I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about  luck.
I never wish my students good luck before their examinations. Examinations are where opportunity (to demonstrate what you know, understand and can apply) and preparation (for the examinations) coincide. Examinations are not about luck.
Do you salute single magpies? I didn’t until I read that Frank Skinner acknowledges the lonesome black & white signifier of sorrow. Now, whenever I see a magpie on its own I make a bizarre movement with my hand and mutter, Captain. I’m a logical individual but can demonstrate wholly superstitious behaviour. Some people call it cognitive dissonance and have turned it into a theory; I just think my behaviour is ridiculous.
I believe life ends with death, and that is all. That line by Tony Harrison, who, in his words, is a total atheist, comes from a poem about his deceased parents called Long Distance II. The last stanza is one of my favourite examples of cognitive dissonance.

Single magpies or four-leaf clovers? I bought a copy of Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare on my twenty-first birthday from the local Oxfam shop. Flicking through, I found within its pages a cache of four leaf clovers; forty-eight hours later I was in a fatal car accident and walked away virtually unscathed. Two completely unrelated events that my semi-colon has no right to connect.

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Five-leaf clovers are even luckier than their four-leaf counterparts. Years ago we found a patch of clover on the banks of the river Ouse which is rich in four-leafers. Two days before my son’s first A level exam I interrupted my pre-work run, fell to my knees and spent ten minutes rooting around for a four-leaf clover and found a five-leafer. As it withered I found a four-leafer to replace it. On A level results day eve I searched our lucky clover patch again; twenty-minutes in – just before I was going to give up – a four-leafer raised its head above the three-leaf blanket. We kept them in a Victorian ink bottle on a shelf above the kitchen sink.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez was an exponent of magic realism. The Fragrance of Guava is a delightful book of conversations with the Colombian author. He talks at one point about superstitions:
Marquez and superstition
My son is off to his university of choice, the consequence of hundreds of hours of dedicated study. I pressed his lucky clovers within the pages of The Fragrance of Guava.

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This post has 4 Comments

  1. I’d not heard of Tony Harrison until I read your post. Serendipity! I will now read more of his work. And when you see one magpie you need to say, “Hello, Mr Magpie, how’s your wife?”
    I’m definitely superstitious!

  2. Nice story – and congratulations to your son. But while there may be no such thing as luck, that’s not to say that the world isn’t so complex that things often *appear* to be luck. I think (after reading Kay, Kahnemann et al) that one of the major mistakes people make is to think they are more in control of the world than they actually are. I’m thinking of one or two horror stories over the weekend that could be seen as ‘bad luck’, perhaps weren’t – but were still not foreseeable and therefore not avoidable.
    And in my own case, I did not work hard at ‘A’ level (too many other distractions and things to sort out in other areas of my life) but I still got into my first choice university. If not ‘luck’ then what? Hardly ‘deserved’… Regrettably, the world does not always conform to our idea of just deserts.
    At the point when we are about to sit down and ‘account’ for the recent exam results, I do wish the educational establishment would accept that some factors are unknowable/ uncontrollable.
    Best wishes for the new year.

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