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Skinning cats - spinning plates - Extract 1

Skinning cats - spinning plates - Extract 2

Ever since I was at school I’ve had this reputation for being someone who could see solutions to practical problems. I’m not that good at maths, mainly because I could never get my head round learning my times tables, but I did quite enjoy some of the lessons where you had problems to solve. Not that the problems were all that sensible at times. I remember one time, Bootsy(that’s Mr Beautiman, our Maths teacher) set us this problem about a kid with a drawer-ful of socks. Apparently, this kid has got socks of four different colours – red, blue, green and yellow. Now, for starters, I thought that was a bit unrealistic because if you look in the sock drawer of any normal kid you’re probably going to find they’ve got grey socks and white socks and maybe a coloured pair that he got given at Christmas from an aunty that is well past her sell-by date. And anyway, who has a drawer specially for their socks? Nevertheless, temporarily suspending credibility, I found myself strangely drawn to this particular problem. Mainly because Bootsy’s got all these pathetic little pictures of socks drawn all over the board.

“When he wakes up in the morning,” Bootsy explains in a voice that is decidedly tinged with Welshness, “It’s still dark, so the boy cannot see the colour of the socks. If he reaches into the drawer and removes socks at random, how many socks has he got to take out of the drawer before he can guarantee that he has got a pair?” Now everybody else is drawing flow diagrams and pictures of socks (except Spandex, who’s drawing pictures of naked women in the margin of his book, like he always does) but I’m thinking, “Hold on a minute. Why don’t the kid just put the light on?” Or, if the light switch doesn’t work, open the door and use the light from the landing. Or, if he’s got this older brother that he dare not disturb because he’ll thump him (that Bootsy had an answer for everything), why doesn’t he keep his socks in his little brother’s room - where they are less likely to get borrowed anyway – and it won’t matter if he wakes him up because the little ‘un is less likely to thump him and anyway won’t be able to see him until he’s rubbed the sand out of his eyes. Failing that, why doesn’t he bundle them into pairs before he puts them in the drawer (although I will admit that it’s not something I’d be inclined to waste my time on.) If all else fails, wear odd socks! And if anybody notices or cares, he can just tell them he’s starting a new fashion trend.

The thing about the problems they set you when you are at school is they don’t really set you anything hard enough. They set you problems that the teacher already knows the answer to, and what’s the point of that? It never sparked my imagination and I found it all rather boring. I think I might have done better at school if they hadn’t sedated me with facts – and instead stimulated me with questions. I just love a challenge, but the only challenges provided by school were how to do as little as possible and how to keep yourself amused to fend off the tedium of lessons. Is it any wonder I twagged off most of the time and found myself in trouble when I was there?
How did I get to be called Spud in the first place? Well, it’s a long-ish story but I’m prepared to tell it if you’ve got half a mind to listen. My best mates at school (before that incident with the condom and the stapler) were Matty Hinds and Tim Walls. Except that neither of them was called that. Well, maybe they were officially - on their birth certificates – although even then I reckon they were clocked as Matthew and Timothy.

Anyway, what with their surname being Walls, Tim’s Mum took to calling him her ‘little sausage’. At least I always assumed that was the reason, although I did notice Tim’s Dad turn a fairly livid pink colour when I remarked once in all innocence that he must be Tim’s Mum’s ‘big sausage’. Enough said!

Well, when this affectionate term of endearment was discovered by the kids in our class, Tim came in for more than his fair share of piss-taking, particularly from Peter Morrison, whose own sausage wasn’t up to much by all accounts. Not that I looked, you understand. Peter’s nickname, by the way, was Tommo. (Morrison – Morro – Tomorrow – Tommo. You’re going to have to think a bit quicker on your feet if you want to keep up! I can’t be stopping all the time to explain everything!) So Tommo decides he’s going to have a bit of fun at the expense of my mate, who Tommo has taken to calling ‘Sausage’.

Now, of itself, that wasn’t such a bad thing. But, accompanied as it was by all manner of insulting hand gestures (You know the sort of thing – wiggling his little finger through his flies and such), me and Matty decided that enough was enough. That’s a bit tautologous, isn’t it? But you know what I mean. Anyway, we planned what you might call a comic diversion involving a sausage, a large pair of kitchen scissors (kindly supplied, albeit unwittingly, by Matty’s Mum) and a sachet of tomato sauce that we got from the greasy spoon on the corner of Skipton Street during the lunch-hour. I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice to say, Tommo spent the rest of the afternoon in the school sick-room which, on this occasion, was aptly named, without being able to explain to Miss Walcott the precise reason for his sudden bout of queasiness. I can understand his reticence as Miss Walcott was about as sympathetic as a bull-terrier shaking a budgie. But what a wimp!

From then on, in a show of solidarity which depended in no little part (no pun intended) on my creative ingenuity, Matty was soon rejoicing in the nickname ‘Beans’ (Get it? Read back! Check out the surname. Am I going to have to lead you by the hand throughout this entire story?) and I adopted the mirthful monicker, ‘Spud’.

If you have enjoyed reading these extracts and want to find out how Spud applies his creative problem-solving skills to some real (or should that be surreal?) problems, "Skinning cats - spinning plates" is available from the author (from 26 May 2016) Price: £6 plus £1 p&p

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