Near random Paul Samuelson anecdote of the day

A number of years ago, more than I really care to remember, I was gearing up to try and take the Cambridge University entrance exams (which I failed, dismally and quite naturally) by taking A- Level economics again*.

I\’d been out of school for a couple of years and thus needed to get back into some sort of academic something or other. I went part time at work and paid my way through a crammer for a few months to gear up for both exams. Not one of my best ideas ever it has to be said.

My revision for the A Level was to plough through Samuelson (note to American readers: A Levels are the end of high school rather than the US undergraduate courses at which Samuelson was aimed) end to end, page by page.

And in Samuelson I found what I considered to be an error. He had a throw away line about how people kept wines for them to mature but no one ever did that for beer, not over lengthy periods of time at least.

Aha! But I am a West Country boy and so I knew of Eldridge Pope\’s \”Hardy\’s Ale\”.

The refurbishment of the Trumpet Major pub in Dorchester was the catalyst for the fledgling Thomas Hardy\’s Ale. 1968 was the 40th anniversary of the authors\’ death and what better way to commemorate it than by attempting to bring fiction to life and creating the brew that Hardy imagined.

This was to be no ordinary ale. Matured in oak sherry casks for nine months and corked in decorative pint and half pint bottles. The strength was a whopping 12% and it was bottle conditioned. Thus the legend began and bottles were laid down with the expectation of improvement as the beer matured.

So I wrote and told Professor Samuelson that I, a lowly not even undergraduate yet, had found an error in his famous textbook! Yes, as the child is father to the man snotty git I was then and am now.

He wrote back a short but entirely polite letter thanking me for informing him of this new information, for having told him something he didn\’t know.

It\’s the only letter I\’ve ever had from a Nobel Prize winner and the only one I\’m ever likely to get as well. But I do think well of him for that.

* You want to know the results, don\’t you? 2 E\’s and 2 F\’s at Cambridge. An A at A level. Sorta shows you where my intellectual powers top out really.

5 comments on “Near random Paul Samuelson anecdote of the day

  1. I once found a huge howler in a postgraduate textbook written by the Master of a Cambridge College. It occurred in an early chapter and was then built on repeatedly in later chapters. I wrote him a polite note. Did he reply with thanks and a discussion? Nope; he left a phone message with a receptionist, asking her to tell me that he acknowledged receipt of my note.
    One-nil to Samuelson.

  2. There’s a strong discontinuity between A-levels and University level stuff, even at the first year level (and this is especially true now that A-levels have been dumbed down to the point that they could have been O-levels from my day). To see this, grab a specimen A-level Maths paper, and a Cambridge STEP paper. The difference in difficulty levels is stark.

    I necked a half-gallon or so of Hardy’s in The Crystal in Bath with my Dad one winter’s afternoon. It were champion.

  3. 2 F’s? You got your name wrong twice?

    Tim adds: The essay “Is there a geography of women?” was always unlikely to be answered by my 21 year old self’s answer of “36-24-36”.

    I think I could make (note think) the spoof as a 46 year old writer now, but that isn’t what they were asking then.

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