Issue 137: 2018 01 18: The Law Of Green Biros

18 January 2018

The Law Of Green Biros

And its victory over mathematics.

By Chin Chin

I have always had the greatest respect for laws.  The common law of England, for example; the second law of thermodynamics, for another; gun law as enforced by Wyatt Earp; Dennis Law who played for Manchester United; and lots of other laws beside. How unfair, then, that a law should turn on me and make my life a misery. I refer of course to the law of green biros.

Imagine yourself sitting at a desk. An important document lies in front of you. Perhaps you are a businessman and it is a contract dealing with large amounts of money.  Perhaps you are a government minister and it is a treaty which will bestow peace on some unruly quarter of the world.  All that is needed is your signature and history is waiting for it. You scan the document, knowledgeably. It seems all right, although as it weighs in at 700 pages you could hardly tell if it was not. You pick up a biro and start to sign. To your horror, you realise that you are signing in green ink.

Those who work at MI5 and Special Branch will tell you that there is an unmistakable way of checking whether a document has been written by someone who is criminally insane.  You might think that involved referring it to a graphologist.  You would be wrong. You might think that it involved finding catchy phrases of the “I shall not sleep until I see your head upon a spike, Oh spawn of Satan” variety. These certainly indicate a certain lack of sympathy but they are no more than an indication. The true test, the ultimate litmus of lunacy, is whether the document has been written in green ink. It is the use of green ink which causes panic in the corridors of power. It is the use of green ink which results in M passing the matter to the 00 section.

Those who know this often keep a green biro or two in their desk drawer for appeals against parking penalties and other things of that sort. It is not necessarily an unhelpful thing for the man considering your appeal to think that any rejection might be followed by the arrival of a knife-wielding psychopathic lunatic in his office. Still, it is important not to use the pen for the wrong purpose, and to discover that you have begun to sign some important document in green leaves you with a difficult dilemma. Do you keep signing, hoping that the other signatories do not know what green ink signifies, or do you try to change horses in mid-stream by overwriting in black, giving the impression that the document has been signed by a five year old?

Neither option is particularly attractive, but that is because you are already accursed. The law of green biros, the rule that whenever you wish to write something particularly impressive the biro that you pick up will always be green, has already done its mischief.  All that you can do is to try to mitigate the effects.

The law, of course, is not just about biros, but applies in other areas too. It ensures that if you drop a piece of bread it lands with the jam side down. It ensures that as soon as you have committed yourself to an engagement, an invitation arrives to something more exciting which clashes with it. It causes the oven to fuse when you are trying to cook for a party of twelve, or the drains to malfunction just after you have eaten a curry.  Call it the law of green biros or the general rule of the cussedness of things, it is always waiting its opportunity.

The oddest thing about the law, however, is that it overrides statistics.  The academics will tell you that when you toss a coin the chance of it being heads is quite uninfluenced by what happened last time. The chances of ten heads in a row are rather less than one in 1000.  Yet when you have tossed nine consecutive heads the chance of the next being a head remains one in two.

You would have thought the same rule would apply to the law of green biros, but surprisingly that is not the case. Once things have started to go wrong, they inevitably continue to do so.  For a practical example of this, try reversing your car into a difficult place.  If you know the place, well, you will probably get in first time.  Let us say that there is a three out of four chance of doing this.  If you make a mess of it and have to have another go, you would expect the odds of success to remain the same. But they don’t.  If it goes wrong first time, it will go wrong for six successive attempts and all the hooting of motorists trying to get past you will not alter that fact.  Once you are in its clutches the law has an adherent quality.

Yesterday I experienced this personally.  Within the space of three hours, I lost a credit card, broke the printer, had all the data capacity on the Internet stolen, found that the socket into which I had plugged my phone did not work, discovered that the TV aerial no longer functions, and engaged in a lot of swearing. Yes, all right, I can see that the last of these was a derivative of its predecessors, but still if you take the likelihood of each of the others at one in ten, that should be a one in 100,000 shot.  Was there some malignant will behind it? Nothing we would recognise in the twenty-first century, but perhaps sometime earlier in the day I had stepped on land sacred to Pan. Or perhaps the deity problem was a more modern one.  Perhaps inadvertently and unknowing I had done something which had offended the immortal shade of the great Laszlo Biro.


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