We were lunching in Gordon’s Wine Bar in central London recently with friends who live in Kalkan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, and where we have a house that we live in for half the year. We love Gordon’s and visit regularly when in London. I mentioned the place in a Facebook post in early July following a previous visit. A friend commented to let me know that the owner of Gordon’s also has a house in Kalkan. It’s a very small world.
Life is full of coincidences which all add to the spice. The above occurrence got me thinking about other “small world” events that have happened to me, or to others I’ve been with at the time. And then I thought, let’s write these down and see if they make a good blog post.
So here goes, you be the judge. Also, if you have any “small world” events of your own – which you surely will have – please do share them on this blog. It’s amazing how events in people’s lives can collide with those of their friends and acquaintances, especially when travelling. As the following stories show, coincidences can happen on land, train or even at sea.
Let me start with an event in Turkey more than 10 years ago. Margaret and myself were travelling by bus from a holiday in Kalkan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast to the provincial capital of Antalya where we were catching a plane back to the UK. The bus takes the coastal road the whole way and the scenery is wonderful. The journey covers more than 200km and takes between 4 and 5 hours depending on the weather, the number of stops, and road works. On the day in question, the latter was the problem. The highway between Demre and Finike, which clung to the cliffs for most of the route, was being straightened and widened. This entailed a lot of rock blasting which meant that the road had to be closed from time to time to avoid accidents.
Just outside Demre, as the road started to climb up towards the first section of cliffs, the bus ground to a halt. The driver explained in Turkish, which we didn’t understand sufficiently, what was going on. Then he indicated to us that we should get off the bus and climb up a scrubby path where we would find a small cafe. He would come and get us when the bus was ready to move on. So up we climbed and, sure enough, there was a ramshackle building with a collection of small, wooden, shaded platforms.
We ordered some drinks and took a seat on one of the platforms. A short while later a small group of walkers appeared, coming down the hillside behind. They sat down at the other side of the platform we were on. As I looked across, two of the group looked familiar. And then it dawned, it was our old university friends Martin and Helen with whom we exchange Xmas cards but whom we hadn’t seen for years. We called across and they were as surprised as ourselves. It transpired that they were on a rambling holiday and this was a planned refreshment stop. What a coincidence that they should be stopping for a cup of tea at the same time as our bus was being held up by blasting a long, long way from our homes.
A Parisian Double Whammy
This tale is about two “small world” events that didn’t happen to me personally but which both happened because of things I had initiated and which I witnessed.
For a long part of my working life in the IT industry I worked for the French State computer company Bull. The job took me to Paris on a regular basis, initially helping to develop transaction processing software primarily for the banking sector and central governments. Later my interests moved onto IT security and, in particular, to smart cards, those plastic cards containing microchips that we all carry today for banking and transport. Bull was the company that took the concept forward and developed it into the useful product of today.
One of my clients in the UK was the giant banking group HSBC and they were interested in the use of smart cards for a range of secure banking products. I was asked to take a small team from the bank to Paris to help them to understand the advances that Bull was making in the development of the technology. It was decided to take this opportunity to do a bit of team building between our two organisations as we were already working together to develop an enhancement to one of their international banking products.
Although we had all met each other before, it had always been in a business context with very little socialising. We travelled together on Eurostar and that gave us a first chance to establish friendships. John, whom I had only met before in an office context, told me a little about his wife, their wedding and his young family. He had been married for 10 years. Another member of the HSBC party was an American lady, Louise, from Marine Midland Bank, the US arm of HSBC and headquartered in Buffalo, New York State. Louise now lived in London but talked about a college friend who she thought was living in Paris but who she hadn’t met for years. She had meant to get in touch before this trip but had been too busy. And so the conversations went on till we arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris.
I’d chosen an hotel on the Rue de la Paix, a grand street that runs from close to Opera to the Place Vendome and onwards to the Tuileries Gardens. A nice central location with plenty of restaurants and bars within easy walking distance. Once we had got settled in the hotel it was decided that, as it was late afternoon, a little refreshment of the alcoholic variety would be a good idea. Being a believer in the old adage, the customer is always right, when the lead man from HSBC said he fancied a pint of Guinness, my suggestion was that we start at an Irish Bar I knew just round the corner, Kitty O’Shea’s.
We were not long in the bar when I noticed that the aforementioned John was in deep conversation with one of the barmen. I was impressed that he could sustain such an animated conversation with a Frenchman. A short while later he came back to the table and explained.
The barman was English and had been John’s best man. At the wedding, as can so often happen, the two of them had got into a fight and had never seen each other again till this day. They were both so delighted to meet up and vowed to keep in close contact in future. As far as I know, they are still the best of friends. So this “small world” event would never have happened if we had not been in Paris, staying where we were staying and if the boss man had not wanted a Guinness.
The next day was scheduled for a team building event in the morning and a business meeting in the afternoon. My French colleagues had engaged a French company that specialised in team building to organise something with a French flavour that would get us working together and depending on each other. They decided on a form of treasure hunt with three teams of three, each with one person from Bull and two from HSBC. Each team would be given a set of clues leading to iconic places in central Paris and a carnet of tickets to use on the Metro and buses.
The clues involved working out what had to be found and then deciding how to get there. Plenty of scope for team work and for potential discord. The first clue lead us to a typical French street café on the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We were told to look for a “Frenchman” which sounded impossible. How would we differentiate one from another? When we got there it was all too obvious. The organisers had arranged for a larger-than-life Frenchman, complete with beret, pipe and handlebar moustache, to be sitting at a front table. The first clue was solved.
The next took us to the La Pyramide at Le Louvre, the spectacular glass pyramid that covers the underground ticketing and information area. Again a very obvious French character was waiting for us. Having had our card marked to show we had solved the clue, the team I was in turned round to look for somewhere to sit down and solve the next one on the list. As we turned, Louise who was in the same team as myself, let out a shout and went running across to a bench where, you have probably now guessed, was sitting her long-lost college friend. It was really very spooky. If we had taken five minutes less or longer to solve the first clue and catch the Metro to Concorde this meeting would never have happened.
An Orcadian Storm
In the early 80’s, as a family, we went for a holiday to Orkney where old friends lived and worked. We had a super time renewing old friendships and visiting the outstanding sites of the Mainland, the main island of the group.
There had been a bit of a storm in the days before we left. When we got to the ferry port at Stromness, the Pentland Firth looked decidedly hostile with enormous waves. Definitely not very inviting. There were a few cars and trucks waiting but nothing like a full ferry load. It seemed that many had been put off by the weather and had decided to postpone their journey.
We waited for some time for the ferry to arrive from Scrabster on the Scottish mainland. Eventually a boat came into view being tossed about disappearing in the huge waves. It looked terribly small. However, as it got closer, it grew larger and larger until it reached the harbour mouth and now looked like the full sized roll-on-roll-off ferry that it was. The captain spent what felt like ages lining up the boat to enter the harbour. And then in a rush, like a cork out of a bottle, the boat popped out of the stormy sea into the shelter of the harbour and was tying up to the loading jetty.
The passengers coming ashore looked a little battered by their recent experience and very glad to be on terra firma. The ferry, St Ola III, had a capacity for well over 100 cars but the number coming ashore today was much lower. Boarding was announced and our fate was sealed. We were now committing ourselves to the perils of the sea. I felt quite calm about the impending journey as my rationale told me that the captain would not be setting out if he did not believe it was safe. After all he had just sailed in the reverse direction.
Just a word about the Pentland Firth that we were about to cross. The word “firth” usually refers to the mouth of a major river such as the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth. In this case the word “firth” refers to the stretch of water that lies between the mass of Scotland and the Orkney Islands. It connects the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea. The tidal race through the firth is one of the fastest in the world and can reach speeds of up to 30kph or nearly 20mph. A scheme currently under construction there could generate nearly half of Scotland’s electricity needs. So you can understand that crossing the Pentland Firth on a good day can be quite dramatic. Today promised to be a serious undertaking.
As the St Ola nudged out into the open waters we felt the full force of the sea. The storm of the last few days was effectively over but the waves that it had generated in its journey across the Atlantic were still piled toweringly high in the firth.
The boat was heading straight into the waves, climbing up the face of each at a steep angle, breaking through the crest with masses of water flowing across the bows and the decks, then plunging down into the next trough. Standing in the sheltered part of the top deck under the bridge, when the boat was in a trough the next wave, was higher than our ferry. Quite a sight to say the least.
I was on the top deck not so much out of bravado but more out of desire to see the Old Man of Hoy at close quarters. The Old Man is a sea stack that lies off the island of Hoy and stands some 137metres high (not far short of 500 feet). From close quarters and with the massive waves crashing against it, it was a magnificent sight. (It was first climbed in 1966 by the then Chris Bonnington. A few weeks ago, now Sir Chris, he re-climbed it to celebrate his 80th birthday).
So in the midst of all this drama, Margaret, who was sitting in a lounge lower down in the boat, had a “small world” experience with a difference. Usually if you meet someone completely out of context, there’s a lot to be said. “What are you doing here?” “Are you having a good holiday?” But not this time. She bumped into a work colleague, someone who she knew well but not a close friend. Instead, his immediate reaction was “Let’s pretend we haven’t met as I don’t want to be reminded of work!!”. And that was it. The next time they would meet was a week or so later in the office. And meanwhile, the St Ola continued on its rocky ride across the Pentland Firth.
The Grantown Kebap Shop
Grantown-on-Spey is a small town to the north of the Cairngorm Mountains some 20 miles or so from the bigger Moray Firth towns of Nairn and Forres and a little over 30 miles southeast from the Capital of The Highlands, Inverness. Grantown is a relatively small place with a population of a little under 2,500 but it is the centre for a larger community living and working in the surrounding countryside.
The High Street, less than twenty years ago, used to be have a wide range of small shops, two hotels and three bars. There is still a Crown Post Office but gradually the variety of shops has diminished until today the only growth is in the number of cafés and fast food outlets. You can still buy a kilt but it’s easier to get a Chicken Chow Mein or a Prawn Madras than a pair of shoes.
I visit Grantown regularly, six times already this year, as my centenarian mother lives there in her own house. Last November I noticed a new take-away food shop was about to open. It was advertising pizza and kebabs so presumably had an eastern Mediterranean connection. On the day it opened I decided to try it out for my evening meal.
Once inside the shop, there was a distinctly Turkish flavour about the menu and the two men looked as though they might well be Turkish. “Merhaba” – hello – I said in my perfect Turkish. And indeed, they were Turkish. The conversation continued in English as they asked what my connection was with Turkey. When I explained that we had a house on the Mediterranean coast in a small town called Kalkan, the man who looked like the boss said “do you know Güven Kahraman?”. “Of course I do”, I replied, “he runs the front-of-house at one of our favourite eating places in Kalkan, Chillies”. It turned out that the boss had run a restaurant in Kalkan a few years ago in partnership with Güven. That restaurant was called Rendezvous and, until it closed, was a regular haunt for the expat community. He asked me to pass on his contact details to Güven next time I was in Kalkan.
It really is a small world and, doubly so, because I am writing this on a train travelling south from Grantown and the gentleman sitting on the seat in front of me has just made a telephone call – in Turkish!!
Strangers on a train
My last story is about an event that occurred on Waterloo Station in London earlier this summer whilst our teenage grandson from America was staying with us in Richmond.
A few weeks earlier we had been at a National Quiz Bowl, where Henry was competing in a school team. This took place in New Orleans and I wrote about it in an earlier post in this blog. At the end of our stay in the US, Henry travelled back with us to spend a couple of weeks visiting the sights of London and other parts of the southeast of England. One afternoon we went to the Covent Garden area to visit some of the many shops that specialise in teenage comics, games and toys.
Of course, we spent longer there than planned so it was into the rush-hour before we started our journey home. By the time we got to Waterloo the concourse was heaving. The indicator boards showed a train leaving for Richmond in 3 minutes so we dashed to the right platform. As we approached the rear of the train we could hear American voices calling out “There’s Henry”. By some amazing co-incidence we were catching the same train as a party from Henry’s school in Little Rock, Arkansas, who were at the end of a European tour, had just arrived from Paris, and were heading for a hotel near Heathrow in preparation for their flight home the next day.
What are the chances of this happening? They were making one leg of a long and complex journey, we had arbitrarily chosen to travel on this train. A bit spooky. And just to add to the coincidence, once we were all crammed on the train and standing close together, we realised that one of the students was the girl captain of the school’s Quiz Bowl team and we had met her at a dinner in New Orleans just a month earlier. It is, indeed, a small world.
As I said at the start, please feel free to add your own “small world” stories as comments. They will make fascinating reading I’m sure.