I am number blind. I can still remember my mother’s coop number (7321) which I had to chant to the cashier every time I bought groceries. She would then note it down and tear off a perforated strip from our dividend book to claim our “divi” at the end of the year; it was the 1960s precursor to today’s loyalty cards. Otherwise though, numbers are invisible to me. Despite obtaining a GCE in Maths a year early – admittedly a grade 5, which says it all -I found later that I had peaked at the age of fifteen. I managed to avoid any further contact by focusing on languages – a puzzle involving words
It was with some consternation that I found that people in the U.S. have a bit of a love affair with numbers. Schools are named with them and university courses and are referred to by digits. For example, everyone knows that One-Oh-One means an introductory course to Something, As a newbie grad student, I was bewildered by my peers’ familiarity with these random digits. In my own program we have the Fifty Five Hundred, a mega literature review, the Sixty Five A, another lit review written under timed conditions, and the Sixty Five B, the pilot study for the final dissertation. These so-called hurdles precede the dissertation proper, and each number detonates different types of anxiety depending on your particular assessment phobia: high stakes (as in the one-shot-only Fifty Five) or typing against the clock (the Sixty five A – a personal nightmare with my mediocre keyboard skills)
The grid system and numbered streets of Manhattan, of course, have a wonderful logic to them them and help the newcomer find their way around. The more well-known streets have developed an iconic status,and despite initiatives to rename them, I have never heard anyone call Sixth Avenue ‘Avenue of the Americas’, or 125th Street ‘Martin Luther King Boulevard’. Sometimes numbers become words.