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.