Friday, April 2, 2010


Coincidences are fascinating. They have a quality of surprise that makes us pause for breath in our busy lives, and wonder if we are a part of some greater mysterious pattern, or if the event was merely some random chance. I suppose that most people encounter coincidences one at a time, and relatively rarely, but my story is about a day when coincidences happened one after the other, all of them amazing.

It all happened on a Saturday when I was eighteen years old. I’d had a busy morning, shopping in the West End of London, where I bought myself a faux suede jacket and a pair of shoes before keeping an appointment to have my hair cut in my favourite barbershop tucked away in a side street off the Edgware Road. The barber, an old friend of my father’s, had cut my hair since I was six or seven years old.

When I got back home I was in a hurry. It was perilously close to the time that I’d arranged to meet a school friend at a local tube station. I quickly changed clothes, donning my new jacket and shoes for their first venture into the outside world. As I left the house, I crossed paths with the postman who had a letter addressed to me. I opened the envelope as I set off on my walk to the station. Oh happiness – the letter was a confirmation I had won a provisional place at my first choice college. And the exam grade requirements were just about within my reach.

At that moment a newspaper delivery van pulled up next to me. The driver asked for directions to the very same station that I was headed to. Of course, I offered to act as his guide if he gave me a lift to the station. He agreed and let me hop in. We arrived at the station five minutes before I was due to meet my friend.

Imagine my surprise as I alighted from the van to see my friend a few yards away, also alighting from another newspaper delivery van. We stood there and gaped at each other. Then we gaped some more, as we took in the fact that that we were each wearing brand new faux suede jackets and new shoes. And we were both sporting fresh haircuts.

It transpired that he had spent the morning doing exactly the same things as me, and he too had been asked directions to the station by a passing newspaper delivery van. We were amazed. We had even bought our jackets and shoes in the same shops.

But that wasn’t the end of it. I asked him where he had had his haircut. The very same barbers! And he had been going to the same shop for many years, but we had never crossed paths there.

I guess we must have stood outside that station for at least twenty minutes, in animated and somewhat bemused discussion about these incredible coincidences. Eventually we agreed to move on to our planned visit to the local youth club. It was then that I remembered my letter from the college admissions secretary. I reached inside my jacket for the letter at exactly the same moment that he was reaching inside his jacket.

You’ve guessed what happened next, haven’t you? We had identical letters, from the same college, for the same undergraduate course. And we both passed our A-levels with identical grades a few months later.

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