Sunday, 4 March 2012

Creatures of habit.

As I ran past one of the local ponds this morning in the rain (running on the rain is something I try to avoid but it wasn’t raining when I set out) I was rather surprised to hear a lot of very loud croaking. Looking down at the water I saw that it was already pretty full of frogspawn and that the local frogs were very busy producing some more. I don’t know where they go the rest of the year but somehow they always know where to return to in the spring.

As children we once hatched - is that the right word? - some frogspawn in an old kitchen sink at the bottom of the back garden. It was murder when the tadpoles grew into little froglings and got out of the sink and went exploring. You had to be really careful not to tread on them. Not nice at all. The following year we had some very confused frogs looking for their place of birth; the garden had been tidied up and the sink had gone to the tip. Poor confused amphibians!!

This year’s local frogs are also somewhat confused if you ask me. They were probably lulled into a false sense of spring-security by the mild weather in the second half of last week and decided it was time to procreate. Unfortunately, today seems to have returned to more wintry conditions with a bit of sleet mixed in with the rain. Alternatively, they may have heard that the official start of spring has been brought forward. This is what our daughter tells us. We overheard her telling the smallest grandchild that today is only the fourth day of spring and, in the belief that spring began on March 21st, we tried to put her right. But, of course, she knows best and assures us that the meteorological office has declared that March, April and May are officially Spring. There you go.

It does disturb us though when things are changed around. Lucy Mangan, writing in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, was bemoaning the fact that her father had experimented with the apple crumble he makes for dessert. He had tried putting raisins in, to see what it would be like apparently, but Ms Mangan and her sister had protested bitterly. Traditional desserts should not be messed with. It rather reminded me of when my father took over the bulk of the cooking after my mother had been ill. Having spent a few holidays in Spain he had discovered the delights of garlic. My mother told me on the quiet, “I don’t mind a bit of garlic. It’s all very well in its place but not in Shepherd’s Pie and Lancashire Hotpot!!!” We know what we like and we like what we know!

One thing that the British don’t know, according to recent reports is, how to do maths. It seems that many British adults don’t even have the maths skills of nine year olds. So there’s a lot of mumbling and muttering in high places about how to improve the situation. Having taught in sixth form colleges and seen some of the students who go off to do primary teacher training, I would suggest first of all making sure that those recruits have higher than a grade C in GCSE Maths for a start. One radio commentator said that he felt it was quite understandable as all the people who have really good maths skills don’t want to get teachers’ salaries but go off to work as bankers where they can get big bonuses. Another valid point!

Possibly the most worrying aspect of this problem is that most people are almost proud of being no good at maths. Those who have real problems with literacy often go to great lengths to hide the fact that they can’t read but nobody minds declaring themselves innumerate. This has also led to a whole lot of media debate. “Why do people feel this way?” “What can we do to change attitudes?” So the questions go but, as for me, I think the problem goes deeper than just maths.

Many people I meet hold their hands up in amazement when they discover I speak several languages fluently and then go on to say, again quite proudly, that they are useless at learning foreign languages. In other situations people also declare a proud ignorance of opera, music, art, history, geography and almost anything you care to name. Studious kids or even those who just like to have their nose in a good book are labelled geeks and seen as a bit odd.

So, what’s the answer? Don’t ask me. I don’t know anything at all.

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