At last, after all these years, an answer. It wasn’t my addled brain that made me fail that maths exam, and it wasn’t that woman’s lousy teaching.
I spent my school years pale and nude of skin. I’ll grant you, there was colour enlivening my face, but it came only from the spots.
Make up was banned. Hazard a bit of mascara, and you risked a hand shooting out on a narrow corridor and an angry adult face pointing out the error of yours.
I’ve always thought that was fair enough, to be honest. Girls need any break they can get from worrying about their looks.
But turns out all that is wrong. A bare face does not make for a clever mind. There was no need, in all those old films, for the actress playing the brainy bird to scrub her skin and don those glasses.
For there is a Lipstick Effect.
Research on 200 women, in a joint study by American and Italian psychologists, reveals that they did ten to twenty per cent better in tests if they applied lipstick beforehand. The act of brightening their faces also sharpened their wits.
Their enhanced faces boosted their self esteem and confidence, and that in turn boosted their mental ability. Basically, a bit of lippy perks a person up.
We’ve known this, on an instinctive level, for ever. During WW2 women might have been making do and mending in all departments, creating meals out of paraffin and potato peelings, running up winter coats out of bits of blanket and string - but they were Officially Advised to keep reapplying the lippy.
Everyone understood that a slick of red could turn a washerwoman into a warrior woman.
I’ve stuck with this wartime advice. Once I escaped the school corridor, I realised there were few situations that couldn’t be improved by a quick rummage around the makeup bag.
Even in the working mother years - especially in the working mother years - I would make a space between the morning nappy changing and Weetabix spooning to slap on the slap.
In the world of work, where men dominated, a good lipstick was all part of the armour.
Younger women, I notice, have stopped doing this so much. They have taken off the armour, put down the shield.
They enter their workplace each morning without artifice, as bare-faced as the blokes surrounding them.
Maybe they don’t feel the need any more, maybe their point has been made and they don’t need the Lipstick Effect to stay sharp and battle-ready.
In the very old days, women would dress up for the office because they were proud to be there, rather than in clogs and in the mill down the road, but that fight at least is definitely over.
But, in a crisis, women will still fall back on the power of makeup - and there is one woman in particular who has turned to lipstick for salvation of late. Theresa May, our very own prime minister, has never looked quite so immaculately groomed as she does now.
In her days in the relatively safe harbour of the Home Office, Theresa was not the lipstick queen she has become of late.
Yet on election night, when she realised she had squandered a Tory majority rather than increased it, her face shone much brighter. Political commentator Nick Robinson even alerted the nation to the amount of makeup she was wearing as she arrived at her own count in the small hours. It can be useful to cover the tracks of tears too.
Since then, as Theresa has been bashed around on the political rocks, the lipstick has stayed grimly put.
I understand the instinct. But sometimes even a slick of the brightest lipstick isn’t enough to save a person. It wouldn’t in truth have got me through my maths exam, and I doubt it’s going to save Theresa May.
ANT, WE WISH YOU THE BEST
In the midst of everything, there are little glimpses of the world becoming a kinder place.
The wildly successful Ant McPartlin, one half of Ant and Dec, has told us that he is going into rehab to try to beat an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol.
It turns out that for some time he has been spiralling down into depression and addiction brought on, in the short term, by failed knee surgery and, in the long term, by childlessness. He and wife Lisa, who have been married eleven years, have failed to conceive.
Now you might expect the reaction to be harsh. You know, people pointing out that he has £60million pounds to cushion his misery, and several prime time television shows to distract him from his woes.
But it hasn’t been like that. Everyone has accepted that money and success can only buoy up a person so far, and that health and family are what matters.
And instead of hiding his problems, which it would have been easy enough to do, Ant McPartlin has chosen to speak up about them, which is courageous.
His wealth could have created an impenetrable wall for him to hide behind had he so wished it, but he didn’t.
He has chosen to confront the problems that have overwhelmed himand we have chosen to show understanding. That’s a good sign for him, and for us too.
ALL THIS ADVICE IS HARD TO SWALLOW
You wait long enough and everything comes round again, even fat, salt and carbohydrates, made crunchy.
There was a time when crisps were the very incarnation of all that was evil. You couldn’t do worse, you might as well just take poison and have done with it.
The sight of a person going for the crisp option at the vending machine was the sight of failure. What was wrong with them?
But not so much now because crisps have big guns on their side now.
Dentists, who are extracting record numbers of teeth from the under fives, say that, actually, crisps are okay. It was all a bit of a misunderstanding.
What is currently evil, very evil, is dried fruit. The stuff that parents pack into lunchboxes in the mistaken belief that it is natural and therefore good for a child. It isn’t. It sticks to teeth and rots them, they say.
So it’s time to learn that new rule - or wait for the next one to come along.