20. THE NUMBERS GAME
Downing Street, Pelé, Diego Armando Maradona, the basis of the metric system, fingers and toes, scores and ratings. 10 is a bit of a common denominator for the way we organise things, and often a number synonymous in sport with the 'playmaker'. To wear the number 10 shirt somehow sets one apart. The death of a genius on 25 November got me thinking.
Whether the 'Hand of God' or one of the most amazing dribbles in the Mexican heat in 1986, that number 10 mesmerised the world and carried his nation to glory. Maradona became a deity in Argentina, revered by one and all, flaws forgiven. And even the great number 14 of the Dutch mouth-watering Orange artists a decade earlier, Johan Cruyff, was a 10 of the highest order, the successor of the first magician, orchestrator of a Brazilian side that many consider to have been the best national team ever - also in Mexico (1970).
Associations with numbers. Why is 13 considered unlucky? Why should we fear Friday 13th? Why should the unlucky Apollo spacecraft happen to have been number 13? There is even a word for the fear of the number 13, triskaidekaphobia, first coined in 1911. There are even companies and manufacturers that use another way of numbering or labelling to avoid the number, with hotels and tall buildings being conspicuous examples (no thirteenth floor). On the other hand, Taylor Swift considers 13 a good thing: "I was born on [December] 13th. I turned 13 on Friday the 13th. My first album went gold in 13 weeks. My first No. 1 song had a 13-second intro. Every time I've won an award, I've been seated in either the 13th seat, the 13th row, the 13th section or row M, which is the 13th letter."
So, whether by coincidence or not, we can have favourite numbers too. I admit myself that the number of my own birthdate is one I tend to choose - whether that's (part of) a lottery number or the number of times I bounce the ball in tennis before serving. Just in case you're thinking that I bounce a ball 26 times ... my birthdate is 8! And what a great thing it was at 11.11 on 11-11-11 this century - I remember taking a photo of all those 1s on my computer screen. Something that will never happen again in my lifetime. And, of course, what made this possible in the first place is all those 0s and 1s in that computer. Now we're even developing the qubit that can also be in a superposition. Or both a 0 and 1 simultaneously. How amazing is that?
Of course, retailers have always been pretty savvy when it comes to manipulating minds with numbers. They almost never round up because of psychological pricing, the old marketing rule that dictates that consumers are more easily swayed by prices that end with '.99' - after all, €4.99 is 4 and not 5, isn't it? You'll get more lookers if you advertise your house at €399,950 than for €400,000 - and then sell for more anyway. "I'll just be two minutes" is more likely to get you the approval you need to take five minutes than if you asked for five minutes in the first place.
This may all seem rather trivial, and with the Christmas period approaching, I suppose a light-hearted blog this time around is not such a bad thing for the twelve days of Christmas. And for those of you who can't recall (or don't even know) what my true love gave to me on the twelfth day, here they are: 12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords a-leaping, 9 ladies dancing, 8 maids a-milking, 7 swans a-swimming, 6 geese a-laying, 5 golden rings, 4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Let Covid-19 not spoil your joy. I wish you a Merry Xmas.