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HAVE just read a media release from Laura Chaddock-Heyman, a "postdoctrinal researcher" who has been leading a team at the University of Illinois in America.

IA new study reveals that Nine to 10-yearold children who are aerobically fit, tend to have significantly thinner grey matter than their "low-fit" peers, and this trimming of the outermost layer of the brain cells in the cerebrum is associated with better mathematics performance.

Previous studies have shown that grey-matter thinning is associated with better reasoning and thinking skills.

Really? I always thought that the bright thinkers of the world required more grey matter not less.

As for aerobics? I never stopped running. I played first class rugby and cricket in the '50s and '60s without being submerged in ice baths or being driven like mountain ponies up the heights of the Swiss Alps or wherever. I just ran.

In rugby most clubs had a single rub-a-dub trainer armed with a sponge, water and smelling salts, and in cricket, Glamorgan Cricket Club borrowed Cardiff City's physio, John Evans, during the summer season, who tended our many bone breaks and bruises with a couple of lamps and a large bottle of his own grey mix of lead and opium. He offered pastoral care too, especially on Saturday nights.

Away from home, with no Sunday play in those early days, he used to conduct our sing-song in the bar and signal the finale by instructing a barmaid to "fill'em up Missus", before floating out his quiet e-flat to pitch the last song, which was always the Welsh hymn tune Llef.

Where was I at the age of 9-10? Probably being urged in 1948-49 to "use your grey matter, boy", as the questions in maths got that extra bit tricky before the scholarship examination. "If the water enters the bath at x rate and someone pulls out the plug after four minutes for a minute and 25 seconds, how much water is in the bath at eight o'clock when the Light programme pips sounded for a mystery episode with Paul Temple and his wife Steve?" I flew the white flag. Mathematics and I were never to marry. I surrendered, pleading numerical dyslexia.

And yet, I have to reaffirm Laura Caddock-Heyman and all at Illinois University, that I was not lacking "aerobical" exercise. If ever a grey matter should been thinning it was mine. We never stopped running. On our narrow road in Neath we played rugby, soccer and cricket, and by gas light after dark we turned the world-famous game of hide-and-seek into noisy kick-the-tin, which had Mrs Morgan in number nine planting obstacles along the way to her garden with the concentration of a soldier laying tripwire.

We never stood still. Regularly we raced from the Gnoll Junior School at lunchtime after digesting a dollop of cottage pie and a square of solid bake full of currants and covered in pink custard, off to the gates of the Gnoll Woods to fight the Christian army of St David's Church School for no other reason than that they had school uniform and we did not.

However well the fighting went - and it was sometimes limited to a softening up process of stone-throwing from safe distances - the good citizens of Gnoll Drive sometimes ganged up on us and herded us back into the school and lined us up for a headmaster or headmistress caning, but we never enlisted in an anti-aerobic league.

No, physical exercise was not the answer to confusion in maths. Years later, in 1969, when Glamorgan cricket was edging towards its second county championship title, I discovered that in order to win matches, two innings each, over three days, some crafty declaring was crucial.

Here it was again, the dreaded maths: if you are 200 runs ahead, and the pitch is taking spin, when do you declare taking in all circumstances like the speed of the outfield, the distance from batting crease to the boundaries, the strength of the opposing batting - here I was with my grey matter spinning hopelessly in a vacuum, even before I tried to estimate how many overs Glamorgan's bowlers would send down before close-of-play. And what about the extra half-hour that could be claimed? Where does that fit in to the sums? If I was batting when the declaration had to be made, the mental arithmetic was beyond me and so I had to turn to the pavilion where Glamorgan's twelfth man had been instructed to wave a handkerchief and call us off as soon as his mathematical solution approximated to the figures I had left him.

Mathematical dyslexia; maths in the real world; water coming into the bath, grey matter or green matter, it's still all Chinese to me!
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 22, 2015
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