WITH the aid of bubbles, chips and lashings of ketchup, I have spent the past three weeks trying to answer the public's knottiest maths problems. Travelling the length and breadth of Britain with the BBC Tomorrow's World roadshow, I am doing my bit to bring numbers to the masses.
Let me explain how I ended up on the road: the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts has funded me to spread the gospel of maths through the media. As part of this I have joined the roadshow, which gives adults and children the chance to explore maths and its everyday uses.
Normally at this time of year I would be trying to get away from it all. But, in truth, you never quite get away from it. There is always something that draws you back to your job; a moment when, in the middle of your holiday, you stumble upon an idea that you can use with your kids.
The final week of the the roadshow took me to Glasgow. Having packed a huge truck with stage sets, props and all that whizz-bang technology which makes the show such a draw, my partner Hugh and I set out for Scotland . We didn't have to set up till Tuesday and it was only Sunday so we had intended to check into a Lake District hotel en route for a relaxing overnight stay.
Sadly, it was not to be. Just past Birmingham, my phone rang. Would I do an interview for Radio 5 commenting on a Government plan to make maths more relevant to 14 and 15-year-olds? A story in The Sunday Telegraph had quoted a claim from Estelle Morris's office that maths teaching in schools had not changed in years. So it was goodbye Lakeland sleepover and hello early morning at a Glasgow studio. It was 7.10 am but at least I got to defend our profession's honour!
After the interview I decided to spend the day exploring Victorian Glasgow, Scotland's best-kept secret. Many south of the border, think of Glasgow as a vast urban sprawl, but make the effort and it takes your breath away. Many of its magnificent buildings, a legacy of the industrial revolution, are crumbling. But regeneration is in progress, and there is an excellent place in Buchanan Street where city-dwellers - and visiting teachers - can learn about the preservation of this fine city.
We sit for sandwiches in the square and discuss the maths of preserving these buildings. It could be a brilliant investigation: "Replace or repair? What is the cost of each?" A cross-curricular project with history and geography, perhaps? I make a mental note to check the Web for information. (www.glasgow.gov.ukcityplan) Our next port of call is the People's Palace. Exhausted, we decide a bus will take us there more quickly. Wrong! An hour later, having changed buses twice, we reach our destination - a journey that would have taken 10 minutes on foot. Do mathematicians apply the logic they teach? If only life were that simple!
The People's Palace ( www.g3web.co.uk) is a must for visitors. It takes you on a journey through the city's past. Glasgow was once the second city of the empire. The population exploded with the industrial revolution, from 77,000 in 1801 to 762,000 in 1901. By 1921 it was about a million people. There has been a decline since 1939 and in the Eighties the population was falling at a rate of 8,500 a year! Maths, maths, maths!
All that maths in the course of a day's holiday; how much more could I uncover given a couple of weeks? But I wasn't the only one mixing time off with professional interests. As was the case south of the border, the roadshow attracted local maths and science teachers in droves, absorbing exciting activities for next term or pursuing their own interests. But no time to relax. Oh well, a change is as good as a rest.
Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is The TES's Mathagony Aunt. Her weekly column in TES Teacher magazine returns on September 6. Play the Perfect Times maths game and contribute to BBC Tomorrow's World's Live Lab experiment at www.perfect-times.co.uk