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Wednesday, 5 January 2011

One, Two, Three



I'm getting a bit maudlin (not Magdalen) after yet another of my generation shuffled off their mortal coil. All I know about Gerry Rafferty was that he was an alcoholic, was in Stealers Wheel and wrote and sang "Baker Street", but even so it pulls one up short when another one, of my generation, bites the dust.

Having spent too much time in doors over the Christmas break I decided to go shopping. A brisk walk to the Parking Shop to buy a book of 1 hour parking permits so that the few friends that visit us don't get clobbered with a £60 fine for parking in our road, was required.

I walk through the market ,the longest (and most depressing) in Europe and there's hardly any one about. Stall holders shift from one foot to the other, blowing into their cupped hands to take the edge off the cold. Shoppers are few and far between looking half heartedly at Christmas left overs, which at any price now look woebegone and forgotten.

I stop at our local bookshop; which once was a local business but is now just one branch of Waterstones who are themselves part of the EMI Group. EMI's poor Christmas sales will result in 60 of their stores closing - let's hope it isn't our bookshop. 

I'm reading Colin Dexter and his Inspector Morse but he was out investigating a murder and was nowhere to be seen.  I played with the thought of buying Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy at 3 for the price of 2 but I thought they'd be too heavy this time of year and in any case I have an Icelandic thriller to look forward to. I ended up buying the latest in C J Sansom's Shardlake series. At half price it was something I couldn't resist. 

The Parking Shop is packed out. It is a tiny room in a God-forsaken 80's build. "Customers" are separated from the staff by a glass window and there's a queue. At one till someone's paying a parking fine; at the other a man whose English is not that good is trying to explain why he shouldn't have to pay a surcharge - he didn't receive the penalty notice until yesterday. Patiently the lady behind the glass enumerates the steps the man has to go through to get anywhere with his claim. A woman comes through the door and is talking to her parner on the mobile phone. She doesn't know or care that we now all know about her medical problems "down below" and why she hasn't paid her credit card bill.

I leave the Parking Shop with an expensive book of 30 1 hour tickets and the feeling that the gloom and grime of Walthamstow is centred in that small, claustrophobic room.

Next on to Wilkinson's who took over the shop that Woolworth vacated when they went bust in late 2008. What a change. They're not a high end store, in fact they're what Woolies were in the 1950's and 60's. Simple, good quality stuff at reasonable prices that's what they're about. And service. They are so helpful. It's a pleasure to walk through their door.

I bought the few items I needed and headed to Sainsbury's for a couple of bottles of wine and some greens. The purchase of a Savoy cabbage - they are so lovely - settled this evening meal. Potato and onion pie, cabbage with juniper berries and steamed brocolli. We have to lose weight after an extremely lazy two weeks over Christmas.

At home on the computer I started to read the New York Times and hit upon a section "Steven Strogatz on the Elements of Maths". In Waterstones I looked through their general science section and although I didn't buy anything from there it had stimulated my interest so I was drawn to this NYT's columnist.

I'm glad I was. A series of 15 short essays on the mysteries of maths is a gem. It's just so well written and the ideas while common place are exposed as being remarkable and wonderful. You don't have to start at essay one but can dip in anywhere, although if, like me, your maths brain's a bit rusty the early essays help you to limber up so that by the time you're onto "The Hilbert Hotel" and different infinities you're not completely confabulated.

Enjoy!

2 comments:

The Sagittarian said...

Maths essays? MATHS essays? Something here doesn't add up....

Barry Coidan said...

Oh, very smart. Go to the head of the class. While you're there write out your 10 times table.