Every time I feel depressed about the direction in which the world is headed, I think back to the eccentric Englishman I met at Ladbroke’s and my faith in humanity is restored. He was a rheumy-eyed chap in a plastic raincoat with an endearing habit of tapping the side of his nose to indicate insider knowledge of epochal events. When we met, he was weighing the odds on Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi undergoing a sex change (200-1), Prince William becoming King (50-1) or the chances of a well-know Londoner with an unruly mop setting his hair on fire with the Olympic torch (400-1). After an entertaining hour of chit-chat, the old boy abandoned Baghdadi, the Prince and Boris Johnson to their fate preferring to focus on a horse called Providence in the 2.30 at Goodwood Park.
Britain’s leading bookmakers, Ladbrokes, employ an arsenal of boffins and number-crunchers whose core competence is figuring out the odds on Booker Prize winners, soccer matches, royal weddings, Meagan Markle’s lingerie and other fascinating subjects. I was idly contemplating a wager on whether Victoria Beckham would open an Indian restaurant and call it Posh Spice (75-1) when a column in the Independent caught my eye. Authored by David Randall on the subject of weird coincidences, it should be made mandatory reading for those who smugly insist that lightning never strikes twice.
Other than the rather obvious one about a lorry with a load of eggs colliding with one bearing a load of bacon, Randall’s subject is compelling. In the Act of God category, a woman named Martha Martiker lost not one or two but three husbands to lightning strikes. A fourth suitor, on hearing of the fate of his predecessors withdrew his candidature faster than greased you-know-what and the hapless Martha remains resolutely single. If you thought the Bermuda Triangle was mysterious, consider the plight of Neville Ebin who died in Bermuda when a taxi knocked him off (no pun intended) his moped. A year later his brother was killed riding the same moped on the same street by the same cab driver ferrying the same passenger. I rang up Ladbrokes to check on the odds of this happening for the third time but the chap on the other end of the line got quite annoyed saying, “Bugger off mate, we’re running a business here.” That’s the problem with these minimum wage monkeys; they can’t get past the centrespread of the fleshy women in the Sun to the more cerebral offerings of Randall in the Independent.
Ah well, coincidences take place in the best of families as I discovered recently. My elderly aunt Beatrice decided to visit her distant relatives in Los Angeles; they were supposed to pick her up but had to outsource the job when they had to go down to the cop station to identify their stolen BMW. Enter Fairy Godmother in the shape of their neighbour Sheila who volunteered to “do the needful” as they say in the Vidhan Soudha. The pick-up went smoothly and the two biddies were chatting away like old friends on the good old days in Mangalore, life without servants and the favourite among women of a certain age: matrimonial alliances they had fixed. Which reminded Aunt Beatrice of her son: a wonderful boy, witty, handsome etc but unfortunately divorced. But times have changed, 50% of marriages in America end in divorce…and one can’t waste time dwelling on the past or that wretched harridan who had made his life a misery. No, one had to look to the future and hope that this fine young man exchanged his current “footloose and fancy free status” for one of wedded bliss.
Absolutely, said Aunt Sheila and while we are on the subject, did I tell you about my niece, Sheena? I haven’t seen her for ages but she’s a wonderful girl, smart, talented, superb homemaker, lives in Melbourne, also divorced. But there’s neither pleasure nor profit to be derived from discussing her ex, a two-timing creep if there ever was one. And then in a scene that only Oprah could have dreamt of, Aunt B cried havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
Well not really. All she said was, “When shall I ask my Sunny to come and meet your niece?” Whereupon Aunt Sheila, her locks standing up like quills upon the fretful porcupine said, “Sunny, don’t tell me your surname is ….?”
“Yes, baba,” said Aunt B, “ I thought you knew that.”
“My God, your Sunny is the same two-timing creep my poor Sheena was married to,” fumed Aunt S. “If my husband had been alive, he’d have horsewhipped him.”
Ajit Saldanha has a finger in the pie, and another on the political pulse. And when he writes, he cooks up a storm....