Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Lucky Penny

My 7-yr-old son and I spent the day at Blue Planet, which is an aquarium near Warrington (or somewhere like that; God knows - it's one of those junction-10-on-the-M53 jobbies). They have proper real sharks, with teeth and everything, and an ever-so-clever perspex underwater tunnel in which you can stand and watch giant fishes wiggle their teeth inches above your head.

But never mind all that. They also have a Penny Press machine, which allows you to turn a big wheel which itself turns several cogs and a steel mangle-like affair, taking your penny and squeeeezing it out into a warm elongated flattened thing with the design of your choice imprinted on it.

I squatted down and peered at the workings while my son turned the wheel. I tried to see where the switch took place: A kind of person-free magician's act. But you could still see the queen's head faintly on one side, and it was warm, and I know I've been told before that it's all fake, and it's not even a very convincing-looking output, but still... the magic worked for me.

As we got into the car, my son was holding tightly onto his "Lucky Penny" - which was the design he chose. A little while later as I drove along the motorway, I was aware of my son footling about with something at my elbow. I looked down to see a plastic fruit drink container in the drinks holder at my side. My son's fingers were groping about somewhere nearby. "It's definitely lucky," he said. "Because when I've got it in my hand, I can reach the Fruit Shoot bottle, but when I haven't, I can't. Don't you think that must be luck? Or I suppose there could be some other explanation..." which led to a serious discussion of what other factors might impact on his ability to reach between the front seats.

Then he dropped it and couldn't find it for a while, which made him wonder whether it was so lucky after all. But then he found it, and started tossing it. The imprinted side was the "lucky" one, and the faint queen's head was the blank. He declared that if the coin was truly lucky, it would land on its lucky side more often. After a few throws he was slightly disappointed that the odds were behaving mathematically rather than mystically.

For the rest of the afternoon he took very good care of it and found many reasons to believe it was lucky, as well as the opposite.

As he was going to bed he said to me, "Do you believe in luck?"

"Not exactly," I said. "But it sometimes feels good to believe in something, even if you know it's not true."

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