“Did you say, ‘You are under arrest!'” Ravi asked us when when we called him from the train back to Brough. For we had just met Kjartan Poskitt. What would we have arrested him for? For murder … of maths!
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Even before we went to England, I looked at the Murderous Maths website to see if the author was speaking anywhere. In the two weeks that we would be in the country, he had only one speaking engagement and that was at Sheffield Hallam University on the 4th of November – and we were leaving for India on the 5th. Moreover, it was taking place in a college and I was not sure if it was open to the public, including children. Using the contact info on the website, I asked if we could attend the program in Sheffield. Kjartan Poskitt himself replied and said that his program was part of a teacher training course at the college and he would ask if we could attend. The next day he forwarded us the reply from the college, indeed we could! He added that the talk was at 2:00 pm but he would reach by 1:40 and we could come and meet him then.
After clearing with Usha that we could swing such a thing on the last full day that we would be at her place, I started making plans. When I told Khiyali that we just might be going to meet the author of Murderous Maths she was very excited. She decided which books from her collection she would ask him to sign and packed them separately. She selected Murderous Maths of Everything and Brain Benders, which actually says that it is written by “Professor Fiendish” who also appears in the Fiendish Angletron. And in every book, so I am told by Khiyali.
Always worried that something might fall through, I kept things low-key. Usha said that she and Saatvik would come too. I showed him some of the books, including The Secret of Codes. Usha booked train tickets for the big day. It was just 1 hour, 10 minutes from Brough, the station closest to Swanland.
November 4 arrived. Saatvik decided to stay home after all. He was reading the book and working out a code or two while we were getting ready to go. We had booked the 11:10 train but since we were going alone, I wondered if we could try for the 12:20, which would get to Sheffield at 1:30. But then Usha reminded me that that would not give us any buffer in case the train was late. Considering that the last two trains we took, from Brough – London and from London – Brough were both late, I thought it better not to take any risk. So she cancelled two of the four tickets and off we went to Sheffield by the 11:10 train.
We arrived very early so I tried to stroll around looking for ways to pass the hour till Kjartan Poskitt, aka Professor Fiendish, would arrive. I saw a sign for WH Smith, which I recognized as the name of a bookstore. I suggested we go and browse. But when we got in it seemed just to be a snack shop with a few magazines and paperback bestsellers on one rack along the wall. Khiyali said, “Let’s just go to the talk.”
There were some interesting fountains right outside the station. After a brief look we made our way to the university, which was literally across the street. I spotted some students and asked them where the building was – Owen Hall. They said they would walk us in that direction. They also happened to be selling baked goods to raise money for charity so we bought a corn-flake treat and met their mascot – a dragon.
The dragon came inside the Owen building with us and we parted near the elevators. There was a multistory open area where students could sit, snack and chat and a round portion encircled by a glass pane that said Meeting Point. So we sat there and waited. As it approached 1:30 we decided to move to the Peak Lecture Theatre and wait out the remaining 10-15 minutes there.
When we reached the hall, a gentleman said, “Are you here for …” and I finished his sentence, “Professor Fiendish!” He smiled and explained that there had been a mix-up and they had told the students that the talk was scheduled from 1:00 – 2:00 whereas Poskitt was told 2:00 – 3:00. “He’s just arrived, you can go ahead in and take a seat.” The hall was packed – probably 150 students. The front row was empty though so we went all the way down, had a moment to shake hands with Mr. Poskitt, and moved right to the center and got the best seats in the house.
He opened the talk by introducing himself and saying that “people all over the world read my books, even people in America and India and here are two of them right here!” The hall erupted in applause and we turned around and waved at the students in the teacher training course. For his first trick, he called Khiyali to the stage and asked her to pick a number …
Due to the time mix-up he had to cut short his show but he did include triflexagons, which Khiyali had learned to make from his site. After the students left for their next class, he said that he could show us a bit more of his presentation. We went upstairs to the cafe just next to the meeting point. We told him that we had first gotten his books in India. He was delighted to hear that. They aren’t (yet) widely available in the US but fortunately they are popular in the UK and in India through Scholastic Publishing. Khiyali asked about his alter-ego, Professor Fiendish. We asked him about his photoshopped product placement (GUESS WHO… is reading the Murderous Maths of Everything today?) and his “live author cam.” After a little while, he put his tiny laptop on the table and showed us some more of his presentation. It was great fun.
After he generously signed our books, copied some of his slides onto my USB stick, gave us a copy of Agatha Parrot, and let us take pictures, we took his leave and went back to Sheffield station. Since we had some time we wandered over to the Millennium Center, looked at a very … interesting sculpture made of forks and spoons and then walked over to the adjacent “Winter Garden” which we learned not only from signs but also from passersby, was inspired by the “Peace Gardens.” Sheffield being the small town that it was, all of these things were within 5 minutes walk of one another and we went ahead and saw the Peace Gardens as well, giving us just enough time to run to the station and catch our train back to Brough.