It fell to Mrs Sharrett to teach us what was arguably the most important facet of our whole education process – the times tables.
The times tables, twelve of them, the numbers one to twelve multiplied by the numbers one to twelve, placed into twelve lists, or tables, and then taught parrot fashion to thirty 8 year old kids until they could recite them quicker than remembering their own name, it was her job, Mrs Sharrett, upon her shoulders fell the effectiveness of the rest of our lives for without your times tables you would be truly fooked as a human being, or so she told us, by actually using that sort of language too, she’d been a sailor in the war you see.
A large chart was pinned to the stock room cupboard door, a sort of precursor of a spreadsheet it was in the days when no-one knew what spreadsheet meant but we had one on the stock room cupboard door anyway, thirty names going down the left hand side, twelve columns to the right, each headed with a number, 1 to 12.
The 1 times table was easy enough, hardly took any learning at all, in fact it took longer to learn the tune than it did the words, anyone who has been through the English education system will know the tune, “one one is one, two ones are two, three ones are three” come on, join in.
Everyone got a star stuck in the box against their name underneath the one times table header, everyone, I’d like to say that there was a kid in our class who couldn’t manage the one times table on that first day but there wasn’t, although Martin Wareham made a hell of a job of fooking up his one times table in the year above us – he ended up being “kept down” and joined us the following year to repeat what he hadn’t learned, when we moved on he didn’t, I don’t know how many years they kept him down, he could still be there now fifty years later singing “one one is, erm, is it five?”
The following week it was the two times table, still not too bad, still enough fingers and toes to count on if you got stuck, nearly, and of course little rules started to appear, “one times any number = the any number”, or “ten times any number just put 0 on the end of the any number” and then later on in the year “anything times nine, the answer adds up to nine”, try it, it works, got me out of many a sticky situation that did, wait a minute…
…that nine times table rule – only works until you get to ten.
I don’t know why there were twelve tables or why each table counted up to twelve, something to do with the Romans, or maybe not because decimals are to do with the Romans, see how easy it is to get confused, just think how confused I must have been as an eight year old.
Five times table was easy, answer equals five or zero at the end, six and seven times table you just had to learn, just had to stare so hard at the tables that your eyes bled, had to keep singing it to yourself over and over again, some kid told me once that if you sing a times table to yourself twelve times then you’ve learned it for life, which may have been true for him, twelve tables of twelve numbers sung twelve times, but I sang some of those bloody tables a hundred times and they didn’t stick.
And then disaster struck.
I was off poorly on the week in which the rest of the class learned the eight times table.
I missed the star for the eight times table for when I came back they were on the nine times table and no-one ever explained the eight times table tricks to me, so I had three more weeks in which to learn the eight times table parrot fashion so that my eyes bled and nothing but eight times something came out of my mouth every time I was asked a question – I couldn’t do it.
To this day I don’t know my eight times table, I finished that year in Mrs Sharretts class without the star and without the knowledge and I wish I could say that its not blighted me ever since, but the truth is that it has, many is the time that I’ve been out somewhere enjoying myself and suddenly had to purchase things that were only supplied in boxes of eight and when someone has asked me to purchase sixty four of the things I’ve been totally flummoxed and unable to work out how many boxes I had to purchase, on those occasions I’ve come home with as few as three boxes of eight things and as many as twelve boxes, is been a great hinderance I can tell you.
But it was as nothing when a few years later a teacher said the word “logarithm” to me.