Coincidences have been on my mind lately. You let one in, the others follow. They pile up, crowding in at the door like noisy friends-of-friends at a party. Of course, they’re a fun bunch who know good dance moves so you don’t call the cops. But you do wonder – who are these crazy mixed-up kids?
The long leg of the Singapore to London flight takes around 13 hours, making it a tough one. Some people complain. Me, I can’t wait to relive those memories a dozen times per week for the coming fortnight at least. Reminiscing about long and uneventful periods of my life helps me avoid the difficult bits. That’s how into long flights I am.
By the time Dove and I made it to happenin’ Heathrow (the most Carnaby Street of airports (except not)), we’d been awake for about 40 hours each, unable to get more than a handful of hours of fitful rest on the plane. We met up with Kite, kind enough to take into her London home the slimy husks we’d become, looking as familiar with hygiene as the Mother Country is with dental plans, good coffee and respect for former convict-stock. Ah London, how I have missed your sun-dappled boulevards and grinning, fruit-proffering denizens!
As an-ex Melbourne housemate of Dove’s, Kite was very charitable in taking us in. I'd like to say that our appearance was "practiced disarray" but it was closer to "escaped mental patient". Nonetheless, we found a warm welcome up four flights of stairs (four flights from the smokers' courtyard, I should add).
We also found fellow Melbourne travellers Meadowlark and Mockingbird. (By now you might be wondering about the whole bird-theme with everyone’s names. Obviously, I’d prefer it if I was meeting a bunch of avian companions and acting like they was human, taking hilarious (if delusional) jaunts across the English countryside with my fine feathered friends until some quaintly-accented rural gent accidentally takes me down with his twelve-gauge and stands over me in head-shaking pity/scorn uttering words such as “twas ne’er meant fer man te cavort wi’ t’ birds so, aye” and my family to gather round my coffin clutching a feather in each hand. ‘Twas not to be, ladies an’ gents. The bird-words are merely to conceal identities, and also to produce a general bird-theme to this blog (note to self: keep thematics sublimated. Make the reader work).
London: We all went out for dinner and drinks at a few pubs near Kite’s. It was probably close to 48 hours we went without sleep, Dove and I. Waking up at 6.30am this morning on the cosy loungeroom floor, well, it felt like coincidence and randomness were far away. In the warm, still, nearly soundless hush of the old inner-London terrace, I ambled around making myself coffee, looking at pigeons and flat grey skies, feeling safe in an orderly and unsurprising universe.
Of course, coincidences aren’t always alien to such environments, and are often less than dramatic. Some examples: on the Singapore to London flight, I’m watching Tom Cruise grimace his way through Mission Impossible III. I’m not surprised that Tom’s on-board in this way. You don’t get more captive than this. I’ve joined that all-important demographic of “people who oughta know better, but don’t,” and Tom’s accountants are establishing their kids’ college trust funds on that fact. It’s the perfect flick for a half-attentive plane trip, and I’m able to dip in and out of alertness as I’m served food, check the time till arrival, and so on.
At one point my gaze drifts to the screen of the passenger to my left, and I find my neighbour is watching Cruise in The Firm. To my right, my other neighbour is watching Cruise in Days of Thunder. Flicking through the inflight magazine, I see we have 80 films to choose from, plus dozens of tv shows and documentaries. Still, for some reason we’ve managed to accidentally inaugurate the first ever Tom Cruise Midflight Film Festival, without any conferring on the matter. Which I find funny.
Stranger, though, is the moment when Tom kisses his wife in MI3 and spins her around in a lovely cinematic classic shot. At precisely this moment, I catch Tom pulling the same move in Days of Thunder, the camera twirling around Tom and Nic exactly the same way. It’s uncanny, double vision, and I’m startled by the apparent coincidence, since I'm not nearly drunk enough to make sense of it. After all, it’s not that an on-screen kiss is that rare, or even that the shot mightn’t be one that Tom loves to demand in a film. But the chances that both myself and a neighbour would start our films at the correct moment to synchronise the two kisses would seem pretty slim.
But that’s the way coincidences work, right? The chances of that occurrence taking place are a million to one at best, but the chance of something equally unlikely happening, anything at all, is almost 100%. The number of strange, nearly inexplicable things that could potentially occur in our lives is limitless, so we’re not that often shocked when they do. It’s kind of what I enjoy most about travelling like this – I have no idea what possibilities might befall me, scary or hilarious or enlightening or wearing an outrageous hat, but I can be reasonably sure that unforeseen and highly unlikely events of some sort will be likely and foreseeable. Is it coincidence that will lead me here?
A final example on this kind-of boring point. My aforementioned flight neighbours and I were sitting in business class. Anyone who knows me would know that I could not afford and would not shell out for anything more than a crappy economy class seat surrounded by smelly whiny-voiced strangers who are all elbows. By a bizarre coincidence, though, I received that legendary thing spoken of only in reverential whispers, the first thing people dream of when they plan to take a flight: a pair of complimentary plane socks. I also got an upgrade. I’d like to offer a recipe for upgradification, but my good fortune came down to this: somewhere in business class was another passenger with my name, middle initial and all. When the airline was allocating seats, it couldn’t tell which one of us had paid for business, so we were both given the sweet seats up front. I wasn’t complaining (and I know what you're asking - were my first words "stop your fussin' and get a-bussin'!" I'll never tell, but yes, there were! (Or weren't)). And of the 20 or so other passengers seated in my section, I never did work out who my namesake was. The chances of our sharing a flight and name are, surely, astronomically remote, but like I’ve been trying to say (lord, are you even listening to me? Jeez.) most things that happen do so against astronomically remote odds. What are the chances that a bunch of molecules will make their way across the universe over millions of years and get together to have a big multi-decade long knees-up named you? What are the chances that we’ll be born, grow up, develop faces, not be murdered by circus folk, fall in love or out of a car, understand the faintest thing we hear and be as children amazed by the complexity of everything that happens?
All I say is: thank you John M. Bailey, business class traveller. I’m pleased to wear your shoes for a day. You’re not touching my complimentary plane socks, but.