All at sea on history

IT was a big Gallic non from me to French at school. I just could not get the hang of it. And I could not figure out algebra.

Science was mostly a mystery. All I can remember is that there were 92 elements (the Scottish teacher had his own inimitable way of saying 92). But it was tempting to play with the Bunsen burners on the long desk.

Other subjects on the curriculum were more attractive to me. Geography was always so interesting and I could not understand why anyone would not feel the same about learning of the world around them.

History was fascinating, and I think many of my fellow pupils were just as keen as me to know more.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to read this week that the subject has not fared well in our nation’s learning establishments over the intervening years.

Mention Sir Francis Drake, the most famous English sailor during the Elizabethan era, to any of my contemporaries and they would reply with The Spanish Armada which of course Sir Francis playing a leading role in defeating.

Now, a new survey suggests that one in 20 of our current crop of secondary school students believe that the Spanish Armada is a tapas dish.

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Some 2,000 of them were questioned and another astonishing outcome was that many of them thought Horatio Nelson, also one of our legendary sailors, was the captain of the French national football team in the 1990s.

Staying with sailors of old, Sir Walter Raleigh invented the bicycle apparently, Captain James Cook was at the helm of the Starship Enterprise and Christopher Columbus discovered gravity.

This lack of knowledge is just as bad if we come forward a few centuries. One in four of those quizzed said that ships evacuated British troops from Dover – instead of Dunkirk – during World War Two.

Someone from the Sea Cadet Corps, which carried out the survey, reckoned the dismal answers showed the extent to which many children failed to connect with Britain’s maritime past.

He urged them to read up on the history of the high seas. I think the only way we can get them to do that is to incorporate the information in a video game. Reference books seem to have gone out of fashion.

Again going back to my schooldays, chewing and bubble gum was all the rage, in equal part for the taste and also the cards which came with it and could be built up into a collection.

It was simple stuff which came in a satisfactory variety of flavours. But they were nothing compared to what is on the way.

Scientists at the Institute of Food Research and the National Science and Engineering Competition no less say they should be able to use nanotechnology to turn Roald Dahl’s invention of a gourmet gum in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory into reality.

The prospect is of a three-course meal gum perhaps offering tomato soup then roast beef followed by blueberry pie. I can hardly wait.