• The Nearly Man

We Make Our Own Luck!

Luck: Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one's own actions.

This discerning description of “Luck” as a random, uncontrollable, unpredictable force does not still well within my mind, nor does the idea of having a preordained destiny. Whilst I believe in "a meaningful coincidence" of sorts, to base these “Luck” events on the prospect of random chances and inconceivable odds streamlining into a single point of inconceivable space time, is frankly a step beyond my perspective. To denounce one’s choices, ability, skill and competence to shear superstition is to me a ludicrous supposition. And whilst I could argue my thoughts on this tirelessly all day, I’ll spare you the drama of my rich inner world and instead plop down these thoughts here for you to digest at your own leisure.

"Luck" as I perceive it, is nothing more than a series of serendipitous opportunities that the universe provides to those willing to explore beyond their self made reality prisons. I am a firm believer in that exploration rewards opportunity with discovery and if you sit still long enough, eventually, everything with try and kill you, one way or another, and if you survive this onslaught, then all you'll accomplish is some serious bitch hips, a healthy layer of cobwebs and a slightly warped view of the world.

“Paying close attention”; observing, taking initiative and seizing opportunities, is for me, the quintessence of “Luck”. And in a world, in which people barely look up from their smart phones to experience life as we know it, look at where they are, where they are going and whom they might unapologetically walk straight into, made me wonder about all the missed opportunities and experiences out there which are now and forever lost. It is a sad day when a 3.5 inch screen and your online persona take precedence over your physical existence and experience of this wonderful thing called life. Or perhaps people are just becoming too frightened of those scary little things, I like to call thoughts.

"Oooh there they are again!! What are these things, why are they in my head? Who's that talking.... Nooooo! Go away!"Must text people immediately, click like on faceache! Express my over confident opinion on everything!"

Such sneaky, creepy little bastards those thoughts of ours are, how very dare they invade our minds right on a regular basis!

I was talking to a friend of mine the other week over a coffee in a London cafe; a rather attractive and beautiful girl I'll call C for the moment. C expressed her dislike of modern day life in so much as she stated

"Andy!! You know what I hate about the world these days?"

"What?" I replied.

"Well 10 years ago, I could walk down the street and get the attention of most guys, get a few numbers and even get asked out on a date or two"

"And??" I inquired "What of it?"

"Nowadays, I get fuck all. Everyone's too fucking busy looking at pictures of themselves on their iphones to notice me walking by. Fucks me right off! I could be stood there with my tits out and no one would fucking notice"

"I would!" I responded

"Well you would you dirty bastard!" she retorted.

Realistically, this is one of those essential life lessons that sometimes you have to see the value in what is around you and make your own luck rather than wait for things to happen.

This got me thinking on a few fronts; if someone as beautiful as C was being ignored, what were the chances that anyone would ever notice me? Further still, why was this girl single? What is wrong with her? And more importantly what are people actually doing on their phones to not be paying attention?

People for most part these days are content and happy, within various degrees of misery i suppose, but generally, most folk I speak with are ok! Some feel like they are treading in the shark filled shallows, whilst others have suggested that they are just like the tainted and discarded coins; left to endure the unforgiving elements of time in an evermore isolating and uncaring society. However, some pennies are not tarnished or weathered at all, they gleam in the light of day and wave at us from the pavement, grabbing our attentions. "Oi oi come get me!" They are the bright light in the fog, the beacon of hope and possibility, the ones with purpose and future. Though they also the ones that question the value of worth and how we feel about small denomination. It is easy to discard a penny, as it hold no fundamental value on the common market, however a hundred will buy you something to eat, a thousand, something more and so on.

Perhaps these "Luck" events pass down the line to the next person who sees the connection or link. One man's misfortune and all that. Means people such as myself can take advantage of these "non contacts", (A term I use for people who avoid all other life in pursuit of their smart phones whilst out in the world. You know the types. those people who instead of looking at a painting will just photograph it and move on. Likewise when faced with utter beauty, instead of taking a moment to take it all in, /click-click/ "Next!" God I loathe them with a passion... not to mention when they photograph their food.... oh jesus), Anyway where was I?? Oh yes, people being arses, me taking advantage of them, which I have done so many many times. Like a vulture to a meal, an Irishman to a free bar, sparing no embarrassment, shame or ridicule, every chance I see, I saw, I seized.

So this is the basis of this project. Exploration, Observation, Discovery, Acquisition = LUCK.

Throughout the course of this 2 year project, my headstrong hypothesis of “Luck” being nothing more than paying close attention to the world, has been put to the test time and time again. I would like to tell you that it’s all been about keen observation and being able to decipher one’s surroundings by scrutinising the landscape, I would like to say this, but in truth, I cannot. There have been too many uncanny elements of the strange, weird, improbable and seemingly other worldly influencing events beyond my control. And whilst most can be explained away, many other things I cannot find explanation for.

So where did it all start?

I have always been considered as “Lucky Sod”, “Lucky Bastard” with my own mother stating, that “Even if you fell into shit, you would come up smelling of roses” and in truth, my life, for what little I have lived, has been extraordinary, blessed, cursed, but more importantly fought for and won. I cannot claim to be a Midas or indeed be a person to defy the probability of 50/50. I wouldn’t see myself or anything I achieve as “Lucky”. I would however, describe myself as a survivalist; playing the game as best I can with the cards I have been dealt, whilst trying to find ways not to die or suffer horribly.

The idea of “Luck” and what makes some people and objects lucky is an intriguing concept no? To define yourself by proxy of Superstitions, like saluting a magpie, not walking under ladders, saying “Break a leg” before a show, four leaf clovers, rabbit’s feet etc are all as far as I can see are crazy things to be superstitious about, with the exception of saluting magpies, that has to be fulfilled, otherwise they steal your silver.

One quiet day I came across an idea based on Quantum Mechanics. Now I cannot claim to be proficient on such matters, I merely have a “passing” interest in the subject; meaning I have read a few books, watched some TV programmes, thought Albert Einstein was a hypocrite and generally thought “Ummm that’s pretty cool”.

The theory which took me in, is the idea that for every time you flip a coin to decide a possible outcome, choosing either heads or tails, the universe splits into a parallel universe in which the other outcome you choose to ignore comes to fruition and exist at the same time, though due to some weird witchcraft and black magic that no one understands or can prove, neither allows the other to see the other’s path. The T junction, fork in the road, left or right, which to choose? “Good Luck” “Bad Luck”. The "What ifs" and "Maybes!". All of this caused my brain to bleed, although filled it with wonderment at the endless opportunities available to a single person in just one lifetime alone. Thus it kick started my long journey into the vast worlds of fate, destiny, luck and superstition.

So I looked firstly at my own life, at some of the points and events which I could specifically state are not without an element of spookiness or indeed easily explained away. I will try not to be too dramatic here, however I cannot help myself. So to give you some brief examples of the weird things which have happened to me thus far, here we go;

Whilst out on a motorbike riding course back in 2012, I was T-boned at a junction by a Mercedes, which sent myself and the 250kg Yamaha I was borrowing catapulting through the air, over the bonnet, somewhere in the region of 30-40mph. Ultimately I crashed into the ground, with the bike typically using me as a soft comfy cushion in which to land on. This crash should have severely injured me or worse killed me. However, I eventually walked away with little more than a 10p sized bruise just below my lower left ribs, and the feeling I had run 20 marathons. The bike on the other hand didn’t come away so well, it was totalled, impressively so, with the engine block moving 3-4 inches back into the chassis such was the force of the impact. In truth I should have lost my leg, broken my neck, back, or been killed. Instead I was ejected from the hospital by various stunned doctors and nurses who all told me to stop wasting their time. “You’re a Lucky Sod!” one doctor exclaimed to me.

In 2013, I lose my mobile phone to the Gulf of Thailand, having capsized whilst out canoeing 2KMs off the coast of Koh Tao, to then find it the next morning at 6am unceremoniously face down along a stretch of empty beach I had decided “off the cuff” to visit that morning, with nothing more than an overwhelming urge to go. The phone which I saw slip beyond my reach into the deep blue the previous day had survived upwards of 19 hours in the sea, and was still being lapped by the ocean when I found it, I did pinch myself just a little and check that I wasn’t dreaming or suffering the after effects of the local special brew. The maths and the odds of this event happening are staggeringly colossal, it boggles the mind, but not half as much as the fact that “The fucking thing still works, to this very day!” Thank you Samsung.

My tenant Dan has two tattoos of 1940s-50s pinup girls on his legs. One is called Isabella and the other called Eleanor, the latter he named and stencilled into his skin 3 days before the advert for a room in my house went up. Nothing weird about that eh? Except, Isabella is my mum’s name, and Eleanor her mother’s name. A chill ran down both our spines when we discussed this. What are the chances? Dan suggests "Fate, destiny? Perhaps I was supposed to be here?" I like Dan’s thinking. Admittedly the ladies tattooed on Dan's legs are in a slightly better state than either my mum or dead grandmother.

Likewise, an old girlfriend of mine was born on the same day as my mum, albeit 23 years after, also has a daughter called Isabella and also a son born on the same day as my niece. Furthermore, another old girlfriend of mine, her mum was born on the same day as me, only 40 years previous to the day I arrived on earth. In addition to another old girl friend (there’s a theme here, you can see?) who was not only born the same day my father died, but had a best friend that I worked with for 5 months whom also shared a birthday with me.

All very strange and remarkable you'll no doubt note and there are countless other coincidences such as these. Events in which a person could be sent to the edge of madness trying to decipher some meaning to it all. I used to just accept it, brush it off and put it down to scientific fact and reason, albeit truly baffling reasons. Lately however, I have had to revise this notion somewhat. Perhaps there is something more to it all?

So it was noted by a friend of mine that I seem to have an uncanny knack and ability to find money, pretty much everywhere I go. Not vast amounts, mainly small denominations, although sometimes larger notes when the universe is being generous. However, wherever I seem to stand, sit, walk etc, unwanted and forgotten monies seem to find my gaze. To give you an example of my abilities of observation. Below is an image of where I was walking the other day, being more aware of unexploded munitions than anything else. Please note the ground, it's a mind confusing gravel track.

Yet within all this madness I spotted an unfamiliar shape, something alien to the landscape. Yes you are right a coin, and for once I had my camera to hand.

How long it had been there is anyones guess. Enough time had passed however in order for rust to have grown and for the coin to develop a tan not unlike its surroundings. The trick; to undersatnd the environment you are in, take in what you understand to be fact. in this case a chaotic gravel track. Then look for something that doesn't belong. A shape that has uniformity, order, like most man made objects do. There is of course order to nature, however, take a really long look at a tree. Bare in mind this is all achieved subconsciously, I am not actively or consciously out wandering fields and coastal paths looking for coins. This aspect, is purely down to chance . And with it, the rhyme,

“See a penny pick it up and all day long you'll have good luck.

Find a penny leave it there; all day long you'll be in despair”.

So naturally I pick it, pop it in the pocket.

My brother drunkenly slurred to me one evening whilst picking up a five and ten pence piece off a street near Covent Garden,

" Money! And people just walk right by it! Idiots!”

He then gave them to his younger poorer artist type brother stating with a smile.

"Drinks are on you!"

My brother is a tight git, part Scottish like I, however, right. I see people walk by money all the time, yet they all complain they don't have any or earn enough. It amazes me that they miss these obvious universal gifts. If only they paid closer attention. Although... ummm. Eventually it all adds up right? And so it does. In 3 months alone last year I found a total of £197 just on the streets of London. And I am not actively seeking this money, like some homeless man searching for fag ends. Or am I following people around waiting for them to drop their lose change. It is purely all serendipitously found whilst out walking from one place to another or as I sit down on the tube, bus and train.

The most I have ever found in one go was £390, just sat on a path, end of summer 2008; I watched from a distance some 50 people wandering around, all happily yacking to themselves, none aware for a moment that the universe had plonked a mighty gift just yards from their feet. Admittedly, I only noticed it when I was within 10 feet or so, hoping that the 8 people in front of me didn’t see it before I got there. My heart was in my mouth, and luckily for me they were all too busy in their own worlds to consider any other possibility. I took it to the local rozzers and was pleasantly surprised a few months later to receive a call saying I could come and collect it, many drinks were purchased that evening in celebration, most of which reappeared the next day. What a waste.

“See a penny pick it up and all day long you'll have good luck.

Find a penny leave it there; all day long you'll be in despair”.

An ex girlfriend always complained,

“Why can’t you find millions, or perhaps some old gold coins? Why is it always pennies and 5ps?”

I too have often wonder this, though I am left thinking, one; "Never look a gift horse in the mouth" and two; to find anything at all considering the choices, chances and endless possibilities one has to consider at any given moment, is nothing less than amazing.

I explained to the ex whilst shovelling a wad of coins I had just found into my pocket,

“It’s because the universe owes me. That and I am part magpie!” -insert magpie noise here- “I sees a sparkle and whoosh!!! In I go”.

However, there are times in which some coins remain elusive and are impossible to retrieve i.e. In the middle of a busy road in Earls Court: On the disappearing step edge of a moving escalator in Oxford Circus at rush hour: On the moving hand rail going in the opposite direction in Waterloo Underground, between the Jubilee and Northern lines: On the table next to you in a restaurant: Under the feet of an attractive drunken fellow passenger on the train. All nightmares of the highest order and all of which leave me feeling a very peculiar emotion of being bereft. I cannot explain this one bit. Perhaps it’s the feeling of knowing that I have intentionally let an opportunity pass by and escape me forever? Or perhaps it’s the collector in me? Who knows? It’s fair to say that those moments do haunt me. There have been circumstances in which I have been utterly compelled to take a walk back around the block in order to pick up a coin I walked passed. Especially those coins which at the time I was too embarrassed to pick up as people were following too closely behind.

All the while thinking “I hope no one else saw it! I hope it is still there”.

“Madness” I hear you say “Utter insanity!” And yes you’d be right. I am quite mad, but it was for a pound.

So that leads me nicely onto the objects themselves. Whilst this is not strictly a photographic project, it does lend itself to being a visual piece as well as a philosophical one. For me the most interesting aspect is the state in which the coins are found. I try my best to preserve their condition before scanning both sides and adding them to the lucky coin jar. I did think perhaps I should photograph them as and where I find them, however logistically this would lead to certain issues, mainly being drunk and in charge of a camera.... umm.. I think I would end up with too many bum, tit and penis shots.

For me, it is the object itself that fascinates me most, the marks, scars, dinks, rust and stains of a long forgotten past evident for all to see, not unlike ourselves. Each with a different story and personality of its own. And whilst some tales of how they came to be in my possession fall beyond the clouds within my memory, other stories stick right in there, sometimes like happy memories, other times like unwanted pubes in your mouth. Nonetheless, each is marvellous in its unfolding.

The 1 Grosz coin I found in Warsaw just moments before I was fined £45 for not validating my ticket on the tram (motherfuckers).

The shinny Dime I found smack dead centre in the middle of room in which I was removing an enormous carpet to renovate the wood floor below in Earls Court.

The three One Cent pieces I found in my X-Ray tray at Gatwick after it passed through the machine, (they weren’t in it before it went in).

The 5p and 20p coins I found 6 feet apart whilst daring to cross a busy road in Plymouth, Moments later a car skidded out of control and would have hit me had I not moved the 6 feet up the road.

The weather beaten penny I found hidden amongst a 400m gravel garden at my apartment in Battersea the day in September 2013 when I was informed “I wasn’t worth employing again!” by my former boss.

The £10 note I found on the road just milliseconds before I caught the number 2 bus, in which only 15 minutes before I had missed by almost the same amount of time.

The £5 note I found at a curb side whilst out walking in the summer of 2014 in the posh parts of Woking with my then girlfriend.

The list goes on and on; like I said some stories are really stuck in there and I think forever, or at least until I get dementia. Though each coin or note if it could talk would equally have just as good a story to tell about how they got there, as much as how I found them. Either way all of these coins somehow, someway end up with me and most it would seem by complete and utter luck.

There is the picture gallery here of some of the more interesting coins and notes in the collection, most of which will be kept. So please go take a gander. This blog isn't going anywhere.

To give you a better understanding of this project, the images below are deposit receipts of the monies found within a month period of the deposit date.

In July 2014 a total of £82.26 was found and deposited. Likewise in March 2015 £74.61 was found and deposited.

As you can see there is something to be said about looking more carefully at your surroundings and paying attention. Admittedly, the vast majority of the foraging took place in London town, where opportunities are more favourable for the street magpies.

So what’s the next step?

Last year’s total value of monies collected was £565,64 half of which went to local charities, specifically dealing with homelessness, as I was once homeless myself not all that long ago and spent several months sleeping in a homeless shelter. The remaining £282.82 paid for a 5 day holiday to Barcelona; flight, hotel, with a wee bit of spending money left over to buy food, booze and a T-shirt (image below). You know it's cool.

However this year, the pickings are somewhat slimmer. It would seem people are wearing better made trousers with better made pockets that seem to hold the monies in, instead of throwing it out. Bastards! Either this or people are becoming more shrewd and noticing those lost coins on the floor, becoming luckier themselves? Or more than likely, it's just because no one has any fucking money anymore. Bastards! Any way... a slight change of tact on how to conclude the project is in order.

As this project was originally based on trying to decipher and argue the point that random acts of luck are nothing more than serendipitous opportunities by a keen observer to take advantage, I have thrown all caution to the wind, as my findings somewhat contradict this conjecture. So I have decided to enter the realms of impossible odds, astronomical numbers and stupidity. Yes you have got it right... “The Lottery”. Surely if all these “Lucky Coins” came to be in my possession by the shear grace of unpredictability and Fortuna, then surely they were meant to defy the odds stacked against them when it comes to playing The Lottery? A strange conclusion granted, however not without merit or insane logic.

Therefore, since January 2015 I have been playing the Euro Millions Lottery, playing both Tuesday and Fridays every month, totalling £16 per 4 weeks; and thus far have won only meagre amounts. Therefore, as a finale to this project I have decided to play the remaining money on instant scratch cards. And like before, here is a deposit receipt for the monies found in the month of November; totalling £13.47 in coins and £25 in notes (not deposited) equalling a grand total of £38.47, which I have rounded up to £40.

So today, this day, the 29/12/15 I decided to purchase these scratch cards. I am not sure why I chose this day? Perhaps because I woke up this morning to the sound of someone calling my name, though there was no one awake in my house. The fact the sun was shining on an otherwise miserable week of weather? Maybe because I bought two new pairs of shoes and they’re pretty awesome? Perhaps, because every time I skipped tracks on my ipod, my favourite songs played. Or maybe it was just because I said to myself before I left the house today,

“If I see "a penny", then I will buy them!”

And as luck would have it...

I found this bad boy late in the afternoon, after a day of indecision regarding this “If I see "a penny", then I will buy them!” notion. Whilst on my journey home from the mayhem of daring to go into town to buy new shoes, I had noticed a man drop some change on the bus, which not unsurprisingly rolled off the bus onto the road below.

“An opportunity has arisen”, I thought to myself.

Dismissing his loss, he smiled saying “Not to worry!” and waved the driver on. However, his clumsy bit of bad luck was about to change, when the driver insisted that he get off the bus and have a quick search around. So slightly embarrassed, the mid 60s man jumped off the bus scanned around, scratched his head, then peered underneath the bus, pointing and shouting

“Ah don’t worry! It’s way under there, it is!”

With this the driver closed the doors and drove off down the road, which left me thinking,

“Bloody hell, he’s just leaving the poor guy there, what rotten luck. Haha!”

However, the bus came to an abrupt stop a few yards later, doors flew open and on jumped one happy man with a handful retrieved coins.

I took this as a sign that today would be the day after all.

So after my return and a quick brew, I decided to take a walk to the nearest supermarket about 2 miles away, taking in the afternoon light and the unseasonably mild temperatures of this December, still all the while thinking,

“I haven’t found a penny yet!”

On my arrival at the supermarket, still without a penny, I noticed that there were no scratch cards in the holders and took this as a sign that perhaps today might not be the day after all. So I promptly left for home and decided to wander back a different way, when the thought suddenly struck me of a small corner shop just off the main high street I sometimes spot on the bus. And as I looked down to cross the road, there was the penny (pictured above) tucked away in the nook of the curb just where my foot would have landed.

“A sign! Here is my penny”

I never claimed there was any sound logic to this project, but sometimes, you just can’t ignore these unknown possibilities, as the outcome of reward is just as equally probable.

I have to say, I felt a little embarrassed entering the shop, with the thought of whimsically spending £40 on a game of chance and doing it publically. I felt as if I was buying a porno mag, which in all honesty I would have less of a problem buying. This on the other hand, made me feel uneasy and I am not sure why? There was a guy behind me in the queue chatting with his kid, and I asked if he would like to go before me, as I may be sometime. He declined my polite offer and instead watched in amusement, as I asked for £40 worth of scratch cards. The shop assistant "Debbie" looked at me shockingly and said

“Sorry??? What??? £40 worth of scratch cards? Which ones? All the same?”

I replied with “Indeed, it’s your choice! Pick which ever you feel are right”

Suddenly, I became slightly self conscious at the spectacle I had created in the shop, an extra member of staff was buzzed in to help with the overflow and random people started throwing in their two pennies worth of advice, all chatting away, talking amongst themselves, telling stories about the possibilities of winning big. So I concocted a story that these were part a silly gift for my brother, as he was turning 40, a complete lie, but not too far removed from a semblance of truth, as my bro-in-law is 43 tomorrow, or is that 44?? Who knows? It was the first thing that popped into my head, “A silly gift”. It seemed the most logical and plausible explanation for random strangers I could think of. Although in all honesty, it is probably a more ludicrous answer than the actual truth. Seriously who would give away the possibility of potentially winning hundreds of thousands of pounds, as a gift? Only crazy people! Regardless, each person as they left the shop wished my brother good luck and thought it was a nice idea over all? I can imagine each of them all now telling their partners, friends and families.

“You never guess what....?”

This kind of makes me smile a little inside, as this whole project has been about the suspension of disbelief and story telling.

So below is the receipt and the various scratched cards, chosen at random by Debbie.

As you can see £40 worth of lottery scratch cards purchased. However, as luck would have it, it appears Debbie miscounted the forth lot of cards and counted out 9 instead of 10. Probably down to bemusement, although most likely as a result of accidentally ripping the serial number off one of the cards, which seemed to cause her deep concern and distraction of the possible consequences.

I shrugged it off and jokingly stated.

“Knowing my luck, that will be a winning ticket! Don’t worry it’ll be fine, I’m sure”

I know it is my fault too for not double checking her counting. However it is done and I cannot beat myself up about it. Although for about an hour after, I did.

“I should have checked” I kept saying to myself “Bugger!”

I was a little pissed at myself for not paying attention, when I should have. I had thought of popping back to the shop and explaining that she had miscounted, but then again what would it achieve? Would they ever believe me? Most likely not! So I let it be. And after a while, a strange concept popped into my head. That this miscounted scratch card epitomises this project perfectly. By pure coincidence, chance and a little bad luck, the actual amount of cards I ended up with more closely matches the final value of the £38.47 I actually found. And its absence is not all that dissimilar to losing money, which in its seemingly insignificant disappearance irrecoverably changes the outcome of future events. We have all been in situations in which a few pennies would have made a difference, perhaps this missing card might have changed the future in ways I can only dream about, perhaps not. I will never know. And it is only when we are bereft of these things that we regrettably understand their potential worth. In essence perhaps these moments characterise a symbolic truth; that even the most subtle of actions can have the most profound life changing effect, beneficial or not. And that sometimes

"Shit Happens!"

Most of all though, I think they leave us asking the inevitable question

“What if?”