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Saturday, 16 August 2014

Man plans and god laughs

I've always found life too random and unpredictable to do much planning, and I also feel it's tempting the gods to say exactly what you'll be doing three weeks on Tuesday, at 4 in the afternoon.

An old pal from a Muslim background is convinced that if god exists, he's more likely to be playing practical jokes and yanking our chains than answering our prayers. He calls it the Cosmic Joker Theory and it makes sense to me.
So you have to be careful not to give Him any excuse. I mean the guy is omnipotent. Have you any idea how powerful that is? He gives you a playful punch on the arm and you'll come out in great, big bruises, I'm telling you.

But despite all the evidence, lots of people pay no heed to the cosmic joker and are convinced they can plan their futures in considerable detail. Take Joanne for instance.

"I've decided to use maths and science to find a man," she tells me, after I've bumped into her for the first time in a while, and we've gone to the College Club for a coffee and a nice muffin. (I was tempted to write that it's a while since I've been muffed so I'm looking forward to it, but you don't come here for cheap gags like that.)

"You're going to use maths and science to find a man?" I say. "Where did you see him last?"

She shakes her head. "Not a man I've lost," she says. "A man I haven't found yet."

I struggle for a second. "Ah, got you. Dating. Relationships. Eliminating the trial and error that normal people find fun. You mentioned this last time we met. When was that, by the way?"

"Tuesday 6 May, 4.30pm," she says. "We had coffee and pizza slices in Little Italy on Byres Road."

"How do you do that?" I say.

"What?" she says.

"Remember exact times, places and events. I hardly know what I did yesterday, never mind three months ago."

"I see it," she says, tapping her temple. "In here. Time is a huge, spirally 3-D object." 

She stirs her latte gently. "It's all twists and turns, it's useful occasionally and it makes very little sense to me."

She smiles. "Which is pretty much how I see men."

"So why do you want one?" 

"Kids. I'm into my 30s now."

"So it's a good dad you're after?"

"Good dad, life partner, grass-cutter, tyre-changer. The usual package."

"Love?" I say.

She makes a noise with her nose that would have been a snort in someone less feminine. "Tried it," she says. "Didn't like it."

Which is exactly what someone recently said to me, when I asked if he remembered Muffin the Mule. "Forget crude muffin puns," I sternly tell myself. 

"Love is a cheap trick your mind plays on your body using powerful drugs," Joanne says. "I don't do drugs."

"Isn't that a teeny bit too scientific?" I say.

"You can never be too scientific," she says. "The love drug is called dopamine.”

"I've heard of it," I say

"It’s a chemical your brain creates so you don’t have to remember important stuff, like eating and having sex," she says. "Makes you feel good when you do them, so that you want do them again. But listen to this."

She taps me smartly on the knee with the back of her teaspoon. "Pay attention," she says.   

"Ow! I'm not one of your students, you know."

"Sorry," she says. "But this is good. Addictive drugs and dopamine are closely connected. Cocaine releases dopamine to slosh around your brain. Heroin makes your brain cells think it is dopamine. So both make you feel good and want more. So does love." 

"So what's the thinking woman's alternative to the love drug?" I say.

"Game theory," she says. 

"You go to football matches and chat up fans?"

"It's a branch of maths," she says. "You don't know anything, do you?"

"I know that using science to pick a mate is daft," I say. “The mathematics of love? That’s like the grammar of welding, the linguistics of linoleum, the geography of emotion, the ...

"Put a sock in it," she says. "You think your way is better? How does that go again? Chat, kiss, love, live, leave?"

"Better than sums, chums and tedium," I say. "We all need some spark of uncertainty and excitement. Not everything can be reduced to equations, you know."

"Yes it can," she says, gathering her papers together and standing up to leave. "I'll show you, next time we meet."

"What happens if you find Mr All Right I Guess, and he doesn't like you?" I say.

"He will," she says with total confidence and heads for the door. 

As I watch her leave, I realise how tempting this must be for the cosmic joker, so I say a wee prayer for her. "Our father which art in heaven be nice to her, pal. You're not nearly as funny as you think."

He doesn't answer, of course. Hardly ever does these days. Out tying people's shoelaces together, I expect, or creating daft animals like the duck-billed platypus on other planets.

What a comedian.

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