At Sixes and Sevens

It’s been a week of maths, permutations and probabilities, as I go back to school, Amnesiac moves up a year…and Reading go nowhere

As I sat waiting for it to start, I used the skills I had once learned to calculate exactly how long it had been since my last maths lesson.

(Yes, maths, plural. Any of my American readers who want to suggest I drop the ‘s’ is going to get a passive aggressive tut like they’ve never had before. See point 7 here for proof from an actual American.)

Look to the future
Amnesiac looks to the future

Anyway, a few fingers, toes and raised eyebrows later, I had my answer: May ’89 – exactly a quarter of a century ago…

The reason for this week’s trip down M+ lane (that’s a calculator joke, btw) was because the kids were invited to Bring Your Dad To A Maths Lesson. So I joined Amnesiac and about 20 other Year 2 students (this is called Estimating; they were moving too fast for me to be sure) to see what teaching looks like in 2014.

Turns out that everything’s changed except the answers.

The sum of all fears

Half the kids in Amnesiac’s class had brought their dad along and without exception we all watched in – let’s be generous – surprise as the teacher started the lesson by dimming the lights and firing up YouTube. I knew they just sat and watched videos all day…

But just as I was mentally preparing to pen an angry letter to the Head of Primary, all the kids started shouting along to a song about polygons. (“A polygon is a shape with sides that connect!” since you ask.)

I have to say here, coming as I do from a family full of them, that I hold teachers in a kind of awe. The patience, the discipline…it’s my idea of hell, frankly. I genuinely have no idea how they do it.

I know from my own pitiful experiences how hard it is to maintain discipline or concentration in my two, let alone a class full of someone else’s. And at 7am, too. I mean, I am very much a morning person, but that’s going above and beyond.

But here was a class of wide awake, engaged kids all having a great time. Song sung, we moved on to a times table game which triggered a confusing mix of competitive spirit and raw panic in the dads. (I had to restrain myself from revealing that I knew a song about multiplication at this point.)

Heptastic: here’s one we made earlier

Finally, we were let loose with a load of sticks and blu-tac to make some 3D shapes. Being just a few days away from his seventh birthday, Amnesiac decided to make a heptagon, which was entirely consistent with his state of mind, but actually quite tricky from a modelling point of view.

But we persevered and managed to produce something not too shabby. The teacher came over to see what we’d made and commented that it was nice to see Amnesiac complete a task for once.

I calculated the odds on the cause and placed my bet. “Does he have trouble concentrating?” I asked. She gave me a you-could-say-that smile. Something to discuss at the end of the day, there.

Pipped at the post

Numbers have been on everyone’s mind this week.

Kid A is starting to ask about the practical application of the subjects she’s learning, so to demonstrate the relevance of maths we’ve been converting temperatures, speed limits and currencies; translating flight times and time zones; decoding supermarket special offers. And football league playoff permutations.

Yes, in the style of the modern football fan, I spent last Saturday afternoon hunched over my laptop watching Reading FC’s regular season come to a shattering end in the glorious Berkshire sunshine.

At the Top (Burj Khalifa)
I’ve been looking for ages, Dad, and can’t see Reading’s promotion prospects anywhere…

Going in to the final game of the season, they were sixth in the league, the final playoff place. The only team who could catch them were Brighton, a point below them in seventh. The maths (plural) were simple: get the same or better as Brighton’s result and it’s into the playoffs and dreams of an instant return to the Premier League…

By the final whistle the kids were watching with me as I tried to explain the implications of any one of four teams scoring. Reading’s wildly fluctuating game had ended in a draw. Brighton were also level and things were looking good.

But there’s another counting lesson that has more relevance outside the classroom, and that’s the one about unhatched chickens. Because in the final minute of their 4,140-minute season, Brighton fashioned a goal out of nothing to turn a draw into a win; to turn one point into three and leapfrog Reading, turning their sixth place into seventh.

On the lookout
…or here. But I can see Seven, if that helps

And that was it. From joy to despair in the blink of an eye. How cruel can football be? Let me count the ways.

I’ve written previously about how I view my time as an expat in terms of seasons (sporting seasons that is; the only actual seasons we have here are ‘hot’ and ‘hotter’) and the one that’s just ended for Reading can be summed up in a single word: frustrating. I know exactly how they feel.

Sixteen-minus-nine candles

So having Amnesiac’s birthday to focus on provided a welcome distraction. There I was bemoaning my team for turning six into seven, whilst my son couldn’t wait to do exactly the same thing.

To say he’s been counting down to it since the day after his sixth birthday would be an understatement, but only a minor one.

Unbeknownst to him, Amnesiac’s birthday is always a bittersweet occasion for us. This is not the time or the place to tell the full story of his arrival into the world. Let’s leave it at ‘fairly traumatic’ (we Brits do a nice line in understatement) and have some cake.

Happy birthday
Seven wonders

But every year while Amnesiac counts his candles, we count our blessings.

Once upon a time, the odds of our story turning out the way it has were supermodel thin. If it had been a horse, I wouldn’t have backed it (and I’ve backed some three-legged donkeys in my time).

So here’s to the skilled professionals who perform everyday miracles. Like midwives and surgeons and teachers. (Mrs LC tells me it was International Midwives’ Day earlier this week, which seems entirely appropriate.)

Passage of Time

So now family Little City is no longer brought to you by the number six. Seven does sound like the perfect age for a little boy. And it’s such a cool number – lucky, too. And it gives me a ready- made excuse to make a year’s worth of terrible jokes about dwarves and brides (and brothers) and sins and seas.

Passage of Time
Serra fans who don’t like the heat should check out Passage of Time at Al Mirqab, next to the MIA

(As he unwrapped one of his presents and wondered aloud what was in the box, it was so hard not to channel another Seven and reply, “Is it Gwyneth Paltrow’s head?”)

This weekend we’ll take another walk around one of our favourite Doha landmarks, Richard Serra’s Seven at the far end of the MIA Park, and we’ll dance around the house to Seven, the best song ever written about a number (from a whole album of them, Here Come The 123s) which tells the cautionary tale of a “whole bunch of sevens” crashing a party and trashing a house, just like whenever Amnesiac has any of his mates round.

And we’ll chant its chorus all year long: “We want cake! Where’s our cake?”



PS The title is an English phrase which means ‘confused, unsure’. Or, to use another idiom: ‘all over the shop’.


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