I remember when I was a kid, my parents made the wildly extravagant decision to have a pool put in our back garden.
The chap that oversaw the project was called Jack. One day I came back from school and went to check on the development of the hole that was transforming daily.
‘So,’ he said, ‘What did you learn today?’
Ready to impress, I began to list what I had done at school.
He held his hand up. ‘No,’ he said, ‘What did you learn?’
I thought over each of the lessons I had attended, the range of subjects, but try as I might for that particular day I could not recall one new fact that I had acquired. Sure, I had practised some newish skills, been tested on some recently acquired ones, but I had learned nothing new.
I think about this quite a lot, and so every now and then, even though I am no longer at school or Uni, I try and see if I can identify something new I have learned during the course of a day. Here is what I came up with for today:
1. I am not the only idiot who spent what would pretty much amount to a full working day over the course of the weekend doing household chores: Vacuuming the house, stripping and making the bed, three loads of laundry, mopping, shopping, washing the bathroom areas, more shopping – to name but a few exciting pastimes I would rather not be filling my time off with. I asked one of the girls at work how many times she had changed the bucket water while mopping her house this weekend. ‘Four,’ came the reply. Not only does this demonstrate that ‘mopping’ is actually a series of tasks made to sound Iike one, but that I am double the slob that she is as I only changed my bucket water twice.
2. Rats laugh. Yeah enough with the moaning and on with the fun stuff – as long as you are not scared of rats – although if you are, it may be a comfort to know that they do laugh, just at a pitch so high that our ears don’t detect it. Come to think of it, this silent sniggering may be even worse for rat-o-phobes, in which case, sorry.
3. Mother’s Day, second busiest day of the year for flower and card shops has an origin that is nothing to do with mothers, bringing mothers breakfast in bed, handing them flowers or taking them out for a lovely day to say thanks. It was originally, ‘Mothering Sunday’ (as it is still often referred to in th UK) when people would return to their original parish (or ‘Mother church’) 0nce a year in the middle of lent for mass. I probably will still take my mum flowers this year, though, as it is significantly easier to do this than to take her back to her original parish church, which is in Wales, a mere 10, 000 miles away.
4. If you allow droplets of hot molten glass to fall into cold water, they will form rock-hard tadpoles of toughened glass, with a centre that can not quite manage to cool and so creates a huge force inside the solidified droplet, that is seemingly disproportionate to its size. You can bang the tadpole as much as you like on its toughened head and it will not break, but if you snip its tail, the release of energy will shatter the glass with an explosion that sends the tiny shards scattering at speeds greater that a bullet. Never mind catching a tiger by its tail – leave the glass tadpoles alone, maybe in a corner with those laughing rats.
5. Stories will always make things better. In addition to an old episode of QI, from which facts 2-4 came today, I also watched the film Freakonomics, a documentary based on the best selling book of the same name. The only thing I learnt about while studying economics years ago, was a concept called the income elasticity of demand (I think). However, take a few broad investigations into nominative determinism, economic incentives , cheating, or the cause of falling crime rates, as this film does, give them to creative and intelligent directors to translate into short stories in documentary form, and you have a great way to spend 93 minutes. It’s on Netflix in Australia too, so easy to find.