Friday, November 11, 2011

The numbers all go to eleven

For the start of my 45th year I am fulfilling Frank Sinatra's desire to wake up in the city that never sleeps, the self-styled "greatest city in the world" - New York. And if that isn't a mark of great pith and moment in its own right, my day of days falls on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, in the eleventh year which, you've got to admit, in taking place only once every 100 years, is pretty cool.

I have always been justly proud of being born on 11/11 (apparently around 11.11am, although I've never had that verified by anyone who was actually there at the time), being only one of 12 days out of the year with such numerical symmetry. It also lends itself well to a blues lyric: why should Willie Dixon's Hoochie Coochie Man have all the fun because he was born on the seventh hour of the seventh day, of the seventh month, and apparently he's due a lot of luck?

The number 11, in itself, isn't particularly significant, unless you strive for louder guitar amplification. However wonks of all creeds and the chronically apophenic - spooked by the uniquely binary nature of today's palindromic date - are convinced that it means something of great portent, though nobody can pinpoint exactly what will happen.

An online survey recently came to the utterly banal conclusion that 47% believe something good will happen on a global scale today, 40% believe nothing significant will happen at all, and 14% believe something bad will happen. This information is about as useful as the statement that roughly half of us are male, and roughly half are not.

But if you do believe in lay lines and that Stonehenge was an ancient truck stop for passing UFOs, the unique confluence of elevens in the date means your sense of "waaahhhh" will be heightened today. For a start, I wouldn't recommend looking at any news coming out of Europe which, it seems, is being increasingly sucked into an economic depression of biblical proportions.

According to some, the worst that could happen today - and I've got to admit, it would be something of a bummer - is that the world will end. This is due to the comet Elenin, Mercury, Venus and our own planet coming into alignment, which is more than can be said for the leaders of the EU. Well if the planet is going to explode, there's probably no better place to witness it than here in New York. I've seen it happen a hundred times in the movies and it's usually quite spectacular.

For those with a rosier outlook on life, 11.11.11 is the day to do something special like get married or at least propose to a sweetheart,  and although I'm not about to do that myself (mind you, the day is still young here) you've got to raise a hat to the romanticism of such an event. I expect the Empire State Building's elevators will be enjoying brisk business today.

Mysticism and romanticism aside, there is one true and serious significance to today: the anniversary of the 1918 Armistice. At 11am, on November 11, 1918, the guns fell silent after four years of the most senseless, industrial slaughter mankind had inflicted upon itself up until then.

It was called The Great War, though there was nothing great about it at all, and drew 70 million people together in armed conflict, resulting in nine million dead. It's immediate effect was the emaciation of an entire generation of men in Europe, but it went on to overshadow the 20th century itself, creating the conditions which led to World War 2, dictated the outbreak of the Cold War, which eventually unravelled the fault lines of the Balkans, and even today still has a hidden influence on politics in the region.

So, I will celebrate my 44th birthday in style here in New York. Calls have been put in to Leonardo Di Caprio and the newly-single Demi Moore - whose birthdays also fall on this day - to see if they'll join me for a celebratory Guinness at one of the city's fine venues of Irish imbibement. And when we do (I'm confident that my calls will be returned), we will, I hope, raise a glass to those who have paid the absolute sacrifice.

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