MATHS IS THE PUREST SCIENCE, in that you don’t need any test-tubes or animal testing to do it. All the other sciences eventually boil down to maths, apart from biology – which boils down to soup. There are two types of maths: maths with numbers, and maths with letters. Don’t try the one with letters when you’re checking your change in the pub.

Doing maths with letters makes as much sense as painting with numbers. Actually, painting with numbers makes a surprising amount of sense, and you can get a very nice picture of the Endeavour. Funnily enough, you can also paint with figures but let’s not complicate matters. After all, maths is about simplicity; discovering the beautiful equations that underpin nature – such as 1+1 = 1 (unless you have twins).

Mathematicians like letters a lot and they have their special favourites. Chief amongst these are a and b and x and y. Interestingly, you never see much of w.This is because it features the word ‘double’ which means times by two and would easily confuse mathematicians.

In the real world, when letters meet numbers, you get a bus route. In maths, you get an equation. With these equations, mathematicians can work out the distance to the planets, the direction of evolution and the mind of God. They miss their bus, but that’s the price you pay for hot maths action.

Of course, calculators have made maths much easier for most people, except for professional mathematicians. Because they use letters for maths, they can only get their calculators to give them the Spanish word for ‘police station’.

Mathematicians have a lot of similarities to the train-buff, and for them, the primes are the Kingston Flyer of numbers. Prime numbers are irregular, odd and never quite what they appear to be: hence Prime Minister.

Given the importance of maths, it’s surprising that there are only 10 numbers to choose from. It’s rumoured that a new number between four and five was discovered in the ’50s, but that it was hushed up in case they had to start the decade again with the new name.

The four horsemen of mathematics are multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. There is also a fifth thing you can do with figures, and that is announce them. This is the favoured option of politicians, and it supersedes all other mathematical rules.

In the old days, fractions were the high point of mathematics, and only one-third of school leavers were comfortable with them. Thanks to the recent advances in education that’s now up to 25% of school leavers, according to recently announced government figures.

© GUY BROWNING IS AUTHOR OF ‘NEVER PUSH WHEN IT SAYS PULL’ AND CREATOR OF ‘TORTOISE IN LOVE’ (DVD) – USED BY PERMISSION.