If it ain't broke...

17th January 2014 at 00:00

The parent comment box on Danny's homework reads: "Dear Mr Eddison, why has Danny been asked to solve subtraction problems using a number line and the counting-on method? I don't understand what he has to do, he doesn't understand what he has to do and neither of us can see the point because he already knows how to do take aways. His dad taught him the Robin Hood method last year and we don't see any point in him learning another one. Please clarify this situation at your earliest convenience."

My convenience might not be all that early. I have a pressing problem with the new love of my life. My faithful Ford Focus that had been showing signs of old age has gone. The oil patches on the driveway told me she might be terminally incontinent so I ditched her in favour of a Mercedes. Obviously she's not a new Mercedes. And she's only a B-Class. But who could resist the allure of that shiny badge on her radiator grille?

Perhaps I should have, for it seems I have been duped by her curvaceous lines and seductive features. Our brief love affair was put on hold shortly after I fitted her with luxury car mats. Suddenly she became unresponsive. I twiddled her ignition key yet she remained impassive. Her lights came on but her engine didn't appear to be at home.

I telephoned my brother-in-law, as he is a fan of Top Gear. He whistled tunelessly like a regular mechanic when I told him my problem and he offered to come and fix it. Apparently it would involve disassembling the ignition relay override doodah and running a diagnostic integrated realignment widget through the electronic accelerator interface gizmo.

I decide to call the breakdown people instead. I'm told someone will come during my lunch hour, so while I'm waiting I spend time with Danny. I show him once again how to count on the difference between the smallest number and the biggest number using a number line. In return he shows me his Robin Hood subtraction method. It involves the famous outlaw shooting an arrow through the rich 10s, abducting one of them while they are incapacitated, and redistributing his wealth among the impoverished units.

"Well done, Danny, it works! But let's try it my way one more time, shall we?" I say. Before Danny can protest, we are interrupted by the school receptionist. The breakdown man has arrived, she has given him my keys and he is getting on with the job as we speak.

I dash outside to find that he has in fact already completed the repair.

"What did you do?" I ask.

"I took your mat out," he replies. I look at him like a goldfish seeing someone for the first time in more than 20 seconds. "On these particular vehicles you need to press the clutch to the floor to turn on the ignition. Your car mat was scrunched up underneath the pedal, preventing it from being fully depressed."

"Did they fix your car, Mr Eddison?" asks Danny. He has abandoned subtraction in favour of drawing zombies.

"Turns out it wasn't broken," I reply. "A bit like your Robin Hood method for doing take aways."

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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