“IF IT wasn’t for bad luck, I’d be having no luck at all,” said my late mother-in-law, Nana, to all the family.
And she spoke these words from the cushion of her years on those days when the kettle had lost its whistle and the money box had lost its innards – the milk had curdled, your shoes had sprung a leak, the sofa’s springs had sprung, the priest had called again about the parish organ fund, the last teabag had burst, the pimple on the inner portion of your upper left thigh had begun a growth spurt, the bath had flooded, the canary was drooping, the goldfish needed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, your lead toe had triggered the mouse trap, the toaster had failed to pop, the light bulbs had all popped at once, and you remembered that you had forgotten to post the pools coupon, just as the gas bill slapped on the mat.
Of course, she was saying it when the green shoots of her youthful vim had curled into the tawny shades of experience. But it was a fine philosophy to hold, distilled in an understanding of life – good enough to have bristled the chin of auld Aristotle himself, perching there on his stool of wisdom.
Many years ago, long before I first heard those telling words, I spent a raging night, fuelled by whisky, debating the existence of luck with a friend, who had also been brushed by Irish folklore and charm and claimed, with romantic pride and sweeping exaggeration, that his ancestors had served in the IRA – though it seemed to me that his family had for several generations been rooted in the suburban middle- classes of this old curmudgeon of a town.
Being of a scientific bent, he argued that everything attributed to luck could be explained. For example, it was not unlucky for a footballer to hit the post with a cracking drive from 30 yards. Instead, he said, the trajectory of the kick had been fractionally out. If the ball had scraped in, you could have argued, just as convincingly, that the goalie had been unlucky. I knew he was right, but I felt then, as I do now, that there are quirks in life that defy reason. Indeed, in popular chat, the names of such people are often pre-fixed with the adjective “lucky”.
And lucky is hissed in front of rude words starting with a “b”. For we all know those people, who invariably skip over the pitfalls and walk out between showers, whose tummies are silent and whose bicycle tyres never puncture. In mid rant, I mentioned Napoleon’s oft- quoted preference for a lucky general over a clever one.
“Yes, and looked what happened to him,” said my friend.
Silence fell over us for a few moments, until I said: “But there is no law in science that explains why everything must have an explanation, and while that is the case we must allow for the possibility that luck exists.”
Well, his eyes, which by then had the bad luck to see me double, swelled with anger, as the many wee veins trembled in purple rhythm on his cheeks. He clenched his fists until the knuckles almost broke through the skin and I thought that he was going to punch me.
But, as he rose precariously to his feet, his whisky tumbler fell to the floor.
“Now I would say that was a rotten stroke of luck,” I said, “but you would say, ‘Silly old me, I left my glass too near the edge of the table and when I unsettled it with a sudden jolt, it obeyed the laws of gravitation, falling unchecked to the floor, whereupon it broke’.”
I cannot promise you that my utterance has not been polished a little in this retelling, but I am sure you take the drift. Anyway, at that juncture in the proceedings, he did aim a punch at me, severely bruising the air to the right of my head. Maybe there was a reason for this. At any rate, peace was restored as we both laughed at our folly.
May the luck be with you today and always.
LISTEN to David Charters on his picture podcasts at www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk