Friday, 13 November 2009

Freak Out Friday? Do Me A Favour...

by guest contributor Hugh Lindley (@HughLindley, normally found trying to tolerate people on Bertie's Bastard Blog)

Today the date is 13/11/2009. It is the second Friday in November. It is 3 days before Monday the 16th. It is one of 4 days in the month that has a ‘3’ in it. None of these things are remarkably interesting. But hang on – if I were to say it was Friday the 13th, it would suddenly make the day seem interesting, eerie and supernatural wouldn’t it?

No. Of course it wouldn’t. You cretin.

It’s been a bumper few weeks for people who are scared of their own reflection, cracked paving slabs and particularly sharp pencils. No sooner have we got the annual farce that is Halloween out of the way (with all the crap fancy dress parties and kids pushing dog turds through letterboxes that it demands) than we have to put up with people rehashing the same old myths about Friday the 13th.

The annoying thing for ‘normal’, ‘sane’, ‘rational’ people like, well, like me, is this: after all the ghosts, ghouls and werewolves of the former (which are still a load of bollards but would at least be genuinely frightening if they existed), the latter’s non-specific threat and general excuse for cowardice is a bit of a comedown.

The former is, at least, one of many spurious reasons for the British population to binge drink and have a bloody good laugh; the latter may well involve some of your friends refusing to come to the pub in case they accidentally fall in front of a bus on the way home… something that could almost definitely be attributed to the ill-advised shot of Pernod they always finish the evening with.

There’s a fairly good chance that somebody will say to you today something like: ‘Oh I’d better not – it’s Friday the 13th, lol!’. Most of these people won’t be saying this with any real degree of seriousness (hence the ‘lol’) but with some you’ll probably be able to tell that they actually believe on some level.

This is very frustrating to me. I can just about tolerate people’s religious beliefs (if forced) but why should I have to put up with somebody who thinks that the date on the calendar has an adverse effect on their fortunes? There’s no element of harmless fun like with Halloween (you get sweets!), or celebrating the brutal execution of Jesus Christ (you get chocolate!). In the USA it is estimated that 17-21 million people have some form of a fear of the day and that it costs the economy $800-900 million (which they can hardly afford to lose these days). What is the point in propagating this myth, sometimes (as in 2009) 3 times a year? How can we convince these cowardly custards that, as Stevie Wonder always says, superstition ain’t the way?

One possible answer is pure ridicule. The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia. Look at that word. Would you like to be known as a paraskevidekatriaphobic? The chances are that word would get round to your neighbours, who are equally jumpy but for more tabloid-fueled reasons. This would probably result in your house being graffitied, your shed burnt down and your door no longer knocked on by trick or treaters. Your mother would buy you Gary Glitter albums for Christmas in a futile attempt to sympathise. Apart from that, it’s just a stupid word and you probably can’t pronounce it anyway.

However, this massive stick may not be the best answer, so perhaps the paraskevidekatriaphobic community could be persuaded to take off their tin foil hats and mince down to the carrot shop? Or to put it another way, should we waste our time patiently explaining to them that there is very little evidence to suggest that there is any link between Friday the 13th and really bad things happening? Indeed a Dutch study suggests that there is a decreased rate of traffic accidents on these ‘fatal’ days due to people taking extra care.

On the other hand, other studies have contradicted this and shown an increased rate of accidents. No problem for us rationalists though – firstly there are more accidents on weekends anyway due to alcohol consumption and secondly one can assume that some of these are due to psychosomatic reasons: ‘Well I was bound to drive my car off a cliff today wasn’t I? It’s Friday the 13th lol!’.

However… if you’re driving today and at the lights you look to your left and see one man frantically checking his mirrors, tightening his seatbelt and wiping the sweat from his face as he desperately tries not to cause an accident; and you then look to your right to see a man wearing a blindfold and a bodybag, releasing his handbrake, already resigned to his fate… Well, you’re probably better off just staying in aren’t you really? You never know do you?

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  1. No!!! I need Friday 13th to explain why my experiments haven't been working. The Friday-13th-factor or my shitty skills at extracting DNA? I know what I'd rather tell my supervisor.

  2. In total agreement...friday 13th is a waste of time. but to be fair, i dont know anyone who actually believes in it.

  3. On the way to work today i was run over by a van delivering the final copies of London Lite. As I lay dazed and confused in a pile of sub-standard news and gossip reporting a low flying crow shat on my face. Minutes later a gang of rottweilers savaged me in the genitals as a gang of youths in Jason masks screamed "kill kill kill". I'm never going out on friday the 13th again. It's just not worth it.

  4. Candice Carboo-Ofulue13 November 2009 at 23:42

    Hugh, I've got to admit, I rather like Friday 13th. As like most days, today I woke up late, snoozed my alarm clock a couples of times, took an inexplicably long bath, had an extended breakfast, and casually set out to work. Now at this point, I have to admit that only a miracle would have got me to work on time. Nevertheless, I allowed 4 tubes to pass me by so that I could comfortably aboard an emply carriage, find a seat and read my book. I alighted at London Bridge, grabbed a banana and finally skipped into work at 9:25. Late. Normally, my tardy routine is tarnished by a slight sense of guilt or thoughts of punishment, but today is Friday 13th, the ultimate justification for all happenings that are bad. What could possibly be better?

    For those of us who are selfishly content to float around in our own self-centered bubble, Friday 13th is a blissful occasion. It's the day when you can attribute anything potentially bad to the eerie combination of Friday and 13.

    Let the Christians have Christmas, the Muslims have Eid, today is a day for the Friday 13th fatalists to congregate and rejoice.

    But on a serious note - What I find particularly interesting is that although science has mostly explained the natural occurrences that inspired supersitution amongst our ancestors, it survives within our post modern society in the form of religion, horoscopes, consumer spiritualism and the rest. Why? Is it our desire to have faith in the supernatural? Are we thirsty for imagination?

    Hmmm. I'm not sure, but I suspect it's probably the convenience of attributing responsibility onto something or someone else.

  5. I was walking around Cambridge yesterday and a woman next to me found a massive roll of ten pound notes. Good day for her.
    I also saw David O'Leary, presumably on his way to a job interview. Bad day for him.