When I taught at Oakmeeds, I was keen to organise trips for children but it wasn’t always possible to think of exciting Maths activities out of the classroom. I did once take my tutor group into Burgess Hill where they had to answer questions such as what percentage discount Wilkinson’s were offering but it was all rather contrived. I did organise a Christmas meal for my tutor group when they were in Year 8 in a local restaurant to which, rather surprisingly, Roo came (and enjoyed herself). I used to take my Statistics GCSE class into the town to carry out a survey but it always felt like a treat, a way of trying to ingratiate myself with a class.
A more natural Maths trip was to take part in a competition against other schools. This, of course, meant that the trip was only for a small number of highly intelligent students but as these students were often slowed down by less able pupils, I thought it was fair enough. One such competition was the School Maths Team Challenge organised by the United Kingdom Maths Trust (UKMT). Each year, two Year 10 students and two Year 9 students formed a team to compete against about 40 other schools in a regional competition. The winners would qualify for the National Finals in London. In 2005, my team was excellent. There were two Year 10 boys who were probably the cleverest students I ever taught. They were sharp, they soaked up new skills like a sponge and were in love with Maths. They were impeccably behaved and kept a low profile at school in order to avoid problems from less academically minded
idiots pupils. They were also monosyllabic in ordinary everyday conversation. To complete the team I chose two very able Year 9 girls who were funny, chatty and slightly rebellious in a charmingly geeky and fashionable way. They made a great team and one afternoon we set off in my car to Tonbridge Girls Grammar School which was only a mile from Judd School where Andy and I had spent our formative teenage years. There were four rounds in the competition and after three rounds we were in second place. Over half the other schools were from the independent sector so I was very keen for us to do well. The two boys were on fire, zipping through one correct answer after another and they were very pleasant and tolerant towards the occasional error by the younger girls. They did very well in the last round and I was confident of victory. The organiser read through the top five schools in reverse order and when our name wasn’t read out in positions 5,4,3 or 2, I became genuinely excited. I can still recall the feeling of my heart beating faster and a surge of adrenaline. “And the winners of the South East Regional Final, and through to the National Finals at The Guildhall in London next month, are Tonbridge Girls Grammar”. The four members of the team looked at me with genuine puzzlement and I had that feeling of disappointment which was quite familiar (the same feeling of disappointment that I felt when Lewis Dunk had a goal disallowed and both Pascal Gross and Danny Welbeck missed penalties in Brighton’s 1-0 defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday). I went to the organiser and asked her what position we had come and was told it was 8th. We then watched the team from Tonbridge Girls Grammar receive their trophy and winners’ T Shirts as well as having their photograph taken whilst the other 39 teams sportingly clapped them. The journey home was sombre with an overwhelming sense of confusion. I told the story to a colleague who suggested I contact the organisers and “demand a recount” in the nicest possible way. The following day I left a voice message and within 10 minutes I received an apologetic phone call explaining that there had been an error and, in fact, we had won. People make mistakes so I wasn’t cross but it was a shame that the Oakmeeds team didn’t get the recognition on the day. The school didn’t have a particularly strong academic reputation locally and this win could have changed perceptions. I contacted the Mid Sussex Times and got us some publicity with the headline “Maths Teachers Fail To Add Up”. We were invited to the Finals (along with Tonbridge Girls Grammar); it was a thrill to be in The Guildhall; the team’s parents came with us; we came 15th in the National competition; it was a lovely thing to do – great memories.
One of my favourite Netflix shows is “Sex Education” in which Asa Butterfield plays the son of a sex therapist (played by Gillian Anderson). Although he is sexually naïve, he ends up running an unofficial sex clinic at the Sixth Form College that he attends. It’s very very funny but also tackles many important issues such as cyber bullying, unwanted pregnancies, anxiety and girl power. The first time I saw Asa Butterfield act was in a film called “X + Y” which was called “A Brilliant Young Mind” in the USA. In the film, Asa Butterfield’s character takes part in the follow up competition from the School Team Maths Challenge organised by the UKMT: participation in the International Maths Olympiad. He travels to Taiwan and finds himself out of his comfort zone, having to socialise with other students with a similar intellect to his. The film used real organisers from the UKMT as actors and, excuse the
superiority self awareness here, but you can tell the real Maths teachers a mile off. Something about the ordinary way they dress and the burning intensity that shines through a superficial veneer of affability. Oh dear, that sounds familiar. Anyway, it’s a great film.
I used to spend quite a bit of time watching the TV channel VH2, which was launched as a “sister” channel to VH1, specialising in indie-rock. I had the video remote control ready to record anything that I thought I might like which is how I first came across Coldplay. The video for “Yellow” was very simple – it was a one take of Chris Martin walking along a beach as the sun comes up. A brilliant example of the power of video – excellent visuals to enhance a good song.
I bought the album “Parachutes” and I quite liked it. A bit like Jackson Browne’s album that I wrote about yesterday – it is very accessible, featuring good quality playing and some fine melodies. Possibly not very emotional. I didn’t consider buying any more albums until I watched Live8. The performance of “Fix You” was deeply moving. Again, the combination of the visual and the aural was a winning one. This time, it was hundreds of thousands of people crammed into Hyde Park singing along to a song that I had never previously heard. The song starts with Chris Martin singing in a falsetto with a very restrained musical accompaniment. After 3 minutes, Johnny Buckland’s lead electric guitar kicks in with a repeated ringing note heralding an explosion of sound, led by Will Champion’s drumming. It’s a sublimely exciting moment. Chris Martin sings wordlessly before “tears stream down your face when you lose something you can’t replace“. On the recorded version (but not at Live8), the song ends with a coda, sung in a much deeper voice, in which Chris Martin quietly assures us that lights will guide us home and he will help to fix us. Several years later, I discovered that Pete also loved this song and there were many times that anyone travelling West along Highway 40 between Texas and San Francisco would have seen (and heard) two old gits in a rented car singing along to this song at top volume.
“X&Y” has sold over 13 million copies worldwide since its release. It was the highest selling album of 2005. Reputedly, Chris Martin has a wealth of £94 million. He married Gwyneth Paltrow in 2003 and they had a conscious uncoupling in 2014. They have two children, Apple and Moses. He has been dating the actress Dakota Johnson since 2017. None of these facts make him sound terribly likeable but every time I’ve seen him interviewed, he always seems like a down to earth sort of bloke. In an interview on “Later”, Chris Martin introduces an old school friend and reminisces about how they could never imagine how things would work out, as if reinforcing that he has never forgotten his humble background. Hang on, he went to Exeter Cathedral prep school followed by Sherborne School, a prestigious fee paying school. Anyway, I like him, or I like the persona he portrays through the media.
There are many likeable songs on this album. “Speed Of Sound” was inspired by Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”. Bass player Guy Berryman said “We were really trying to recreate the drums on that song for this song, and the chords. Some bands are reluctant to admit that they take things from other artists and bands that they listen to and we’re shameless in that respect, we don’t mind telling.” The song was released as a single and was held off the top spot by “Axel F” by Crazy Frog (not that Chris Martin minded too much – but listen to what he sings after 4:00 at the Glastonbury performance).
A hugely enjoyable album. The cover art of the album is a representation of the Baudot Code where each character of the alphabet is represented by a unique combination of five binary digits which is something that my Oakmeeds team would have loved to crack during their winning performance at Tonbridge Girls Grammar School in 2005.