We were talking about the concept, fashionable a few years ago, that everyone on the planet is separated from everyone else by no more than six links of acquaintanceship. Examples were mooted and considered, but it was nearly time to tip down the G & Ts, switch to the Cobra beers and eat the curries, so P brought the debate to a close by announcing “but it’s cobblers really, isn’t it?” I had to agree: though, as it happens, I can reach Steven Spielberg in two steps, and Helen Mirren in three, I’d struggle to get to, for example, a Tuareg nomad in the Sahara in six. As often happens, a small world had mistaken itself for the big one. It’s a fairly boring, not to say meaningless, parlour game.
The conversation had been prompted, though, by a much more interesting, focussed one: what constitutes a genuine, uncanny coincidence? Not just ‘gosh, that’s funny’ but ‘oh, something very strange is going here.’ C’s story went roughly as follows:
She had been to the funeral, in rural Wiltshire, of a friend who had succumbed after fourteen years of various cancers. Sad, obviously, but not entirely tragic. Afterwards she bumped into a mutual acquaintance she hadn’t seen for probably more than fourteen years, and the small talk, as it always does on such occasions, hinged around ‘so what have you been up to?’, and C mentioned that they’d just come back from a visit to their second home in the unique village of Porthgain, in north-west Pembrokeshire.
The acquaintance remembered being there, many years ago. He and his partner had gone there as part of a Welsh touring holiday, but then their elderly camper van sprang a leak in the car park and the radiator drained out. He crawled underneath, but there was nothing he could do. As they were getting ready to despair, a man had emerged from one of the cottages and wondered if he could help. He was very kindly, proved to possess an unlikely store of tubes and jubilee clips, and eventually got them on their way.
C asked the acquaintance if he remembered which cottage the helpful man had come from. He did. “We knew that man,” she told him. “We’re going to his funeral next week.”