we didn't just give ourselves ten out of ten. No, Mr Pugh would've smelled a rat – instead we varied our results from week to week. It might be an eight one time or a nine the other. What we also did was made sure we didn't give each other an identical mark either. Again, another potential source for suspicion. As long as we kept it above seven each week, our deception would remain under the radar – and we would look pretty smart.

Or so I thought.

There was one week when Lyndon was ill and didn't come in that Friday. Uh-oh. Where was my partner-in-crime when I needed him? The flaw in our plan became evident: if one of us was away, everything fell apart. We should have enlisted a third party, at the very least to stand in as a back up. Damn that Kray twin aspiration!

When I passed my paper with my clueless answers on to some other kid who wasn't in on the scam, I felt sick. I'd tried my best, but most of what pub-quiz-teacher had been droning on about was mostly gibberish to me. Maths – meh!

My paper was handed back to me and the result sat there on the page, sad and pathetic. When it was my turn, I sheepishly called out my score.

"Two?!" came Mr Pugh's dumbfounded reply. "Two!?" he repeated a little louder as I sunk a little further into my seat. He was, no doubt, disappointed and slightly confused. How could someone like me, a pupil who consistently got over 70% in my weekly tests, come back with less than half that?

Thankfully, Mr Pugh made an indignant face and moved on. Maybe because it was a Friday he didn't feel up to getting medieval on my ass. Perhaps I looked a bit peaky and he thought I was sick and my super brain was impaired.

Whatever the reason for his indifference, I escaped with a mild moment of shame and things moved on. Relieved, I was surprised that I hadn't had more of a grilling about my performance. If Mr Pugh had actually done so, my entire cover would have been blown and I would have found myself at the Head's office feeling even more sick (Lyndon, annoyingly, eluding the punishment). I remember teacher explaining one of the questions on the board and having no idea what we was talking about.

When Lydon returned so did my above-average maths score, and my ruse remained undetected.

Perhaps that's why I'm not so great at maths. Mr Pugh assumed, from my weekly scores, that I was doing OK. Therefore, he didn't bother spending extra time on improving my numeracy. I'm not actually that bad (because I actually am quite clever, and modest to boot), but I never had that grounding that could have made me a world famous mathematician – easily solving such number mysteries as the Twin Prime Conjecture or the Gaussian Moat Problem (look them up, I dare you).

So, Mr Pugh, I totally blame you for denying me my place on the mathematics world stage. Had you picked me up on my crime I would have learned the errors of my ways. I would be better at maths and have loads of money.