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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

October 02, 2003


I take all the credit for Doug's success. When I met Dave, he was the other one, the other dork in the corner of the school playing field, sliding down the grass bank in his wedge-soled shoes.

He had bad acne and a big shiny nose, but it turned out he was just a little bit clever. He surpassed me in science and maths, but couldn't touch me in humanities-type subjects. So whereas I might be second or fourth or something in science/maths, he was 25th in French and fair-to-middling in English.

Mathematics stopped happening for me when I was about 10, with long division. Or maybe it was earlier than that. My parents made me memorise the times tables when I was 7, and off school with whooping cough. I memorised them up to 12, and after that I saw no point. I didn't see the need for the 13x table, or 14, 15. When I was about 9 I realised there were some people who knew their 14x table, and I felt bitter about it, but still refused to go further.

So when I was asked to divide 367 by 38, I was just lost in space, and couldn't find the intuition. Then there came algebra and logarithms, which I also didn't get. Trigonometry in general, I just switched off. Which is where Doug came in. He sat next to me in maths (with Helen on the other side), and I copied his homework. We had an arrogant, Thatcher-loving maths teacher who was -- without fail -- five minutes late to every lesson. This was just enough time for me to copy Doug's homework.

I remember the day the Tories were elected in 1979, this teacher turned up to school wearing a blue suit, blue shoes, and carrying a blue handbag. I don't think I've ever hated anybody quite as much as I did at that moment. I hope she's embarrassed about it now.

So Doug was a little bit shocked when I beat him in some maths exam, a mock exam. The world was put to right in the real thing, but I think he actually punched me on the arm when he learned that I'd got 94% to his 89%. It was funny, really, and you had to laugh about it.

As we got older, he grew slightly more confident. In sixth form, he started dating a slightly chubby motherly type girl, who looked after him. Then there came the elections for head girl and head boy. There was an obvious candidate for head boy, one of the rugger buggers, and big lad from a nice Christian family who spoke well and liked classical music. We all hated him of course, so it was a relatively easy task to nominate Douglas and swing the election his way. He was the stalking horse who won.

And from then on he didn't look back, naturally. From there to a top university, honours, PhD, an important job with an insurance company, calculating the odds or some such thing. I heard all this at second and third hand, so it could be inaccurate. I heard he got a pilot's licence and had his own plane. Lucy and I wondered if he'd flown down to the Vendée, and it turned out he had.

He was unrecognisable as the slightly greasy, spotty dork. He was tallish, bookish, but healthy and wealthy looking; his face bore the acne scars, but it made him look rugged and actorly. His eyes glittered with suppressed amusement as he shook my hand. "So you're still alive then," he said. "I heard you'd died."


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