My wife tells me that I always view the world through a jaundiced eye. She is wrong. I use both jaundiced eyes. Life is full of pitfalls and I feel that it is my responsibility to warn you of all of those that I have already fallen down. Never-the-less, I consider myself an optimist – although it would appear that I am alone in that – and in celebration of the fact, I would like to take the opportunity today to share with you my ten favourite omens of good fortune, in the certain knowledge that it doesn’t matter how you paint them, they are all a complete load of tosh, but you know, it’s just me isn’t it, always looking on the bright side:
- It probably says more about the British psyche than anything else that we consider having a bird drop one on us to be good news. Being shat on from a great height is not normally something with which a person would associate good fortune. Whilst a sparrow turd on the shoulder might not be catastrophic, a swan stool on the forehead might be considerably more difficult to laugh off. Imagine how lucky we could be if cows flew. Apparently it is considered lucky because of how rare an occurrence it is – well I, for one, am not quite feeling it. It is pretty rare to be struck by lightning, but I certainly wouldn’t consider it a lucky break if it were ever to happen. I think it is probably fair to say that the only time I might feel fortunate to have a sparrow shit on me would be if the alternative was an emu.
- Throughout most of the world, the black cat is seen as an omen of bad luck, whilst in the UK it is considered to be an augury of good fortune. Having a black cat visit your home is thought to be a harbinger of wealth and prosperity – unless, of course, it is a puma, when it is a portent of running away. Why we in the UK are so diametrically opposed to the rest of the world in this view, it is difficult to say, except to note that, if we’re honest, it’s that way with most things. “The rest of the world says that putting your head in a crocodile’s mouth would be stupid? We’ll see about that. Bring me a crocodile, I’ll show ‘em.” As Brits, of course, we carry the complete conviction that the rest of the world is just plain wrong. It is why they love us so much.
- According to the legend, a chimney sweep saved the life of William the Conqueror by rescuing him from a runaway carriage in 1066. (I’m not entirely clear what kind of living there was to be made from chimney sweeping at that time as, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, chimneys don’t appear to have been invented for another century. Probably explains why he had so much spare time on his hands, wandering around, plucking folks from fugitive wagons.) Anyway, casting all logic aside, it would appear that the grateful king invited the sweep to his daughter’s wedding as a display of his gratitude – although I’m sure that, given the on-going non-chimney situation, he might have preferred money – and it has become traditional to have a chimney sweep at a wedding ever since; although if I’m honest, I’ve never seen one. Speaking for myself, the thought of Dick Van Dyke hoofing his way through the proceedings would lead me to seriously reconsider my intentions.
- Finding a clover with four leaves is a relatively rare happenstance, but as far as I can see, not one to get too worked-up about. The most it is likely to get you is a bad back. If such a leaf had a bounty on its head, for instance, then the search might be worth the effort. As something to sellotape to the pages of a teenage diary, probably less so.
- My paternal grandmother used to say that a horseshoe should be hung ‘u’-shaped over the house door, in order to keep the good luck in, whilst my maternal grandmother maintained that it should be hung ‘n’-shaped, in order to let the bad luck out. Convention appears to favour the former, for just as long as it takes the retaining nails to rust through. A falling horseshoe on the head is a certain sign of hospitalisation.
- Not walking under a ladder has an obvious rational justification. I would argue that common sense is not an omen: that not walking under a ladder is no more a portent of good fortune than not putting your hand into a working waste disposal unit or not jumping off a very tall building. My advice? If it is likely to cause you harm, don’t do it.
- The number seven is considered lucky because God decided to rest on the seventh day after creating the world. In both Islam and Judaism there are seven heavens. Snow White had seven dwarves (which was clearly lucky as she got picked up by Disney, whilst Goldilocks with her three bears, did not) and seven is the number I always hit when I aim for sixteen on the dartboard. It is a prime number and, well, that’s about it really. Basically seven is a lucky number simply because it is none of the others.
- A baby born on the New Moon will always enjoy good fortune. Why? I have no idea. We all like things when they’re shiny and new, don’t we? Except a New Moon isn’t very shiny, is it? A Full Moon is shiny. Mostly, in my opinion, a New Moon is a bit spooky. The New Moon night is darker and you are much more likely to encounter Dracula on such a night (which is particularly galling if you have just broken a mirror). Apparently a New Moon on a Monday (Moonday) is doubly fortunate – although not if you have a dentists appointment, or you fancy a night-time ramble without having to festoon yourself with garlic.
- Apparently rabbits’ feet are considered lucky because rabbits spend so much time underground where they are more easily able to communicate with the Gods and associated spirits. If that is true, then the Gods are clearly not over-fussed by it, because rabbits are also much more likely to get eaten by foxes and ferrets than we are. The practice of saying “Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits!” on the first day of the month to bring good luck is associated with this, although not if you own a terrier, which will be driven mad by it.
- Wishbones, along with all the other internal paraphernalia of a chicken, are traditionally used in predicting the future. When a wishbone is pulled and broken by two people, the person with the biggest bit is considered to have ‘won the luck’. An unbroken wishbone, therefore, is considered to carry the promise of good fortune – particularly if you are a chicken and it’s still inside your chest. The wishbone shape is probably the most imitated shape to be found in all manner of talisman – unless you are in certain areas of London, where it is a stab vest.
So, there you are: the McQueen guide to good luck has been delivered, totally without misfortune, unless, of course, reading it has kept you away from doing something (anything) more important, in which case I can only apologise. It is just one of those pitfalls that the jaundiced eye is never good at picking out…
*It is perhaps worth noting that Kylie Minogue is pretty much charm-sized and that most men would probably consider themselves luck to be able to carry her around with them.