In this new series I hope to review aspects of the St Andrews centric universe on a five-star scale. I resolutely promise that the hackneyed PH will never feature, neither my favourite alleyways nor coffee shops, that’s not what I want to achieve. Go on naysayers, cry out: “but how do you intend to compare the highbrow high-ceilinged history of the second-best university in the country and its tiny town, to some low-brow, nonsense quirks.” To that I respond, second-best is a delusion. But I will also point out that St Andrews’ three mighty streets and a cathedral, compared to Edinburgh’s mere two streets and an adequate castle, whilst lacking a lot, offers us all. We are no upstart post-reformation university. This is the St Andrews centric world, where experts teach the seals how to sing (not a metaphor, google it). Let the musings begin, scattered fox thoughts. Welcome, moisturise your wrists, and enjoy your first instalment: The house number of 103 North St and the loose paving slabs of Muttoes Ln.
103 or ١٠٣ North St
Knowing The Saint , the latter number is unlikely to be printed properly. I should know, I write for the paper and we usually add errors to irk some pedants. However, I can, to the best of my knowledge, inform you that to the left of the blue door at 103 North St, there is a tautology that will be picked up solely by speakers of both Arabic and English. When I first walked past, I thought little of the squiggles found under – neath the house number. They just look like a thing. Things don’t call for inquiry. From music we demand emotion; from art we demand explanations. But things; no, you just say: “oh, it’s a thing.” Although you don’t really, you just ignore it. Too many things, we are assailed by things, winded by things. So why did I look? I was not taken aback by the squiggles. Instead, it was the slim dimensions of the building. It is as gaunt as an Instagram model, consisting of two storeys, and split into two flats. It’s a quiet end of North St, desirable if I might say so, close to the cinema (carpets not sticky enough in screen 3, 3.5 stars). The flats must be, for want of an estate agent euphemism, cosy. My enquiries began when, in the library, a ruthlessly intelligent, multilingual mate of mine explained that he suspected an Arabic tutor lived there; the squiggles being Arabic for 103. From that point I could never not notice 103 North St. No longer just a thing, it had become a meaningful thing. When you take note of something small, from then on it becomes brightly highlighted, daubed in fluorescent yellow. I once looked up the word agnification when I read it in a book, it means the representation of people as lamb or sheep. Superfluous knowledge now chiselled to my synapses. When do I use agnification? Rarely. When will I forget it? Never. Interest now piqued, I then researched further. The numbers are beautifully esoteric, meaningless unless you are in the know. I used to just see a difference, now there is a symbolic connection. Consider this too, the relationship between 103 and ١٠٣ is not just symbolic but historical. How do I describe the ordinal numbers (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and, 9)? Ten digits, which amusingly run-up to the number 9, representative of quantity, real or imagined. When apple = 1, and apple apple = 2. Try and describe numbers, I dare you. The Romans got as far as the Gretna Green service station, but as English speakers we do not write in Roman numerals unless we are enumerating monarchs, chapters, or clocks. We write in Arabic numerals, introduced into Europe in the 10th Century. The first mention in the Codex Vigilanus . We have the Moors and Fibonacci to thank and the printing press for codifying the numbers we use today. But we can go back further, this is the Hindu-Arabic decimal system after all, to India in 700AD. We can turn the clocks forward and see its use by Persian mathematicians. Then to Syria where we have the first evidence of fractions and decimals. Fancy that, old sport, someone just invent – ed fractions and decimals. Obviously, fractions existed before then, but never on a page. Notation evolved, changed, became organised in mathematical treatise. The first example of Arabic numerals in Scotland are from 1470 on the tomb of the Earl of Huntly in Elgin. After saying this, I want to correct an error I have made. I don’t mean to suggest that 103 is English, or European, or even ascribable to a specific group. 103 and ١٠٣ are sim – ply Arabic and another bit of Arabic. From two house numbers, or really one house number, you can unthread over a thousand years of history. So how do I conclude this? I can’t tell you to inquire about everything, that would be debilitating. I’m not sure, be present and realise that you live in an endlessly tangled world. I give 103 North St five stars.
The loose paving slabs on Muttoes Ln
We live in a world that tends towards chaos. For that reason, Fife council, I implore you: do not fix the loose paving slabs on Muttoes Ln. I prefer your current solution, stick a cone in a hole and paint the others orange. But why do I find the current solution so pleasing? It’s a constancy of life, I’m used to it. We need more, seating plans in lectures and tutorials should be next. It’s not that I don’t want to sit next to other people, it’s that I know that I sit on the third seat along by the window in Comp Lit. The fact that that never changes is ideal. For those of you that have seen or read Stoppard’s masterful Arcadia, you may remember how Thomasina questions why, when swirling jam in rice pudding, does swirling the other direction does not bring the jam together. The move towards greater disorder being characteristic of chaos theory. If the initial conditions determine ostensibly random events, leave the conditions be. Chaos, as Peak and Frame note, is the “irregular output from a deterministic system.” So, don’t swirl the jam, just leave it. Pick a seat in week one and stick to it. The results are not random, the impact of fixing those slabs will always be the fault of the fixer. Contemplating how a system will react is limited, we can only know that Muttoes Ln will eventually no longer exist. So, why be culpable. But you scream, the notion that Muttoes Ln is a small part of a highly complex system is preposterous. So what? Finally, we are seasoned St Andreans, talented individuals who have a selective advantage when walking down Muttoes Ln. Fixing the pavement would strip away a true talent of ours: making it between Market St and North St with our ankles intact. Alas, it is terrible for accessibility so the council should probably get their act together. It will, however, tilt my world off its axis. I give the loose paving slabs on Muttoes Ln one-and-a-half stars.
So, what do you think? Ridiculous fleeting nonsense. Proustian you may think as you dip your madeleine in the tea. In the words of Virginia Woolf: “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday.” “How are these reviews going to work?” You ask. I don’t know. Joe, does Viewpoint have room for a belletrist? “What happens when you run out of ideas?” I’ll blow that bridge up when I get to it, for now when playing well stay at the crease. Trying to cast a shrewd eye on the familiar is challenging. A.A. Gill pulled it off in London, he connected statuary to the figures they freeze in an encompassing and panoramic view of the city. If I could replicate a mere crumb of his expressive excellence, I would die happy. What makes us ceaselessly St Andrean, who knows?