Do you believe in them?

Nov 14 | 2019

Life is full of coincidence, or if your soul is more quixotic, perhaps you would prefer to call it fate. Anyway, I’ll come back to this subject in due course.

Tony Allen: And finally...When I was in the early stages of education it seemed to be de rigueur to have a nickname. These were mostly unflattering and on occasions extremely inventive, for example we had a boy in our class who was continually sniffing whom we called ‘Tracker’. Clever eh?

My nickname happened to be ‘Fatty’, and you don’t have to guess why. This sobriquet didn’t bother me at all as, ostensibly, it just happened to be correct. I’m quite sure that in today’s more delicate times, this process would very likely have made headline news in the tabloid press. Quite frankly my corpulence was purely the result of having a mother whose answer to most problems was a fried egg sandwich!

By the time I reached my early teens, and as a result of an increasingly energetic lifestyle enhanced by the physical side of romance, I had become a much more slender version of my original self. Even so my nickname still stayed with me – hopefully then viewed in a more ironic sense.

The person who sat next to me for most of my school life was an individual called Keith Woolley who was commonly known as ‘Nightshirt’, and the point about nicknames is that after a while they lose any sense of their original meaning to those who commonly use them, they just simply become a familiar and alternative name.

Thanks for staying with me, but now back to the subject of coincidence with the scene now set.

Not too long ago I was waiting at a station on the London Underground – deep down I quite like underground trains. On this particular day the service had been a bit slow as most of the trains had middle-aged academics superglued to their roofs. This was apparently something to do with climate change, and I suppose they’d manage to get a day off from their normal role of helping to create rational and responsible citizens.

The next train due to arrive was not the one I wanted, so I was going to have to wait on an increasingly busy platform for the one after. The next train arrived and then slowly came to a squeaking halt and like the curtains in a theatre the doors slowly opened and disgorged a rather large amount of passengers.

Now I hadn’t seen Keith Woolley for almost 60 years, but standing in the newly created emptiness immediately ahead of me was my old school friend. Had he changed, well no, I’m sure if you think back to your own school days you will remember that some contemporaries looked their age or younger, some looked middle-aged and some - as did Keith - even looked old-aged.

So there we were confronting each other like two gunfighters at the OK corral. Suddenly his face broke into a smile as he loudly exclaimed the immortal word: “Fatty!”

I then immediately retorted with the similarly loud immortal response: “Nightshirt!”

This was then followed by a silence that appeared to last forever as we both tried to absorb our sense of astonishment. Suddenly, with a hiss, the doors closed and the train slowly pulled away carrying a vision similar to that of somebody playing charades; but to no avail, it was not something I could decipher.

And that by way of an anti-climax was it. I hadn’t seen ‘Nightshirt’ for almost 60 years and I’m sure that I will never see him again.

I’m sure that you will agree that this certainly was quite a coincidence; but it did leave me with a number of issues.

Firstly, how do I find a repository for all of those newly burgeoning questions I would have enjoyed asking of my old friend?

Secondly, how would it have looked to the remaining passengers in his carriage having seen somebody, seemingly spontaneously, shout out the word ‘Fatty’ to an apparently harmless and random individual waiting on the platform?  

Thirdly, I recognised him, but of course he had also recognised me. So did that mean that I haven’t changed much in 60 years or does it mean that, like him, I have always looked of pensionable age?

I’d like to think that it was the former. Surely it couldn’t be the latter, because that would really be too much of a coincidence!