There is a short video doing the rounds currently, which states that there are some coincidences which cannot be explained, with the implication being that something ‘woowoo’ was responsible1. One of the things stated in this video is that Halley’s comet first appeared the year Mark Twain was born (1835), and the second time it showed up was in the year Mark Twain died (1910)2 . This is, of cours, equine ordure; not that Mark Twain died in those years, but the fact that it appeared in 1835 for the first time. The name Halley’s comet is a bit of a giveaway. Edmond Halley (1656-1742) was an English astronomer who, in 1705, examined reports of a comet visible in 1531, 1607 and 1682. He concluded that these three events, separated by 75-76 years, were actually the same comet returning over and over again, and predicted that it would return in 17583. Although Halley did not live to see the comet return as he had predicted, it did arrive on time, being first spotted on Christmas day 17584. I got to see Halley’s Comet during its next approach after Mark Twain’s death, which was in 19864.
The reason I wrote this is because I have been involved in a coincidence which still amazes me when I think of it, although I do not ascribe it to any ‘woowoo’ effect. During the university holidays, I worked as a solderer in a roof guttering and downpipe factory a few kilometres from my home. I soldered the stop-ends and downpipes onto roof guttering. Most days, my father used to come and pick me up from the factory and take me home. One day we were on the way home when we approached an intersection while a bloke on a motorbike was coming from the opposite direction. From the street to the right, a taxi came to the intersection. We were still some distance away when both the motorbike and taxi arrived at the intersection. The motorbike slowed down and the taxi slowed down. I presume that the taxi thought the mortorbike was going to turn into his street, so the taxi took off and unfortunately the motorbike continued straight ahead and ploughed into the rear wheel of the taxi and came to an abrupt halt, while the rider arced over the boot of the taxi and landed on his knees and hands or elbows on the road. We pulled up and moved him off the road, and propped him up against a telegraph pole. He was obviously in a lot of pain, presumably from a broken bone or two. We got someone in a house nearby to phone for an ambulance (there were no mobile phones in those days). Once the ambulance and the police arrived, we went home after explaining what happened.
Next day, my father was over the road buying some groceries (we used to live behind our clothing shop in a little shopping strip), and the bloke at the fruit and vegetable cart asked him how I was. My father, nonplussed, answered: “Fine, why?” The bloke replied “I heard he was in a motorbike accident”. It turned out that the motorbike rider had the same name as me; his name was mentioned in the newspaper report of the accident. Given that in a town of a quarter of a million people in which about three entries in the phone book had the same surname as us, this was an extraordinary coincidence, with no woowoo involved.