I was always supremely bad at maths. This is certainly due to aptitude (or rather lack of) but also to my experience. By the time I got to O Levels my class worked on the costumes for the school play rather than waste time revising for an exam it was assumed none of use would pass. I was hopeless at sewing too but that didn’t matter so much. This was the 60s.

 What fun we had, and how envious were the others slogging away at impenetrable equations. (Mine, incidentally was a prestigious girls’ grammar not some ‘sink’ school.) The general consensus, with which I enthusiastically concurred, was that we just couldn’t do maths (and why should we bother our pretty little heads?).

Now I know that intelligence is more like a muscle to be exercised rather than the height or eye colour with which you’re stuck. I managed to get to higher education but still offer to make a nice cup of tea when the talk turns to the credit crunch.

One of the very few records (LPs of course) we had when I was growing up was one by Tom Lehrer. So when I was thinking about the question of maths and language I recalled the song, ‘New Math’. It illustrates the complexity of the language of subtraction very well.