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Living by the numbers


Drive through a tunnel and you’ll be told how many tons of rock were excavated to make it and how many vehicles pass through it every year.

US President Donald Trump. Picture: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

THE Americans are not exactly a welcoming nation. They make it as difficult as possible to obtain a visitor’s visa and they’re building a huge wall to stop any stray Mexicans from sneaking in from the south.

On three occasions, however, I have managed to talk my way into the land of the free, and found it an interesting, if confusing, country.

One of the things that struck me about Americans is their love of numbers.

They can (and will) quote numbers for just about everything.

You’ll be told exactly how tall each building is and how much garbage each New Yorker generates in a year and what the annual potato production of Idaho is.

Drive through a tunnel and you’ll be told how many tons of rock were excavated to make it and how many vehicles pass through it every year.

They’re a numerate nation.

I have several numerate South African friends, but none of them are annoyingly so.

They measure their lives in numbers. Some of my friends can tell you how many kilolitres of water they used last month and how many litres of petrol it requires to drive their car 100km.

They know the price of a roll of toilet paper if you buy it in packs of nine, and how much it costs to take a bus from Fish Hoek to Rondebosch.

They know the shoe sizes of each member of their family and exactly how much dog food you need to feed a 23kg bull terrier for a month.

Their heads are as full of numbers as the Saturday Lotto draw.

I’m happy to have them around because I am not particularly good at numbers and I often have to ask them number things.

As a non-numerate person, I bumble through life reasonably content to let other people handle the numbers.

If my car’s fuel gauge points toward the bottom, I buy petrol.

I have no idea how much water I use each month, although I try to save as much as I can.

Water from the bath goes into a bucket to flush the loo, and the basin outlet is linked to the mint patch in my garden.

I pay my municipal bills each month and what’s left goes toward groceries.

Wine is regarded as groceries in my home.

As long as I don’t spend more than there is in my bank account I consider myself to be winning.

So I get along quite well without worrying about the numbers.

I’m basically a cat person and cats hardly ever bother about numbers, so why should I?

Last Laugh

An elderly patient hobbled into the doctor’s surgery and said: “My right knee is giving me absolute hell, doc. When I wake up in the morning I can hardly get out of bed to go to the bathroom.”

The doctor examined his knee and said: ‘There’s nothing basically wrong. It’s just the result of age.”

“That can’t be right, doc. My left knee is exactly the same age and it doesn’t hurt at all.”


David Biggs