The Age of Ignorance

I’ve written about regrets [https://gracelessageing.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/ive-had-a-few-but-then-again-too-few-to-mention/]. They are a negative bunch of thoughts to keep. But once you are older there is nothing to stop you feeling wistful about events, experiences or omissions in your life. I notice more, nowadays the extent of the knowledge I do not have, will never have.

Nothing emphasises this monstrous continent of ignorance more than TV quiz programmes. We’re not talking about ‘Family Fortunes’ or pointless ‘Pointless’ here. By TV quiz I mean ‘University Challenge’. Husband [a science PhD], rattles out answers like bullets. Who invented the stratospheric isolator? What is meant by the term paleoncentesis? What is the symbol for symbium axide? [you get my drift].

I can do some of the contemporary literature questions, but I’m pathetic on Shakespeare, having a sketchy familiarity only with the plays I was given to study at school, in the dark ages. Hence I can attempt questions on Hamlet and The Scottish Play [see what I did there?], although a failure to be mesmerised by the plot of Henry 1Vth [part 2] at the time has resulted in no memory of the details of the play whatsoever.

Chemistry; for me, this is the pinnacle [or rather, nadir] of ignorance. As a small child it started well, with a natural desire to make mud pies, perfume from garden flowers or interesting concoctions fabricated from kitchen substances. The problems really began at secondary school, where we sat in rows at benches housing fascinating apparatus; bulbous-shaped containers and complicated, glass instruments and occasionally we got to watch a substance smoking or bubbling from having been mixed with something else by the teacher. This experiment would be viewed from afar, though never undertaken by ourselves.

No, what we had to do was copy up copious, incomprehensible squiggly equations from the blackboard and make some sort of calculation from them. I am sorry to say that these unfathomable statements held no connection whatsoever in my mind to the exploding liquids in a glass bulb we’d witnessed from a great distance, away down the science lab.

We discovered early on that the chemistry teacher, Mr Prothuck was so deaf that we were able to overcome difficulties with our weekly, oral ‘test’ by being told the answers to his questions by the person we were sitting next to, who could simply refer to her exercise book where last week’s squiggly writings were recorded.

I was further hampered in my grasp of the subject by having to go each week, on Wednesday afternoons [our dose of double chemistry] for an entire term, to have the plaster checked on my broken arm-and for weeks after that, to have physiotherapy on said arm. I was delighted, of course to miss months of chemistry and I will never know what I missed in those many Wednesday afternoons, but it is also likely that if I’d been in attendance I would still be in ignorance about it.

Chemistry, reader is only the hair on the end of the elephant of ignorance’s tail. Motor mechanics, computer malfunctions, world economics, higher mathematics, Buddhism-and so much more. Personally, I blame the teachers…

 

 

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Fiction Month -Week 2

Part 1 of this story can be found in last week’s post.

The Woman from the Baker’s [part 2]
“What did he want then, Frank?’”
“Oh, he was just asking what you might like for your birthday”. Taking a moment to absorb this he shook his head.
“Frank knows what I like. Dunno why he’d need to be asking you!” I shrugged my shoulders.
“Shall I put one of your Dad’s Army’s on? You like those.’”He grunted in the affirmative and was soon engrossed in his favourite DVD, part of a box set Frank had bought him for Christmas.
Settling down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and the latest ‘Hercules Tours’ brochure I ran my fingers over the glossy cover where a photo of the Taj Mahal at sunset called to me like a siren to a sailor.

At work next morning we were sorting out the delivery, stacking the shelves, lining up the pasties under the counter when the door opened and Hot Rod walked in. That isn’t his real name, not the ‘hot’ part anyway; just what Pam and Vi call him. He’s working on the shop conversion next door. Vi nudged me, an ostentatious wink distorting her round, pink face.
“Customer, Margaret!”
I put Rod’s custard Danish into a bag and gave him his change, waiting for him to leave before turning to look at the girls, who were leaning against the loaf slicer, undiscarded tears of laughter welling up and about to flood the shop.
“Tell you what”, declared Pam, “If I was single there’d be no stopping me. You could do a lot worse Margaret, couldn’t she Vi?”
Vi nodded, adding an ambiguous “Or even if she wasn’t single”. Vi never made a secret of her unhappy marriage to Den, whose unsavoury exploits she’d frequently described.
“Have you thought any more about the quiz night on Friday, Margaret, up at the snooker club? We could do with you on our team, with you knowing so much about countries, capitals and all that. Do you good to get out, too. Your dad can cope for a couple of hours, can’t he? My Kevin will come and pick you up. “
These two women have invited me out more times than I’ve made ham sandwiches and I’d always declined, citing my father as a reason, but for once I felt a bubble of rebellion growing inside and heard myself say, “Alright. Why not” to the flabbergasted looks of my friends.
At home I scrutinised the contents of my narrow wardrobe, hoping to discover some forgotten item that might be suitable for an evening out, but the occupants of the hangers retained a resolute familiarity in their service as work clothes. I could not recall the last time I’d been to a social gathering, still less the outfit I’d have worn. Perhaps I should buy something new, although I was forced to acknowledge that dressing for Friday’s outing was the least of my problems.
I waited until Thursday evening to broach the subject. I made sure I was home before six, made his favourite liver and bacon for supper, agreed that Frank had done very well for himself and was the best son anyone could have. Once this eulogy had subsided I took a breath.
“I’m going out tomorrow night, Dad. Pam from work’s invited me to a quiz. She and her partner are picking me up at seven.”
Although I’d taken pains not to blurt it out in a rush, my announcement rang with triumphant accomplishment as if I’d entered into high society, like Eliza Doolittle going to the races. I felt myself redden as he turned to look at me, something he rarely does, a small, perplexed frown knotting his brow.
“Pam from work?”
Keeping my resolve, I maintained the cheerful smile I didn’t feel, nevertheless I began to bluster in an attempt to mitigate the awful consequences my absence would bring about.

Failures-of Course.

Aside

                For an inexplicable reason which I now fail to recall, I considered, a few months ago, that it would be an inspirational idea to undertake a creative writing course. Of course, anyone who reads Anecdotage regularly will by now be scoffing and sniggering, since they will have acknowledged the necessity for my doing it from the first, but still…

                Above all, the timing could hardly be worse. We seem to be in the throes of a period of mad activity; a deluge of family, home, health and socially related issues.

                This is an online course. Week one arrived to the inbox. ‘I’ll start tomorrow’ was my approach, as I polished shoes, buffed nails, attended the salon and hoovered the carpets.

                During a five minute lull, in between making up beds and cooking lasagne I read one or two pieces of information and watched a couple of videos. Hooray! ‘This will be simple’ I thought.

                I resumed pre house guest preparations with a light[ish] step, given that, as I elaborated in a previous post, I am crippled with annoying foot disease. I mowed the lawn; de-gunked the lavatory. I found time to log back in. I completed a couple of quizzes, even successfully! It would be a slab of creamy gateau to complete this course!

                ‘Whoa! What was this? I had to write something?’ I logged out in disgust and went to scrub the bath and shine the shower screen. I had to keep a notebook.

                I am not against the idea of keeping a notebook, of course. It has been my ambition to keep one ever since setting out on the bumpy journey that is writing. My writing idol, Donna Tartt keeps one. It’s just that proponents of the notebook idea make it seem easy. ‘Take it with you wherever you go!’ they suggest. ‘On the bus, in the café, on the train, in the laundrette, whilst out for a walk…’ OK. How do I write notes whilst driving, in a café with Husband or Offspring, whilst our laundry is whirling in the kitchen or while cycling? [walking has been a no-no for some time].

                Worse-I had to write a paragraph. It must contain three fictions and one fact. For an inveterate liar such as myself, the fictions presented little problem. The fact was I was unable to conjure one single idea. Time was spiralling away down the week’s plughole with an ever louder gurgle. The weekend came-and went. Monday arrived and with it…Week Two. Horrors! The first week had passed without my submission so much as forming an amorphous cloud inside my head.

                On Monday I risked a cursory glance at others’ submissions, where hundreds of paragraphs scrolled down in an interminable roll. In a fever of humiliation I added my short, hasty contribution; an excuse for a piece of writing. I was not the only miscreant. Others had also missed the deadline.

                The end of Week Two is now starting to appear upon the horizon with an inevitability as stark as my enthusiastic intentions. Would that the course was good old paper and post-then at least the dog could have eaten my homework…

                I will keep you posted.