Sport, maths, twitter and hulk-smashing (a rant)

My dear readers, it is not often I become angry. Rage is not an emotion that frequently troubles Flying Colours Towers. A sharp word for a student who is trying to wind me up, perhaps once in a while, but rarely a rant.

As the man says, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

However, today, I am in full-on smash-all-the-things mode, due to someone being wrong on the internet. Here, look at this:

Nothing wrong with @npickup's tweet, obviously -- in fact, a very good question, since The Maths Bible won't be hitting the shelves of all good bookshops for a couple of months. But Menna's response? This kind of comment is typical of a culture that belittles and bullies anyone who shows an affinity for 'geeky' subjects.1

Let me explain: I was, little more than a quarter-century ago, in the same shoes as the student Neil is describing. A voracious reader, be it fiction, history, science or -- especially -- sport.

I loved (and still love) sport. In between my reading over the next decade or so, I managed to fit in playing for my school's first XI at football and cricket, and the first XV at rugby. At university, I managed a six-a-side football team. I ran the Berlin marathon a couple of years ago. Sport is in my blood as much as maths is -- and I love to combine the two whenever I can.

I'd have done (and would still do) more sport but for the ferociously jockish attitude that pervades the changing room of every sports club and gym I've ever been involved in. The 'drinking club with a running problem' attitude, the rites of passage, the insecurity when faced with someone who knows something outside of sport (and maybe some music. As long as it's the right sort.) Probably not every club is like this -- I hope to gods that not every club is like this -- but I've never succeeded in finding one.

The idea that I, at 11, needed to "get out more and get some fresh air" is a preposterous one; the implication that someone who's read a few books is lacking vitamin D and a social life typifies the kind of prejudice geeks like me face.

To show this, let's turn it around: I see that @Mennamuzzer is a cricket fan. Imagine someone asked her what she'd recommend for an 11-year-old leg-spinner playing years above his age-level, with the potential to be the next Shane Warne. Now imagine that someone, not involved in the conversation, jumped in to say something like "he needs to study a bit harder, stick in school -- don't want him to be a thicko!".

That would be entirely out of order, no? The correct answer would be to nurture the talent, encourage the out-of-the-ordinary, and possibly, if necessary, steer it in directions that promote balance.

Lastly, before I replace this ripped shirt with a new one and allow my skin to revert to its usual, non-green hue, I'd like to add: had Eoin Morgan stuck to his books a little better at school, he might have a little less trouble with the Duckworth-Lewis method.


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.

  1. To be clear: I'm not calling Menna a bully; that would be at least as bad as the original tweet. I'd also like to point out that she has apologised for her off-the-cuff comment, for which I'm grateful. []


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I teach in my home in Abbotsbury Road, Weymouth.

It's a 15-minute walk from Weymouth station, and it's on bus routes 3, 8 and X53. On-road parking is available nearby.

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