Across Continents

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Coincidences and conspiracy

May 9th, 2012

We’d malt loaf and a small flask of black coffee, flavoured with a little ginger. The toast we’d hastily devoured before quietly slipping out a few hours earlier and heading onto the Quantocks would no doubt amply suffice for a few hours strolling up the gentle Combes and across the open moorland. But it’d been re-assuring to know we’d rations of sorts if we started to falter. And, in any case, a swig of hot coffee in the largely non-existent lee of a trig point was welcome refreshment as we gazed across the Bristol Channel. Wales appeared much closer than I remembered, the coastal cities of Cardiff and Swansea remarkably clear in the chill air. Fifty miles away perhaps. I wasn’t entirely sure, for they lay beyond the boundaries of our map.

I’d returned to Somerset, albeit briefly, to make sure all remained on track for my inaugural talk in a little less than three weeks. And a chance to catch up with friends, as well as to reinforce my desire to return to being properly resident once more. Not that I especially needed encouragement with the latter, which had left me in a somewhat pensive mood of late. A few hours with a close friend exploring the heath land had been instructive, helping consolidate the various strands of thought that’d been growing over the last couple of weeks. A plan was required, or at least one with more definition, more substance, than the one I’d presently got.

Settling quickly on the notion of a plan to yield a more tangible plan, a concept with shades of Yes Minister, the conversation had quickly returned to coincidences and conspiracies, of which there remained a lot to choose from. Partly my fault, for I’d a large red holdall identical to the one in which a chap had been found dead inside in what could only be described as suspicious circumstances and suggestions of foul play by an unknown third party. We’d also dwelt once more on the demise of a British businessman in China that had led to turmoil amongst the higher echelons of their Communist Party. All the makings, I’d suggested, with a wry smile, of a decent espionage novel. I’d proffered theories.

Simple coincidence quickly seemed a much lighter topic, and there’d been a fair few of late. A fellow cyclist I’d been introduced to a year or so earlier, courtesy of a friend from my village, had been unexpectedly mentioned over lunch the previous weekend, this time by close relatives who, it transpired, had been at Cambridge with her. Had I heard of her, they’d asked? Yes, I said, a little to their surprise I thought. I’d got back in touch with my fellow traveller, now in Pakistan, soon sharing what I hoped would be helpful insights into Chinese visas. And there’d been a few other examples, enough to make you feel just a bit conspiratorial if you were that way inclined. I wasn’t.

The broad spur began to steepen quite sharply, my companion choosing to pack away his camera in case he lost his footing. Below us the small village where we’d parked up a few hours earlier. Thatched cottages, sprinkled around the church. And a little line of bungalows. Close enough for us to observe, but far away not to be seen. We agreed it looked nice, but a bit too quiet. Wrong demographic we’d said, both reluctant to actually say old
people. Time to move on.


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Don’t confuse me with the facts…

April 5th, 2011

Recent spate of natural disasters seems to have woken the conspiracy theorists from their slumber. Beginning to think they’d been abducted. By aliens. Or a sinister Government organisation. Usually with some suitably intriguing initials. HARPIC. MENTOR. Internet buzzing. Providing the advocates of doom with a readily accessible platform for their musings. Just like this one I suppose..

Start to get a following and you’re quickly blessed with a modicum of credibility. Add some colour. I’ll refrain from using the term "evidence". Videos. Photos. Grainy ones are ideal. Open to favourable interpretation. All lending weight to your ramblings.

The clever ones are very persuasive. Their arguments coherent. Like clairvoyants. Believable. The facts, such as they are, seem to fit. Surely there must be something in their assertions? Surprisingly, there probably is. Mathematics. I’d want to ascertain which facts they’ve excluded. Invariably those of similar merit to the ones they’ve admitted. The inconvenient ones. Those that either don’t support their case, or just plain undermine it.

For, truth is, assemble enough of just about anything – facts, coloured beads, tea leaves – and you’ll see patterns. Subconsciously excluding those elements that don’t fit. Seeing what you want to see. Even if it isn’t really there. Like the sky at night. Billions of stars. Just a few forming recognisable patterns. Like the Plough. But hardly evidence of farm implements in Outer Space.

Sceptical? Suspecting I’m simply spreading dis-information. Seeking to undermine credible conspiracy theorist. Those that are actually on to something. Sorry to disappoint. Rather, let me leave you with a rather terrestrial example. From my own travels.

Over the last eighteen months I seem to have just missed riots in Bishkek, bomb attacks in western China, a whole host of natural disasters in Queensland, devastating earthquake in New Zealand. To the extent I’ve been asked, on more than one occasion, how many lives I’ve got. Evidence of a sixth sense? Not at all. No doubt influenced by my proximity to these events, I’ve subconsciously excluded all those of similar nature from across the planet that don’t fit the pattern. Dull I know.

It’s not rocket science. And, trust me, I think I’d know if it was…

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