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Just My Luck!

Mar 26, 2017

There are two types of people in this world, there are those who are constantly lucky and … crikey my kitchen’s on fire!

Heredity is a fascinating process. During one of my recent moments of contemplation - to coin a phrase - it struck me that the reason I am here today is essentially because my parents survived the Second World War - poignantly so in my case; more later - and their parents survived the First World War and so on down the generations through further wars, great plagues, the black death, famines, and every other life threatening disaster and catastrophe known to man from time immemorial. In fact you don’t have to go back through many generations to realise that the mere act of surviving at all was once quite a bonus.

It’s a fascinating subject because it begs the question: what is that special quality that we in particular have inherited which has ensured an unbroken line leading us to where we are today? And I do mean every single living one of us. At the risk of overstressing the point; the only reason that we exist today is because one of our distant ancestors was able to find a way of somehow keeping warm and fed during the Great Ice Age, when all about them were falling like flies.

Is our continued survival just simply a question of intelligence, common sense or resourcefulness? Maybe it is; but I would suggest that probably it’s also more a question of luck: and I do mean good or bad. Not getting what you want (bad luck) can often turn out to be to one’s advantage (good luck) and whichever way you look at it, survival is very much a question of chance.

At this stage I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of the quote, variously attributed to, amongst others, Thomas Jefferson and Sam Goldwyn, which states: “I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work the more of it I seem to have.” This makes a very good point, for if you spent your life living in a padded cell (I know some people who should!), would there really be many opportunities for luck to play a part? Probably not, although I doubt that you would find yourself getting knocked down by a bus either! Anyway, apart from flippant comments like this (what … me flippant?); to actually experience good luck you first need to make sure that you are experiencing life.

It’s often said that people make their own luck, and I suppose that what this really means is that we should seek to place ourselves in as many circumstances as possible whereby luck is able to strike. Although of course, there is a trade-off here because, as previously mentioned, there is good luck as well as bad luck.

It’s worth observing that ‘luck’ as a concept really only took root during the 14th century - when I would imagine that at least one of my ancestors was successfully fighting of the black

death - for prior to this, people believed that their existence was governed by ‘fate’. Which is to say that lives were considered to be subject to events predetermined by a supernatural power. In those days, however, if you actually believed in luck you would be considered to be heretic and likely to be burnt at the stake. The modern equivalent of this punishment being social media.

There are many definitions on the subject of luck and the one which I particularly like says: Without luck how could you explain the success of people that you don’t like? Even now many people believe in lucky charms. I’m not quite sure where the idea of carrying a rabbit’s paw came from but it couldn’t have been all that lucky for the rabbit! And I could never quite work out why people selling ‘lucky white heather’ were forced to sell ‘lucky white heather’ in order to make ends meet.

So maybe life is just simply the aggregate of all of our good and bad luck. Which brings me to my father’s story, which originally had to be dragged out of him. During World War Two his battalion was serving in Alexandria and was due to be shipped to Italy. A request was made as to whether anybody had dock experience and was therefore prepared to stay behind to man the docks, even though they were subject to serious bombing. My father and his best friend who, both coming from East London, did have a modicum of dock experience decided to give it a go. The upshot was that on its way to Italy the battalion’s vessel was torpedoed with the loss of many lives. Was he lucky? Not in his terms for he always felt guilty. But it does go to prove how our lives can turn on the flimsiest of lucky choices and how, more often than not, good luck and bad luck often go hand in hand.

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