Monday, April 28, 2008

Killing Bottle? You were lucky ...

I had to go to Finchley today for an appointment with one of those companies that melts bits of your eyes with lasers and then charge you the national debt of Chad for the privilege. Okay, I'm being unkind but to be told that it's going to cost me over £2,500 to have 20/20 vision was a bit of a shock. There's obviously nothing wrong with their eyes ... they saw me coming.

Saying that, I am going to get it done. I've reached the point where annoyance gives way to anger at having to keep swapping glasses for distance vision and for reading. And because I have very light-sensitive eyes, I also have to have sunglasses made to prescription. So I'm usually found carrying three pairs, which is madness. Getting lasered-up will mean that I can ditch the specs and invest in some heavy-duty sunglasses. I may not even need reading glasses but, if I do, I'll be able to buy those cheap, off the shelf babies. So it may be £2.5K but it'll save me money in the long run. All I have to do is stay alive long enough to reap the benefits.

However, that's not the subject of this post. This book (above) is. I got to Finchley early due to the London Underground trains accidentally running on time. So I did some mooching around in the nearby O2 shopping centre and discovered the biggest branch of Borders Books I've ever seen. Heaven! I picked up a couple of titles, but my real booky prize was found at a charity shop further down the Finchley Road. I have no idea what charity it supports as all it said on the sign outside was 'Charity Shop' but they had some real goodies on the shelves. And that's where I found The Children's Book of Games, Puzzles and Pastimes. I paid £3 and it was worth every penny. What a gem!

Published by Odhams sometime not very long after 1952 (it doesn't have a date of publication but does mention 'young' Queen Elizabeth II as well as various Georges and Edwards), it's a guide for bored kids. It boasts fascinating features like Spot the cats, Nut Folk - How to make them yourself, Safety first, Stamps are interesting and the brilliantly titled The Game of Visiting Birds' Nests without Robbing Them. It explains how to take photographs and offers a handy comparison between popular 'modern' models like the folding bellows camera and the box camera. It also dispenses useful advice to butterfly collectors such as:

'Your local chemist will make you a proper killing bottle for insects at the cost of about half a crown. Make quite sure the insects' wings are quite dry before you kill them.'

If you're having a party, why not play some of the rippingly super games described? Like Fish Fanning Relay, Duster Hockey, Sir Walter Raleigh Relay, Driving the pig to market and the cracking good fun of Pass me the newspaper please. There's a guide to identifying trees, another on pond-life and a jolly description of catching crabs at the seaside. There's even a 'simple' guide to building your own radio ... though the final device looks suspiciously like something that Doctor Who would knock up to defeat the Daleks.

But my absolute favourite sections of the book are the quizzes and puzzles. And it is in these that an inconvenient truth (sorry, Al) can be seen. Just a few posts ago (and in several others in the past) I was bemoaning an apparent drop in educational standards despite the fact our kids are smarter than ever and our teachers better educated. Kids are being taught to pass ever more difficult exams to meet politically-imposed standards - but at the expense of life skills and general knowledge. Well, there's a snapshot of this whole can of worms (yes, it shows you how to go fishing too) right here in this 50-ish year old book. Judging by the illustrations, it was aimed at kids between 10-15 ... but I wonder how many kids today could answer some of these:

1. Here is an object described in highfalutin language. Can you get it? An argentic truncated hollow cone, semi-perforated with symmetrical indentations.

2. Can you give the name of the object from the following description? Like one of the giants of mythology it leaves the portals of the North armed with huge blocks of stone. Proudly it sails on. The waves that dash in foam against its sides shake not the strength of its crystal walls nor tarnish the sheen of its emerald caves. Sleet and snow, storm and tempest are its congenial elements.

3. In what works do the following characters occur? (1) Man Friday (2) Sam Weller (3) The March Hare (4) Jeanie Deans (5) Caliban (6) Amyas Leigh, and (7) Worldly Wiseman.

4. Give the plural of the following: phalanx, sphinx, lemma, phenomenon, axis.

5. If a cow and a goat could eat all the grass on a field in 45 days, and a cow and a goose could eat all the grass of the same field in 60 days, and the goat and the goose could eat the grass in 90 days, how long would it take the goat, cow and goose to eat the grass when turned into it all together?

Not easy are they? You'll note that I've only included one maths question. That's because the ones in the book mostly deal in Imperial measurements (hurrah!) and 'old money' i.e. Pounds, Shillings and Pence. Still, I'll leave you with one of them, just for a giggle.

If one toy, three balls and seven wheels cost 2s. 6d., and one toy, four balls and ten wheels cost 3s. 5d., find the cost of a toy, a ball and a wheel. Note, we do not ask you to find the cost of each.

Now, I realise that kids today have other stuff to learn and that the eating habits of farm animals and identifying characters from English literature sadly may not have much relevance for them any more. But these kinds of questions are still valid even in today's society. They exercise the brain. They provoke analytical skills. They encourage problem solving. Maths skills are still useful and communication skills - speaking, writing, spelling, grammar - have never been more important. They should be at the forefront of a child's skill set.

So, a fascinating (and cheap) book and one that has been amusing me all day. And good thing too. Like my credit card, I'm feeling a little fragile, battered, bruised and emotional. Later, I'm going to make myself feel better with a game of Pass me the newspaper please. Sod Grand Theft Auto IV.
The answers can be found by reading the comments attached to this post. Not that you'll need them of course. You knew all the answers ... didn't you?


Stevyn Colgan said...

Right-O! Here are the answers:

1. A thimble.
2. An iceberg.
3. (1)Robinson Crusoe, (2)Pickwick Papers, (3)Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, (4)The Heart of Midlothian, (5)The Tempest, (6)Westward Ho!, (7)The Pilgrim's Progress.
4. Phalanges or phalanxes, sphinxes, lemmata, phenomena, axes.
5. 40 days

and, finally ... If we say that T means Toy, B is Ball and W is Wheel, then:
(1) T + 3B + 7W = 30d and (2)T + 4B + 10W = 41d.
Subtract and (3) B + 3W = 11d.
Multiply by two and (4) 2B + 6W =22d. Taking (4) from (1) we get T + B + W = 8d.

Child's play!

(Questions and answers reprinted word for word from the book)

Stevyn Colgan said...

I've done a bit of webbing to find out more about the book and it appears to date from 1953. Just for your info.

John Soanes said...

Even though it's not the intended theme of this post, I can cheerfully recommend the eye surgery; I had it done last year (and posted a long ramble about it here, but do feel free to drop me a line if there are any questions I might be able to answer...

Stevyn Colgan said...

Cheers John - I thoroughly enjoyed the post. Great pun to begin with BTW. You don't freelance for 'The Sun' do you? And that email address ...


But it hasn't put me off at all. I know enough people who've had it done now to know the pros, cons, ins, outs and shakeitallabouts. So I shall be going ahead with it.

I'm particularly looking forward to smelling my eyes burning as you so beautifully describe it. Urp.

Gienna said...

Wow, I didn't get any of them. I On the first one, I felt pretty confident that answer was an ice-cream cone.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Hi Gienna. I'm actually pretty chuffed with myself that I actually got questions 1-4 correct. But then came the maths questions ... and my cockiness crumbled and dissolved like a cookie in a cup of coffee. I'm okay with words ... but I don't do numbers.