My blog’s anniversary has seemed to come round very quickly this year – Twelve whole years – Eek! As always, a huge thank you to everyone who pops by, you are always very welcome.
To celebrate, some thoughts on my favourite instances of the number 12…
12-based number and timekeeping systems
Although dealing in tens is simple, dividing is difficult due to the lack of factors of the number 10. Whereas, twelve is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and itself – 6 factors facilitating halving and quartering and dividing into thirds, all with no fractions or recurring digits. We may use metres and kilos these days and (new) pence having gone decimal in Feb 1971, but twelve lingers on in our mathematics in measurements of angles, nautical distances and time. We often still talk about yards and acres rather than metres and hectares. This was brought home to me recently when I read The Maths of Life and Death by Kit Yates – reviewed here, and the more I think about it, the more I like twelve in this way.
All our timekeeping divisions have twelve as a factor, be they seconds, minutes, hours, days. In our year, we have twelve (lunar) months, and there are of course, twelve signs of the zodiac, the Chinese zodiac also has a twelve year cycle.
Also, don’t you just love the word ‘dodeca’ from the Greek for twelve? Back in my Dungeons & Dragons playing days, twelve-sided dodecahedral dice were one of the essential tools in anyone’s armoury, used in battle against all kinds of beasts.
Atomic number 12
Magnesium is one of my favourite elements – a shiny grey and lightweight metal. It sits in group 2 of the periodic table with the other alkaline earth metals. Burning strips of magnesium ribbon is a favourite demo at school when we look at firework chemicals and do some flame-testing. Auto-igniting at around 475°C, it burns with such an intense white flame, you can’t look directly at it, but must squint. It was used as flash powder in early photography. It is also essential to life in cell chemistry.
My favourite magnesium fact though, is that the design classic – plain metal pencil sharpeners are usually cast from magnesium, (alloyed with a little aluminium).
Idiomatic 12s and 12s in the Media
- We have 12: Disciples, Lost tribes of Israel, Days of Christmas, Steps, Labours of Hercules, pennies in a shilling. Then we also have Shakespeare’sTwelfth Night, the ‘Glorious 12th’
- The ‘twelve good men and true’ of a trial jury have never been more dramatically portrayed than in Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film Twelve Angry Men which starred Henry Fonda, adapted from Reginald Rose’s original teleplay.
- The Dirty Dozen, 12 Monkeys and Twelve Years a Slave are other notable 12 films.
- In music, there are twelve semitones in a chromatic octave, and the 12-bar blues is a dominant chord progression. Albums are 12 inches (see my post from earlier this year on my most influential albums here).
- A few notable twelves in books from my shelves:
- A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell has twelve books, (I’ve read the first 4)
- Twelve is a book by Jasper Kent which I reviewed here. Period war and peace with Russian vampires!
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (still on my TBR) has a cast of twelve characters.
- My next Maigret to read is #12 – The Shadow Puppet.
My Favourite Fairy 12
Is ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’, a fairy tale from the 17th century, collected by the Brothers Grimm. I first encountered it in the Puffin paperback, A Book of Princesses, a collection edited by Sally Patrick Johnson, which I still have in it’s first Puffin edition from 1965. As you can see below, I was in the habit of colouring in the illustrations (by Fritz Wegner). This book has versions of fairy tales from around the world by many great authors, including Oscar Wilde, Kipling, Dickens, Maugham and more, alongside Eleanor Farjeon, Hans Christian Anderson and Walter de la Mare. E. Nesbit and James Thurber also feature. Anderson’s ‘The Princess on the Pea’, and the ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’ are the most well-known.
The version of the ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’ presented here is by Walter de la Mare, first published in 1927. He has tidied up the tale with would-be suitors failing to discover why the princesses wear out their dancing shoes every night merely whipped into exile rather than put to death as in Grimm’s, the princesses themselves are far less malicious and he is kinder to the princes they meet too! It didn’t stop me loving the story though.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this diversion into the world of ‘twelve’!