Absolute zeros

June 2, 2009

Tom Whipple
362 words
17 October 2008
The Times
Times2 7
(c) 2008 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

The figure Pounds 2 trillion is unimaginable. Human beings were simply not evolved to imagine numbers on the scale of the sums used this week to save the world’s banks.

That is why we use comparisons. For instance, with rainforest destruction, instead of talking in hectares, we use the internationally accepted unit of deforestation: Waleses per second (for which the symbol is Taff s-1). How, then, to describe Pounds 2,000,000,000,000? The trick is to use examples relevant to the subject – in this case, bankers.

Let us say that, in these credit-crunch days, God is feeling ironic and makes it rain Bollinger in the Thames catchment area. In these circumstances it will take six months before Pounds 2 trillion worth of bubbly flows past Westminster. Now imagine that, in a sly reference to some traders’ illegal vice of choice, He also produces a gentle snowfall of cocaine over the City – enough to cover the Square Mile so that nothing is visible beneath. For Pounds 2 trillion, we could have 13 such snowfalls.

Perhaps a similar sum should be spent boosting Iceland’s economy, in banker approved fashion. At going rates you could fly the country’s entire adult female population to London and pay them to dance (as long as they are compliant) continuously for eight years. To complete our capital’s transformation into a den of City debauchery, we need some bling. What better than another London Eye, but made of solid gold? Well, we can afford 160 of them.

Our bankers’ theme park ready, we should expect it to be popular. Let each visiting banker, wearing a Rolex watch, arrive in a Porsche. In the passenger seat his trophy wife can be holding a Pounds 5 million Faberge egg. Oh, and last year’s Pounds 10 million bonus (in the form of a small Picasso that matches the curtains) is in the boot. Before this traffic jam achieves a net worth of Pounds 2 trillion, it will reach from London to Glasgow.


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