Thursday 10 September 2009


We say it often enough whenever coincidence strikes and we meet unexpected people in unlikely places: "Well, well, what a small world!"

Over the last couple of months I've had several uncanny experiences of this kind.

On 19 July, halfway across the pontoon bridge that - for one day only - spans the Canale della Giudecca as part of the Festa del Redentore, I am accosted by Robert and Kerry, a couple of Australian yachts-people whose boat has dropped anchor a couple of times in Emporios harbour on the Greek island of Kalymnos when we have been holidaying there.

Ponte de Redentore

From a remote corner of one small island to a singular, transient spot on another small island... What are the chances?

Then, a month later, I'm sitting in the bar at Artistico in the said Kalymnian village of Emporios and my voice is recognised by another visitor (on a day trip from neighbouring Telendos) who turns out to be actress Cathy Bass whom, fourteen years ago in 1995, I interviewed when she was appearing in an open-air, walk-about production of The Hound of the Baskervilles and I was presenting Radio 4's arts magazine, Kaleidoscope.

Here's Cathy (right) as the formidable and rather spooky Mrs Barrymore, with Catriona Martin as Symonds the maid, in a more recent production at Peel Castle on the Isle of Man...

I can, happily, report that Cathy doesn't look anywhere near as scary when she's on holiday!

Then, the following week, just as I'm emerging from the sea and on my way to shower and dress before being collected for a day out with some friends on the island, a guy comes up to me and said, "Hello, I'm Pooh!"

"Who?" you ask. Pooh!

I'll explain: in my final year at school, I wrote, directed and appeared in a vaguely satirical adaptation of A A Milne's 'Winnie-the-Pooh' stories. Entitled The Lost Childhood, this conceit - inspired by Jonathan Miller's 1966 revisionist TV version of Alice in Wonderland - had the toy animals of Christopher Robin's nursery translated into eccentric human characters with myself (left) in the role of Eeyore.

Pooh had been played by Brian Denton (he's the one in the middle with the 'P' on his jumper) with fellow cast members, David Boulton (Rabbit), Ian Carter (as a rather mature Christopher Robin) and, sitting, Robert Hendry as Piglet.

Brian had read my blog and knew that I visited Emporios and, since he was staying at another resort on the island, had come to see whether I was currently in residence. And so there was Pooh (sans jumper) face to face with a dripping wet Eeyore...
It was the first time we had met in 43 years!

Obviously I must have retained enough of my lugubrious Eeyore expression for him to recognise his fellow thesp over four decades later.

Now, what exercises my mind is the fact that if Brian had arrived just fifteen minutes later we would missed one another.

In fact, I often wonder whether these so-called 'small world' encounters might not potentially happen very much more often but for those quirks of timing that cause us to miss possible connections because we are simply too early or too late or change our plans or, as the poet, Robert Frost put it, take the road less - or, perhaps, more travelled...

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Images: Redentore bridge by Brian Sibley; scene from The Hound of the Baskervilles by John Phipp, IOM Photographic Society; scene from The Lost Childhood, unknown photographer!


Ryan Rasmussen said...

You must be doing something right in picking the roads you've been traveling, following the golden thread. There's nothing quite like traveling, meeting new AND old friends alike, the best kind of trail magic.

Boll Weavil said...

Cue coincidences.... I was missing my usual 5 a side football on Friday 6-7pm through being on holiday. In fact, at 6.30pm on this particular Friday, I was on a coastal path in Wales going from the village of Llanrannog (one pub and a few houses) to Penbryn (no pub and a few houses).I met, coming in the other direction, one of my other four team members who was also missing that week but hadn't told me why. Not quite as strange as yours but remember Mr B, you just know EVERYBODY so its not suprising you bump into someone you know everywhere !

Good Dog said...

Spent some time chatting with a woman just outside of Portland, Oregon. Over a week later, after I'd been up in Seattle and Vancouver, I was sitting at the counter in a diner on the road to Bismark, North Dakota, and she tapped me on the shoulder as she was heading out and said hello.

Then, back in New York with my cousin and pals, we overindulged ourselves during the 4th of July afternoon, flaked out so that we were seriously running late when we headed off to see the fireworks display over the East River. Walking down 2nd Avenue I bumped into a guy from my year at art school who I hadn't seen since we graduated three years earlier.

Suzanne said...

It is a small small world! I just discovered that a friend of mine living in my village here in Belgium for even longer than me lived in the same "young girl digs" as I did when we first arrived in Brussels... and she left just before I arrived!
trudopa: an obscure Italian word for serendipity