Spot The Spinning Jenny

I loved learning as a child (and still do), and I was generally a studious child. Even so, much of what my history teachers taught me, have long since disappeared into a cloud of fog. I’ve all but forgotten the names of the kings and queens I had to memorise, not to mention the myriad of dates of important historical events. Ask me today what I learned about Mesopotamia, or ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt, etc., and I’ll shake my head in embarrassment. It’s all a blur.

Despite my shoddy knowledge of the details, history is still something I enjoy learning. So, when I was asked to help out during my 9-year old’s class trip to the Science Museum to learn more about the technology that was developed as part of the industrial revolution, I readily accepted. Suffice to say my daughter was less than thrilled.

“This is mortifying,” she moaned to her older sister.

“Don’t worry; I promise to behave,” I tried to reassure her, but she remained unconvinced.

“We need some ground rules,” she said.

“Don’t talk to me during the class trip, unless you have to. In fact, don’t speak to anyone unless they speak to you first.”

“But I’m not going to be the only parent there,” I protested, “and I will have to open my mouth sometimes.”

“Just don’t embarrass me,” she said and rolled her eyes.

We were four parents helping out on the day, and each of us was assigned a group of four to five kids to chaperone while at the museum. My daughter and her best friend were in my group, but they tried their best to avoid me, while the three boys in the group were a lot more accepting of my presence. They even listened – or pretended to – when I began to lecture about the environmental impact of the industrial revolution, not to mention the slavery that made it all possible in the first place.

My daughter must have overheard me for, like a haunted spirit, she appeared by my side, hissing loud enough that I could hear, but no one else,

“Drop it, mum. That information is not on the worksheet.”

“Do you think there’s a Spinning Jenny here,” I asked the class teacher as we roamed a vast hall filled with inventions from the late 1700s and early 1800s. As a child learning about the industrial revolution, the Spinning Jenny was one of the few things, thanks to its name, that stuck in my brain.

Alas, I never caught sight of a Spinning Jenny, but I came across something even better. For in a dark corner of the museum, I happened upon a big clunky metal machine that made me all but forget my daughter’s warning about not embarrassing her.

“Look, look,” I shouted in excitement, “it’s the Difference Engine!”

Among the many books in our home, is a children’s book about Ada Lovelace, the 19th century English mathematician, popularly known as the world’s first computer programmer. Lovelace first met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Difference Engine, the first automatic mechanical calculator, when she was seventeen and later worked on his proposed analytical machine, a precursor to the computer.

The book had been my daughter’s favourite when she was younger, but that didn’t mean she took well to my sudden and loud outburst of excitement in a crowded museum.

Sitting on a bench with her friend, worksheet and pencil in her hands, she shot me a dark look and, realising I’d overstepped my mark, I fell silent and continued to roam the hall, chasing other inventions.

By the time we returned to school at the end of the day, I was exhausted. I don’t know how teachers do this on a regular basis, but I have only admiration and immense gratitude for the work they do to look after and educate our children. And if I had a say, I’d give them a huge pay raise. For if any profession is underpaid and undervalued, it’s the teaching profession.

It’s been a week now since the school trip, and while I consider my participation a success, my daughter has yet to overcome the humiliation and trauma inflicted on her. At least we agree on one thing: I won’t be volunteering for the next school trip.

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