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Friday the 13th

By: Skip Bandele

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EXACTLY 44 years ago, I opened my big, blue eyes for the very first time in a maternity ward in Lagos. Hold on, before you start surmising that I am an Algarve-born local man, I must point out that this miracle occurred during the last century somewhere in the capital city of Nigeria, West Africa.

The second miracle followed almost immediately …. Sometime after I had taken my first good look at the brave new world I had valiantly struggled against entering (I had kept my poor mother waiting fully seven days and nights beyond my due date before finally venturing forth), and before I innocently emptied my bladder over an unsuspecting Irish nurse holding me up for inspection by my proud parents: I was white, or rather pink, while all the other babies on view were, without a shadow of a doubt, black. Either someone up there had made a huge mistake, or I belonged to those unfortunate freaks of nature, the albinos – in either case, I felt in the minority of one then, and still do so today. Life in general has puzzled and intrigued me ever since, leading to a somewhat fatalistic acceptance of Socrates’ supposition that at the end of everything, ‘I know that I know nothing’.

Today, sitting on my balcony as I write, one of a countless sequence of coincidences – or is it chaos theory – has led to my looking across a bay at another Lagos, the one residents in the south of Portugal are probably more familiar with, which at one time was the point of embarkation for explorers who settled in that identically named place of my birth.

With a few exceptions, the world back in 1963 was not so much different from 2007. Earthquakes in Pakistan and Skopje, in the former Yugoslavia, claimed tens of thousands of lives, a hurricane devastated Cuba and Haiti, and Portugal experienced a particularly wet winter that saw the rare event of snow falling in Porto. The population of our country of choice numbered just over nine million, not significantly less than almost five decades later, but getting about was easier, with only 229,000 vehicles on the road (Ford had just started its first assembly line in Azambuja).

Under the Salazar dictatorship, that year there were only 658 divorces as opposed to 71,209 weddings, almost the reverse than in this day and age, Rádio Clube Português hit the airwaves and Dr. Kildare made his debut on RTP television. Around the globe Brad Pitt, Whitney Houston, Michael Jordan, José Mourinho and Gary Kasparov joined me on my journey into life, the latter choosing to do so on the exact same day, April 13.

On this day

Concurrently the likes of visionary author Aldous Huxley and ‘little sparrow’ Edith Piaf departed this world for their next existences. I was only two-months-old when John F. Kennedy declared himself to be a Berliner – literally a doughnut – only to be assassinated in Dallas before the year was out. Across the Atlantic, Martin Luther King told a frenzied Washington audience “I have a dream”, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was founded in Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia became the last country on earth to officially abolish slavery.

The Cold War was at its height, accentuated by the installation of a telephone ‘hot-line’ between the American and Russian capitals in order to preempt a nuclear ‘misunderstanding’, while the Profumo scandal rocked Britain. 1936 was also the year of the Great Train Robbery, Lawrence of Arabia swept the board at Hollywood’s annual Oscar ceremony, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones dominated the charts, and Philips introduced the world to the cassette tape.

On the sporting front, AC Milan beat Benfica in the European Cup final, Jim Clark became Formula One champion and Jacques Anquetil won the Tour de France for a fourth time.

This is but a brief synopsis of ‘my’ year, a time which may also contain a number of memories relevant to your lives.

But ‘back to the future’, let us return to today, my balcony, and more poignantly, Friday the 13th. Ever since I tried to avoid that scary movie of the same title, as I do all horror films, but was dragged in to see it anyway resulting in several weeks of nightmares, it has become painfully obvious to me that this particular day is deemed to be especially unlucky – why?

I feel lucky, today is my lucky day, it’s my birthday, I am alive, my family and friends are with me, healthy, and I am fortunate enough to be able to write about it on this page.


Not wanting to delve into occult-related literature, I tried to imagine why Friday 13th ‘enjoys’ such a bad reputation – and come up with some counter arguments. I suppose everyone is to some extent superstitious – picking lottery numbers, black cats crossing the road ahead, walking under ladders and so on. I don’t suffer from these phobias, although not walking under ladders, particularly when in use, does make sense!

Witches’ covens, I think, have 13 members, but then there are white witches too, not a bit evil, I’ve met a few! Easter has just come and gone, and there may be certain Christian religious connotations linking the number 13 and Friday to feelings of ill-boding. Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, and Judas’s presence at The Last Supper brought the number of diners up to 13. Then again, why ‘Good’, and why was another disciple brought in to replace Judas upon his death?

The number three, or derivations of it, occurs quite frequently in the Bible, not all associated with bad luck – the three wise men, 30 pieces of silver and the Holy Trinity to name but three. But other numbers are also used in different contexts. Take seven. What harm did the seven dwarfs ever do Snow White, the Jewish tradition refers to the seventh heaven as the seat of God, yet we are confronted with the seven deadly sins. Numbers, days, and pretty much everything else of random meaning in our lives are made to fit the occasion. There are no definitive facts, just superstitions.

I’m off to celebrate now, the ‘black sheep of the family’, different in a way brought home to me in reverse that fateful day in Lagos 44 years ago – by the way, April 13 in 1963 fell on a Saturday, phew!

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