Tabling the times

Lily and I have been working on numbers a lot recently. This is mostly down to running out of other things to do while she has chicken pox and both having a fascination with number patterns. She knows about even and odd numbers and is starting to get an idea for names of really large numbers and numbers that go up in threes. I asked her what was special about some wooden numbers of hers: 3, 6 and 9. She thought for a minute and suggested that they were the clock numbers. I love how children see connections. She also has a really bossy and incredibly naive streak. ‘Mummy, did you know an odd number and an odd number is an even number?’ She’s four and a half now. A quarter of the way to adulthood. Or, if you prefer, almost 65% of the way to 7.

‘Give me a child for seven years’ said Ignatius Loyola (allegedly, or perhaps another Jesuit, or perhaps someone else, and certainly not in English), ‘and I will show you the man’ (or woman, or perhaps young adult, and certainly not baby).

I always had a problem with the seven times table myself. This is why. I see numbers in colours like this:

although strictly the 0 on the 10 ought to be white, but that’s place holders for you. In my head it made perfect sense that the evens were fire colours and the odds were, well, the odd colours. I cannot undo that colour system. Everyone knows you don’t need help remembering the 1x table, and the 2x table was simple: the pattern was simply a units column using all the fire colours. 4, 6 and 8x tables also conveniently copied this pattern, in their own orders. 5x table was not difficult, and 9x could be worked out by the lovely patterns it makes in the totals of the digits. 3x table was simple enough to calculate quickly if you weren’t certain, but 7x table stumped me. Instead of yellow, red, darker yellow, orange and white, all the colours took turns having a go, and not in a convenient order. So I have a deep respect for the 7x table, as with everything I had to work hard on to learn.

The 7x table has been coming back into my life in recent weeks. I am now a parent helper at the school Lily will attend (St Lemon’s, for those who were interested). Instead of reading I help with maths, due to my training as a maths teacher. I am also fascinated at Lily’s fascination with all things numerical. I showed her a Johnny Ball book yesterday and she was stunned and excited by the pages and pages of patterns, facts and number games. I blame her dad for her mathematical ability personally, who could always see at least two obvious ways of solving A level maths questions I was supposed to be able to teach. I hope it will be a while before Lily learns the 7x table however, as I’d love to know how she goes about doing it, and want to know if she is as visual as I am on these things.

There is another reason for bringing up the 7x table, and that is the much-awaited 56 Up programmes, which began this Monday on ITV1. I love this kind of documentary, begun 49 years ago with 14 children deliberately chosen from a range of soci0-economic backgrounds. More about the story of the series here, including information on the international take-up of the idea. After a busy few days I got to watch Monday’s programme last night, which featured four very different people. One man, Neil, made a point that the series really doesn’t give people the evidence that they think they need to form an accurate picture about the participants. No one really knows how he feels or what he has gone through, though many have written to try and tell him that they can. And this is in part because although we see the long-view of these lives and recognise elements that have determined someone’s character or personality beautifully repeating through many years, we only ever see a tiny part of that person.

For example, if you were to take a person about whom we apparently know a lot (and we’ll call him Will) and chart what you would know about him at 7, 14, 21 and 28 you would have something like this:

At seven in 1989, Will attends a local pre-prep and enjoys the privileges of belonging to a wealthy and respected family. He and his younger brother live with their parents in the Kensington area of London, as well as regular staying with grandparents in other parts of the country and at times in their country home in Gloucestershire.






At fourteen in 1996, Will has been at Eton for one year and has demonstrated that he is left-handed and keen on sports. He is not the only boy in his school to have a private detective, but he is the only one to take tea with the Queen every Sunday at 4pm. Will has learnt that his parents can sometimes dominate, and has asked them to stay away from the Fourth of June Parents’ Day celebrations that the school holds. Instead, he is taking a nanny. His mother has invited Cindy Crawford to tea as Will has admitted having a crush on her. He is one of only a handful of 14 year olds to make the cover of People magazine. Will’s parents are currently divorcing.





By 2003, at 21, Will has had six years since the loss of his mother in a tragic road traffic accident, and is in his second year at the University of St Andrews in Scotland pursuing a degree in Geography. This marks a change of direction from other members of his family, who attended Cambridge (where applicable). He still enjoys sports and tries to keep a low profile by being known as Steve. He is apparently seeing a girl called Kate.



At 28, Will has recognised the need to marry as part of a long-standing family tradition, and has proposed to long-term partner Kate. He is also working full-time in Wales as a helicopter rescue pilot, having trained with the Army and RAF. He is keen on charitable work and is also saving up for quite a big wedding.




It certainly gives you a snapshot, and very interesting too. But it doesn’t tell you the half, and it would be easy to assume you knew a person from 7-yearly updates.

I also stayed awake late thinking what people would know of me if they had had recorded information from when I was 7, 14, 21, 28 and 35 (which is as far as I go at the moment). They would see the local village primary school and Billy Graham Mission England Crusade at Ipswich Town FC in 1984. They would see the local comprehensive and the spotty, academic misfit in 1991. They would see the student in 1998 who was enjoying Theology after some Engineering adventures, and the married lady in 2005 who had recently completed teacher training. They would see the mum of two in 2012. But I am so much more than that.

And that, too, is why the 7x table sometimes just really doesn’t do.


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