Monday, 28 September 2009

Lost weekend

The poker club meets in the back room of a pub 1/2 hr away. Here's Carlos; he doesn't have a heart of gold, but I'm solid with him because I found him an expert witness (a maxillary surgeon) for his assault case. The question is whether the other guy's smashed face is due to encountering a wall or Carlos. "It's OK Inkspot, the police are probably going to drop the case because the other bloke has a terrible record, but thanks anyway. Really, thanks a lot." It cost me a 5 minute phone call to a surgical friend, but the British class system is as rigid as ever and Carlos has the wrong contacts. Except for me.

I played until too late, so Saturday was a bit of a write-off, I was too tired to be a useful family member and the morning was a bit tense. Sunday we had lunch with friends, he's gentle, she's beautiful. They have a lake in the grounds, so after lunch ("That lamb was delicious, you could really taste the innocence", stolen from Arlington Hynes at bogol, thank you Arlington, it was a great success) we went swimming. Despite the Indian summer it was too cold to stay in long, and the children were too intelligent to go in at all. Dinner was chips from the Turkish chip van; you don't get that in the country.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Me me me

Some time ago Gadjo was kind enough to tag me; it's taken this long to think of anything to say.

1. Telling people that I'm a mathematician stops most conversations. It's easy to change the subject: "That's a fabulous bracelet, it looks like something worn by a warrior princess". Some women like being compared to warrior princesses, but real warrior princesses tend to think I'm a drip.

2. One of my ambitions is to introduce my brother (divorced, single, straight, glamorous, good-looking) to warrior princesses, such as Miss Whiplash and Nursemyra. He spends his time going to horrible places full of angry people (Iraq, Kosovo, Darfur, Burundi, ...) and trying to fix their lives. Ladies, form a disorderly queue please.

3. OK, settle down, more math now. It was chemistry that got me into science in the first place; my dad gave me a chemistry set when I was 8 or 9 and it was the best present ever. The experience of doing math is like that of doing chemistry; things (chemicals or ideas) react and transform, creating new colours and smells in ways that are at first unexpected, then explicable. Without the unexpectedness it would be dull, without the explanation stupid. And of course it brings pleasure, at its best like a rocket shooting up your spine and exploding in your brain.

4. When I had just finished my PhD I first met my US contemporaries at a conference and was blown away by finding out how much more they knew than I did. That was the single biggest intellectual event of my life till now, because of the way it overturned my view of what it means to be a mathematician and taught me that knowledge, deep and broad, and creativity are inseparable.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Eat your heart out Jacques Cousteau

Last night I went swimming with whales. As one went by I squirted mustard in its ear. That made the whale thrash around a whole lot and I woke up at 4-30 in a Bristol hotel room.

Bastard whale, now I'm going to be useless at work today.

Oh btw Freudians, it was mustard, it was yellow.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Exotic job

"Dad, why don't you have an exotic job?"


"Well, I'm a mathematician, that's pretty exotic compared to most people. But what do you mean by exotic job?"

"Oh, it's where you wear a suit and take the train really early and work in a bank and come back really late [and bring back shedloads of money], that's an exotic job. Like my friends' dads have."

Damned private school.

"Look, if it weren't for mathematics those guys wouldn't be making any money. And it's really beautiful, plus it underlies everything else in this world, from electronics to our understanding of the spread of disease. You wouldn't be texting your friends without that. And you can't even tie your shoelaces without understanding math. [Memo to self: verify this last one, it's a bit dodgy.] And anyway you should always be proud of your own family and stick up for them."

There might have been some finger-wagging during this.

"Yes daddy yes daddy."

A few weeks later the school play approaches.

"Look darling, I don't want to embarrass you at the school play, so would you like me to wear a suit?"

I do actually have one, I got married in it. I've a horrible fear it might have shrunk meanwhile.

"Oh no dad, don't bother, everyone knows you haven't got an exotic job."