"Many coincidences have occurred in my life, some of them quite extraordinary"Patrick Russell

I have had an interest in the concept of synchronicity for as long as I can remember. Many coincidences have occurred in my life, some of them quite extraordinary. I read Brian Inglis’s book Coincidence many years ago and was particularly taken with the concept of the Library Angel. This so-called intervention-coincidence particularly interested Koestler. The concept may be familiar to anyone who has spent time combing through archives for specific sources and, on the point of giving up, appear to come across exactly what they have been searching for. An arbitrary book taken off the shelf and opened at random will reveal the exact source that they have been searching for hours to find.

“That chance encounter with the advertisement changed the direction of my life”

My own brush with the Library Angel came one Saturday morning many years ago when I was searching the Times Educational Supplement, FE Focus section, desperately looking for another job. I had been teaching in a college for twenty years and I had become more and more frustrated at the radical change of culture occurring in further education at that time. After a fruitless twenty minutes or so searching the jobs section, I threw the TES on the floor in a fit of pique. When I retrieved it, it was open at the Secondary Schools section (something I had never looked at) and there, staring back at me, was a block advertisement for a Head of Department in my A-level subject at a school in Surrey. I applied, got the job and spent seven wonderful years teaching there. That chance encounter with the advertisement changed the direction of my life.

“Sunrise on 27th July 1983 was 5.17am – the exact time of her birth”

Another wonderful coincidence happened around my daughter’s birth and naming. Before she was born, my wife and I had decided to call her Lucy. We simply liked the name. Like most expectant parents we had, however, bought a copy of a small book giving origins of boys’ and girls’ names. Some months after her birth, I casually picked up this little book one evening and realised that I had never actually looked up the name Lucy, so I did. Lucy derives from the Latin Lucia meaning the bringer of light, and in Roman times it was customarily given to children born at the break of day. She was born very early on the morning of 27th July so I thought that that was probably close enough to dawn and a nice touch that we had coincidentally called her Lucy. However, out of interest, I checked the copy of The Times newspaper that I had purchased on the day of her birth. Sunrise on 27th July 1983 was 5.17am – the exact time of her birth.

Perhaps one of the most startling cases of synchronicity in my life occurred about five years ago. My wife and I were travelling through the southern states of America on a ‘Southern Road Trip.’ I had decided to visit William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi, having studied Faulkner during my first degree. We had a look around the house and eventually set off for the car park. After a couple of minutes my wife said that she needed the loo so we returned. At that moment, the door from the garden opened and in stepped a couple of people. I quickly recognised one of them as Carey Harrison, the author, playwright, and academic who had taught me European Theatre at Essex University some forty years before! He too was on a road trip and was as amazed as me when I introduced myself. The remarkable element to this encounter, however, was the fact that it almost didn’t happen. It was returning to the house that led to our, as it turned out, fortuitous meeting.


Mountain View

Embracing uncertainty

There is a delicious post script to the above story. Since retiring, I have taken several courses in subjects which interest me. I decided to apply for the MSt in History offered by ICE at Madingley Hall. I needed two academic referees for the application. The first was no problem, but I had a real issue finding a second person to act as my referee. Most of my lecturers from undergraduate and post-graduate days were deceased. Then it came to me. Having met him relatively recently, I decided to e-mail Carey Harrison and ask him if he would provide me with a reference for the course. He e-mailed back straight away to say he would be delighted. Furthermore, he talked about our meeting in Oxford, Mississippi, as being one of the most serendipitous moments of his life, and said that he felt at the time that our meeting up like that had to have a higher meaning.

Coincidence? Synchronicity? I know where I stand on the issue, judge for yourselves.