Saturday, 23 July 2011

Peter Sutcliffe Loves His Algebra

Bloody hell! The Open University residential was amazing. I went there expecting to learn about mathematical modelling and instead I befriended the cohorts of the sickest minds in Britain. And it wasn't even a LibDem residential.

It started off in the pub on the first day. The subject came around to sport. I can't really talk football but I like watching Blackburn (which many would argue isn't football at all) because it embraces the eternal optimist in me. If you support Manchester United or Chelsea then anything but a massive victory is a huge disappointment. As a Rovers fans, I'll happily take a 1-0 defeat because it should probably have been a lot worse. When I mentioned my fondness for the Blue and Whites, Jamie on my left said that he didn't think I'd find many football fans in a roomful of mathematicians. I didn't believe him. So I did a straw poll of my other tablemates. And - buggering hell - he was completely right. Apart from Don, who couldn't decide whether he supported Charlton or Chelsea and ended up saying "I just support football", which really doesn't count, no one else was a fan. Out of six, it was just me. But then, totally unconnected to this - or 'apropos of nothing' in wankspeak - Jamie let it slip that he was from Gloucester.

Before I continue, let me explain that I actually have no fascination at all with the perverts and serial killers that have recently featured on this blog but there's a reason for my interest in one of 'em. I used to run a comedy sketch group. I'd never performed on stage before I started it, and my acting skills were (and still are) zero. But I discovered that the more remote a character I played was from my personality, the more comfortable I felt on stage. It's like hiding. And, for this reason, or so I constantly told myself, I always felt happiest playing the part of a certain recurring comedy character we had called Fred West.

Back to the story. Gloucester is Fred West's home town. I thought I'd try a punt. "Did you know Fred West then?" I asked. "No," he replied. Obviously. "But I used to walk past his house every day." Wow! OK, Gloucester isn't massive. Perhaps everybody walked past his house. Maybe he lived near a Greggs. Surely, this was entirely normal.

So, for reasons of statistical analysis - we'd tried the football poll after all - I turned to David on my right. I knew he hailed from Holmfirth, the location of The Last of the Summer Wine, and not too far from Sheffield. So I casually asked him, more sarcastically than anything, if he had any connection to Peter Sutcliffe. At this stage I'd known him for about three hours and was expecting a solid no or maybe a smack in the face, but he replied, "How close a connection?" It turned out he had two. He'd lived in Sheffield's red light district back in the 70s and was on nodding terms with the prostitute who was in the car with Sutcliffe when he was arrested. As a doctor, he also knew a bloke who'd analysed samples of Sutcliffe's victims. Now c'mon. Two out of two. That's spooky.

Chas decided he'd had enough and retired, and while Don was at the bar, I explained the backstory to Londoner Chris and asked, just to amuse myself really, whether he had a connection to anything as sinister as the other two. "No," he replied. Of course. See, entirely normal. "Ah, maybe. My grandma used to have regular phone conversations with Ronnie Kray." Jesus freakin' Christ!

So there you have it. I haven't done much statistics with the OU yet and so this all may be a bit flawed, but from my data, only 16.667% of mathematicians like football, but 50% of 'em have established connections to famous murderers and perverts. Mmm, I bet Carol Voderman is Josef Fritzl's daughter.

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