Monday, 18 August 2014

In Search of Lost Knowledge

It’s that time of year again when exam results bring stories of triumph and tragedy up and down the country. Seeing those TV images of students scrutinizing their result slips still brings back memories of my own school days and the intense pressure of cramming for one three hour essay-based question paper in the morning then trying to disregard all that knowledge in order to tackle another three hour paper in a different subject in the afternoon. My collection of O Levels (those were the days!) include French, Latin and Maths (big celebrations about that one), I have A Levels in English, History and Zoology, a degree in European Studies with German (I spent a memorable summer studying at Heidelberg University) and I’ve picked up a few other bits and bobs along the way (Institute of Personnel Management Part One, anyone?). 

But somewhere along the line, I seemed to have forgotten a lot of what I’ve learned. Probably through sheer neglect. ‘University Challenge’ is a big favourite in our house; Tom and I love shouting the answers at the telly, but these days although I can make a stab in the right direction, say the circulatory system of plants, I struggle with the specifics. Is it xylem or phloem? I just can’t remember. Unfortunately every song I’ve ever heard seems to stick like glue; A Tribe Called Red, Rudimental, Little Dragon, Alt J, yep, they’re all there in a couple of beats.

Despite claims to the contrary, it’s my opinion that completing a 90,000 novel requires more than the ability to put words on paper. Obviously, it requires verbal intelligence (or not, she says, still smarting from the ‘shockingly bad drivel’ remark), but it also demands a degree of psychological insight in order to create convincing characters, some understanding of logistics to get them on their journey and some spatial awareness to decide where they all are – in every sense of the word. However, whilst I love creating my fictional worlds, I’ve decided to revisit the real world to try to rediscover some of the knowledge I’ve forgotten. I’m very much enjoying re-reading Ralph Buchsbaum’s Animals without Backbones (although I was a bit traumatised by the description of an experiment where a poor bit of amoeba left without a nucleus valiantly tries to live normally) and I’ve just started a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in Understanding Numbers which is probably a bit more up-to-date than poor old Ralph. I’m looking forwards to giving my brain cells a rinse and doing something different – and if I can beat Tom to a few answers on 'University Challenge' which are not to do with rubbish pop songs, so much the better!

10 comments:

Pondside said...

Yikes! Can you imagine telling your 16 year old self that you will one day take such a course - out of interest!
You are a better woman than I - good luck with it......though there are worse gifts that remembering the title of every so-so song one has ever heard - a gift I share with you!

Chris Stovell said...

I hadn't thought of that, Pondside - but now I have it's made me laugh! Poor sixteen year old self was going out on a high with her Maths O Level and was done with numbers!. How funny that we share the gift/curse of remembering all those songs!

Jane Lovering said...

I keep finding myself forgetting words - today I had to shout downstairs to ask what the thing is called that goes on top of other things and goes round and round to tell you which way the wind is blowing.
Yes, I know it's a weathervane now. I just wish the words would stop wandering off...

And I've never got the hang of numbers. O levels, A levels and a degree and I still can't count much past ten. Hey ho. You can be on my Trivial Pursuit team any day, Chris!

Clare Chase said...

I'm right there with you on University Challenge - made me laugh a lot :-) Education is much on my mind at the moment since elder DD gets her GCSE results on Thursday! Best of luck with the MOOC course - sounds like a great thing to do.

Chris Stovell said...

I'll happily join your Trivial Pursuit team, Jane. We may have to bring our own pie though because at the rate we seem to forgetting things between us we may not win much.

Clare, lovely to see you after your hols - and all best wishes for Thursday. Elder Niece gets her results that day too - just when I thought I was running out of school-aged rellies to worry about!

mountainear said...

I have 't a clue how on earth I managed to pass the exams I did all those years ago. (Maths did elude me - and still does) However total recall on trivia!

When I worked in education we recruited a number of mature students who came to us completely lacking any confidence in themselves so job no 1 was sitting them down and adding up all the skills they had acquired 'just' being a mother. Management, finance, time management,
numeracy...the list goes on.

Chris Stovell said...

That's a good point, Mountainear, I think we do tend to underestimate the skills we acquire just through getting on with life.

Frances said...

Chris, I have always loved math, and wonder how it is that I once knew all sorts of things. Surely all those facts and techniques are still stored somewhere upstairs in my brain, but it's tricky to find all the keys nowadays.

Oh, except for those song lyrics! xo

Irish Eyes said...

Ahhhh! the memories. Here in Ireland we had, in my day, the Intermediate Certificate and the Leaving Certificate. They've changed the Inter [as we lovingly called it huh!] to today's Junior Cert. I loathed Maths, and that's putting it mildly. Latin was, very literally, a foreign tongue [see Jupiter, Mars or nearby planet] and my joy was definitely killed off when I discovered we could give up Maths after the Inter, but.....we had to hold onto Latin if we wanted to go to UCD or Trinity. Some choice. Ironically, my Latin is better than my French nowadays [or is that old age creeping up]. We also were hampered by the fact that if you took 8 subjects, as I did in both exams, and failed Irish the other 7 counted for absolutely N O T H I N G! Nowadays they do relevant things - and still complain about preparation for the wide world. Yep, that's me shouting at U.Challenge. Waving over to Wales today, clear view of Mountains on horizon. Loved this blog.

Chris Stovell said...

Frances, I'm beginning to be less scared of maths, is not actually enjoying it! If you find the keys, tell me! x

I.E. like you, I held on to Latin for my next choices... but that didn't go as I expected! But, goodness, that Irish exam had Draconian consequences if you failed! I want what will count most in the future - judging by the news today, it might be Gaming!
Murky and grey today, so I can't see you! x