Thursday, 3 November 2016

Bev and Carol on DHL and prime numbers.

(Bev and Carol are best friends.  They have very different attitudes to life.  It's all a dream anyway, isn't it?)

I was considering killing the delivery man.  There he stood, holding a parcel addressed to me.

When he’d first arrived, he’d handed it to me, before surreptitiously involving me in what I could only imagine was a blatant sting.

Man: There’s a customs’ charge.
I wasn't that stupid!
Bev:  I’ve already paid.
Man:  I’m sorry, there are TVA (I live in France) charges and a service charge from DHL.
I wanted my parcel.
Bev:  How much is it all together?
I had two possible reactions planned: If it was less than five euros, I’d hand over the cash.  On the other hand, I might take a moral stand, in which case, the sum would be unimportant.  I would stick to my guns.
Man: Twenty-one euros.
This is outrageous!
Bev:   I’m not paying.
Man:  I understand.
Bev:   Can I have my parcel?
Man:  I’m afraid not.
Having explained to a hysterical friend, earlier that morning, that giving in to a tantrum about something as trivial as a bounced cheque was a waste of energy, I imagined lunging forward, knocking the delivery man off balance, snatching the parcel and locking the door.  What would he be able to do about it?
He looked distinctly unaware of my violent intentions.
Man:  Could you hurry up.
This was a red rag.
Bev:  I’ve already paid.  This kind of thing has never happened before.  Give me my parcel.
Man:  I understand how you feel, but I can’t.  Please sign here.
I seethed.
Man:  I’m sorry.  I’m just doing my job.
I melted just a little and filled in the dratted form, adding my signature.  It was all over too soon.  I needed more time to be indecisive.  I stalled a little.  He told me I should contact DHL and sort it out with them.
As I closed the door, I died inside.  What had I done?  I’d made my life more complicated.  I’d added to the list of bureaucratic nonsense that arrived too frequently on my French doormat.  My stress levels rose and I almost gave in - I could still catch him.
A voice called from the kitchen.
Carol:  What was that all about?
I came back and I told her.
Carol:  You’ll have to pay it.  It’s customs’ duty.
Bev:      But I never have before.
Carol:   You’ve been lucky then.  They don’t pick up every parcel.
I considered this very unsatisfactory take on my very emotionally disturbing situation and imagined the DHL delivery man driving away, saw myself running after him.  I listened for his van.  Silence.
Bev:    Oh, God.
Carol:  He won’t help you.
I saw my parcel arriving back at a customs’ house by the sea and pictured a pile of rejected parcels being tossed into the Atlantic, where they would dissolve and be eaten by shrimp.
Carol:  Did he give you a receipt or something?
Bev:   Yes.
I handed it to Carol.
Outside, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  Such meteorological perfection failed to lift my mood. I spiralled down like a broken-winged bird into a world where there were two sorts of problems: those that were concrete and could be solved by action, and those that were metaphysical and could be pondered for eternity without coming to a satisfactory conclusion.
I noticed the book that Carol had been reading, before she’d opened up her laptop.  Prime Numbers and the Reimann Hypothesis.  A choice presented itself to me:  I could sort out my parcel problem or talk about pure maths.
Bev:  Prime numbers?  They’re the ones that can only be divided by themselves, aren’t they?
Carol:  Or one.
She didn’t look up.
Bev:  So, apart from that, what’s the point of writing a book about them?
Carol:  You wouldn’t understand.
She carried on doing what she was doing on the computer.
Bev:  Tell me something interesting about them.
Carol: Nobody knows how many there are.
Bev:    And…
Carol:  Nobody knows how to predict which numbers will be primes.
Bev:    But what use are they?
Carol closed the laptop.
Carol:  You hate maths.  You don’t understand equations or basic calculus.  You think graphs are irritating.
She was right.  But I still wanted to know.  I wanted to be given a pill that would light up my maths neurons and enable me to shock Carol with my insights into her world.
I heard the printer start up in the other room.
Bev:  What’s that?
Carol:  Your receipt for twenty-one euros paid to DHL, together with the new delivery date.
Bev:  I hate you.
She grinned.
Carol:  You’ll like the flowery crap I’ve added at the bottom.
I scowled.  But curiosity always gets the better of me.  I whistled a random tune and pretended to be filling the kettle.
I was secretly pleased the parcel thing was fixed and at the same time put out that Carol had done it all in minutes. 
I slipped away. There was the receipt and, at the bottom, there was a short, very twee quotation:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

(from The Serenity Prayer, by Reinhold Niebuhr)

Carol:  In other words:  don’t be a dunderhead.
I tried not to sulk.  Carol was so logical.  And Carol was always right.  
What was this?  She was looking at me in a caring way.
Carol:  Prime numbers are useful because, for example, without them, there would be no way to protect information, like bank account details. Hackers hate primes.
I was hooked.
Bev:  Can I borrow it?
Carol:  Sure.
I would prove my mathematical friend wrong.  I would come up with a solution much better than the Riemann Hypothesis, whatever that was, and, in the meantime, I’d make a nice cup of tea.

Happy Days!

More Bev and Carol available here:


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