If scientists wrote horoscopes, this is what yours would say

Martha Gill's Irrational Animals column.

A new year, a new set of horoscopes, a renewed chorus from naysayers who fail to see the link between when they were born and what will happen to them next Tuesday. But science says they’re just not looking hard enough. Tiny seasonal variations at your time of birth can affect both your health and your character. Finally - here’s a horoscope based on real medical evidence.

Aries: 21 March – 19 April
You’ve never been that bright, Aries, and medics at Indiana University put this down to a heightened use of pesticides around the time of your birth. You also sometimes feel that you’re sleepwalking through life. Give in to the feeling - it’s just narcolepsy (more likely in those born in March or April).

Taurus: 20 April – 20 May
Oh, Taurus, sometimes you’re on top of the world, other times you just can’t get out of bed. Your friends are confused: what’s going on? Tell them that babies born in May are happier – they first experienced the world in summer. They are also more likely to suffer from seasonal affective disorder; depression hits in the darker months.

Gemini: 21 May – 21 June
Children born at this time are often better behaved and less likely to play truant. Maybe it’s time to let loose a bit, Gemini.

Cancer: 22 June – 22 July
Cancerians, you usually think yourselves lucky – due to low rates of postnatal depression in mothers of summer babies. Your instincts are off, however: you’re at a slightly higher risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to Danish research from 2003.

Leo: 23 July – 22 August
Your friends tell you you’re just not the maternal type. They’re right: Austrian research finds that those born now grow up to have the fewest children.

Virgo: 23 August – 22 September
You keep telling people you’re big-boned but they don’t believe you. It’s true, though – your mother got more sunlight as her pregnancy progressed and the Vitamin D gave you thick, strong bones. See?

Libra: 23 September – 22 October
Librans, you have the best chance of becoming a professional footballer. You’ll be one of the biggest children in the school year and get picked for the best team early on. Things will progress from there. Hurray for Jupiter in the ascendant or whatever.

Scorpio: 23 October – 21 November
This year is as good a time as any to take up yoga, because you’ll be feeling flexible and energetic, partly because of your low risk of arthritis and multiple sclerosis (as your mother got plenty of sunlight late in her pregnancy).

Sagittarius: 22 November – 21 December
Sagittarians like to live life at the sharp end – December babies are the most likely to become dentists. But take off those plastic gloves and have a rest in the chair: cold temperatures at birth increased your risk of eczema and heart disease.

Capricorn: 22 December – 19 January
Capricornians, you are clever, tall and successful – your mother was pregnant in the summer and ate lots of fruit and vegetables. If you have one flaw, it’s that irritating tendency to have epilepsy, caused by prenatal winter infections.

Aquarius: 20 January – 18 February
This year, you’ll be as clearsighted as ever; low levels of daylight at birth gave you better long-distance vision. Older Aquarians may be feeling under the weather, though – an early lack of Vitamin D has been linked to depression later in life.

Pisces: 19 February – 20 March
Assertive, successful, bossy: there are more CEOs born now than at any other time of the year. Male Pisceans beware: you’re at a marginally higher risk of autism.

The science of horoscopes. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

This article first appeared in the 14 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Dinosaurs vs modernisers

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war