Irrational Encounters With The Modern World


A Handy Windfall.

I am not, to any great extent, superstitious.

I try to avoid walking under ladders, but that is because I do not want to dislodge them and neither do I want anything dropped on my head. I greet solitary magpies when I see them, with a general “hello, magpie” as I am not personally acquainted with any of them. I always look for a second one – ‘two for joy’ – and have written the word twice in the previous sentence in case, like me, you appreciate the reassurance of seeing a pair. I am aware of how ridiculous that sounds, and I have tried to wean myself using logic and rational thinking, but it is a habit long ingrained in me – since childhood.

Today, I woke with an incredible itch in my left palm. To my mind, that signifies the coming into of money. An itchy right palm denotes that you will soon shake hands, indicating an imminent new meeting. A less superstitious person would point out that having an itchy palm suggests you should scratch it. Even the superstitious are not agreed on what either means – there are countless (about ten) variations.

Having alleviated the irritation, by scratching it, I let myself imagine that perhaps this week will bring my considerable lottery win. I play twice a week, because I am sick of not being a millionaire. Last week I won £8.40, which is a start. I spent it on more lottery tickets, and suspect that I have walked straight into their trap.

My left palm still tingling, I came online and discovered that I had received a new email from a company I did some freelance work for late last year. They have amended my booking to adjust the rate, the upshot of which is that I am now in line to receive an additional £7.61 on top of the fee I had agreed.

Half of me is intelligent and enlightened, knowing that it must be mere coincidence to receive notification of incoming wealth so soon after my hand became itchy. Half of me is, nevertheless, struck by the indisputable proximity of both events. Another half of me struggles with fractions.

Given that the world is absurd, and that I have very much accepted the fact, the question is not “what does it all mean?” Rather, my question is: what am I going to spend this seven quid on?

The answer is probably pizza.




A Little Luck And A Lottery Result.

The main reason that I believe life is absurd, accept it as such, and just embrace it, is that there are so many examples of things that are inexplicable any other way, things that can’t easily be defined within the confines of our collective knowledge. I’m not talking about things to which we attribute meaning either – the phone rings just as you’re thinking about the person on the other end: that’s because we discount all the times that the phone rings and we aren‘t thinking about the person who has made the call. I see as absurd the almighty coincidences that are much harder to explain away, like the one I’m going to document here.

I play the lottery (a term I use to also include the EuroMillions game) on occasion, maybe three or four times a year. As someone who studied and enjoyed studying maths at school, and who remembers when the lottery first started and when – as an exercise in fourth year – we were shown how to mathematically prove the much-publicised assertion that the odds of winning were fourteen million to one, I am fully aware of the futility of my playing pattern. Specifically, I remember learning about probability, and the chances of (for example) rolling any given sequence of numbers on a die – the odds increase with every roll. So the chances of me picking the winning combination of numbers – already astronomically high – are magnified significantly by the chance of me then also choosing the right week to actually play those numbers. If I changed my numbers too, that would further increase the odds of ever winning. So far, to nobody’s surprise (least of all my own), I have won nothing – literally nothing.

The numbers I play are usually consistent, save for the difference in draws – six numbers for the original game, five and two stars for the EuroMillions game. Usually, because every now and then I forget which combination I play – the past few times I’ve played as a main number one that is also a star, and so I could play it there and add in the omitted sixth number from the regular game. I only realised this recently. All of my numbers relate to birthdays of two members of my family – days, shared month, years – and one additional number which I chose for reasons I can’t remember, but which relates vaguely to the house I grew up in. There wasn’t a great deal of thought went into my numbers – I didn’t want to think then over-think my choices – and I never actually checked the year of birth of my Grandma, just guessed at what I thought it might be. I was wrong.

At a family meal on Sunday, my sister asked my dad what age my Grandma had been when she died. This reminded me, prompting me to ask what year she had been born. He thinks it was 1922, making my rough guess two years out.

When I was at the supermarket on Tuesday, I passed the lottery desk on my way out the store, then doubled back on a whim and put a line on – changing that one number. Later that night, I got three numbers came up in the draw, and won just over a fiver.

This is just one small example in a lifetime of other occurrences, equally freakish – in all the years I’ve played the wrong number, I haven’t won a thing. The week I change it accordingly, I win something. There’s probably some rational explanation in the grand scheme of things, but at this level we’ve no way of knowing what that might be – easier to just take it in stride. And hope for a bigger win next time.