I knew when I chose my GCSEs I’d hanker after everything I didn’t choose, and envy anyone who chose differently to me. I knew I’d regret what I did choose, in the end. I found it incredibly difficult, but in the end I settled on Business Studies and History—boring, perhaps, but the most useful to a general academic not stretched in any particular direction. (Writer, mathematician, marathon runner, musician, lawyer, bridge master, director of a large financial company, fluent speaker of ten different languages, iconic movie villain, film director and screenwriter…I fancied myself as at least that many things. Stupidly arrogant, isn’t it?)
Now it’s worse. Well, it’s what I feared. A friend asks me for help with her Biology homework and I’ve never even heard of half the words she throws at me. But then she asks for help with her French and even though I don’t understand any of the vocabulary I’m using I can still construct a grammatically-passable sentence. Sort of.
Yet we’ve only had five teaching days (yes, I began this post three months ago). Soon I won’t have a clue. And that’s partially good, because I will no longer be plied with questions by people who don’t even care about what they’re supposed to be learning. It’s a relief.
And also a torment, to relinquish so many disciplines in one fell swoop.
I’m overly jealous and competitive, I suppose. I want to do things by the whole. Know everything, or know nothing.
SO WHAT DID I CHOOSE?
English Literature. Although it’s not said to particularly increase a writer’s chances of whatever, and loads of writers never did study English Literature, I thought I might as well take it. It could teach me a few things, and is so well-respected it certainly won’t be a waste of time whatever I end up doing with my life. And my sanity requires a creative outlet. Couldn’t forget that. It must be said I preferred Lang at GCSE, but Lang involves speaking, and that doesn’t appeal! At the beginning of the year I had no friends in my English class; it’s good now, though. I prefer strangers, because I’m interested in how they prejudge me, and gratified when they do on the terms I try to impress.
Philosophy and Ethics. Now, I wanted both this and Psychology, because they both interest me, but Philosophy and Ethics won out in the end because as a religious and idealistic person, I want to learn about theories and concepts relating to the Big Questions of this universe. I want to learn how to form and argue a point of view, and I’m hoping to procure story inspiration from this subject.
How is it in practice? I’m not sure whether I made the correct decision. I already knew all about Plato the dualist, his Cave, his Republic, his everything. In the first month I learnt nothing. And the teacher seems slightly ‘clueless’. She didn’t know whether ‘A priori’ and ‘A posteriori’ were Latin or Greek—and it confuses me why anyone wouldn’t look at them and immediately desire to know! (Latin, by the way.) But I’ve already told that story.
On the first day I also found myself sandwiched between two hardcore atheists, which both excited and unsettled me. Both of them are old friends of mine, fortunately, and the one I used to delight in teasing for his atheism has moved seats since I reminded him of my religious views. Honestly, we can’t have a conversation without his thinking I’m trying to impose my awful Catholicism upon him. Recipe for disaster, it seems. The atheist on my other side has a hyperactive influence on me, so I can foresee Philosophy being a rowdy lesson.
Three months later… Philosophy is my comedic relief of the day. Crazy class. At first I thought it was really difficult to get the marks; now I ‘get’ the technique it’s going better. I still don’t know how useful it’ll prove to be, since most of the theories we’ve studied have already occurred to me in one form or another over the years. But yes. Crazy class. We have a book of the random things that have unwittingly (or otherwise!) been said between us.
Finally—and these the two subjects I knew I’d take even before I took my first GCSE exam in March 2011, aged thirteen and a half—I’ve chosen Maths and Further Maths.
It either surprises people or it doesn’t. Usually they make faces so hideous I know I can never justify my enthusiasm in their minds. This subject satisfies my ambition. Not wholly, but sufficiently. It tides me over. I couldn’t do without the challenge, the stress, the impression.
But…maths…! My passions work together: mathematics and writing. Without one I lose the other, as happened in the summer when I couldn’t write for fear of it driving me insane. And without writing I lose my creative outlet and lose sight of my aspirations. I can’t solve equations if I can’t write. They’re totally the opposite pursuits, but that’s just why they work. There are two sides to me and for nothing would I give up either.
On Tuesday someone asked me what my favourite subject was. I answered something senseless and unprepared, but in truth, I can’t take a broad view like that. They’re too different; they each fulfil a different need in me, and each as important as each other. I have no favourite; I like them for different reasons–and mayhap I can apply that to a whole spectrum of collectives.
I tried to blog, but other writing got in the way.
I tried to do NaNo, but life got in the way.
So it seems I must attend to life for the present, since it demands such.
I’ve had another pitch idea. ‘She’d rather sabotage the family restaurant than tell her parents she doesn’t like food.’ How’s that sound? YA Contemporary, I suppose. Any preconceptions of such a story to help me craft the plot?
Life? I arrived home to an empty house one evening to discover that my parents were in hospital eighty miles away. (They were okay, I just missed a memo.)
On Tuesday my school won a team maths challenge—the regional final, so we beat all our local rivals, to the immense satisfaction of the head teacher team, and got in the local paper (misquoted, of course. Watching the reporters write in shorthand, despite appealing to my inner linguist, rather explained why). I’d post the picture were it not so horrendously fish-eyed.
The first round, the group round, consists of ten questions to be answered in forty minutes. We work together well; we got full marks.
The second round is the crossnumber, basically a crossword with numbers instead of letters. Two of each team take the across clues and two the down, and we’re not permitted to communicate for the forty-minute duration of the round. A killer pair of simultaneous equations rather messed it up, but fortunately no one else did that well either.
Finally the relay, whereby the first question answered by one pair produces an answer T which is then passed on to the other pair in order to answer the second, then third, then fourth. There are four of these relays, and bonuses are attained by answering right first time or within a certain time. The other pair in my team missed ‘T is the sum of the digits of (a+b)‘ and read only ‘(a+b)‘, which cost us nine marks, but since we still won, and bought cake afterwards, it made no difference.
We get to go to the capital next year for the national final (we being myself and three boys superior to me in all appropriate respects, but oh well). When we won the junior version in Year 8 we got several days off school, watched a somewhat gruesome film in a decent-sized cinema (our local one has six screens, and the smallest only thirty seats), and stayed in a four-star hotel.
Besides the maths, of course. Which is obviously the best part. We’ve been practicing in all our maths lessons and free periods. No more practice till New Year now, so I Have Time.
I am learning bridge. I’ve wanted to learn since I was twelve, when I read Louis Sachar’s The Cardturner. A game of pure logic, maths, cunning, impassivity—in short, skill. It exactly appealed to me. After many failed attempts to join clubs, my old Chemistry teacher started one at school. I found it completely by accident.
Let’s just say I was having a ‘bored’ day. I balanced a pile of folders on my head in the corridor, which put the Geography staff in fits of laughter (and made me blush scarlet for the first time in a while), had a disgusting cold, et cetera et cetera, till it got to my free period and I lost control…smashed a plastic water bottle against a wall. Someone tried to restrain me, I slapped him, then completely zoned out for the next half hour, and ended up in the place called ‘games club’ by nerdy social pariahs in the lower forms. And there my old Chemistry teacher was teaching a bunch of boys in Year 9 and 10 the game of contract bridge. I thank God.
So on Thursdays these boys are my friends—surprisingly mature, most of the time, all very bright and banterous, and fun to observe.
I’ve been mooting. To those of you who’ve never seen that word before (I hadn’t), it’s basically presenting a legal argument to a judge on behalf of a client, competing against an opposition.
And since it’s December, carol services and concerts are at the forefront of my mind. My brother’s bass trombone, ‘Mr Rusty’, features predominantly—at my command! 🙂
I don’t think I’ve talked about my Sixth Form subject choices before. And I ought. In-depth post to follow.
1 + 1 = 2
What does true matter consist of? What is the real component of matter?
And don’t get microscopic on me, because who’s to say the stuff you can see under a microscope is really what’s there? You rely on your sensory experience. But how can you be assured of anything, anything except the contents of your own mind at the present moment? Maybe you just popped into existence a few seconds ago, complete with memories, knowledge and theories.
Surely I couldn’t dream all this up myself, you say.
Well, prove you didn’t. And don’t try using your senses to do that. That would be working upon the very assumption you’re attempting to prove. Total nonsense!
Atoms, again. It’s logical, you say.
Logical, eh? And tell me exactly why the things you observe correspond to your own ideas of theoretical explanations for those very observations.
1 + 1 = 2
I won’t ask you to prove it. Numbers are abstract. And if you held up one finger on one hand and one on the other, and counted two, I’d ask you how you knew your fingers existed, how you knew you were holding up two of them.
1 + 1 = 2
Everyone in their sane mind agrees. Not because they see it, but because it’s the assumption they must make in order to believe in every mathematical process in ‘existence’. Maths is there. You can’t prove it, but it doesn’t go away. It always has been, and always will be.
We say 1 + 1 = 2, and if we didn’t, everything we’d built upon that one assumption would fall through.
God is an axiom, should you choose to believe it.
I am a mathematician. I build my future on earth upon 1 + 1 = 2, and my future in Heaven upon my belief in God.
Let me explain my absence—the absence of an entire month, I am not unaware. And in the process, let me have a good moan about everything that’s stressing me out at the moment.
Indifference kept me away from all thought of writing for an entire fortnight. Another fortnight I spent entertaining my cousins, who come over to stay with me every holiday. They’re no burden, but they do snatch me from the internet world for a time. A good break, sometimes, methinks. This week I began Sixth Form, and stress and painkillers have both overpowered and deadened my senses to the exclusion of all other concerns.
On Wednesday I accustomed myself to sharing a yeargroup with two hundred and fifty other students, at least half of whom were strangers to me.
On Thursday I embarked on our first teaching day. Embarrassment and disappointment clouds much of the day, but no more than the anticipation of hard work to come. I’ve never had to work hard, and the very idea of it terrifies me. I received scarcely any homework, and what I had was simple, but the helpless inactivity of every breaktime, knowing work would soon inundate me, but knowing simultaneously I could do nothing about it but wait in idleness, plagued my every thought. I’ve been more stressed this week than I was throughout my GCSE exams.
And since the Sixth Form Centre refectory was built to accommodate a mere hundred and fifty students, there’s no respite from the noise and bustle and strange disinterested faces.
Friday was better; in tutor groups we adopted a theme (ours was ‘army’), dressed up and participated in a day of team-building activities. Unfortunately my tutor is very quiet and not very interested in creating a team identity based upon mutual trust and combined value. There being only three boys in my group, they were forced to do all the manual work. The girls just squealed and said nothing.
And the very first event of the day prophesised well for the rest. We were instructed to cross a web of string interposed between two tree trunks without touching the string, more points awarded for the more remote holes in the web. Before nine o’clock I was bodily swung into the air by a seventeen-year-old boy, lifted a metre and a half into the air and bunged through the gap worth the most points. Being tall, skinny and light, roles such as these were mine throughout the day. So though I’m glad I wasn’t the guy doing the lifting, it disconcerted me to spend an entire day being manhandled by a boy I’ve hardly addressed in all the five years we’ve been at school together.
I’d looked forward to that first week. I’d hoped to make a better stab at deceiving people into thinking I was a nice person: make new friends (all the people I normally ‘hang out’ with are doing the International Baccalaureate instead of A-Levels, and thus have no free periods—I haven’t spoken to them above twice all week).
Instead I’ve renewed acquaintances in an awkward and abrupt manner—acquaintances that were broken painfully and ought to have been renewed with a shaking of hands. My tense hyperactivity on Wednesday earned me the post of loudest person in tutor on Wednesday (that’s saying a lot, for me), and estranged me from an old friend on Thursday. A girl who did better than me on her GCSEs has joined the Sixth Form from another school, and her appearance of good sense and efficiency as she moved away the doorstop and closed the door of the Maths classroom convinced me I’m probably going to hate her. Out of jealousy, of course. And that in itself is a nasty thought.
Personal and family worries have kept me awake half the week, and when I last slept I dreamed I killed thirty people.
Even yesterday (Saturday) was no relief. At nine I returned to school for my music groups (the awesome angst of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has flooded my mind ever since); at eleven some of us left early and ran down to church to play at a wedding. Since we couldn’t see or hear anything from where we sat, and ten verses of Amazing Grace destroyed our interest in the music, that proved duller than expected.
The evening constituted the highlight of my week so far: some of my friends from my youth group came over on a whim and we put the hot-tub at my ‘new’ house to good use. One of them, and one of the most active, committed and valued by all of us, is going off to university in less than two weeks, and we mayn’t see him again before, so that was great.
Except the evening finished with their pressing me to tell them who I fancied, which wasn’t so great. Not that I don’t trust them—my Catholic friends are the kindest, most accepting people I know, whose judgement of me does not affect their behaviour towards me—but it’s a question I tend to shun at all possible costs. And now I feel bad for turning them away.
Today? I stayed in bed till midday, still shuddering at my dream. Then I watched the 2007 version of Persuasion, which upset my nerves for inexplicable reasons. (Seriously, my hormones are on a riot this week.) But the comparative quietness has improved my spirits to some extent, despite the looming threats of the week to come.
In the meantime, I have a decade of unfinished blog posts sitting in My Documents, have been nominated for two blog awards by two wonderful and inspiring bloggers, and have shockingly neglected just about everything I promised myself I’d complete before school recommenced.
But having got all this off my mind, and probably bored any kind and conscientious readers witless, I feel a lot better.
And by the way, my blisters still haven’t healed. My feet are scarred. I dread October half-term, when I do my qualifying expedition…