COLM O'REGAN: It’s funny the things you remember from school

There was one place that will resonate with all who forgot they remembered them: The Islets of Langerhans, writes Colm O’Regan

It’s funny the things you remember from school. They were obviously ingrained so deeply without me noticing. They are rarely beautiful things, rarely a sonnet, that you might deploy to defuse a situation in a status meeting about a project that is running late.

It’s usually something else.

“TEN ALL ROUND, TEN, FIVE AND TEN”. That’s one of the relics. It’s what the the mechanical drawing teachers started every class with. 10 millimeters all round to create a border around the A3 sheet. We weren’t going to just draw on paper that was unbounded. We weren’t animals.

The ten, five and ten were the guidelines at the top where we would put the carefully penciled draughtsman’s lettering with its little whimsical curved Cs and Ss and crossed over Ws. Lettering to explain to an uncaring world that were about to draw a cylinder and sphere mating. (A section euphemistically known as Solids in Contact.)

Maths had Newtons Law of Cooling. I can’t remember how it works but all I know is that at some point in maths class we were working out how long a body had been dead in a room. A fictional body, we weren’t being called in to fix a case that had stumped the grownups.

Geography is another subject that pops into my head. The ox-bow lake and hanging valleys are old hat of course. Every two-bit nostalgia merchant harps on about these. But I’m a 2.5 bit nostalgia merchant. I remember the fossilized pingo. A pingo is a hill that used to be full of ice. It’s like a baked Alaska that never was warm. But it will be forever preserved in my head. A magic 3 syllable 2 syllable combination.

But it was biology where the real stars were. Phrases that I’d have to look up now on Wikipedia but they still trip off the tongue. The golgi complex - where they imprison intellectuals, maybe. The medulla oblongata. Who wouldn’t remember a medulla? A magical stone for gaining the power of foresight. Phytophera infestans - potato blight. A dark chapter in our country’s history became a plaything for the pronunciation. There were the sex bits of course - fallopian tubes and vas deferens but their memorableness was undercut by being a teenager and that’s all we thought about anyway so it doesn’t have a huge amount of nostalgia currency.

But there was one place that will resonate with all who forgot they remembered them: The Islets of Langerhans.

If you’re not from Cork, or aware of what we’re like, like, the Islets of Langerhans may sound like a stage on the ocean between this world and the next.

But if you’re a Cork teenager, specifically a male one, well, that’s different. When we came across the Islets of Langerhans, there was a gasp in the class. Langer? Hands? It was too easy. There was no mention of them at Junior Cert. The powers that be probably kept their existence from us until we were a bit older and wouldn’t spontaneously combust at the possibilities for shouting it out in class as the answer to every question.

In a way the islets of Langerhans are the answer to every question because they make insulin, influence whether we have diabetes or not and so will eventually decide the fate of human civilization. But we didn’t know that. The teacher said Langer! Haha!

The thing about these memories is that they are often triggers for upstream memories, hitherto held back. Now that I remember the Islets, I also now can remember the endoplasmic reticulum and the way she might look at you. The calculus mantra “Multiply down by the power AND REDUCE THE POWER BY ONE” nudges its way into my thoughts.

Excuse me. I may be some time.


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