For James H – thanks for the motivation.
Making our way home one recent Saturday afternoon our progress was interrupted by a herd of cows crossing the country lane. It appeared to be a pretty large herd so I wound down the window (very old car) and politely entered into social discourse with the farmer. Something like this:
“Afternoon Mr Farmer” (one must always address a farmer with the “Mr” prefix (unless it’s a lady farmer of course))
“Afternoon squire” he replied (I’m not actually a country squire but it’s more polite than “twat” or “pleb”)
“Reckon you must have about 200 cows in this ‘ere herd” I said (but not in a west-country accent)
“No” he immediately responded “197 actually”.
And so ended our short conversation and suitably reprimanded for my wildly wayward estimate, we drove on in silence as I couldn’t bear the shame of my inaccuracy.
However, as I recovered from this low point in my life by joining our local branch of Exaggerators Anonymous, I began thinking of other events that have been shaped by numbers, and how different they would have been had some of the protagonists shown the same level of precision as Mr Farmer.
For example, the Battle of Thermopylae:
King Leonidas: “We, the 300 Spartans, stand before the mighty Persian army…….”
Interrupted by coughing behind him.
King Leonidas: “What is it Pentheus?”
Pentheus: “Actually sire, there are only 297 of us. Dimitri has a cold, Georgio has blisters from the long march and Alexi’s mother wouldn’t let him out on a school night”
King Leonidas: “I see. We the 297 Spartans, stand before ……..”
Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
Another example – the Feeding of the 5,000:
Jesus (addressing the multitude): “These 5 loaves and 2 fish are enough to feed you all!”
Great cheering but some quizzical looks from the more cynical of them.
Peter: “Actually JC, we’ve got more than that. Simon said there was an offer on bread at Cohen’s store and he managed to get 80 loaves, some fresh rolls and some pecan danishes – all for the same price as 5 loaves last week”
Andrew: “Yeh, and I went to Fingelstein’s Fish Shop and he was having a buy two get one free promotion so in fact we’ve got 3 fish, and as I went large they each happen to be 500 kilo tuna”
Jesus: “I see. Not so much of a miracle now. How much water have you got? Enough to get me drunk?”
You get the drift, numbers have played a critical part in many historical events – both factual and fictitious. But they are always approximations – nobody really cares enough for them to get in the way of a good story.
Try telling that to the speed cop who collars you doing 87mph when you were doing approximately 70.