IF you have reached or passed middle age it's quite likely that you will be able to show today's youngsters a thing or two when it comes to mental arithmetic.

You may have lost a few more of the brain cells that disappear with the march of the years but you can do simple sums without have to reach for a calculator - or take your shoes and socks off!

Have you noticed for example that sometimes in shops you have already added up the total of your three or four items in your head while the counter assistant is still struggling to get the answer out of his or her all singing-all dancing till.

The reason for possessing this ability (and once learnt it's not forgotten) is that you belong to a generation which went through school without needing the constant support of the electronics industry.

And you were tested regularly on multiplication tables which had to be learned by rote.

Now Blackburn with Darwen Council has been sending text message maths questions and brain teasers to market traders as part of an education department effort to boost numeracy standards.

There's no suggestion that market traders are any worse at mental arithmetic than anyone else.

And education officials probably wouldn't agree that such innovative coaching is needed because of deficiencies in recent school maths teaching.

The idea sounds a excellent one which should be widely extended.