Walter Ledermann: Encounters of a Mathematician


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(Sussex: 1962-97 )
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Final Retirement

  1. Moving to London.

    When Rushi had passed her eightieth birthday it became clear that the time had come for her to retire from her work as psychotherapist. Also I was then in the ninth decade of my life and we both felt that it would be prudent to move to London so that we could be near our family. Jonathan, who is always so willing to help us, would obviously find it easier to come to us when we lived in the same neighbourhood instead of having to make the two hours journey to Sussex. We visited several estate agents in Highgate. We wanted to buy a small, perhaps three-roomed, flat in the area. However, there was one difficulty. At that time (in 1996) Rushi still very much enjoyed playing the piano; in fact what she liked best was to play works for two pianos. In our house at Hove we had a beautiful Blüthner grand piano and a good, though rather old, upright Bechstein. Rushi had several friends who were pleased to play with her the lovely Sonata for two pianos by Mozart and other music for this combination. So we told the estate agents that one of the rooms in our flat should be big enough to have two pianos in it. This condition was greeted with skepticism. We had to make several visits to their offices and became known as "the lady with the two pianos." Eventually, we found what we wanted: a flat on the first floor of the rather prestigious block of flats known as Highpoint; it was then a Grade II listed building and has now been classified as Grade I. The lounge, or music room as we call it, was indeed big enough for our two pianos. Otherwise the flat was not particularly beautiful. The front room faces the street and the back room looks towards the wall of another part of the building. Accommodation in London is of course more expensive than in Sussex. The sale of our eight-room house in Hove brought in less money than what we had to pay for the three-roomed flat in Highgate. The purchase of the flat was effected through a "developer" who tried to maximize his profit through the sale. It was part of the bargain that the kitchen would be refitted and that a washing machine and a dishwasher would be installed, in the front room double-glazed windows were to be installed in order to reduce the noise from the street. Unfortunately, we discovered too late that much of the material used by the shifty business man was of inferior quality and had to be replaced soon afterwards at our expense. Finally, after having sold our house in Hove, we arrived on the appointed day to take possession of our flat at Highpoint. But we were told that regrettably there had been some delay with the decorators and the paintwork was still wet. So we had nowhere to live. To make the best of this misfortune we went to the Italian town of Perugia for two weeks. After returning from this delightful holiday we moved into our new home with 102 packing cases. There was still a great deal to be done: wardrobes and bookcases had to be built in; curtains and carpets had to be bought. But in the end we were satisfied with our choice and were ready to settle in.

    Highpoint has several pleasant features. There is a large and well-kept garden at the rear with an outdoor swimming pool that is heated to a very acceptable temperature from May until October. Even if one does not go into the water (I did it only once), it is enjoyable to sit down by the side of the pond and enjoy the sunshine (if any). The handsome entrance hall and the stair carpets are in good condition and are always clean. A helpful porter is on duty all day. Unlimited hot water is available at any time. This is included in the "service charge", as is the heating of the flat. This is done through under floor heating; there are no radiators in the rooms so that the amount of heating is not under our control. Altogether, we found that Highpoint provided comfortable living.

  2. Living in London.

    Our main reason for moving to London was that we could see more of our family. This hope has been fully satisfied. Jonathan and Sarah have been most generous with their hospitality towards us and we are delighted to see our grandchildren grow up and share in their manifold successes. Jonathan is always ready give practical help, especially in my struggle with the computer.

    Being in London made it easier for us to see other relatives and friends. My brother Erich lives in Hampstead. Since his wife's death we have been visiting him once a week. Very sadly, he died in May 2005 and is sorely missed by me. Rushi's cousins Peter Sinclair (from her mother's side) and Pali Schlesinger (from her father's side) both live in Pinner. We made the journey a few tines and kept in touch until Pali moved to the North of England, where he died. We also visit Rushi's friends Anne Barua and Paula Bar, who live near Swiss Cottage.

    During the first few years we were happy to benefit from the superb artistic life of London. We were Friends of the National Gallery and of the Tate Gallery and saw many beautiful exhibitions there. The Sunday morning concerts at the Wigmore Hall gave us much pleasure. We often went there with friends and had lunch with them afterwards. We were able to travel to Switzerland for our summer holiday and we stayed in our favourite hotel at Flims. Also I kept up my connection with Sussex University. Rushi and I attended the Christmas party of the Mathematics School and we took part in the celebration of Graduation Day.

    Alas, all these activities ceased about 2002, when Rushi's infirmity and our old age took their toll. We can still use a mini cab service to visit relatives and friends; but journeys to places outside London are no longer possible.

    We have been very fortunate indeed that the Agency Companions of London sent us Carmen Durgacharan as a carer. Her devotion, expertise and friendship are invaluable to us. She now comes every day for a few hours except on Saturdays. Without her help ours lives would be much harder.

  3. Looking back.

    After reading again the preceding pages I am conscious of the fact that I have good reason to be satisfied with my life on the whole. There were many situations and events for which I am truly grateful.

    My childhood was spent in a secure and supportive home in which the members of the family lived together with remarkable little tension.

    It was most fortunate that I had no difficulty with my school work and, as a consequence, was awarded the Leaving Certificate six months before the usual time. It became apparent later that this was a crucial event; for it enabled me to go to the university early and to obtain my State Diploma just before it would have become impossible under the Nazis.

    The most miraculous stroke of luck, which probably saved my life, was Erich's discovery that the University of St Andrews was offering a scholarship for one Jewish refugee from Germany. I could hardly believe it when I received a letter from the World Student Service in Switzerland informing me that I had been chosen for this award. On 3rd January 1934 I left my native city and travelled to St Andrews. Henceforth Britain became my home, a change for which I am profoundly grateful.

    My professional activities have given my much satisfaction. I know that I am not one of the great mathematicians of our epoch. But I trust that I have been of help to some of my students that my published work has met with some appreciation.

    I much enjoyed the contact with my students and the stimulation from colleagues with whom I collaborated in research.

    However, by far the greatest blessing was he happiness of my family life. My marriage to Rushi, now in its sixtieth year, is based on love and mutual respect. It was crowned by the birth of Jonathan. He is an ideal son. His love and devotion are of inestimable help to us in our old age. Our delightful grandchildren are a source of constant pleasure.

    If I could have my life again, I should not wish it to be much different.

London, September 2005


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JOC/EFR May 2009