We had a choice of two themes for our meeting on 14th August, either “coincidences – truth can be stranger than fiction” or “unexpected happenings with good results”. These led to a fascinating discussion of the strange experiences we’d all had in our lives. Maybe the longer we live the more likely we are to gather such amazing stories. Maybe like the dreams we don’t remember, there are many more coincidences we simply don’t notice. Maybe it would be an even stranger world if coincidences or the unpredictable never happened. It would certainly be a duller one!
Like others, I’ve experienced coming across people I know who surprisingly happen to be in the same place at the same time. Once I sat down in my reserved seat on a busy train to London and discovered that the person next to me, also in a reserved seat, was a good friend on her way to London for a work meeting. Another time, I discovered myself walking alongside a friend from university days, who I’d not seen for more than twenty-five years, when we were both taking part in a national demonstration of some sixty thousand people!
Having thought I didn’t have any ancestors from Manchester, I was astonished to discover that one of my great-grandfathers was born in a nineteenth century street which turned out to have been in the same place as the car park in which I had parked to go to work for many years. We also happened to share the same birth day and month, almost a century apart. In 2013, the car park was excavated for a new university building and the cellars of the back-to-back houses on the former street were uncovered. An open day to see the excavations was held on, guess what, that very same day and month! Of course, I had to visit to see for myself on my birthday and feel a little shiver at the spookiness of such a coincidence, as I took the photograph below.
In this week’s very enjoyable session, I was able to share two really pleasant memories of instances of incredible coincidence.
The first of these occurred while I was on a visit to Alvechurch, a village in North Worcestershire, 11 miles south of Birmingham. I was on a mission to explore my family history there as my grandmother was brought up in the adjacent hamlet of Withybed. Before exploring the village, I decided to have lunch in a local pub. As a stranger, I aroused the landlady’s curiosity and we naturally got into a conversation as to the purpose of my visit. Here is where the coincidences started to happen. When I mentioned my grandmother’s name, Ross, she informed me that she knew of people in the village of that name and more, that one, who was also interested in his family history, was a regular in her pub and often came in during the day.
After finishing lunch, I paid a visit to the pub’s toilet only to be told that my distant relative had indeed just been in and was at present looking to see if he could spot me outside, the landlady thinking I had left. Disappointed at missing such an opportunity I made my way out too, only to almost collide with him on his way back in. He then very kindly took me on a tour of the churchyard showing me where some of my relatives were buried.
He also gave me the address of another relative who was more into genealogy than he was. I later wrote to her and she invited me down to stay overnight so she could show me where my grandmother, who she remembered meeting once, had lived. I was also shown a picture of the hamlet’s V.E. Day celebrations which included my great-grandmother, who died, aged, 72, on the 25th November, 1945.
My second recollection of coincidence was of meeting an old friend during the huge event, in Albert Square, Manchester celebrating “City’s” first championship in over 40 years. I have already told of this, in the post on “Celebrations” in July 2020.
I was very fortunate to do a twenty-day tour of Australia and New Zealand. We flew from Heathrow to Dubai, then on to Brisbane for three days before sailing to a Gold Coast Island. We stepped back in time as we toured North and South Islands of New Zealand seeing and experiencing wonderful culture and countryside. We flew back to Sydney to spend three days before returning home.
My son had spent six months working as a bank messenger in Sydney as he worked his way round the world after completing his maths degree. He advised me not to go Bondi Beach, where he had spent his first Christmas away from home, but to go instead to Manly Beach. I like to travel light in comfortable clothes, telling my travelling companion that so long as we are clean and sensibly dressed it didn’t really matter what we looked like, as we were never going to see our fellow travellers again. How wrong I was! As I stepped off the ferry at Manley Beach looking like a ghost in my factor 50 sunscreen under a large floppy hat, wearing a long-sleeved cotton shirt and baggy comfortable trousers, I thought I heard a voice I recognised. Turning round I saw my brother and sister-in-law! They were visiting a relative in Manley after cruising there on a P&O liner through the Panama Canal. It was such a strange coincidence as we all should have been together for a niece’s wedding on that Valentine’s Day in 2008. We found a bar and raised a glass or two to Gill and Harry as we sat and watched the surfers in glorious sunshine.
After bidding farewell to my in-laws, we took the return ferry back to Darling Harbour. There were lots of bars and restaurants round the harbour, so we looked for a suitable place to eat at later that evening. Reading the menu outside one of restaurants, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned round to see a former colleague, the secretary from school with her husband and sister. We arranged to meet at the restaurant later to spend a very enjoyable evening together.
Fact is often stranger than fiction, what a small world we live in!
On the subject “An unexpected happening with good results”, I remembered something which happened during a holiday in the Italian Dolomite mountains. This was our second visit to walk a route in these mountains. During our first visit we were with a group with a leader who had completed this previously. We carried tents, sleeping bags, waterproofs, stoves and packets of dried foods to cook: all heavy loads on our backs. Each night, after walking a section of the route, we would set up camp outside a mountain hostel where one could have stayed with warm beds and enjoyed good hot food. Half way round the route it was not possible to continue because there was too much snow and sections where one would have needed crampons and ice-axes. This was a disappointment, but we two were thrilled with the mountains and determined to try again.
For our second trip we joined the Italian Alpine Club and planned two weeks walking alone and staying in the mountain hostels. On the day of our travel from home we planned to stay in a hotel before setting off out of the valley, starting where we had to stop the year before and thus completing the section of the route. Not knowing how far the buses would take us on that first day, we assumed that it would be easy enough to find somewhere to stay. I was rather worried about this, but my husband assured me that all would be fine.
We travelled to a small town called Moena, and tried the first small hotel we found. The landlord laughed when we asked for a room and asked if we knew what day it was. As we are not Catholic, we didn’t know that it was the day of the Feast of the Assumption which is a very important celebration in Italy. The landlord told us that it would be impossible to find any vacancies there. This was very worrying to me, but Frank, my husband, wasn’t worried. “No need to worry,” he said, “we have a bivvy-bag and we will be fine” and we were.
We set up along the track towards the high ground, found a good level area and set up our bag which we kept open with one of our ice-axes. We could hear the sounds of celebration coming from the town but, being tired after our journey, were soon asleep. The next morning, we set off towards the Passo Vallez feeling confident and very happy, with my worries disappearing by the minute. Good results indeed.
I really enjoyed talking with Margaret Williams again in the breakout room, and hearing some more of her awesome exploits walking in The Dolomites with her husband.
Lots of us had tales to tell of meeting up with people unexpectedly in unexpected places, which is always surprising and sometimes a shock. My story was of a coincidence which was just strange.
Many years ago, I had my car stolen overnight from outside my house. Nothing special about it, just a small car that I needed for work. The police and insurance company were informed and after a time I got my money from the insurance company, bought a new car and all was forgotten. Or so I thought.
Several months later, I had a phone call from the police asking if I could go to the police compound to try to identify a car they had found and which they thought might be mine. I was happy to help, although the only distinguishing marks I could remember were a cigarette burn on the back seat, and a mark from a repair on one of the doors. Of course, the number plates had been changed. I went along and described what I could remember and the police thought this was indeed my stolen car. Of course, I had replaced it so it was no longer my car.
Also at the police compound was a young man who had bought the car in all good faith and had all the documents. I was polite and sympathetic to him (thankfully as it turned out) and said how sorry I was.
So far, so ordinary. Then a few days later my husband came home from work and said a new colleague had started with them and had been describing how he had bought a car which had turned out to be stolen, and the previous owner had come to identify it at the police compound. Yes, it was me and it was my car. Thank goodness I had been nice to this young man when we met!
A very strange circumstance that out of all the people in Manchester he should have been him. Happily, he was allowed to keep the car as he had bought it in good faith.
I loved this weeks topic (14/8/21). We had a choice of two themes. I chose “unexpected happenings with good results”.
The day had started off brilliantly. There I was delivering a children’s writing workshops with Jimmy, when we decided it was time for lunch. We approached the refectory which served food. It was housed in a magnificent church. Before we entered, I noticed that the gravestones had been laid flat on the path. We had no choice but to walk on them. I read the encryptions on each stone. I stopped on a particular grave stone full of moss. I glanced down and got that feeling. You know the feeling you get when someone walks over your grave? That eerie moment that sends shivers down your spine. I went cold and had that overwhelming feeling to run.
I looked down again and read the inscription. It read James (I don’t remember the surname). James was aged 3 when he died in the 1800s. I started shaking and turned to Jimmy. I told him I needed to go home immediately. Jimmy looked perplexed but could see how scared I was. I read the grave stone again and, in that instant, knew that either my then husband (James) or my three-year-old son Remi were in danger. I tried to telephone James but there was no answer.
I got on the first train back to Manchester, jumped in a taxi and went straight home. I tried the telephone again and James answered. I immediately put the phone down and jumped back in the taxi. I gave the taxi driver the address of Remi’s godmother, as that is where I had left him while she babysat.
As I approached the street, I saw the tail end of an ambulance leaving the street and I don’t know why or how but I instinctively knew Remi was inside. I was like a woman possessed as I instructed the taxi driver to follow the ambulance which now had blue lights flashing.
I couldn’t breathe and I was shaking as we reached the hospital. My friend, crying, said “he took my tablets”.
It was then that she told me she how she had put him down for an afternoon nap and when she went upstairs to see if he was awake, she found him on the bed with an open tablet bottle in his hand.
After being treated, the doctor informed us that Remi would have to stay in overnight.
Remi was fine and he had been caught before he had a chance to take any tablets. Since then, I have had many a premonition which I always take seriously.
The boy in the photo is triumphant: hands clasped above his head; teeth bared somewhere between a grin and a shout; red and round and ridiculous in his waterproof. He stands on a rock, enormous to him though in reality smaller than his parents’ sensible and compact car, while behind him towers something genuinely monumental: the vertical limestone face of Malham Cove, the reason he is there to be photographed, which perhaps held his interest for a minute or so before he found something better-sized to his developing imagination.
Thirty years of weather later, the boy may be craggier but Malham Cove, and the rock the boy’s wellies wore down imperceptibly, are unchanged. The boy is ready, now, to take in the spectacle of the rockface and the thrill is unspoiled, because he doesn’t remember this place at all. Now his son’s wide blue eyes slide over the limestone like rainwater, then catch on a boulder, a little smaller than his parents’ sensible and compact car and eminently climbable. His feet and knees follow his eyes, hands above his head clasping his father’s, and he grins and shouts his way to his tiny, triumphant summit.
They find the photo two weeks later, in an unordered box of weddings and holidays and birthdays at the side of their (grand)parents’ sofa, which they look through on a whim. Three generations laugh at the coincidence.
But it’s not a coincidence that we end up in the same places, and it’s not a coincidence that our same wide blue eyes catch on the same boulders, and our matching grins flash at the same tiny triumphs, and the weather wears the same crags in my face as in his granddad’s. Without the photo, I might never have known I had been to Malham Cove before. But I would still feel his footsteps falling in mine, urging me to be red and round and ridiculous the way I was and he is, and reminding me of the footsteps I tread in and the hands I have clasped for every climb.
The chiming sound of shared thoughts or comments as they clink together at exactly the same moment. A phone call from that beloved old friend following soon after our thoughts of them. Meeting someone new and getting on then learning of our shared companions. Visiting somewhere far-flung and unfamiliar then turning the corner to say “Oh, it’s you!” Such moments of apparent chaos highlight a view we may have missed that though we choose the paths that we walk on we cannot see the tapestry in which we are woven.