A month in St Andrews

We spent the month of April in St Andrews, not as visitors but as members of the School of Mathematics and Statistics. First impressions very positive.

I was involved in a lot of the department’s activity (though obviously not teaching). Thus, I designed a new module which (if approved) I will teach next year; I marked some student presentations; I gave a Pure Mathematics Colloquium on Derangements; I was on the victorious Pure Maths team in the staff/student charity quiz; I struggled with the truly awful University software for recording research details and publications (which thinks I am a statistician, and cannot be persuaded to change its mind); more happily, I have begun producing my own personal web page. I chaired a public lecture by a colleague, and had a few meetings with my first St Andrews PhD student. I went on an LDWA Heart of Scotland Group walk near Crieff with Kenneth Falconer; I had lunch or dinner with several colleagues; and, most important, I have started what I hope will develop into several new collaborations.

One of my colleagues announced at coffee, “I now have Erdős number 3, and all three people are in this building.”

The student newspaper is no better or worse than many, except for a startling example of innumeracy on the front page of one issue: The proportion of students gaining first or upper second class degrees rose from 68% in 2002/03 to 85% in 2011/12, “representing an almost 152% increase over the past ten years” (!!)

St Andrews from Pipelands Hill

St Andrews is an interesting town; more than almost any other, people and cars inhabit parallel universes. Lade Braes is a path through the town and then along the Kinness and Cairnsmill Burns for some distance. But my favourite is a route which starts a little to the west of the ruined Blackfriars Chapel on South Street. Duck under a lintel below an old cottage, and keep on in a straight line, or as near to straight as you can in St Andrews. After about 2km you are out of the town, climbing Pipeland Hill with spectacular views back over the town and Eden estuary. After 6km you are on the bank of Cameron Burn, where the path ends. All this with only one very short stretch on the road.

We were told that St Andrews never has five fine days in a row; if there are four, then for sure the weather will change on the fifth. After the first couple of weeks, I was prepared to revise “five” and “four” to “one” and “half”; but the weather improved later, even if it could still come up with a cloudless sky and a heavy hailstorm within a few hours of each other. Spring was late coming, but by the end of the month the hawthorn and horse chestnut trees were in leaf. The evenings were drawing out, so it was still light walking home after dinner, and with that incomparable northern light.

Train on Tay Bridge

Rosemary and I walked two longish stretches of the Fife Coastal Path, from Newburgh to the Tay Road Bridge and from there back to St Andrews. (We couldn’t resist walking over the bridge and back!) On another outing we went by train to Stonehaven and walked to the spectacular Dunnottar Castle on the Aberdeenshire coast.

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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