15 December 2010

Maths: Freak.

Oh Lord. It happens at about this time every month - a week before pay day. I'm sitting in front of my computer screen again, biting my nails, trying to bring myself to check my online banking so I know the score.
I've spent the last few days waiting in checkout queues; handing across my debit card, tapping in my pin and having minor panic attacks for the next thirty seconds as the card processes. After forking out loads this month for necessities such as:
  1. A beautiful cream winter coat from a rather budget-breaking store (opt for the expensive one - it's got to last me three years...)
  2. One return flight to Prague for friend's 30th in January (should have booked earlier)
  3. Four weeks worth of London Underground Travelcards (wish I'd got a annual railcard)
  4. L's birthday present for Friday (real necessity)
  5. Generally too many indulgences in Waterstones stores all over London
  6. Paying my extortionate-for-such-a-rough area, London-prices rent
...I'm not expecting miracles.

I am notoriously terrible about facing up to finances, and have always taken the ostrich approach to dealing with them. I never press the 'cash and receipt' button on the ATM machine. Not to be trusted with more store cards or credit cards. A maxed-out overdraft. But above all, I completely freak at receiving unopened bills.

"What are all these letters doing on the doormat, darling?"

L had just walked through our front door, back from his business trip lovely week away in Barcelona. He dumped his suitcase in the living room, throwing his scarf, gloves and coat off onto the sofa. The cat, who had been winding herself around his legs adoringly, looked ecstatic at her new found pile of forbidden fabrics to sleep in, and sauntered off in the direction of the sofa. I glanced at the mass of letters in question, which now had size 9 black footprints all over their white envelopes. They lay scattered in the porch just where the postman had left them.

"I thought I'd leave them for you to open." I replied casually, raising one eyebrow (a cute trick I do, which tends to make L think I'm cute and not ridiculous). I then prepared myself for the usual lecture, because L knows full well that I didn't open the letters as I was scared of the bills which lurk inside.

I absolutely know that opening bills up and paying them off straight away makes it a whole lot less stressful than letting them fester on your doormat. But it's just the not-knowing for the three minutes when the letter clinks through the letterbox, when you rip open the envelope, pull the letter out and your eyes scan the numbers all across the page, then you fixate on the bold red one - which could well have three figures (but more likely has two, and your eyes have gone cross-eyed from fear) - until the pure stress of it all reduces you into a quivering mess. Oh, yes. I know what it is to panic about numbers.

I was placed in the bottom set in Maths class at school. The people in the bottom set, either really do not 'get' numbers, or they really don't care about Maths. Combining these two types of pupils in one set, taught by the teacher who had drawn the short straw, was a recipe for disaster.
But I got mildly excited one rainy Monday afternoon. Monday afternoons were usually dreadful. It was Games, followed by a double Maths lesson. Nearly four hours which generally filled me with dread - much unlike a double Art class on a Friday. But this Monday was slightly better than usual:

"Books out. Page 271- we are going to learn Algebra today." Mr Cooke said.

Mr Cooke was about thirty-five, he had pattern baldness with a red face and little round spectacles. He thought we liked him, and tried very hard to be cool. Too hard for a Maths teacher, plus he called everyone 'Champ' - which made me dislike him from the start. But I was giving him the benefit of the doubt this Monday.

Algebra has letters, this should be easy.

Letters I could do, I was top set in English.

But the idea of putting letters and numbers together did not make sense - it even confused me more than long multiplication. I looked around the class. Everyone, even the naughty kids, had their heads down, pencils scratching. I waited ten long seconds, before slowly raised my hand for the third time:

"Mr Cooke, I still don't get it." I mumbled.

His face turned a nasty shade of purple (which at the time reminded me of Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who blew up like a giant blueberry after eating experimental gum).

And then he threw the text book at me. From half way across the room. Not the skinny kind of text book. The one that was actually an inch-and-a-half thick. His arms waved dramatically, whilst exclaiming for all to hear;

"You must be completely thick, child - or not listening!"

Is there such a thing as Mathsphobia? If so, I pretty much had it mastered from this very moment.

Can you really blame me for being frightened of numbers? For wimping out about facing my bills? Life throws things at you so you learn to deal with those things that you fear the most. Well, someone 'Up There' must have been having a right laugh when I landed my first permanent job as...a bankruptcy clerk.


  1. I'm exactly the same. I'm afraid of opening the letters because a bill could be in the envelope; I hate checking my online banking; I can't force myself to press the 'cash and receipt' button on the ATM machine...
    I'm afraid of numbers and frankly - I hate numbers. That's why I still didn't pass my statistics and economics exams.

  2. It's important not to be hard on yourself about it. I hate numbers too.

  3. Numbers are little monsters, prowling in the dark, hiding behind the hedge, hissing. I generally try to avoid them, as an encounter is often a teary-eyed obfuscation.

  4. I havent checked my Irish bank account in 6 months, even though I know there's bills accumulating and interest mounting. Ignorance is bliss ;)

    Love the blog by the way - am going to adopt "the ostrich" approach into my lexicon! If you feel like browsing do check out mine. I'm a film maker who blogs about the things I find creative and inspiring. You might like it.

    Cheers, Yola