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Recently, there was an outcry from hundreds of students taking GCSE exams on one particular maths question, involving elementary probability calculations with which to prove the equation n² — n — 90 = 0. They were not even asked to solve this equation. Do you think these bitter complaints were justified? Do you think readers of the FT, who are presumed to be more numerate, might have a better chance of proving this question than others?

I was astonished to read about the storm of complaints! The probability maths required was almost basic common sense; the algebra involved — elementary. The equation was therefore easy to prove. It should not have taken any competent student more than a minute. The quadratic equation itself was also a cinch to solve, although it was not required. I remember learning the solution to the standard quadratic equation in form three or four at my English boarding school, more than 35 years ago. Even today, I can remember it by heart. So I thought the outcry was pathetic, particularly with Britain, which has had a history of scores of brilliant mathematicians such as Newton, Russell, Whitehead, Hardy, Turing, Penrose and Wiles, who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem — and stylishly got a knighthood for it.

As for the readers of the FT, I would indeed expect them to find the GCSE question fairly easy to solve and bemoan with me the fact that the standard of elementary mathematics in secondary education in Britain seems to be in decline.

I have been invited to join a group flying by private plane to Venice for a weekend of art and dining. I believe that at least one of the ladies has augmented breasts. Is there any risk of them rupturing or worse in the event of a dramatic change of altitude? I worry about the confined space and embarrassment. Does your answer apply to both saline and silicone implants?

Don’t be ignorant and dramatic. Private jets and commercial jets fly with the same pressurised cabins. As there are no “safety” rules regarding mammary implants in commercial travelling, so there should be no alarm for private jets, even if the space is usually more confined. And even less worrisome if your rich friend has a BBJ (which is a 737) or above.

Nor should you fret about the weight distribution of the cabin by choosing to sit on the opposite side from your travelling companions, as the modern jet engines are more than powerful enough to take care of this problem, unlike some old-fashioned prop planes.

For you to keep abreast of your own visual comfort, I would suggest that you sit behind these suspected artificial augmentations, saline or silicone.

Earlier this week, I attended a rather grand dinner where I was seated next to a titled lady of exquisite beauty and charm. But she broke wind throughout dinner. Every time this happened the people opposite, an ambassador and eminent surgeon, gave me looks of absolute disgust. What could I have done to make it clear I was not the offending party?

Get a laundry peg and clip it on your nostrils. And keep your fingers tightly crossed that the grande dame appreciates your sense of humour. Otherwise don’t worry as the ambassador would be too diplomatic to complain, and the eminent surgeon would gladly tout for business by suggesting to the lady an appointment.

I never found the Alphonso mango stringy. The best I obtained was from Crawford Market in Mumbai. At the height of the season I could detect the aroma all the way from the Taj Hotel. But the best mangoes I have found don’t smell of fruit when they are ready. They have a floral aroma, almost akin to violets.

First, fruits don’t smell. They might have a smell. But it is we who smell. And talking of fruits with smells, I should mention what is regarded in southern Asia as the “king of fruits”, viz, the durian. This exotic fruit with a thorn-covered husk emanates an odour so overpowering, even unpeeled, that airlines have banned them. When I pass by fruit stalls that sell them, I always have to stop breathing and pretend I am practising for snorkelling and quicken the pace as if I was doing interval training. The stench is absolutely unbearable. When I was young I met a girl who loved the fruit. I had to abandon her even if she was the prettiest and sweetest thing I ever saw. I just couldn’t look forward even to that primeval excitement of a first kiss, still less subsequent ones!

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