Sunday, 21 August 2011
Alexander Masters' new book
There was an extract in The Guardian yesterday:
"Simon's mother, now dead, taught him maths, up to quadratic equations. Astounding, for a British housewife in the 1950s – no one in the family can explain it. Simon says he's a fluke of genetics. Every birth is a gamble by nature, a throwing in the air of infinite possibilities. In Simon's case, "The molecules settled in my favour. Neither of my brothers is particularly intelligent."
Francis Norton, Simon's middle brother, works in a shop called SJ Phillips, the oldest family-run antique jewellery business in the world. It's because Francis keeps the family firm alive and profitable that Simon has never had to have a job or a mortgage and, despite using 17 different variants of bus, train and visitor-attraction discount cards, doesn't actually need a single one of them.
Francis lives on the other side of Hampstead from Simon's oldest brother, Michael. Every year Francis or Michael invites Simon to their house for Passover; and every year Simon arrives with his shoelaces flapping, his bus timetables and his smells, and eats all the parsley.
Simon's first ever mathematical memory is of sitting on his parents' sofa, working out the value of two to the power of 30. One moment he was fidgeting quietly on the cushions; the next he was soaring into the stratosphere of the thousands, and lo! "My life as a mathematician had begun.""