Wednesday, March 08, 2006

(87) A weekend of ´publishers´ and ´actresses´ walking into gin joints.

On the evening of September 18th 1992 I spotted a London chess enthusiast known as "Bob the bag" at St Pancras station.
The next morning I bumped into James Pratt at Victoria station. James published a small chess magazine and said that he was going to Pimlico to attend a desktop publishing show called something like The Small Press Show.

I journeyed on to Fulham Road where I was to spend the day serving in an off licence of which I was joint owner.
Shortly after I spotted Caroline Day walking past the window.
Until a few months earlier she and I had been working at Cornhill Publications.

At 8.20 p.m. I was rereading the paper which Roderick Main had delivered the previous month to the annual conference of the Society for Psychical Research.
It was based on my material.

He had noted some of these themes -

(a) The reality of the soul.
(b) The reality of some form of spiritual quest, e.g. yoga.

Main drew attention to how apposite a metaphor a great fall of meteorites was for possible proof of the paranormal, i.e. not through laboratory investigation but rather through the natural occurrence of a concentration of unlikely happenings.

I then turned to a copy of that day’s Daily Telegraph, which I had yet to open, and noted this on page eight -

Bible miracles ‘were natural phenomena’ By Adrian Berry

The Bible story that Joshua ‘halted the sun’ to gain enough daylight to finish a battle could be explained by a fall of meteorites. "This is likely to have been an afterglow caused by sunlight refracted from the microscopic debris of a cometary or asteroid explosion in the atmosphere," Dr Ari Ben-Menahem, of the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovoth, Israel, said yesterday.

Many Biblical accounts can be explained by natural astronomical events, freak tides and earthquakes, he says in the Royal Astronomical Society journal. The Battle of Gideon, when Joshua defeated the Amorites, in which "the Sun stood still... until the people had avenged themselves" (Joshua 10,13) coincided with meteorite showers over the Hittite city of Apasa, he said. In corroboration three verses earlier, "the Lord cast down great stones from heaven." That light could be bright enough.

A report of the 1908 Siberian comet explosion stated that, after sunset, it was "so brilliant one could read the minutest lettering." It lasted until about 3 a.m. Famine prophesied by Joseph (Genesis 41): volcanic destruction of Santorini island in about 1450 BC that destroyed the Cretan empire. Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: a well-authenticated earthquake accompanied by burning carbon disulphide and hydrogen disulphide in 1560 BC. Apparition seen by King David (1 Chronicles, 21, 16) of "the angel of the Lord with a sword in his hand", an omen of the destruction of Jerusalem, may have been Halley’s Comet in 986 BC.

I put Roderick’s paper beneath the newspaper and left both on the counter whilst I continued to serve.

At about 9:30 a couple bounded into the shop.
They were Andrew Warburton and Julie Andrews, with whom I had worked at Cornhill Publications. Andrew explained that they were en route to a party nearby and had just stopped off at the first off license they saw. They had never been in before.
We chatted and they said that they too had left my old company and had set up a small publishing operation of their own... but this all turned out to be a wind-up!

The next year they were to get married.

As they entered my shop I had been writing a note in my diary about coincidences.

The next day I purchased a copy of The Observer.
There was a debunking of the paranormal by Simon Hoggart in which he looked critically at a paranormal issue under each letter of the alphabet. I noted his choice of subject beginning with ‘C’, and the wording of its conclusion:


This was a subject which fascinated Carl Jung, who collected a number of examples so extraordinary that he felt there must be an explanation beyond mere chance. He called this phenomenon ‘synchronicity’; the simultaneous occurrence of two meaningful but not causally related events and argued that clusters of events must indicate the presence of some greater force. Many of the occurrences, he claimed, involved astronomical odds.

But what is so surprising about coincidences?
Experts, such as the late Arthur Koestler, examine some extremely trivial events; reading an unknown word and then hearing it in conversation later that day; thinking of a long-lost friend who immediately telephones.

Yet by that definition literally thousands of events happen to us every day. We meet people, see people, talk to people and think about them. We observe thousands of different objects every day. Most literate people observe thousands of words in books, newspapers and magazines.

Given that there are around five billion people in the world it would be quite incredible if chance did not throw up an astonishing number of coincidences, some beggaring belief.

When Bogart said "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world you had to walk into mine", he was clearly very surprised. But if you were to ask: "What are the chances that, sooner or later, a bar owner will find that one of his customers is someone he knows from his past?" you’d get a very different answer.

In Casablanca it is not clear until the very end with which of the two men Ingrid Bergman will end up.
A colleague had informed me that there had been some interest from Julie Andrews towards myself, although I am not sure if that is true.

Her name is also that of renowned British film actress.

Bogart was a chessplayer of expert strength and during the depression he took on allcomers for nickels and dimes in New York.
In his first scene in Casablanca he is studying a chessboard.

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