Kilburn. About a decade ago. I was stood in WHSmith, reading the newspapers. It’s what we did before the internet. That or the library. Libraries had more tramps and more of a crusty, fuggy aroma. Smith’s was cleaner, and had multiple copies of papers, so Smith’s was better. Smith’s even had magazines.
I was skimming through The Times, or some such similarly improving broadsheet, when suddenly a copy of The Sun was urgently flapped under my nose. I looked up. A troubled, quizzical face was glaring back at me, as one of its owner’s digits was repeatedly and quickly stabbed at the back page, somewhere in the region of a story about a footballer’s weekly wage.
“You see that number there?”
I did see. I confirmed as much.
“Is that a BIG number?”
It was somewhere in the thousands. I said, yes, it was pretty big, but such things were relative. The face looked momentarily less troubled. Then it shouted at me.
“A million! THAT’s a big number.”
I couldn’t deny it.
“Did you know that the sun is a million times bigger than the Earth?”
I wasn’t sure if anyone could be said to know such a thing but was also aware that an epistemological debate would clearly be neither relevant nor welcome. I told him I didn’t. He smiled proudly. He knew something I didn’t. That was enough for him. Knowledge is power.