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The Whitstable Gazette: A Dancing Frog on Twelfth Night, Christmas, Calendars and the Banking Crisis
Columns from the Whitstable Gazette
A Dancing Frog
I was completely ill-prepared for Christmas. Two days before and I still hadn’t bought a single present.
No, that’s not quite true. I’d made several forays into town with all the best of intentions, and on one occasion had actually come back clutching something. The trouble was - as I realised when I unpacked it at home - that no one could possibly want it.
It was something called a “Chaos Pendulum”. Those of you with a keen eye will have noticed it in the window of Kites and Things on Oxford Street in Whitstable. It used to sit in the middle of the display, amongst all those other gadgets: a frog on the end of a line which would dance and jerk about in an erratic manner, never repeating the same pattern twice.
Every time I passed the shop I would take a look. It used to fascinate me, hopping and jigging about inside its own magnetic field.
And then it disappeared, to be replaced by something else that caught my attention: a powerful electro-magnet under which a model VW Beetle hung suspended in thin air.
That’s what I went to town to buy: a VW Beetle hung on an invisible magnetic thread.
You know how it is with Christmas shopping. You just have to get one present to start the ball rolling, and that hanging car was my first moment of inspiration. I thought my son might like it.
Except that when I got there it was gone. I went into the shop to ask, but they’d sold the last one. What’s more it was a discontinued line so there was no chance of any more being delivered before Christmas.
That’s when I remembered the Chaos Pendulum and mentioned it.
They just had one left, ex-display, the very one I used to admire in their window for so many years. So I bought it.
It was only once I’d got it home that I realised how irritating it is, snapping about on the end of its line like a jittery moth around a flickering bulb, ceaselessly active, remorselessly pointless, never-endingly annoying.
So it was back to square one with the Christmas presents, and meanwhile I now have a useless dancing frog in my living room.
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By the time you read this Christmas will be well and truly over.
You will have brought all your Christmas decorations down. They will have been stored in a box and returned to the loft by now.
I always remember how strange Twelfth Night seemed as a child, that last faint spurt of Christmas after you’d gone back to school, when you got to eat the chocolate decorations from the Christmas tree. It just seemed odd because Christmas was long-gone, and yet the decorations lingered on, like a unwelcome straggler at a party, well into the New Year.
Well I say that Christmas will be over, but that depends on which calendar you are using.
If you are a member of the Moldovan Orthodox Church, for example, the 7th of January is Christmas Day, and you haven’t even opened your presents yet. This is because Orthodox Moldovans still hold to the old Julian calendar, which was in place before the Gregorian calendar we currently use.
For followers of the Julian calendar New Year’s Day isn’t until the 14th January.
What this shows is how arbitrary our measurement of the year is. We dance around on New Year’s Eve, pulling party poppers and wishing each other a Happy New Year, when, in fact, it is only the New Year according to one particular calendar. Other calendars date the start of the year in a variety of different ways.
In the Islamic calendar the New Year was on the 7th of December. In the Chinese calendar the New Year is on the 3rd of February. The Iranian New Year is the 21st March. The Coptic New Year is the 11th September.
The Hindu New Year is in April, the Ancient Egyptian New Year is in July, the Celtic New Year is in October. In fact, you could bring out the party poppers and make a new set of resolutions almost every month if you wanted to. In other words, your measure of time is relative to your cultural background.
So it’s a Happy New Year to you, whatever the date is today.
Communism for the rich
As I told you in a previous column, one of the things I bought for Christmas was a dancing frog. It’s actually a Magnetic Pendulum which demonstrates a scientific principle, namely, infinite complexity within a finite space.
An ordinary pendulum moves back and forth with measurable precision. Add opposing magnetic fields, however, and the movement becomes chaotic and unpredictable. It never repeats the same movement twice.
It is also very irritating, which I why I still have it. I wouldn’t dream of inflicting it on anyone else.
Some people suggest that the money markets illustrate similar principles, namely chaos and unpredictability.
I think that we can all agree with that.
I also think that we are at a turning point in history in which the insanity of the banking system will start to become clear to all of us.
In case you haven’t noticed, the only predictable quality of our current economic regime is that a very few people will continue to become increasingly idiotically wealthy, while the rest of the world is plundered for their benefit.
Of course some people will say that this is human nature. It is human nature to be greedy.
True. Some people are very greedy. What you don’t do however: you don’t legislate so that the financial system is actually owned by the most insanely greedy people on the planet.
Take a look at any city centre and you will see the same thing: huge skyscrapers soaring up into the heavens as symbols of wealth and power. Look at what those buildings contain and you will see that they are financial institutions.
These last few years have seen the markets going into meltdown while national governments spend vast amounts of tax-payers’ money to prop up the banks.
Banking magnates, meanwhile, continue to pay themselves the sorts of bonus’ that would keep whole nations afloat.
It’s a modern version of the welfare state: social security for the fabulously wealthy, redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. Benefit cuts for single parents. Benefit handouts to bankers. Communism for the rich. Capitalism for the poor.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that something doesn’t quite add up.