Difficult Questions for 2020 – Victoria’s blog – Jan 2020
In the 1960s a theoretical statistician, hence someone with theoretically no skin in the game, suggested that if a large % of an available population give an answer to a simple question, the answer they give, however unlikely it seems to another group, is probably correct.
The available population in our garden is two. Should I (50% of the population) believe that the optimum answer to what best to do in the garden today is to spend the day snipping (I’m very fond of snipping – sometimes with a chainsaw – and there’s a lot to do), and the other gardener (50% of the population) believes that the optimum answer is to make a monster bonfire and arrange logs like elaborate but well-ordered spillikins, theoretically it is likely that we are both right. It’s a very restful theory.
The available population to ask the question, ‘What should our new and utterly gorgeous grandson be called,’ is probably a bit bigger. Obviously the parents are allowed a view, then there’s us, and our children and their partners, and our children’s friends and their partner’s friends and their partners, and my sisters, and my husband’s sisters and my husband’s mother and his aunt and his cousins and our children’s cousins and even some of our friends.
So, a better question to ask this population is, ‘Should the baby be called Osric?’ Osric is my choice; I think it’s a terrific name. According to Bede he was an Anglo-Saxon King of Hwicce, somewhere between 580 and 630, and he was very nice to his aunt (Cyneburh if you are interested). But apparently a very significant part of this population thinks I’m wrong and they don’t love Edgar (second choice) either. I can be big about this because, although there may be a failure of taste, statistically they are like to be right, inasmuch as they all think I am wrong.
Important questions can get more complicated. What colour should the Drawing Room (currently Mouldy Spinach) of the newly reclaimed house be? It turns out that creatives are way more intense and competitive than either parents, or the parents of new babies, or indeed gardeners. Who would have thought it? The views people have on colour are deeply held and believed to be correct within an extraordinary statistical toleration. The words ‘you must’ precede every offering of an opinion. And many of them are genuinely brilliant, they really know about colour. And some of them know the square root of nothing about colour. It must be blue, it must be green, it must be grey, it must be white and from the other gardener a little wistfully, ‘Marmalade is a lovely colour’.
So, the question I actually ask is, ‘Should I paint the drawing room this very tasteful Olive Drab from the Edward Bulmer collection? It’s very 18th century.’ And we do a bit on the wall so they can see what I mean. Half of the population say, ‘Camo Mum, why would you paint it Camo?’ and the other half say ‘Olive Drab, how appropriate, how 18th century, that Edward Bulmer collection is marvellous’.’
And guess what? There is a high statistical probability that they are both right. Maybe the Olive Drab is just a little bit pleased with itself, maybe it would look a bit ‘camo’ if you weren’t part of the in-the-know Edward Bulmer group. And equally, Edward Bulmer and co might be right about real 18th century colours.
I think I’ll paint it Arsenic – the revenge of the Hwicce.