The maths olympiad

Of people not realising your potential. I don’t know why this memory pops up so often, or why now. I guess because I’m watching an artsy movie about a young person struggling with anxiety.

I was in the last year of primary school, so about twelve years old. I got into a math olympiad, and I don’t even know what that means or how I qualified to compete (I didn’t know it was a competition until afterwards. I was just told to go, and I did). I think a parent drove me there and I must have got home fine, but I don’t recall anyone asking how it went or anything.

(Well. At some point in that year my mom bought me earrings that glitter, I don’t know if it’s Swarowski crystals or what but I LOVED them and I still have them, and she said it was for maths, which I didn’t quite understand, it sounded a bit abstract, but so this is more complicated than “my parents didn’t care”.)

The day was fine, it must have been a Saturday. There were puzzles to solve and it was fun in a geeky, isolated, pencil-on-paper sort of way and I think there were sandwiches for lunch. I enjoyed myself and that was my only expectation. I don’t know why I was supposed to be there or who told me to go. The same as the Eisteddfods, but those I didn’t enjoy.

Before I went the maths teacher, Mr Peens, asked me to return the trophy his son won the previous year. I thought nothing of it and this is not memorable. But I won the trophy again and so had to take it back again to the school.

I returned it to him on the Monday morning, and he asked, was it cancelled? Not, wow, you won, or, did you win? or how did it go? or anything like that. His first thought was, it was cancelled. Look, he was a fine teacher, a good man, and I love him dearly. (Not least because he got me out of those despicable wastes of time that is the annual sport day where we have to fawn over people running and nationalism and I could get out of it with a sick note and an alibi to clean his classroom). I guess that’s why the memory jarrs (jars?). I explained, more than once, no, I won it, and he still looked a bit incredulous.

The next year, I guess as part of the prize, I got to compete in the next round, which I completely fluffed. The one thing I remember so clearly was getting a question wrong about f(x). At that point I have never come across f(x) and so, not knowing this represents a function, so, you do something to x, you apply a function, like a multiplication or you add something or whatever, and that gives you the answer, I tried to multiply f with x and this just gave me completely nonsensical answers.

I asked my register teacher, the one who takes attendance but who also happened to be our maths teacher in the first year of high school what this meant, I forgot her name but she was kind and she smelled nice, like sweet peas, and as she explained this to me I remember the feeling of a weight dropping in my gut. Like I have been cheated. Like if I only have access to, what, Math Literacy, like a private school kid. Like a kid with parents with money, like a kid with parents who cared, I could have won. That feeling. That feeling has stayed with me forever. It’s a bitter, destructive feeling. But it stayed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML Snippets Powered By :