Twice a week I would sit in Mr Baxter’s class and do my best to keep my head down. I was thirteen, going on fourteen. With his predecessors I had excelled at the subject: number theory, statistics, probability, none of them had given me any trouble. Now I found myself an algebraic zero. Things were changing; I was changing. All swelling limbs and sweating brain, suddenly I had more body than I knew what to do with. Arms and legs became the prey of low desktops and narrow corridors, were ambushed by sharp corners. Mr Baxter ignored my plight. Bodies were inimical to mathematics, or so we were led to believe. Bad hair, acrid breath, lumpy skin, all vanished for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday. Young minds in the buff soared into the sphere of pure reason. Pages turned to parallelograms; cities, circumferences; recipes, ratios. Shorn of our bearings, we groped our way around in this rarefied air.

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