In 2008, at a Downing Street reception, Gordon Brown presented a young man, a member of Plane Stupid, with a Transport Campaigner of the Year award. During the ceremony, the young man superglued himself to the premier's sleeve. The prize is sponsored – £10,000 a year – by Simon Phillips Norton, a rich recluse and public-transport obsessive who lives, surrounded by timetables, ticket-stubs, packets of Batchelors Savoury Rice, in a run-down multi-occupancy house in Cambridge. A former child prodigy, he is still believed to be one of the world's great living mathematicians, although he hasn't held down an academic position since 1985, when he was 33. And he used to be Alexander Masters's live-in landlord, which is how he comes to find himself the subject of this book.
I don't like your books, Alex,” Simon says in the epigraph to one of Masters's chapters. “Your representation of me as interesting is inaccurate,” he says in another. “You must be very careful not to jump to easy answers,” says John Horton Conway, a fellow mathematician. “Oh dear, I have a feeling this book is going to be a disaster for me,” Simon comments in the epigraph to the book.