Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Synchronicity, or another way of talking bollocks. What, you were just thinking that, too? Spooky!

There are many out there who are in thrall to coincidence and ‘synchronicity’, which is a kind of coincidence for new age freaks. If I have got it right – a big if, as I regard it as just so much claptrap – ‘synchronicity’ is coincidence with a kind of added significance. So someone will say something along the lines of: ‘I was just thinking of my twin sister in Sydney and how I had called her for a while for a chat, when the phone rang – and it was my twin sister in Sydney! Spooky! What do you think of that!’ Well, not a lot, really. In fact, nothing. It’s just a coincidence and there’s no significance at all.

In fact, researchers (who seem to be everywhere – if you want to make a tidy living doing very little, just find yourself a topic to research and sooner or later you’ll find some fool to finance your work) have delved into ‘coincidence’ and concluded that to establish whether there is any significance in ‘coincidence’, one would have to establish on how many occasions no coincidence was involved. So, in the example I give, one would have to compare how often twin one was thinking about twin two and at that moment twin two decides to ring twin one with how often twin one was thinking of twin two but twin two didn’t ring and how often twin two rang but at that point twin one had not been thinking about twin two. If you get my drift. And the conclusion was that that there is no cosmic significance in coincidence.
Coincidence is simply, well, coincidence and chance.

Being an honest sort of chap, I have to admit when I was younger – I am now 112 years old, so that was some time ago – I was a little more prepared to believe in bollocks such as synchronicity. But then something happened which rather sobered my up.

Like many hacks, I suffered a kind of professional mid-life crisis when I was in my 30s. It happens to many, if not all (interestingly never the ones destined for high office). Some fuck off to a Greek island ‘to write my novel’, others ‘retrain’ as something of other. One hack I knew, a half-Polish chap who would get very drunk indeed given half a chance but who was always excellent company, jacked it all in an started an antique stall.

It failed after just a few months - how could it not? - but buggered that he would give in, he soldiered on for a while, getting further and further into debt until he finally saw sense and came back to earning his daily crust working for newspapers. Life was much as it had been before, except that now he owed the banks several thousands pounds, on which, nice chaps that they always have been, they also imposed a swingeing interest rate.

When I was in my early 30s, I had developed an interest in photography, so I eventually left the extremely boring, job subbing on the CEGB staff newspaper I had at the time and started a full-time photography course at West Bromwich College in Wednesbury. We all – I stress all – eventually drift back into a life on a newspaper, slinking back with our tales between our legs, chastened, possibly a little wiser, but most definitely far more jaundiced than we were before.

I am still interested in photography, but started in the days before Photoshop and then digital cameras, when doing it properly involved not just taking pictures and then dropping off the film at Boots, but developing the film and printing the pictures, and a lot of skill was needed for both. It was element of hands-on practicality combining with the more creative side which I enjoyed.

So off I went to college, on the strength of the promise of working regular subbing shifts on the Birmingham Post to see me through and lump sum our father gave all of us. I lasted two terms of a two-year course before I ran out of money and had to leave to find work. I did, as an assistant in an advertising studio in Harborne, Birmingham, one of reasonably big ones outside London, but the truth was I was too old for that kind of existence and left after two months.

My next job was a subbing job in South Wales, but after dropping one too many bollocks (subbing in the provinces it as close to shovelling shit as any job can get and boring just isn’t the word. Subbing on the nationals is far more enjoyable, not least because the standards are far, far higher), I was sacked. That was in September 1989 and I decided that the time had come to try my luck as a ‘freelance photographer’. I also did whatever other jobs I could find, working subbing shifts on the local morning paper and writing feautures. And it didn’t go badly. Then, come the turn of the financial year at the beginning of April 1990, everyone, but everyone battened down the hatches and I simply wasn’t getting enough work to exist. But I am getting ahead of myself.

On November 21 the previous year, I turned 40 and went off to Paris to spend a few days with my then girlfriend. On my way back, via the boat train, there was some sort of storm and I and an elderly couple were told that if we hurried, we could get on the last Hovercraft to be crossing the channel that day. It was either that or wait until the following morning. So the three of us agreed to share a taxi to travel the 10 miles or so to the port where the Hovercraft would be leaving. During the journey, naturally, we chatted, and I discovered that the chap, who was well into his 80s was one of the founder members of the world-famous photography co-operative Magnum Photos. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name, but he was either David Seymour or George Rodger.

So there was I who intended forging a new career for himself as a photographer in a chance meeting with one of the greats of photography! God, how significant is that! I told myself. Just think how interesting it will be when, as an old man, I come to look back on my career in my memoirs! Or when someone else comes to write my biography tracing my illustrious career as a photographer! Coincidence, synchronicity? Yes, and then some.

Or not, as the case may be. For, as I pointed out about, my illustrious career as a photographer came to an abrupt end five months later, and like all the other hacks, I found myself slinking back to the second oldest profession, in my case working shifts on the nationals in London.
The moral of this story? Stuff significance and synchronicity.

. . .

I have to admit that I don’t think there is any intrinsic significance in life. Or, to put it another way, life is intrinsically meaningless. The God squad will, of course, disagree, but I am inclined to see us humans as just another life-form which evolved into what it is, and that’s the end of the matter. We are a life-form more complex than some, and I don’t know of too many crustaceans who get there knickers in a twist debating the basis of morality (or writing blogs, for that matter), but I do believe it is hubris of the worst kind to think that we humans are in some way marked out as being special. (For one thing, if we were so special, would be really treat each other so badly?)

Having said that, there is much in our lives that does have meaning or which gives our lives meaning. And I hasten to add that, not only because that is what I sincerely believe and because it is the necessary second half to my opening statement, but because otherwise, as a species, we would undoubtedly behave even worse than we do now.

So, for example, my two children, the love I feel for them, their company, the love they show me and the care I am glad to give them until they are old enough to take care of themselves form, as far as I am concerned, the meaning of my life. I am aware of the irony that, just as you and I did when we got older, they will grow apart from me as they become ever more self-aware of their own existence, and that I will probably mean a lot less to them in times to come than they mean to me, but then (to use a cliché) that’s life. Once they have flown the nest I shall have to cast around for other ‘meanings’ with which to sustain my spirit until the time comes for me to pop my clogs.

It doesn’t just have to be family which gives a man or woman meaning. For many, a kind of their life gains a kind of ‘meaning’ from their ability to lord it over others, or their capacity to get ever richer, or, to give a less horrible example, an altruistic capacity they have to spend their lives helping others. But I stick by my central point, that life has no intrinsic meaning or significance.


I am writing this while lying in bed with the ‘flu, though whether it is bird flu, swine flu, man flu or common or garden flu, I couldn’t really tell you. All I know is that I feel very grotty indeed and only perk up for an hour or two (in which time I can lie here bending your ear with my inconsequential bullshit) after swallowing doses of Day Nurse (available at all good chemists and many bad ones, too). But the point of this entry is that I should like your prayers for a speedy recovery, or, if you are not the praying kind, at least your best wishes.

Emails from you assuring me that I am constantly in your thoughts during this difficult time (for me) would be more than welcome. And a private message to the chap with the lumpy sofa about whose comfort the police are especially concerned: tell me some of your almost unbelievable stories. I need something to cheer me up.


  1. Patrick,
    sorry to hear you are sick with the flu no matter what kind it is. Hope that your keeping yourself amused and comfortable. Life is fine here in the South of the US, weather is strange, warm one day with the doors open and fridged the next, freezing the last two days. No snow though. I am lucky to able to go to Flordia the end of this month, I am looking forward to that. My daughter and I will drive down about 500 miles to our former town of Sarasota. My ex employees and good friends are there for a month working on a big remodel job with an old client of ours. This is the 5th house we have done for him. He buys 2 million dollar homes and then has us totally redo them to the taste he happens to like that year. The budget is grande and he is an interesting chap so its always a good time. It will be the first time I have been back to Florida since I moved two years ago. Another girlfriend wants me to go to the Highlands Games with her, an annual event for the Scots in Fl. It is also a good time everyone drinking a lot outdoors and pretending they are Scottish for the day....
    The weather should be in the mid 80's so hope to get some sun while I am there.
    I have been going out to dinner with different girlfriends to entertain myself here, so much variety here in restuarants and food. Also I have been drawing and baking loads since the weather is cooler. I enjoy baking but am probably eating too much because of it....
    Well I hope this has given you some distraction while bed ridden. With hopes for a speedy recovery.
    Best to you,

  2. Kate, this will not mean much to anyone else reading this, so I think I can go ahead and be quite open. I am writing it on a computer which doesn’t have your personal email on it, so I shall post it as a reply to your comment and when you have indicated that you have read it, I shall remove it.
    You will know who I’m talking about. I often really do think she has a screw loose somewhere, some quirk of personality which I’ve not come across in anyone I’ve known but which is not very pleasant. It first really sank in over Christmas: her mother died last year and since then her father has lived alone. When, a few years ago, there developed some sort of ridiculous family feud between his son and his daughter-in-law and him (about nothing really, as these things usually aren’t), she took against him and cut him out of her life with a ruthlessness which (I’m not being dramatic) quite shocked me. That went on for several years until her mother’s declining health and then death more or less healed any split. For the past few years, her mother and father had spent Christmas with their oldest son and his family, but this Christmas, the first on his own, her father said he wanted to spend it alone at home. Of course, we went up at different times, but it was obvious he was very lonely. I stayed on for an hour or so after everyone had gone and, perhaps because I am not ‘close’ family and there is no chance of any history, I got him out of his shell a little, making him smile and even laugh a little. I knew that once I had gone, he would be unhappy again, but for those few moments, he seemed to relax. One thing I was that he should come down to our cottage on an afternoon and just sit with us and then have supper, and he was rather pleased with the idea. He used to drop in quite regularly until ‘the feud’ and my wife cut him out of her life. Back at home, I mentioned this to her, and her reaction startled me. There was no sympathy for him at all, and when I explained that he was lonely and had chosen to spend Christmas on his own, she merely observed that he had chosen to and was about to say something else, but checked herself. She seems to have absolutely no insight into human behaviour, there is something curiously, but horribly hard about her. It came out all day today when she brought me mugs of tea: not a word was spoken. Not a single one, just plonked down the tea and got out again. I know I am carrying a virus, but it is not nice being treated like a leper. Living with her is almost like dealing with a child, and it has occurred to me that perhaps she has some form of autism. I don’t know, I’m just guessing, but many of her reactions are simply not those one would expect from a woman who will be 50 in February.
    Anyway, thanks for letting me sound off. I can talk to my stepmother sometimes, but she has her own troubles after her stroke and I prefer to be upbeat when I am with her. Incidentally, my wife took against her many years ago for no obvious reason I can spot, and has seen her three times in the four years since she had her stroke, even though she now lives less than five minutes walk away.

  3. Sorry, I was so wrapped up in my own business that I forgot to wish you all the best for your trip.