Friday, 21 August 2009


Mes chers amis

How grateful I am to you all for your continued interest in my godson, Wulfric. I know that there is just one question on your lips tonight: what did he get? Well, you may all crack open a bouteille of Uerziger Wurzgarten 1961 and drink a deep draught, for the boy got straight As and is off to his reward. Let the toast be Rugby School, and let the response be Ed Balls God Bless Him. I like to think that I have played a vital role in the lad's success, although this may be met with scorn in some grittier quarters (Mr Beast of Bournemouth). The fact is, although relentlessly loaded and repeatedly wrecked, I know my maths, which comes as a vile shock to some ingrates (Mr Inky Inkermann: I once trounced him with my take on Kronecker's work) who can't believe that it sits comfortably with my glamorous life. To them I say this: it is all in the genes, and there is nothing to be done about it; like maternal-pattern baldness, for example.

My dear old father died in February, and I am still clearing a mountain of paperwork. I have mentioned his journals before, I know, particularly his Restaurant Reviews ("The Americans Paid!" ..... "...the worst escalope di vitello farcita I have ever eaten ...", ..."pantouffle Perigourdine in Abergavenny ...", ......"A 1945 ch. Croizet Bages didn't disappoint ..." etc. etc ....) and also his archive of arithmetic. He was a man of parts, my father. He loved football and rugby, Mahler, Joseph Conrad and Kim Novak, but mainly he loved maths. It was his hobby. He was a General Practitioner of the old school, with a surgery in a Thameside village and a private practice in London (now don't get snotty - they ALL did in those days) but he couldn't do a crossword puzzle to save his life. I will never forget how he tore his hair out over one clue: Sloppy Onward Address (4). The harridan and I got it immediately*. He gave up without a fight. He found his relaxation in numbers and, like his friend Lancelot Hogben, filled his journals with his thoughts. I found this today, dated November 1959:

"De Moivre discovered a new field of calculating devices by using the mathematical gerund i as Diophantus had used the mathematical gerund "-a". What is called de Moivre's theorem started a new chapter in modern algebra just as the law of signs started a new chapter in the algebra of antiquity. de Moivre's theorem, like the binomial theorem of Omar Khayyam is a rule for raising a quantity to some power represented by the operator n written in the top left hand corner".

He then gives an example with which I won't bore you. The point is that he was attempting to say something powerful. Namely, don't bother about the meaning of this, because a rule in mathematics is either a statement about its consistency with with other rules, or a statement about how it can be used. First of all, you should satisfy yourself that it is consistent with what you know already about sines, cosines, negative quantities, square roots and powers. I hope I haven't lost you. He then goes onto some theorising about vector analysis and finally uses a word I have never seen before: mantissa (the positive fractional part of the logarithm). The irony isn't lost on me. I'm sure this word will come up in a crossword. Probably this week.

Forgive me, I am a bit maudlin and a bit pissed. What a combination! However, I quite like it. It is the end of a working week and, ever since I came out to you as a member of the real economy with a real job, my inbox has been becrammed with bleatings. Mrs Pouncer! (they say) Are you really a woman of commerce? And to this I say, yes, I am, and I Kick Ass on the High Street. For those who still languish in the mire of disbelief, I give my Glossary of Commercial Terms.

An AGENT is a person who transacts business for another. His CHARGE or FEE is usually so much percent of the value of the business carried out. This is called COMMISSION. An agent who buys and sells shares is called a BROKER and his charge is called BROKERAGE. The term DISCOUNT is used to mean a percentage taken off amount payable. DEPRECIATION is noted as a stocktaking percentage written off each year to meet decrease in value - generally quoted at 1% on buildings, 5% on stock and 10% on machinery. All debts a man owes are his LIABILITIES. All his possessions are his ASSETS. If his liabilities are greater than his assets, he is INSOLVENT. To whom he owes money are called his CREDITORS. The term DISCOUNT is also used in buying and selling to mean a percentage off an amount payable. This is known as TRADE DISCOUNT. Yes, I am JEWISH. Try these handy problems to see if you've kept up:

1. A bankrupt owes £73,5000 and his assets realise £11,630. What can he pay per £1?
2. A bill of £400 drawn 1 August at 6 months was discounted 4 August at 8 per cent. What amount of discount was deducted?
3. How much is written off for depreciation in three years at 5% on plant originally worth £3500?
4. A,B & C each contribute £680 to a business capital. A's lies all year, ~B's for 10 months and C's for 8 months. If the profit is £412 how much should each receive?
5. If 12 oxen and 35 sheep eat 12 tons 12 cwts of hay in 8 days, how much will it cost to feed 9 oxen and 12 sheep for 14 days, the price of hay being £4 per ton and 3 oxen eating as much as 7 sheep?

My godson, bound as he is for Peterhouse to read Maths, looked blank. I was appalled and gratified. You see, we ARE cleverer, no matter what Mr A. Salmond, finder of lost children and truly my brother's keeper, may think, and thank heavens for that.

*The answer is MUSH.

Friday, 7 August 2009


Mes tres chers amis

I will be incommunicado for some days.  Tomorrow, I have to deliver Mutti, the glamorous old harridan, to her cousin's cottage in Corfe Castle, a gloomsome model village, built to scale, in an inaccessible part of Dorset, or Darzet as the locals have it.  There is no room for me in the begrimed hovel, I am relieved to report, so I shall stay for two nights at Mortons House Hotel (no apostrophe), a ludicrously self-satisfied almost-adequate on a busy road.  I see that it has been awarded the Bronze Award for Accessible Entry by the South Wales Tourist Board.  This accolade moves me to an incandescent rage.  Why should Accessible Entry be so important to the Southern Welsh?  Some people are hoity-toity, I must say.  What about the North Walians?  Do they prefer something more challenging?  And who won the Gold?  Rest assured, I shall be making careful note of how accessible I find entry on arrival.  If I find it wanting, I shall say.  Or I shall move to the Bankes Arms across the road.  The entry there is very accessible, although the exit is oft-times more difficult, particularly when one is incapable through drink, or attempting to squeeze through the huge oaken doorway whilst a stout party from the Midlands is adjusting his dress.

I hope you will wish me Godspeed and good weather.  This time last year, you will recall, I was in Antibes for a month,  the toast of Cap d'Agde and dining with the Michael Howards.  How times change!  Saturday night will find me sitting on my chaste couch, gazing at a distant vista of the Purbeck hills, a large vodka and slimline in one hand and 40mg of Flupenthixol Decanoate in the other.