The Age of Ignorance

I’ve written about regrets []. They are a negative bunch of thoughts to keep. But once you are older there is nothing to stop you feeling wistful about events, experiences or omissions in your life. I notice more, nowadays the extent of the knowledge I do not have, will never have.

Nothing emphasises this monstrous continent of ignorance more than TV quiz programmes. We’re not talking about ‘Family Fortunes’ or pointless ‘Pointless’ here. By TV quiz I mean ‘University Challenge’. Husband [a science PhD], rattles out answers like bullets. Who invented the stratospheric isolator? What is meant by the term paleoncentesis? What is the symbol for symbium axide? [you get my drift].

I can do some of the contemporary literature questions, but I’m pathetic on Shakespeare, having a sketchy familiarity only with the plays I was given to study at school, in the dark ages. Hence I can attempt questions on Hamlet and The Scottish Play [see what I did there?], although a failure to be mesmerised by the plot of Henry 1Vth [part 2] at the time has resulted in no memory of the details of the play whatsoever.

Chemistry; for me, this is the pinnacle [or rather, nadir] of ignorance. As a small child it started well, with a natural desire to make mud pies, perfume from garden flowers or interesting concoctions fabricated from kitchen substances. The problems really began at secondary school, where we sat in rows at benches housing fascinating apparatus; bulbous-shaped containers and complicated, glass instruments and occasionally we got to watch a substance smoking or bubbling from having been mixed with something else by the teacher. This experiment would be viewed from afar, though never undertaken by ourselves.

No, what we had to do was copy up copious, incomprehensible squiggly equations from the blackboard and make some sort of calculation from them. I am sorry to say that these unfathomable statements held no connection whatsoever in my mind to the exploding liquids in a glass bulb we’d witnessed from a great distance, away down the science lab.

We discovered early on that the chemistry teacher, Mr Prothuck was so deaf that we were able to overcome difficulties with our weekly, oral ‘test’ by being told the answers to his questions by the person we were sitting next to, who could simply refer to her exercise book where last week’s squiggly writings were recorded.

I was further hampered in my grasp of the subject by having to go each week, on Wednesday afternoons [our dose of double chemistry] for an entire term, to have the plaster checked on my broken arm-and for weeks after that, to have physiotherapy on said arm. I was delighted, of course to miss months of chemistry and I will never know what I missed in those many Wednesday afternoons, but it is also likely that if I’d been in attendance I would still be in ignorance about it.

Chemistry, reader is only the hair on the end of the elephant of ignorance’s tail. Motor mechanics, computer malfunctions, world economics, higher mathematics, Buddhism-and so much more. Personally, I blame the teachers…



2 thoughts on “The Age of Ignorance

  1. As soon as I saw the periodic table of elements at school I knew I did not want to do chemistry – though son-in-law and daughter now have it on their shower curtain I’m still none the wiser!

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