Never Tell Me The Odds: Wars In The Stars And Elsewhere

Dear Farid,

I hope this finds you as well as it can. I have given you the name Farid because it is ranked at the top of the list of Syrian names at the highly rigorous peer reviewed source of I imagine the odds of this really being your name are miniscule, probably less than 0.1%.

I have just now bought what Unicef tells me will be Hats And Gloves For you and Three Other Syrian Children. This cost £12, which makes an average of £1.50 per hat or pair of gloves. I hope this doesn’t mean they’re like the shitty ones I got from Primark last week that got holes in on the first day of use and then torn to bits by the dog. In reality I know this is not how charities work. It is a neatly packaged product that allows them to make donors feel like they are doing something concrete, as well as potentially scamming their way out of buying a friend a proper christmas present, both of which were driving factors in my decision. In reality, Unicef spends 2% of its donations on administration, 24% on fundraising and lord knows how much flying about the world chucking woolen goods at people. These are the practical realities of any large scale operation, but you can’t tell that to people like me in the west. We’ll just piss it all away on the Donkey Sanctuary instead.

Because I am a UK taxpayer, my government will top up my donation by 25%. Tomorrow night, however, they are planning to pass legislation to drop bombs on your country. Yeah, it is kind of the mother of all mixed messages, I know. There is some talk that there will be a rebellion amongst enough MPs to overturn the government’s plans. I don’t know what the odds of that are. 10%? The government is confident that bombs will only hit the bad guys. They acknowledge there is a chance that they won’t, but they don’t say what that chance is. This is probably academic to you anyway, as Russian, French and American bombs are already pouring over the streets you used to play in. Ours will be a drop in the ocean.

I like to think you are safely out of Syria, and planning to come to the UK. I like to think you have relatives here, and are using all the minutes you get on the camp’s computer to find out things about our culture and history. Here’s some key pointers from me:

  • Greggs do a £1 pizza slice at lunch that isn’t as terrible as it looks.
  • The Queen owns all swans, but they’re vicious bastards anyway so stay away from them.
  • Steven Fry is a sort of secular Arch-Wizard who you treat like your uncle.
  • The weather is inadequate at all times.
  • John Lewis is a man who makes people cry at Christmas so they’ll buy his things.
  • Bond movies were good, then bad, then ok, then terrible, and are now good again.

I like to think that this hat will mark a new era of health, safety and happiness in you and your family’s life. That you’ll be handed strange-coloured ones from the bottom of the box, and you and your mates will be the Orange Hat Gang. This will bind you together and start a lifelong friendship, and when you reach the UK, you will start an acappella group together at Uni and win Britain’s Got Talent and tour the world. Your message of peace and tight-knit four part harmonies will inspire people to rebuild the cities we have destroyed, and in Palmyra Airport they’ll build four statues to you that tourists drunk off Duty Free will climb up and take wobbly selfies on.

What are the odds of this? Equal to me winning the lottery ten times, only to have each ticket vapourised by a lightning bolt? Equal to me becoming Champion of All Sports 2016? Equal to finding a single drop in the ocean?  More importantly, what are the odds I want these things to happen because I genuinely care for someone I’ve never met, versus the odds that I want my donation to be meaningful, and to have something to write about in my blog? 50/50?

I don’t know the truth, I only know the numbers, and not even many of those. I know that if you choose to cross the mediterranean there is at least a 1.6% chance you won’t survive it. I know that out of all the Syrian refugees odds of you legally gaining asylum in the UK are less than 0.5%. I know there is no place where the chance of violence following you is 0%. I know that in light of the over £600 million Unicef is looking to raise, this is a drop in the ocean.

There’s another key piece of Western culture, Star Wars Episode IV,  where the characters are sailing through a sea of jagged rocks in space. The camp tin-man, who’s a bit smug about facts, says “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three thousand, seven hundred twenty to one.” To which the captain replies “never tell me the odds”.

Never let them tell you the odds, Farid. You are not a drop in the ocean. You are not a lottery ticket in a lightning storm. You will make it. With or without a hat.

UNICEF website.


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