“I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul”
Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Reading this poem over the weekend got me percolating on the futility of life and considering whether the beginning and end, as the Ancient Greeks believed, are preordained – all that is left to us is to just fill in the blanks.
I am an existentialist so I emphasise individual existence, freedom and choice and believe humans define their own meaning in life. This means that that unlike those with religious beliefs, I don’t worry about the afterlife.
Even so I am finding myself becoming ever more superstitious just in case it will boost my fortunes.
“Superstition” is not only a splendid song by Stevie Wonder. It is an affliction rested upon many a poor soul, and God I know I’m one. My mother wasn’t a tailor nor my father a gambling man (well up to a point) …and I wear red chinos not blue jeans.
Enough of this tenuous homage to the wonderful Eric Burdon and The Animals.
Indeed I am superstitious – recently realising that most of these irrational fears arise when I walk the cobbles and pavements of town – perhaps I have a deep seated terror of being mown down by an onrushing bus or attacked by a hoodlum.
The major fly in my ointment is drains.
The rules of drains on the street go as such; one drain is Irrelevant – walk on it, dance or even sleep on it. Two drains are your best friend in London, they will offer the walker outrageous luck for the rest of time. The walker must seek these out even if it means crossing the road and most gleefully it expunges all the maladies of the ever terrifying third drain… Three drains are bad luck and if spotted must be avoided at all costs. Even if you end up looking a plonker, the walker must execute a swerve. Until a double drain is crossed the hex cannot be lifted.
Barking mad I know. I do often empathise with Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As It Gets – in that film he too scuttled down the road in shiny loafers dodging cracks in the pavement!
There are other challenges thrown up by the street such as the need to hold one’s breath when underneath scaffolding or refusing to walk under ladders. A daily one is not taking the top newspaper from a stack – this may have originally been a hygiene issue but now I’m a complete gibbering wreck unless I take the second paper. Countless mornings at Tesco’s or afternoons grabbing a Standard are accompanied by a silly staccato dance to ensure I grab the second to top paper.
Quirky superstitions are not exclusively limited to mad old – or even relatively young – men walking to the paper shop. My late collie dog Tirri managed to convince his elderly bean that he could only enter the garden through the kitchen door and return to the house using the French windows. Dear old thing.
We all have lucky outfits to enhance our fortunes on evenings out or watching our sporting teams. Is it a way of calming our nerves or does a pair of ancient Arsenal boxer shorts garner luck? For a man driven by the fear of kismet, the fear worse than fear itself is not having the requisite charms on or in place – therefore being impotent in affecting a loss!
Sportsmen are the most nervous and superstitious. The Manchester United and England footballer Paul Ince would always be the last player on the pitch and he only finished changing once at the end of the tunnel – most uncouth! The dressing rooms are rife with curmudgeonly and hierarchical rules of where people lay their kit. And these rules are only ever changed when they become associated with a run of poor form.
The most startling piece of superstition comes from those sporting fruit loops; cricketers. Take the ever eccentric and twitchy South African batsman Neil McKenzie. A chap so fastidious and matriculate with his kit that he probably knew the thread count on his whites and the position of each cherry on his bat.
Leaving the dressing room early after a day’s play, McKenzie’s teammates distributed his kit around the dressing room – including taping his bat to the ceiling! To say the OCD McKenzie didn’t see the funny side was an understatement…however he was quickly called into bat and competed an elegant century.
From then on the mad batter began a peculiar period of his life. He would arrive at the ground strap his own bat to the ceiling and wait to bat.
People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. However, I shall pick a large stone, aim it at a pane and declare McKenzie’s overt eccentricity as mildly certifiable!
Believe in existentialism, as I do, or any other creed or philosophy and it is remarkably difficult to disagree with the sage John-Paul Sartre;
“Everything has been figured out, except how to live”