Skip to main content

How I terrified my parents

Memory is a funny thing. If you take away the fake memories that are tied to photographs and videos, there are all sorts of strange snippets and cameo moments. When I was at Lancaster University, as a group of postgraduates, we discovered that the University would give a small lump some of money to any new student society. So we set up BOPOGS - the Bowland [College] Postgraduate Society, with the sole intent of spending the startup funds on having a good time.

One of our investments was a rail trip to Scotland and I can only remember two things, each a cameo moment. The first is sitting on a seaside wall, eating some of the best fish and chips I've ever had (it's always better at the seaside). The second was the train, on the way back, passing a gypsy encampment complete with horse drawn carriages and open fires - it was an illustration out of an Enid Blyton book, and it was there and then it was gone for ever.

But the cameo moment that inspired this post was the day I put a look of sheer horror on my parents' faces, totally unaware of what I was doing. I was ten and had been playing out at the front of the house. I fell off our front wall and hurt my arm a bit, so went in for a touch of sympathy - but wasn't particularly in pain.

Before I could say anything, I could see from the look on their faces that I had done something terrible, and that moment was burned into my memory. They've since told me how they felt. As I walked through the door, it was obvious I had broken my arm - it was hanging at an impossible angle. So some concern, yes, but why the horror? When my father was six, he broke his arm. It never mended. For the rest of his life it needed support. They were terrified that my arm would be the same - something that never occurred to me at the time. I was blithely ignorant (and probably just as well).

It makes me wonder, sometimes, what cameo moments we're leaving for our own children.


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou