‘So why,’ I hear you ask, ‘as the country is just beginning to stagger uncertainly out of lockdown, blinking into the unaccustomed glare of The New Normal with all the untold possibilities it presents, have you decided to write a blog about a number – and a pretty unprepossessing one at that?’ Well the truth is, having recently reorganised a life’s work in my office I found, in amongst a forest-full of failed books, sketches and unheard pitches, a stack of carefully preserved cards from my sixtieth birthday, and it set me thinking. It is, in fact, the third week in which I have attempted to write this blog, but each time I have settled down to do it, self-isolation effects have rolled over me and I have written about those instead. It has become something of a Millwall around my neck*. I return to work on Monday, so I thought that the time was probably right to try and bash my head into some kind of shape and this seems as good a way as any of doing so. If it is disjointed, it is because it needs to be. It is where my head is – and it’s so far up there, quite honestly, that I can’t quite see back out at this minute.
I know little of numerology. In fact, until I Googled ‘60’a few moments ago, I was unaware of its very existence but, never-the-less I was directed to its webpage where I discovered that, ‘the number 60 is a number of family, home, and nurturing. It is also a number of harmony and idealism, the ideal generally related to a harmonious family relationship. 60 has maternal and paternal instincts.’ Well, that’s ok isn’t it? So far, so good, but then, curiosity piqued, I searched a little further on and slipped a little way off piste where I discovered that 60 is the direct dialling phone code for Malaysia and the atomic number for Neodymium. (A strongly magnetic metallic element. So strong, indeed, that a stray limb, dangled recklessly between two such magnets, could find its bones shattered. I am working on my episode of Midsomer Murders as I type, and also the kind of seal that does not allow me to leave the freezer door open after a 2am ice-cream raid.) 60 is also the highest obtainable level in the World of Warcraft – I do not know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but I estimate that I am probably about 61 years too old to ever find out.
I then slipped a little further into Google, where I discovered that, mathematically, the number 60 is ‘a composite number, with divisors 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, and 60, making it a highly composite number. Because it is the sum of its unitary divisors (excluding itself), it is a unitary perfect number and it is an abundant number with an abundance of 48. Being ten times a perfect number, it is a semiperfect number’ and decided to stick with numerology because, even though it is obviously utter tripe, I can, at least, understand the words. I estimate that I understand about one in sixty of the words in the mathematical definition, and then only by removing them and inserting them into a sentence about chocolate.
I thought that perhaps, as the most interesting occurrences of my own life are firmly behind me, I might find a little more interest in the historical facts associated with the number 60. There are, of course, two years 60 in the Gregorian Calendar, so I started with the first of them. Well, the most notable thing I could find about the year 60BC is that it appears to be the birth date of Ptolemy XIV of Egypt who was murdered by his own sister, Cleopatra, in order to ensure the accession of her illegitimate son (by Julius Caesar) Caesarion – who might just have entered the world via the sunroof. This kind of behaviour was, apparently, all the rage at the time, especially for Royalty and rulers who did not have to worry about public opinion or an appearance on the Andrew Marr Show. Although I do seem to recall that Cleo actually died having clasped an asp to her bosom (or vice versa) so, presumably, at least some sense of accountability there – ‘Infamy, infamy; they’ve all got it infamy…’** In truth, the most interesting thing about 60BC, for me, is that nobody living then could possibly have had the faintest idea that that is what it was. Imagine not knowing what year it is! (Ok, ok, time to own up to the fact that I once spent an entire year mistakenly telling anyone who asked me that I was fifty-eight, only to realise on my subsequent birthday, that I was actually fifty-seven, just about to become fifty-eight.)
Jumping on 120 years (I think that’s correct – do I add, subtract, or both?) to AD60 and the most notable thing, to me, is still that nobody would have known what year it was. There were any number of ways of denominating the year and even two common ways of deciding what day it was (I know, I know – neither have I for the last few months) and, believe it or not, nobody even thought about checking their mobile. The world was dominated by the Roman Empire which was challenged, in some parts of England, by Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, who proved, like Luke Skywalker, to be a complete thorn in the Empire’s side. Her crusade led to the slaughter of thousands (although not, to the best of my knowledge, the destruction of any planets) and eventually her own death which, ironically, facilitated our eventual access to tarmac roads and flushing toilets.
I do find a pleasing synchronicity in the knowledge that those born in 1960 will, themselves, be 60 this year and the most notable thing about them is that they will not have the faintest idea what year it is. There was so much free love and LSD in the air back then that anybody who has survived the Sixties will be completely addled. Do not worry: at 60 it is perfectly normal to know what day it is only after you have read your pill packets. People born in 1960 include Jeremy Clarkson, Diego Maradona, Bono, and RuPaul – which just goes to show….
*With thanks to the spirit of the great Hilda Baker.
**Second best in-dialogue one-liner of all time. We all know the best…