Coincidences and unexpected meetings in everyday life deserve documentation, if only to cast nasturtiums [pace Tom Stoppard] at the rule, posited by Henry David Thoreau in Walden , that ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Well, even if they don’t, I intend to document this particular one. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin….
Yesterday morning I went to my local station to catch a train for London. As is frequently the case these days, the waiting room/ticket office was closed. So a rag, tag, and bobtail army of grumbling commuters soon wove its way through the station car park, intent on squaring up to the dreaded AUTOMATED TICKETING MACHINE. Now these ticketing machines have an odd by-product - they bring people together. Rather as in wartime, they act as the common enemy, against whom all may pit themselves, calm in the knowledge that they are facing a morally acceptable and universally recognised foe. As I approached the front of the skirmish line, I spotted a friend of mine, who was obviously also intent on travelling to London for a day out with her daughter and baby grandson. “Oh,” she said. “Where are you off to?” “I’m off to have lunch with my agent,” says I. At that moment, the man next in line to me in the queue says, “Who is your agent?” Well, I’d never met this chap before - never even seen him around - but the Blitz Spirit, engendered by my proximity to the AUTOMATED TICKETING MACHINE, burgeoned within me: “Oli Munson, at Blake Friedmann,” I answered. ”Well I’ll be damned,” he said. “Blake Friedmann are my agents too. I’m with Isobel Dixon.” We exchanged a few words, but the pressures of time, and the ineptitude of man in the face of machine, soon cut short our meeting.
Two hours later, I arrived outside the Blake Friedmann offices in Camden Town. A dark-haired woman was leaving the building. “Oh, are you Eva?” I said, thinking she might be our new contracts manager, whom I was due to meet that morning. “No,” said the lady. “I’m Isobel Dixon.” Well. You could have knocked me over with a feather duster. I explained how I had run into one of her authors, out of the blue, that morning, 100 or so miles away as the crow flies. “That must be Christopher Nicholson,” she said. “His novel is coming out in the New Year.” Faintly bemused, I clattered upstairs to find that Isobel had already phoned ahead to make sure an Uncorrected Proof Copy of Christopher’s book, The Elephant Keeper [to be published in 2009 by Fourth Estate], was waiting for me at the front desk. That afternoon, fortified by an excellent literary lunch, I settled down to wile away my trainbound homeward hours with Christopher’s new book - and it grabbed me from the very first sentence. There, I feel better, now, for having told the story. Odd meetings do happen - and life, although desperate at times, can also throw us the odd serendipitous curveball.