That pure Cane Spirit since 1848.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I’m sitting reading an old Pilot when by the pricking of my thumbs…

‘Dad? Can you “look at” my homework?’

‘Absolument!’ (I live for these times) ‘When’s it due back?’


(fuck) ‘Get it out then. What is it?’

An eternity as a rucksack is dragged in then rummaged through. The tension’s killing me. Edmund Hillary never had such a backpack.

‘It’s about dividing and percentage.’

‘What’s holding you up with it? Is it crossing down the remainder?’

‘Crossing down the…what’s that?’

‘It’s quite straightforward. I’ll show you, but first, we should return to first principles. Number Theory!’ (a joke)

A shadow of disappointment on the fairest of faces. His hair’s too long and curly for a tenyearold. It’s girlish. Three of his fingernails are black; what’s he been up to? He’s leaning over the table. There is no smell of woodsmoke or petrol or larceny coming off him. He points to the photocopy:

‘Em, we’ve to put the workings in the spaces.’

‘So I see’

‘Without a calculator!’

‘Precisement. That’s as it should be.’


He’s close enough for me to check the cleanliness of his ear. I bet his pockets are a disgrace. His shoes are.

‘Say you were on a desert island.’

‘That’s what Mrs Wilson said!’

‘Who’s Mrs Wilson?’

‘My teacher.’

‘What, the one with the pony tail?’

‘Why would we do percentage on an island?’

I feel almost compelled to touch the top of his nose where his frowns meet, just to see what it feels like.

‘What happened to Mrs Thompson?’

‘That was last year.’

‘If you were on a desert island there’d be no batteries for a calculator.’

‘It doesn’t need batteries. See? If you put your finger over this bit, it goes off.’

‘What happened to your fingernails?’


‘Say it [the calculator] went down with the ship. What would you do then?’ ( kids really hate a smart ass )

‘Well it’s just…numbers.’

‘Ah yes, you say that, but could you divide 576 oranges by 24 miles per hour?’


‘This first one is 576 divided by 24, so to start, we say: How many times will 24 go into 57?’


‘Cover the 4 and the 7’


His mother comes in and puts on the kettle. I stop the torture. I put on a creepy moaning voice:

‘Oh NO! The Mummy Returns!’ (his favourite film)


He’s trying not to laugh, trying to stay cross, but it’s too late. I’ve stood up with my arms out in front of me like a sleepwalker.


I grab his jumper as he runs for the door. I’ve got my arm round his neck in the death grip. I whisper in his clean ear:

‘The death grip of the Pharaoh, little one. Don’t move; your neck might snap.’

He keeps wriggling and sniggering in spite of himself. I know this sort of malarkey between us will end soon. Next year, next week.

‘Ugh, you’ve been smoking! Mum! He’s choking me! Mum!’

‘She cannot help you now.’

Recently, I am more conscious not to take these things too far, so I release him back to the hated homework. But a light bulb has come on over his head. Ping.

‘I’ll get Mum to help me.’

‘What good would she be on a desert island?’

‘She got the bonfire going.’

‘Yeah, with firelighters. I don’t think desert islands have a corner shop. Anyway I meant if you were on the island and she wasn’t.’

‘I’ll ask Mum.’

He smiles in a cheeky victorious way. Total victory. His stuff is scattered everywhere. He turns to plead his case with her. Anyone can see the answers to the first two are roots, ie 24 and 36.

‘You’ll get no help there Sunny Jim! She did history or something; so she says! Go on then, take the path of least resistance! See if I care! You’ll be back!’

Behind his back, Mum gives me The Vics. His lack of numeracy is a shocker.

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