Eight reasons why everyone loves a coincidence

Simon Usborne@susborne
Friday 19 September 2014 12:00

Everyone loves a coincidence, something to make your jaw drop before you say, "what are the chances?"; "SUCH a small world" or "that's so spooky!" Then you dine out on your story of chance, perhaps embellishing it each time, for as long as your memory allows.

For Sir David Spiegelhalter, the Cambridge statistician and professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, coincidences are also something to be celebrated, ideally today, because they are good for us. Tonight, Spiegelhalter will host a party in London as part of Huntrodds' Day, an event he conceived after finding inspiration in a Whitby graveyard.

A plaque there commemorates Frances and Mary Huntrodds, who were born on the same day (19 September 1600), married on their birthday and then died on that day, in 1680. Huntrodds' Parties require groups of 23 (preferably strangers) to meet, while wearing only name badges. The challenge: to find as many coincidences as possible and award a prize to the best one. Why 23? Because it gives a party a head start; in a group of that size, the odds of two people sharing a birthday are already one in two.

We asked colleagues for their greatest coincidences, listed anonymously below, in no particular order.

My cousin was having coffee outside a cafe in Moscow, and got talking with the stranger at the next table. They discovered they shared a great grandfather, and that the stranger was part of his secret second family in South Africa.

When I was a child, we lived in Buenos Aires for four years. One year we had come home to UK on leave and went to Scotland for a week, to go skiing. We were on a minibus going to the ski slopes when my mother heard me saying “Oh, hi!” casually to someone on the bus. She asked who it was, and I explained it was a girl from my class at school in Buenos Aires…

Mum used to say that the funniest thing about the whole episode was that both I and my friend apparently reacted as if this was the most normal thing in the world to have happened.

Staying at a mate’s house. About to leave in the morning. Opened kitchen cupboard and a jar of marmalade fell out, smashing on the floor. Cleaned it up, started down the road with my suitcase and the strap broke after a few feet. Got bus into town, walking down the road to the bus station. Looked up at the wall to see Marmalade Suitcase scrawled on the wall in chalk. Bizarre

At Glastonbury around 18 years ago, I started chatting to a friend of the people I was camping with – only to discover she was brought up in my mother’s childhood home. Her parents bought the house when my grandma died.

The house was in Walsall and all the people there were from Manchester. We both described the details of the house – e.g. rhubarb patch in the garden, veranda and an old cobwebbed bike in the shed.

As a gap year student travelling third class unreserved on a packed standing-room-only overnight train from Agra to Pune in India, a young guy politely offered to let me share his space on the luggage rack. Sleep was impossible, so we got talking and it turned out his parents had emigrated to the UK and lived 10 houses along from my home in Rugby.

A family friend’s dad walked out on her and her mum and sisters when she was a teenager growing up in France and she didn’t hear anything about him for 10 years. She had no idea where he was. Then she moved to London, walked into a café and he was there making sandwiches. They spoke every now and then but were never close.

Five years ago I was walking down Brick Lane, with a very tall Australian girl, now a well known model, who had rented a room in our house for a few months as she was working at London Fashion Week.

A girl came running out of a cafe and said to her: "Excuse me, were you at [some gig or other, I forget the band] in New York three months ago?"

Alexandra: "Er, yes." Cafe girl: "you lost your passport and wallet didn't you. I have them at home. I recognised you from your photographs on your camera."

Travelling around Israel, we called our pink Nissan Micra ‘Jolene’. All the songs on the radio were Hebrew/Israeli. Until, out of nowhere, the DJ played ‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton. Wuttt??!!

Can you do better? To submit your own or find out how to attend a Huntrodds' Party, go to: Cambridgecoincidences.org; Huntrodds.com