Friday, 13 April 2012

Against All Odds

There's a comic play by NF Simpson called 'One Way Pendulum'. A defendant stands in the dock with his alibi shredded, the judge has just asked what the chances are of him coming out of a Sainsbury's at ten twenty two in the morning on a bright sunny Tuesday just as a number 27 mounts the pavement? Extreme in the least and so an obvious lie. Guilty! For a moment I had to think. Got it, every event is a unique event. What are the odds of finding a randomised pack of cards in any one particular order? 52 X 51 X 50 X 49….. or ten with sixty eight noughts, more than the number of atoms in the galaxy. Yet more likely to happen than what you are doing at this moment.

Need a rest? Who was it said, 'You are an Englishman and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life'? My headmaster, but he was quoting Sir Cecil Rhodes. Odds on you're English too. We may laugh but Rhodes had a point, life is a lottery and we could have been dealt a poor hand indeed but for the accident of birth. For a start we did better than the founder of Rhodesia and de Beers did, by popping up in late 20th century Britain and not the 19th where he hung out.

Nor do we have to hide our sexuality as he had to or suffer from consumption and die before fifty. Hooray! On the other hand we aren't one of the richest men the world has ever seen. Boo! Anyway, when my headmaster quoted Rhodes like any patriotic prig I believed him, after all wasn't half the map red, hadn't we won the world war again, didn't our planes crowd the skies and the Royal Navy plough the oceans? And we had the atom bomb too. I thought it a miracle and though I suspected something wasn't quite right I couldn't put my finger on it. Until things began to pile up, too late I learned the Americans had all the money, the French had the painters, the Germans the composers and the Russians could dance the arse off anybody. I felt cheated. We weren't top dog after all. I was born a hundred years too late. 

Back to the man in court and the unlikeliness of our being in any one place at any one time. Like being born. I wasn't born during the Black Death or the stone age or a primitive tribe stuck up the Amazon, and nor were you. Homo Sapiens emerged some 250,000 years ago and since then hundreds if not thousands of millions of us have lived horrible lives and met horrible deaths, the whole Hobbesian nightmare - nasty, brutish and short. And on top of the happy accident of the when and the where of my birth I had the luck of a safe home, sufficient food and loving parents, and the fairy on top of the icing was I ticked all the boxes, healthy, handsome, bright and white too. Infinite good fortune and not of my making.

Phew! Through by the skin of my teeth. What are the chances?  Life was mine to throw away. 'And when you go up to Heaven,' the headmaster concluded, 'you will find St Peter himself behind the stumps'. Well naturally.

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