True Tales of KUU-incidence
Click on a KUU that intrigues, and see if you agree that it defies the laws of probability
Readers of Etc Etc Amen will be familiar with fictionalise versions of some of these anecdotes or if you prefer, KUU-incidences (unlikely confluences of events or things which surprise, amuse or generally delight) or "KUUs," for short. I feel it's the cumulative effect of these events that impresses as much as the individual stories. Many of the incidents described here occurred over the six month period I devised the KUU philosophy so that gave them added significance for me. But having said that, I'm aware that other people's unlikely coincidences can be like other people's dreams - not as interesting to others as they are to the individual who experienced them. So these stories are really for those who have already read the novel and might be interested in what triggered the religion/philosopy in the first place. But do please email it to me if you feel you have a good story of this nature to tell.
Click on a title to read the story;
A friend of mine emailed to tell me about the teenage American evangelist girls who turned up in her shop full of the joys of Jesus. My friend, being a mischievous soul, decided to put the cat amongst the pious by saying that she'd seen more evidence of the existence of the prophet Mohammed than of Jesus. They asked her what proof, so she told them about a squiggle of beard hair in a museum in Istanbul. But then came her punch line: did these widely-smiling blondes know the whereabouts of Jesus's foreskin? Luckily the ringing of my friend's phone gave them the opportunity to quickly escape the shop.
The following day I got to page 153 of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Choke The novel was about a recovering sex addict who made a living from pretending to choke in expensive restaurants thereby forming a bond with whoever saved him so they would then send him money. To set the scene, our narrator is trying to solve the mystery of who his father was. He has found his mothers diary and the horrible truth is dawning on him as it's also dawning on me as I read it:
"My mom had gambled on some new kind of fertility treatment. She was almost forty. She wasn't married, she didn't want a husband, but somebody had promised her a miracle. This same somebody, they knew somebody who'd stolen a shoe box from under the bed of a priest. In this shoebox was the last earthly remains of a man. Somebody famous. It was his foreskin."
I then read the next paragraph quickly because I could sense what was coming at the same time as not believing that it would come. But there it was:
"It's in my moms diary that six women were offered embryos created from this genetic material. Five of those never came to term. The sixth is me. It was the foreskin of Jesus Christ."
This is one of my favourite personal KUU-incidences for a number of reasons. Firstly, how many times does Jesus's foreskin come up in conversation or communication or literature? And secondly, I had never even come across a mention of this unmentionable relic before. But after a moment of lateral thinking it all made a warped kind of sense. Jesus as a Jew would have been circumcised, so the Holy Snippit would have been the only bit of him left on Earth when he allegedly ascended to Heaven. There are dozens of foreskins from the 12th to the 18th-century the owners (or rather, second owners) of which claim are the real thing.
I turned up early to the monthly warehouse book sale hoping to find at least half-a-dozen bargains. Immediately I notice it was quieter than usual. As I start to examine the merchandise I realise that it was an academic book sale rather than a fiction book sale. Academic books can be VERY academic - each subject having its own, often obscure vocabulary, making such books unreadable to the layman. Never have there been so many books read by so few people, under one roof. A Japanese gentleman bustled past me with a pile jammed up to his chin. But then just as I'm about to leave I spot a spine which to my expert eye looks like a novel's spine. I pick it up. It's called Second Hand and it's by an author I've never heard of, Michael Zadoorian. I entertained the possibility that the KUU has lead me to it - as the only book in the whole warehouse I could possibly want - and so I bought it. A few chapters in, and I'd found out that the main character had the following things in common with me:
1. He had a sister's called Linda
2. He wore antique tweed suits
3. His father loved Ian Fleming and had an oxygen tank in the house as a reward for a life time of heavy smoking.
4. He found a new girlfriend after a gap of five years (my gap was an even more unhealthy 8 years!)
5. She turned out to be into the Mexican Day of the Dead (My wife had been into all that stuff since our trip to Mexico City.)
6. Then I was listening to a tape of a Charlie Gillett radio show on which he played a track I had never heard before called The Signifying Monkey by Oscar Brown jr. The next evening, on page 162, my literary doppelganger put on a tape to cheer up his new girlfriend:
'.....but then I turn it off. Somehow "The Signifying Monkey" doesn't seem appropriate, considering our mission.'
If the song had been My Way which I heard on a tape one day, and read about someone else listening to it on a tape the next day, that would be a minor KUU-incidence, but this song is about as obscure as you could get.
Jessica's father, Steve sees a dead duck on his way home but tells no one about it. The next day his young daughter, Jessica says, "isn't it a shame ducks have to die."
Upstairs on the bus, travelling back from a gig, I noticed that the young girl sitting directly in front of me has a tiny green spider in her hair. As I'd had a couple of drinks I couldn't resist quietly saying in her ear, "excuse me, but you've got a spider in your hair." She jumped up squealing as if I'd told her that it was a rat. I assured her it was only tiny, pointing to the cute little thing now on the seat she had just vacated. But her and her friend remained standing at the front of the bus, looking shaken, until they got off a few minutes later. Her seat was immediately taken by a man. In the spirit of the KUU, I immediately check him for insect life. He had a wood-louse crawling nonchalantly across his shoulder.
Alice Walker KUU
My suspicion that the KUU backs up my anti-Christian stance was reinforced when I went into a bookshop sale on Oxford St two days before the shop closed down. There were only about fifty books left, looking sadly neglected on the almost bare shelves. But nevertheless I notice a book by the African American writer Alice Walker, amongst the mostly crap and/or obscure titles. The first chapter was on the subject of the African American's relationship to Christianity - something that had always intrigued me and something which I touch on in Etc Etc Amen. Why are the most fervent Christians often of slave descent? They'd had this stuff forced upon them and their own religions banished. This was going to be interesting. I'd only got to page 8, when Alice Walker states that her personal God, "makes little surprises and springs them on us when we least expect". Yes, that's the KUU alright. I felt happy for her that she had escaped the clutches of Christianity and was on the right path.
Marcia and I were in a coach going up the winding narrow road to Mount Montssarat to see the black Madonna in the monastery there. The coach was full of old ladies - the Spanish equivalent to the ones you might find on a day trip to Bournemouth - plus two or three old nuns. One of these nuns was clearly older than old, perhaps making her last pilgrimage to the place. After climbing a narrow, darkened flights of steps we came out into a dazzlingly bright, mosaic encrusted chamber where the Black Madonna was sitting in a tall glass dome. There was a circular hole cut into the dome just large enough for her shiny wooden hand to protrude through. Each visitor had a couple of seconds in her presence to kiss, stroke or fondle the hand and silently commune. It felt like a strange catholic parallel to a seedy porn den, the only difference being that some other part of the anatomy was available for touching.
When my moment with the Madonna came, I stroked the smooth wood and I made an unformulated wish. That is - I wish - but I don't no what for. Against my better judgment I found it a moving experience.
After a look around the gift shop we walked up a mountain path to find somewhere to have the picnic we have brought with us. As the path got steeper and steeper I breathlessly said to Marcia, "Well at least we won't be bumping into any 103-year-old nuns up here", refering to the fact that it was unlikely they could physically manage the climb. No sooner had I said these words when we turned a bend in the path and there was a life-size statue of a nun on a plinth. I said "KUU!" - and we carry on walking. But no, I felt there was more to this. So I backtracked to see what was written on the plinth. The statue was dated 1900. If it had been put in place in 1900, it was more than likely carved in 1899, making it - at the moment we saw it - a 103-year-old nun!
Late afternoon, after a long day of walking the streets of Barcelona, Marcia proclaimed that she would do anything for a cup of Earl Grey. Tea is not a common drink in Spain, let alone Earl Grey. We had even read in a guide book that there wa no point in trying to find a decent cuppa. But once again, literally minutes later, we came across a bar which was actually advertising, as a main attraction, the fact that it sold tea. One of the three types was Earl Grey. It was even leaf tea rather than bags. Once we'd sat down in the bar's dark interior, Marcia noticed a foot-high figurine of a smiling black girl with her hair in bundles (Marcia's chosen style that day) looking down on us from a dusty shelf.
Jane, one of Marcia's fellow workers at the arts charity she works for, was telling her about the great deal she got on Eurostar when she went to Paris earlier in the year to celebrate her birthday.
"I went to Paris for my birthday on Eurostar too." Marcia replied.
"When was that?"
"February. When was yours?"
"February!" Laughed Marcia.
As the facts unravelled it was revealed that Jane was born at the same hour of the same day of the same year as Marcia, and they had both decided to celebrate their 37th birthday with a first-class daytrip to Paris on Eurostar. The only thing spoiling the enormity of this KUU-incidence was the fact that we actually went the day before the 10th, and Jane didn't go until the end of February.
Dave, Claire and I were watching TV. The illusionist Derrin Brown was showing off at a greyhound stadium. He had persuaded a punter to place a bet on the dog least likely to win the race, so that he could then demonstrate his mind control skills by getting the man his winnings regardless of where the dog came in the race. This prompted the following exchange.
Dave asked, "How do they know which is the dog least likely to win?"
I responded, "It'll be the three-legged one."
Then Dave said, "or the fat one."
How we laughed! After the program finished I put on a tape of The League of Gentlemen which I had never gotten around to watching. The first episode had been on for about 15 minutes when Kate exclaimed, "That was a three-legged greyhound!"
I hadn't seen anything, but Dave backed her up; there had definitely been a greyhound on the screen but he wasn't sure if it had three legs or not. I located the remote control and rewound the tape: the front door was forced open, the masked villain burst into the house, followed by his wife, and then what appeared to be a three-legged greyhound, bounded up the stairs. The three of us looked at each other for conformation of KUU intervention, but because the scene was so fast and chaotic we were still not certain of what we'd seen.
I rewound again and we sat forward in our seats; this was the most exciting telly we'd seen all weekend. Because the image was so fleeting I had to pause it and then run through the relevant two or three seconds a frame at a time. The wife was first to jerk past, closely followed by the greyhound. I stopped the tape, then shunted it a frame at a time across the screen. There was no further room for doubt. Though the image was slightly blurred, and looked like a detail from a Francis Bacon painting, the stump was clearly visible; the leg clearly absent.
A few days before Dave and Claire's visit I had bought Lisa Left Eye's only solo CD at HMV for £2.99. It remained unplayed until after they had gone. One track had the words "...a three-legged rover..." accompanied by barking in the background (so there could be no misunderstanding.) I wonder how many songs in the whole history of popular music mention three-legged dogs?
A couple of days later I got an email from Claire. She jokingly suggested that all we needed now was to come across an actual three-legged three-dimentional greyhound. We'd had the animal as a joke, a TV character, and the subject of a song, so we just needed the real thing to complete the set.
It took a while - a few months in fact - but one Saturday morning I got a phone call from Claire in a state of high excitement. Apparently her young shop girls are always phoning her on Saturdays with elaborate excuses for not coming into work. This time one of them had the best story yet. She had found a lost dog in the middle of the road outside her house.
"Guess what the dog was?" Kate asked me.
All I could think was that it was Kate's jack russell which had somehow escaped her house and then ended up outside this shopgirl's house. That would have been an amusing if minor KUU-incidence in itself.
"No," Kate said, and then paused for effect... "It was....A THREE-LEGGED GREYHOUND!!"
"Go and get a photo of it," I said, as if this was a vital mission on which the future of our planet rested.
Claire spent most of Saturday walking this dog around Cardiff, photographing it in various poses. "It wasn't even as if I had just seen someone in the street with it, so that I had to ask them for a quick snap," she said. "In that situation I probably wouldn't have even have had my camera on me." Apparently people were laughing at this unfortunate creature and then, embarrassed, catching themselves in mid laugh. Claire unintentionally quoted the KUUs second non-commandment by saying, "It's Okay, you can laugh - it's not my dog!"
As a postscript to this most sublime and ridiculous KUU-incidence, I recently got this email from a friend called June who is currently reading Etc Etc Amen.
'You are NOT going to believe this one (I'm still laughing and I've been back in the house ten minutes) ... I popped out to our local supermarket for something I knew I'd need in the morning - shop closes at ten and there's rarely anyone around at this time - so I grabbed what I needed and headed for the checkout. A young woman was being served, and she had with her .. IN the shop ... a bloody three-legged greyhound!!!!!!!! I kid you not. And dogs aren't even allowed in the bloody shop!!'
This is a very small town, but I've never clapped eyes on the girl or the 3-legged dog before in my puff and, furthermore, I couldn't explain to the checkout woman why I was laughing like a lunatic.
And considering that the central symbol of KUUism is a tripod, we can have a bit more fun by considering this chain of connections; an anagram of dog is God - A three-legged dog - a three-legged God. A tripodic God.
One Sunday lunchtime I went to see the Zimbabwean mbira (thumb piano) player Stella Cheweshe at the Bread and Roses in Clapham. Because my friends were late, I had a book out when they arrived. When they asked what it was about, I told them it was a fascinating account of how the histories of music and science had always overlapped, and that the chapter I had just been reading explained that the first organ, made in about 270 BC, had not been invented to make music but to imitate bird song. It was a single-piped affair with pressurised water used to push air out to make these apparently unconvincing bird sounds. A few minutes later, Cheweshe regally mounted the small stage with her mbira. After a few hypnotic numbers she asked us all to make bird noises so as to create an ambient backdrop to the delightful melody she then picks out for the next five minutes or so. So there we were, a room full of single-piped organs forcing out absurd bird sounds while bemused pub regulars looked into the backroom of their pub to see what an earth was going on.
We were watching The Vagina Monogues on video. One woman's sad/amusing story related how her (now ex) husband insisted that she shave her downstairs-front-bottom on a regular basis. This would give her rashes and soreness and him mighty erections, which he couldn't get when she sported the natural look. When the play ended I was about to switch off the TV when I notice that The Man with Two Brains was just starting on Channel 5. I haven't seen it for years, so I thought I'd watch half an hour or so before going to bed. 10 minutes in, and this forgotten scene unfolded. Steve Martin dressed as a surgeon enters the operating theatre. Two young men are looking down at the unconscious body of a young attractive woman (Kathleen Turner.) It's clear that her surgical gown is up around her waist, although the camera angle doesn't allow us the view that Martin and his young male assistants had...
Martin pointed in horror at her privates. "What is that!?"
The young man with a safety razor in his hand, whispers something in Martin's ear. Martin responded, still outraged, " I know what it is! I mean what are you doing?"
With perfect timing Martin said, "But this is a brain operation," before studying the site more carefully and then adding,"What's that supposed to be, a heart?"
The young man, nervously, "Clive and I thought that since it's Valentines Day that..."
Martin interupts: "You don't have to shave her anyway. We'll be using my cranial screw top method of entry into the brain. "
He gave the offending area one last longing look, before pulling himself together and dramatically pointing at the woman's bits one last timen. "I never want to see that again! I suppose if it were Christmas you 'd hang ornaments on it!"
I wiped the tears of mirth from my eyes and went to bed.
An email from Tokyo Dave: I was just telling my friend Marton about you and the KUU, when I realised the KUU was on the table, more or less under my nose (actually we were sitting at the counter with the chefs busy on the other side.) Strangely, I had earlier remarked on the words on the beer mat without connecting to the KUU.(It says "Nomu Kuu Warau",which means "Drink Eat Laugh".I knew the word kuu meaning eat, but it's a very casual form and I'd never seen it written and hadn't connected it with the KUU).
I'll send "The Ebisu Beermat" to you (The restaurant is in Ebisu). ..and then,at Ebisu station, I said to Marton, "Are we going to see someone we know?" And a second later someone I know appeared. Kuul!
The Tokyo beer mat
Before we went to Amsterdam I e-mailed Charlie Gillett to see if he knew of any good world music record stores there. He suggested a place called Concerto which he visited a lot in the early 1980s when it was apparently way ahead of anywhere in London for stocking groovy international sounds. So on the first evening we are sitting at a table by the window of Indonesian restaurant, only a stone's throw from our hotel. I must have been staring absent-mindedly out of the window for at least a minute or two before it registered what was right in front of my eyes. On the opposite side of the road was Concerto - the shop I thought I was going to have to go on a major pilgrimage to find.
Marcia was in the garden with three-year-old Jessica who had just discovered the concept of marinating. She was play-marinating some imaginary food for the cats and Marcia was helping.
"What about some mice tails?" Marcia suggested.
Jessica put the imaginary mice tails into her bowl. "What shall I marinate now, Auntie Marcia?"
Marcia replied "What about a frog."
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Marcia saw something move through the air and simultaneously felt a cold wetness brush her hand. With perfect timing, a frog had jumped out from the shrubbery, producing laughter, squeals and mock horror.
We were on a train heading out into the English countryside to visit friends. But I wasn't as in-synch with synchronicity as I could have been. For example, as I left London I started reading The Book Of The Dead by Will Self. Woking was mentioned on page 5 but we didn't pull into Woking until I reached page 13.
However, on the return journey I complemented Marcia on what a good job she'd done of "switching on" (as she puts it) in order to be charming and amusing with the people (friends of mine rather than hers) we had visited. I joked that she had behaved like the perfect socialite wife from a nineteenth-century novel.
"Like the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice, you mean," she replied, knowing exactly what I meant, and adding the twist of thinking of characters with her surname.
Once again the KUU was slow on the uptake, and I had to read another thirty pages of my 21st-century novel before I got to the following passage on page 71:
"Even in 'Pride and Prejudice' the Bennet sisters were fucking people over, and screwing them up, and shitting on them - when off the page."
There was a small article about Marcia in the BBC magazine Homes and Antiques so she asked me to pick up a copy on my way to work. The local newsagent didn't have one, so I ended up going out of my way to one in Dulwich Village. I hadn't been in this shop since I moved out of the area three years previously. Being a typical bloke, I don't like to ask for help about anything, but for some reason on this occasion - rather than spend ages scanning the shelves - I asked the woman behind the counter if they had a copy. She said she wasn't sure, had a bit of a look, and then victoriously handed me the magazine. Having broken my usual vow of silence, I then felt compelled to explain that I only wanted to see if it had the article on my wife in it. She was happy for me to look through the magazine, and as she was being quite friendly I mentioned that Marcia was a stone carver.
"My husband does a bit of carving," she responded brightly. "He finished a course on masonry a couple of years ago but has still found it hard to get work."
I hardly needed to ask what course he went on - the smell of the KUU was in the air. Yes, it was the same one Marcia was on - a course which only has about six students on it each year. We briefly exchanged second-hand gossip gleaned from our respective spouses about one of the infamous tutors and then I went on my way.
My brother-in-law, Steve told work colleague, Ian about what an idyllic weekend he and my sister had just had. He described the joy of just sitting by their pond watching a large dragonfly hovering just in front of their faces. Later Ian was sitting in his own garden, saying to his wife "Wouldn't it be great to have a pond and dragonflies hovering in front of our faces." Right on cue (or should that be KUU) a dragonfly appeared and hovered in front of their faces.
Little Jessica was given a mug of cocoa with, rather unusually, a straw in it, by a friend of Linda's they were visiting. When she got home she ran straight to a book I had bought her last Christmas which she had never shown much interest in before. She opened the book to a picture of an astronaut with a mug of cocoa which he was drinking through a straw. "That's KUU!" she said. This greatly surprised her parents because neither of them recalled having explained the concept of KUU to her. She had obviously just worked it out for herself from overheard conversations. "Yes it is!" said Linda "I thought you didn't really like that book." "I didn't," replied Jessica "But I do like it now!"
I happened to catch about ten minutes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire - a show I never watched. But I got drawn in by a young female contestant who was at the crucial phase where she had £8000 and if she got the next question wrong, she would drop to a shameful £1000. If she got it right she'd have £16,000. In other words,it was a crucual stage of the game. Chris Tarrant asked the vital question:
Where in the human body is the fibia located?
1. In the arm
2. in the leg
3. In the head
4. In the back
"Thats really wierd" said the girl. "I was asking my sister that same question earlier in the day"
Chris Tarrant looked perplexed. "What, you mean you were preparing for the show tonight?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"So whats the answer then?"
"Well, my sister didn't know."
Much audience laughter. Chris Tarrant continued to look bemuised. But the girl decided to take a gamble on the answer anyway, and won herself £16,000.
The real KUUness of this incident lies not only in the fact that she could have asked her sister any general knowledge question in the world - and of course there are an infinite number of these, with potential new ones being added every nano second as the World keeps adding exponentially to it's stock of trivia - but in the fact that after delivering the line that she'd asked her sister this very question that afternoon, she followed it with the punch-line that her sister didn't know the answer. And then she went on to make the gamble anyway (perhaps unconciously aknowledging the KUUess of this chain of events) and won the money.
Marcia bought me a picture for our wedding anniversary. It cost £75 which was a lot to her at the time. She was desperate to get it mounted and framed but having had no regular work for a while she had no money to pay for it. However, she found a suitable old frame at her mother's which just left the seemingly insolvable problem of getting hold of some hessian which she had her heart set on for the mount. The next day there was a basket in the passageway leading to her studio which contained - you've guest it - enough Hessian to mount several pictures, along with other fabric off-cuts. It belonged to a furniture maker who was renting one of the other studios. She told Marcia to help herself.
Jessica's dad, Steve, asked the three-year-old what she'd be looking for at the car boot sale we were about to set off for. She replied, without hesitation, " A whale". She'd be lucky, I thought. If she'd said a grimy old Barbie Doll with birds-nest hair, or a vinyl copy of the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever with someone's name written in biro on the cover, or even a sack of onions, she would have stood a good chance of striking gold. But a whale - how was that going to happen? But then on the first stall we strolled up to, there it was; a delightful furry blue whale which - as is usual with Jessica at boot sales - she didn't even have to pay for. But Jessica was always pulling off such tricks. On another occasion Steve was reading an article on volcanoes when she said, "Daddy, draw me a volcano." They weren't even aware that she had the word 'volcano' in her vocabulary.
I dreamt I was at an outdoor fete in Winchester where I went to art school. The centre piece of this event was a huge cake celebrating the British Empire at its glorious peak with, amongst other things, tiny black figurines covering it. I immediately thought how much Marcia would love some of these figures for her collection. I was trying to work out how to pinch one, when I somehow caused one side of the cake to dramatically avalanche off the table onto the grass. The crowd responded to the disaster with tight-lipped disapproval and nothing more, although an old ruddy faced man, who looked like a farmer, came up to me and repulsively pressed his cheek against mine while telling me not to worry about "those stuck up so-and-sos."
Then as I was leaving the fete I was horrified to notice a black child with his parents who'd been face-painted to look like a black-and-white minstrel/gollywog: those sinister Winchester conservatives had delivered one last insult, although the black family seemed thankfully oblivious to what was going on. At this moment I was woken by Marcia coming into the bedroom to get something. Before I could begin to tell her about my weird yet somehow coherent dream, she plonked herself down on the bed while simultaniously snatching something from her bedside shelf which she playfully waved in my face. It was a gollywog. Needless to say, she had never done this before.
Kate was undecided about coming down for a big Mela on Gunnersbury Park, so I thought I'd ask my friend, David Knowles, as a back-up pal.
"Is it the one on Gunnnersbury Pk?" he asked.
"Yes," I reply.
"I'm playing at it!" he replied.
This minor KUU cemented Kate's decision to come too, and we had an excellent day littered with minor KUUs.
Everything was cool (physically and metaphisically) inside the big tent except for some mad old hippy woman who was moaning to anyone who will listen about how badly organised the event was. At one point she cried, " Does nobody know who I am?!"
David's band had been on for 20 minutes when two young female dancers joined the band on stage dressed in glittering bras and pants over black leotards. Kate said, "I sell those exact silver tops and skirts in my shop!" Kate's shop is tiny and mainly sells buttons. I didn't even know she sold clothes. Later, Kate told Dave and he located the two girls and they happily posed for some photos which Kate planned to use in the shop.
As David chatted to a small huddle of admirers at the front of the stage, the mad woman rushed over to speak to him. She turned to us to say she was once a VIP guest at a Miss India event. One of the other people David was trying to hold a conservation with while the hippy woman continued to rant, was a young woman. Eventually this woman gave up trying to talk to David, and turned towards the ranting female. Then her expression changed from annoyance to surprise. "Didn't you talk to me on the tube a few days ago?" She said to the agitated hippy woman.
"No," the hippy woman replied belligerently, even though she clearly was the kind of woman who spoke to strangers on trains.
"I'm sure you did - you spoke to me," insisted the younger woman, somewhat put out. But then she realised how bonkers the hippy woman was and decided to let it go. Dave smiled at me, and then said to the younger woman, looking towards me, "You should talk to him about that."
After a couple of hours of walking around, snacking, drinking, and getting sound bites of various bands from tents we passed, we finally got hold of a program which informed us that one of Kate's favourite Indian singers, Najma, was on stage in five minutes. We then realised we were standing outside the tent she was about to play in. A minor KUU, yes, but given how huge this event was, it still gave us a frisson of satisfaction and amusement. Also Najma hadn't made a record for over a decade, as far as Kate and David knew.
She sung several songs that Kate, sitting cross-legged in front of the stage, could whistle along to while she rolled spliffs. But then Najma sung a song which Kate explained to us was about Indians disapproving of white folk smoking marijuana. So Kate got a tuneful ticking off from her favourite singer, although we'll never know if it was personal or not.
As a footnote to this story, a few months earlier, Kate had visited Cambridge to pick up some frog spawn for her pond. This anti-maruana song was the first track on a CD that Steve played when Kate requested some Indian music. Kate estimated that approximately 10,000 Indian songs were released every year, and as this song, Kate's absolute favourite, was over 10 years old, the likelihood of it popping up was even further reduced.
I was listening to some Clash tracks that I wasn't that familiar with. One of them was Charlie Don't Surf. Although it sounded poppy and superficial I sensed there had to be some kind of political or social subtext to the song. Later that same evening I watched a TV show called Hello Culture which I'd taped over the weekend. The narrator mentioned in passing that 'Charlie Don't Surf' was a throw-away racist statement made by a U.S. soldier when he was asked to justify the killing in Vietnam.
I can never work out which stories of KUU-incidence will impress other people and which ones will leave them cold. The Galloway & Porter warehouse book sale produced yet another KUU-incidence recently. I saw a novel called The Third Eye by someone called David Knowles (the musician friend mentioned in the KUU Mela story above). I only bought it for this reason because it didn't look like my kind of thing. However, it became more KUU-like with each passing page. For example, the protagonist, Jefferson, is reading a book on Banaras which relays a story about the Buddha finding that he has a problem with the decadent life but can't cope with a life of abstinence either:
"So he sits down by a river, meditates, and comes up with something called "the middle path."
A few pages later his obsession with the bindu on his attractive Indian lodger's forehead leads him to read up on that. A few pages later he reports to his artist friend, Henry, what happened when he read up on the bindu in his local library:
"What's strange, scary really, is that I had just finished a passage that defined the dot as the essence of life, as the very symbol of mortality, when bang, there's this awful scream and a man dies right before my eyes. Now maybe you don't find that odd. Maybe I shouldn't either, coincidence and all that."
The same day he ended up getting the same cab driver he had the day before (another friend of mine had recently told me of how he ended up with the same London cabbie twice in the same day). Henry then points out some typical non-KUUs by way of rationalising these incidents:
"Say your walking down the street humming a song, then you go into a store and the same song is playing on the radio. Or you think of a word or a movie, and then the person you're talking to says it out loud."
So this was a book I was led to by KUU-incidence only to find that it had KUU-incidences at its very core. When I finished The Third Eye I went back to The Spiritual Tourist which I'd been reading previously. A couple of years later I would get a thrillingly positive quote from this book's author, Mick Brown on Etc Etc Amen without even realising they were one and the same person, but that's another story. Anyway, two pages back into Brown's book I read this passage:
"As soon as I walked in I heard Ma's voice: Look at the dot between my eyes. Turning to the photograph of Ma on the wall, I gazed at the large red dot on her forehead...."
One of the commonest kinds of KUU-incidence is where you bump into someone you know in another corner of the world. Given that two people can be surprised even if they just bump into each other in the city they both live in (not a KUU-incidence, it hardly needs to be said) this kind of KUU-incidence has to be considered particularly impressive. Below are examples from one or two friends as well as personal experiences.
During the Second World War, Bob's father, and his fathers brother, were both called up. Bob's father joined the air force and the brother the army. Towards the end of the war Bob's father was stationed in Deli, India. It was his twenty-first birthday, he had some leave, and so decided to do some sight seeing. He was walking down a side street when he saw his brother coming towards him. He couldn't believe his eyes. They had not seen each other for nearly five years. They embraced, his brother wished him a happy birthday, and they went for a beer before going there separate ways. It turned out the brother had been chosen from five hundred men to go and pick up a truck from Deli. The truck hadn't been ready so he went for a walk around town. These two men could have been stationed anywhere in the world. The fact that they ended up on the same street of the same huge bustling city on the twenty-first birthday of one of them, makes this the best 'fancy meeting you here' KUU I've ever heard. They didn't see each other again for another year and a half.
The English Channel
When I was still Rockin' Burne Jones (my would-be popstar identity) I was on a ferry to France, when a voice behind me called me by that name - (it was the only time this ever happened). It was some young guy who had seen the band at The Joiners Arms in Southampton. We probably only performed at that venue half-a-dozen times, usually to an audience of between six and thirty. It was the only time I had the pleasant ego-boosting task of answering a fan's questions about my music, and given that I was alone it helped pass some time on an otherwise dull journey.
Between Florence and London
I was penniless and ticketless art student, heading back to London from Florence in a state of frantic panic because I'd left my ticket with my girlfriend on the platform of Firenze Santa Maria Novella. The ticket inspector gave me the benefit of the doubt regarding my lost ticket for the journey between Florence and Victoria, and I calculated that once I got to Waterloo and onto the train to the village of Shawford, there would be no inspector in Shawford and so I would be home and dry. But then my heart sank - I still needed money for the underground from Victoria to Waterloo. I was making my way along the corridor to find the loo, still worried and panicked, when there in front of me was the sister of my best friend Alex's girlfriend. This was such a cool thing to happen that it made me behave coolly. I just said calmly, "Oh, hi Beccy. Do you think I could borrow a pound for a tube fair?" The only problem was, I never, ever saw this girl again. So I still owe her that pound.
Mexico City; the largest population of any city in the world. Marcia and I met an Englishman actor and performer called Jon Flynn while we were trying to get a coach to go and see the Teotihuacan pyramids. I sensed we might get on, and we ended up at the summit of a pyramid discussing T.Rex B-sides while huge butterflies circled around us. But for some reason numbers and addresses weren't exchanged. But a week later, on the other side of this vast city, in a tiny, obscure local marketplace, we heard the familiar theatrical tones of Mr Flynn directly behind us. We'd been given a second chance to stay in touch, and a friendship was cemented. Yet he'd not even been in the city during that intervening week, thereby making the chance of us meeting again in this teeming metropolis even more mind-bogglingly unlikely.
An email from Damion.
'I visited a friend of mine in Barcelona for New Year's Eve and we went to a house party. At about 2.00 am around 20 of us set off for a club. As is the way of large groups of people wandering around, and we didn't go to the club we'd planned to. Eventually me and a friend found ourselves going from bar to bar in the medieval old part of town. At about 4.00 am we were about to leave this crowded bar, when this man started singing to the room at the top of some stairs overlooking the bar. Nobody took much notice, and in my drunkenness I almost didn't. But then I started to wonder if I had met the man before.
Anyhow, after a minute or so I went for a closer look and realised it was indeed this chef who I had met 18 months earlier on tour with the Top Cats in a tiny village in the mountains north of Toulon. Now, the funny thing is that I had quite often thought about this man, because the evening I met him we had quite a long conversation that eventually got onto the subject of women. He is a very gregarious character but I noticed he did not have a relationship and I guessed that underneath he was probably somewhat lonely. Anyhow I was also wondering at the time why I was not in a relationship, and eventually we made a pact and our pact was that the next time we saw each other we would be in a relationship.
Now, the reason I kept thinking about him was at the time I thought we were going back there the following year on tour but we never did. From time to time I wondered how he was getting on with his side of the pact and as the anniversary of our meeting came around I felt rather guilty I had not kept my side. Then in the autumn Simon + Olly in the band had a falling out with our contacts in the village where we met and I thought that I probably wouldn't ever meet him again.
When he recognised me in this bar in Barcelona he was very pleased to see me, and I him and we hugged rather drunkenly and then I reminded him about our pact which is where the really KUU bit comes in. He told me two days earlier on his way to Barcelona this woman had approached him on the train and he had seen her in Barcelona and he was very excited. And as it happens I had started to see someone just before Christmas - so after all we both ended up keeping our promise! In fact it is fairly KUU that I get this e-mail from you today as I thought this morning about writing to tell you about it.'
Damion went on to marry the woman he had 'started to see.' Her name is Jody and she also seems to have a talent for attracting KUU-incidencal meetings, as the next email from Damion testified.
Newcastle, Edinburgh and the Isle of Mull
There is almost not a day that goes by without Josie meeting someone she knows by chance. For example this holiday we went to Newcastle, Edinburgh and the Isle of Mull. On the first day in Newcastle our waitress at lunch suddenly said 'Are you Josie Lewis? - From Cornwall?' Josie had not recognised her, but they went to Primary school together near St Ives. On Mull we bumped into 4 of her friends from Edinburgh University (if you have never visited the Highlands it is hard to explain the weirdness of this as meeting anyone at all is quite an uncommon event). They had come to a beach we were on specifically because they had been told that 'there won't be anyone there'. Lastly on the ferry home from Mull, a lady sat on the table next to us who was the twin of someone who Josie plays in an orchestra with and who often comes to hear concerts. I bumped into two people I know bringing our combined tally for the 10 day trip to 8 people.
A report form my Tokyo-based friend Dave:
We met a couple we know (who live in Italy, Italian guy, Japanese girl) in Crete,at the ancient city of Knossos, and an Austrian woman we knew in Tokyo on a floating hotel in Myanmar. But then since getting your email about Damion's adventures I bumped into 5 people in 4 days (includes one couple). On Friday afternoon I met a woman I know getting off a train as I was getting on. I would have been on the previous train, but just got a call at that time. This woman had called me recently after a long gap because she'd started a new job at an illustration agency I had visited and she was surprised to see my tracks there.
On Saturday evening I met a couple I know sitting outside the station of a busy little town near here. I'd just got there (to meet Prince Masa) and they were also waiting for someone. The woman is a teacher at my school. Two hours later I met another teacher in the same town. I know he lives near there and have met him there by arrangement a couple of times. This is on a back-street I don't usually use, but Masa and I were just about to enter a record-shop where a couple of artistes were having an exhibition. (The shop is smaller than your living room--only small shops in this town).
On Monday afternoon I met a woman who works at my school (a Japanese member of staff) at a busy station in central Tokyo. It's actually the same station as in No.1, but a different line. I am on my way to Tomoo's exhibition, and this woman is just coming back from there (I invited some of the staff I thought might be interested). This station is very busy, and I wouldn't have seen her if she hadn't been near the middle of the staircase she was ascending as I was descending.
I'm hesitating to add a number 5, but on Tuesday I bumped into an ex-student of my school, very near the school. I took a second to recognise her because she recently got a job at Disneyland and she had to change her hair colour (back to dark brown - nail varnish is also "verboten" at Nazi-yland it seems).
Marcia was initially fairly indifferent to the notion of the KUU, humouring me with a nod or a smile whenever I related my latest KUU-incidence. That is until the day we were walking through Greenwich Market a couple of days after returning from a life-changing Egyptian cruise. As we were walking through the crowds I commented that I had a feeling that we were going to bump into someone from the cruise. This perculiar notion I suppose stemmed from the fact that our week stuck with these people had been so intense. Marcia just looked at me as if I were mad and I dropped the subject. But five minutes later, there she was, a few feet away - the woman we had found most irritating on the cruise - jabbering away to a friend. We stared at her in astonishment for as long as we dared risk it, and then moved on. I nearly jumped for joy at the thought that the KUU had finally generated an incident which even my sceptical wife was impressed by, seemingly on demand.
We went up to Edinburgh specifically to see The Boyle Family retrospective. I was thrilled to see the father, Mark Boyle, in attendance so I went over to reintroduce myself. I told him we had met about twenty years ago when I relayed my unique perspective on his work which I experience by going over the handlebars of my bicycle when drunk. Presumably one's perceptions are heightened by such an experience, so whenever I look at the family's hyperrealist reproductions of squares of road and pavement I am reminded of my moment of studying the real thing while sprawled on the road. To my surprise he was delighted. "So you're the bicycle guy!" He then told his own exaggerated version of the event to those gathered. He even remembered the exact year and the picture I had referred to. "Did you know Francis Bacon was a big fan of the Boyles?" he said proudly. Later I took my catalogue over to him to get it signed. He wrote:
Thank you so much for a great bicycle story that has been the highpoint of my lectures for seventeen years. Thanks for coming to this show, Yours Mark Boyle.
A day or two later we went to see Tim and Jackie from a band called Soho that we used to enjoy seeing live in London. Jackie and her twin sister Pauline sung lead vocals and Tim played guitar. We got to their place by the sea a little early so went into the only pub we could see in the area. The place was tiny and had half-a-dozen old men in it, all standing at the bar. It was impossible not to hear what they were talking about. There was much excitement because four of the group had turned out to be two pairs of twins. They had never been in this pub before and also didn't know each other. One of the regulars shouted across to the other, "You're a gamblin' man Jack. What de ya think the odds a that are?"
As I was standing between these two men, I turned to see if wizened old Jack had an answer, but Jack was damb-struck. I smiled to myself as I took the drinks over to Marcia. We had just encountered two sets of twins on the way to meeting half of a third set.
It's Christmas. My family are playing that game where we each take turns to assume the identity of a famous person, living, dead, or fictional, without knowing who that person is. That person being the famous person is allowed twenty questions, for which the answers can only be 'yes' or 'no', to guess who they are. Each round usually begins with predictable, general questions such as "Am I male?" or "Am I an American?" in order to narrow down the field. For example, asking the former question halves the number of possibilities. It's my turn to be someone and I'm feeling unreasonably, almost euphorically confident, buoyed up by beer and Christmas cheer. I decide, partly out of confidence and partly just to be silly, to start by throwing away a couple of questions. My first is: "Am I five foot nine inches tall?"
The answer is no. I haven't narrowed things down at all. Yet I carry on in the same vain as if I can do no wrong. My second question is: "Am I five foot eight inches tall?"
My sister now gives me her you-silly-bugger look and answers. "no."
I now decide to get back on track with a more traditional approach for question three: "Am I female?"
Back to my ostensibly stupid, but as it turns out, uncannily pertinent line of questioning: "Am I five foot three."
"Am I Kylie?"
Steve good humouredly accuses me of listening outside the door when they were decided what to name to give me. Needless to say I did not.
From my friend, Alan Dedman
Here are a couple of coincidences which may interest you. Both involve a sort of telekinetic phenomenon which I experienced. I was about to attend the evening class which I teach on Tuesdays, knowing that I would be observed teaching by an assessor who is taking us for our City & Guilds Adult Education teacher training. As I said to Anna 'I must take a cup for Stewart', our mug tree split in half at the base, and fell gently to one side, placing a cup on the kitchen worktop. We were both about 12 feet or so away.
Then, back in 1996, on New Years Day in Camberwell, I was nursing an all-day hangover whilst the bloody Rottweiler, which was kept on the roof of the 'shabeen?' next door, was barking its head off at the people leaving the pub. I had often entertained some very malign thoughts towards the beast as it polluted the air with its violent noise. One of the solutions, in my mind, was to send the bastard screeching over the edge of the one storey building it was on. Propelled by its ignorant aggression and massive weight. Well, as I sat there, distracted from reading a rather dull Dostoevsky novel, I gave the dog an extra hard mental shove. And it went flying over the end of the building. I heard a great deal of howling and whining, then it shut up. I eventually became fully aware of the karmic consequences of my mental volitions when I stepped out into the street (or rather, tried to step out) over the forlorn dog as it lay on our doorstep, with an injured paw. We had to get the police to help it back home.
The only music I played all day was a Best of Thomas Mapfumo. I hadn't played anything by him since last summer and felt a need for a blast of his sonic sunshine. In the evening I picked up The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and resumed reading it on page 400. On page 401 was the following:
'An Eigonmelody user could select a favourite Moby song, and Eigenmelody would spectroanalyze her choice... and produce a list of kindred sounds that the user may otherwise have never found: The Au Pairs, Laura Nyro, Thomas Mapfumo, Pokrovsky's wailing version of 'Les Noces'.'
I KUUed quietly to myself and then a few pages later realised it was time for Harry Hill and put down the book. Ten minutes in Harry's blue rubber cat is singing a short medley of Moby songs.
Some salient facts to consider when entertaining the possibility of the KUUness of the above:
1. The Corrections is not a book about music. In fact as far as I recall there had been no mention of music or musicans up until this point.
2. Thomas Mapfumo, though a star in Africa, is a relatively obscure artist here and even more so in the USA (The Corrections is an American novel).
3. I have no doubt that Mapfumo has never been name checked in any other works of contemporary fiction, unlike for example obvious cultural icons like Madonna, Jagger, Jackson etc. It was almost as if the author used his name because of its cultural obscurity.
I spent a day sculpture-sitting for Marcia in a big house in Dulwich Village. I sat with a few of the other artists who were also exhibiting, watching the public amble in and amble out again. We drank tea and perused colour supplements, and the day dragged by, its passing minutes cruelly marked out by the laborious ticking of the grandfather clock.
Then, just before six - the time the exhibition finished for the day - small-talk turned to big-talk as we got on to the subject of religion. As the three people remaining all seemed pretty anti religion I decided to throw a curve ball by mentioning the KUU. A few minutes later, while the subject was still being discussed, three women strolled into the sitting room. The oldest of the three demanded (in the nicest possible way) to know who was who, and also made it clear (again, in the most charming way) that she was a singer who hadn't been able to make the private view the previous night because she had been performing.
Hearing a foreign accent, my interest picked up - where had she performed? St Ethelburga's, she replied. She showed me a Michael Church (the other guy at the Independent who writes on world music) quote ("Dana could comfortably command a whole evening by herself") and other stuff for me to look at.
It turned out she was a Romanian singer called Dana Codorean-Berciu, and I'd been invited to her gig but - of course - I'd been at this private view, so couldn't go. I'd only been to St Ethelburga's for the first time the previous week. I turned to the people I'd been chatting to and said - well, there you go - I told you coincidences won't leave me alone!
Dana then asked me to show her Marcia's work and she absolutely adored it and made many perceptive comments and seemed genuinely moved. So it was a lovely way to end a very dull day when everyone else who had visited had been blind to Marcia's lovely sculptures, preferring the tacky, pseudo-surreal ceramics of women with birds sitting on their heads. The singer would later visit Marcia's studio and buy a piece.
Steve, Linda and Jessica went to Norfolk for a week and landed up in a weird village, straight out of the League of Gentleman, called Swatham. Every other shop seemed to be selling old Christian nik naks and the people looked decidedly inbred. The first thing they saw as they drove in, was a priest in full regalia walking down the centre of the road with an umbrella.
Anyway, when Steve returned to work, he noticed an A4-sized piece of paper on the canteen floor. It looked like it was a diagram of something which might have been important, so he picked it up. It was actually a floor plan of a new school in... yes, you've guessed it - Swatham. Its reason for being on the canteen floor of a jam factory in Cambridge is of course a mystery. However, Steve turns over the piece of paper to see if any clues lay on the other side: only the words OUT OF ORDER scrawled in biro. It had obviously been stuck to the drinks machine. But of course that explains nothing. Like all the best KUUs, the central enigma remains, and the facts needed to even begin to unravel it are delightfully out of reach.
Steve works in management at a noisy factory where he listens to Classic FM all day because he finds it calming. The other day a new employee came in to his office and asked him, "Do you like anything else besides this stuff?"
"Yeah, or course," replied Steve.
"Hey, why don't you give my favourite station a try," the new employee said, re-tuning the radio before Steve could protest.
Some ghastly American rock spewed out, and this idiot started playing air guitar in the middle of the room as if he hadn't got a job to go to. "This is great isn't it!"
"No it's awful. Sorry it's just not my kind of thing at all."
"What is your kind of thing then?"
"Well, I think the Clash are great."
The ghastly song eventually ended and the DJ announced, "And now a classic from the past, The Clash with London Calling."
"How did you do that?!" exclaimed the idiot.
Steve just smiled and thought of the KUU.
On his drive home Steve turned on his I-Pod. The shortness of the journey meant the machine only had the chance to play four songs. One of them was the Clash's London's Burning: a near miss but considering he has nearly a year and a half's worth of music of all genres in his little white box (nearly 15,000 songs) still arguably a cosmic nudge!
An email from the late Charlie Gillett:
On Thursday lunchtime, Radio London DJ Robert Elms wittily played Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman after interviewing the director of Man on Wire, the much-praised recreation of the high wire walk between the Twin Towers back in 1973.
I listened with special attention to the piano solo, after Norman Druker raised questions here about whether there were two versions of the song, one with a longer piano solo than the other. This certainly went on for a long time, with amazing off the beat accents that made me think of Thelonious Monk. I'd forgotten what a far-out record it was, for a number one
Less then a minute after the song finished, as I was driving up Silverthorne Road, crossing Wandsworth Rd into North St in Clapham, there was Andy Newman himself, waiting at the traffic light, a shopping bag in each hand.
From Etc Etc Amen reader, Chris Potts:
Here's a second hand KUU-incidence which was related to me by someone about a friend of his. I believe it's true in its mixture of the mundane and the tragi-comic.
It was a hot 1970s summer and Tom was a teenager who had finished school but didn't have a job. During the day he'd go down to his local open-air swimming pool to try to impress the girls. With a big build up he finally dived into the pool -splash - only to hit his head with a sickening crunch on the bottom. Feeling morbidly sick and seeing stars he was ignominiously pulled out of the water by his pals and rushed to casualty.
Discharged with a bandage round his head he was back home in time to be sitting down in front of the telly for the early evening news. In those days an oddish man called Richard Stillgoe used to produce supposedly amusing topical songs which would end the local news on a light note. Tom 's jaw hung open as Stillgoe's 'witty' song that day recounted the story of some full-of-himself young man showing off at a swimming pool who then diving in and cracking his head open.
Tom's incident had not been remotely newsworthy, so there was no way this could be explained. Exacerbated by the heat, his hormones, and mild concussion, he became convinced the TV had communicated to him directly. The only way to be sure of the trurh of this story would be to track down every one of Stillgoe's songs, but that would be a soul-destroying task. Probably even Youtube won't have plumbed those depths.
From friend, Dominic, added to a strand on Charlie Gillett's Sound of the World forum
On Wednesday, or even the early hours of Thursday, I was telling Howard about Manual by Daren King, which for some reason I had started reading instead of Etc Etc Amen. The very next evening I was reading Manual on the bus home and a character says "I collect coincidences. I'm writing a book."
I was 40 pages into Oracle Night by Paul Auster. It's one of those novels which looks at the very nature of fiction writing. The central character had bought a notebook from a mysterious little stationary shop in Manhattan. The book immediately inspired him to start writing again, after a long period of creative inactivity. This once-blocked writer visited an old friend that he couldn't help but notice had on his desk exactly the same made-in-Portugal, blue notebook that he had. He sees this coincidence as being of some significance.
I mentioned this part of the narrative to Marcia who had just collected her car from its MOT. She told me that the woman taking her details in the office of the garage had asked her if a notebook sitting on the desk in front of her belonged to Marcia. The notebook didn't belong to Marcia, but it was exactly the same make and colour as the one she had in her bag with her - which, needless to say, the woman hadn't seen.
I'd been looking at literary blogs to see if there were any that it might be worth sending the novel to. Eventually I landed on one that looked interesting, hosted by an American book reviewer called Maud Newton. It was there that I landed on this paragraph; spot the KUU-incidence:
'I don't compare my site to the other book blogs I like-The Elegant Variation, Laila Lalami, About Last Night, Bookslut, The Literary Saloon, Scott McLemee, Cup of Tea & A Wheat Penny, etc., etc., Amen-but leave that to readers.'
Googling is a good way of checking on the likelihood of a coincidence. So I tapped in 'etc etc amen' and there were no results other than those refering to my novel. There's also the fact that there are thousands of entries on Maud Newton's blog, going back to 2002, and I just landed on that 2007 paragraph by chance as I was hopping around.
Yesterday I finished Patrick Neate's surreal novel, The London Pigeon Wars.
In it pigeons have become conscious, thinking beings and there are warring
factions of them making life hell for Londoners. I was prompted into reading
it by a visit to Neate's website where he reports the fact that since finishing the novel he had found dead pigeons on his doorstep.
This morning Marcia was woken at 6.00am by our cat, Karnak making a lot of noise with
the cat flap - which he tends to do to get our attention. She found Karnak sitting in the kitchen, his white bib of a chest smeared with blood, and a dead pigeon on the floor in front of him. Yes, I know: cats kill birds. But we've had Karnak for three years, and in all that time he's only brought in about half-a-dozen small mice and a few worms,never a bird of any description, never mind a bird the size of a pigeon. So I had to see it as a feathery full-stop (or a pigeon period) to my experience of reading Neate's unique and ambitious novel.
At a friends house in Dulwich I found myself looking at the quotes on the back of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. One was from another well respected novelist, though one I've never read: Adam Mars-Jones.
Two hours later I was walking back to Crystal Palace through Dulwich Park. It had started to spot with rain and it was beginning to get dark, so it was hardly surprising that the park was almost empty. Then I noticed a lone figure walking towards me with his dog. We looked at each other as we passed (he was about my age and also bearded) and he gave me the barely suppressed smile of a man who sensed he'd been recognised. It was Adam Mars-Jones.
The following day I went to the charity shop on Westow Hill to see if they had a copy of The Road and of course they did.
My sister emailed to inform me that the 1911 Census had just become available on-line, and that she's discovered our Great Aunt Ethel Mary Male, who was born 1873, had lived in Streatham Common. Her address was less than five minutes walk from where Marcia and I had lived for seven years.
The woman behind the till at Sainsburys chuckled and then said, "Your bill is exactly the same as the last lady's bill; Ten pounds and twelve pence!" I was tempted to say, "That's because I'm the founding father of a coincidence-based religion and I exist in my own slipstream of reality in which coincidences rain down on me like...well ... rain." But that way lies madness, so instead I just smiled and said, "Well, I suppose that 's bound to happen once in a while."
Marcia and I were walking down Princes Street in Edinburgh the day before Wait's gig and there he was with his wife, Kathleen. We'd even fantasised about an hour earlier about such an encounter, but when I actually spotted the man I at first thought it was just someone who looked a bit like him. He was smaller and frailer than I had imagined he'd be and walking incredibly slowly, as if his wife were helping him along.
I gushed a bit about what a pleasure it was to meet him and said we'd come up from London specially for the gig. Unsmiling (Kathleen was smiling enough for both of them), he just mumbled in his Tom Waits voice, "Well, I hope it's a good one," and kept on walking. Obviously I respected his need for privacy and was still thrilled to have had the encounter, but I was a little concerned that he wouldn't be deliver ingas powerful a show as he'd done a few years ago in London.
I needn't have worried. From the moment he first stamped his boot down on the stage and a cloud of chalk dust rose into the air, it was clear he was one of these performers who comes alive in front of an audience.
Nice little KUU last night. Nick and I met for a pint in Farringdon before going to an event at a basement bar called Darbucka. While we supped Youngs Special, I told Nick about this singer I'd met called Salena Godden who was with a band called SaltPeter. I'd reviewed their album for the Independent on Sunday a couple of weeks previously.
I told Nick she had been a bit off with me when I introduced myself at a gig of theirs, and another journalist/DJ I know also said he had had a similar experience - was it some kind of showbiz diva act she was putting on?
Anyway, we leave the pub and start walking down the road towards Darbucka, when I hear a woman's voice behind me shouting, "Howard, Howard!" Needless to say it's Salena. She runs up and gives me a kiss and a hug and is absolutely charming. Nick can't quite believe his eyes - not just because this was the person we'd been talking about five minutes earlier, but also because she is nothing like the person I'd described.
Another great story from the late Charlie Gillett:
Alain arrived in Burkina Faso in a somewhat flustered state after running out of money in Mali. He'd reached the absolute limit of his cash after being ripped off by a Western Union branch and then he'd been unable to find a bank anywhere in Mali which would give him money. On top of that he had been involved in some sort of magic ritual in Mali which appears to have absolutely terrified him.
So, after a long and hot bus ride he was very relieved to arrive in Burkina Faso and to find a bank immediately opposite the bus station. As he queued for the bank everything seemed ok again. He handed his passport etc. to the cashier to get his money, but when he got his passport back it had his name written in it, but when he looked at the photograph he saw a picture of himself about 25 years older.
Being already pretty edgy after his experience in Mali he completely cracked in the spectacular manner that only a frenchman of Alain's highly tuned sensibilities can achieve hammering on the window, screaming and yelling at the cashier about black magic and then breaking down weeping in the street.
When he calmed down it transpired that the passport he had been given actually belonged to the man standing next to him - a man who had exactly the same name,
and who was physically almost identical (though 25 years older) because it turned out he was some kind of cousin. very strange.
During a recent trip to Barcelona I read a book called The Art of Fiction. Each chapter began with an extract from a novel which was then discussed in relation to a theme. I'd already read many of the novels the author had chosen to discuss (Lolita, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye - you get the picture) but out of at least a dozen I'd not read, one caught my imagination. It was The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. I've read some Greene but not this one, and the passage quoted was very enticing. But it wasn't sufficiently reduced in price on Amazon so I thought I'd hold out for a bit.
When Steve came up to Crystal Palace the following weekend I had no plans to go to the indoor junk market but he'd been looking forward to it, so we went anyway. Then I remembered the Greene novel; I felt sure I'd find a copy there. I went into the tiny second-hand bookshop (and I do mean, tiny - a space no more than three people, including the owner, could inhabit at one time) and asked if they had the book. The owner looked at me as if I was either insane, absurdly optimistic, or a bit of both; it would be one thing to ask for some random book in Foyles but absurd to do so in a 'shop' that probably contained no more than 200 books.
The old hippy owner managed a polite, "No, I don't think so." But then he did a double-take at the shelves inches from his nose. "Oh yes - here we are!" He plucked it out for me; obviously as surprised as I was that he had this pristine copy of 'The Heart of the Matter' amongst his modest stock.
At the time I just took this in my stride. It seemed perfectly logical that having held off buying it on Amazon I would find it here. But on reflection I realised that it can be rarer to find classic novels second-hand these days (maybe people keep hold of their classics?); most second-hand fiction is contemporary stuff. Then there is the fact that it wasn't second-hand anyway, it was new ( or rather, a 1998 edition that had never been opened.) And finally there's the fact that Greene wrote twenty-seven novels, any one of which this book might have been. Never mind the fact that the shop had far fewer books than I own, and there are millions of possible books that could have filled its extremely limited shelf space.
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