We live in South Gloucestershire. Last week, someone, a complete stranger from the little Hertfordshire town of Bushey, where I’d lived as a child, emailed to say he’d read about me on a website and knew I had lived in Bushey back in the 1930s. He and his family had lived there for some years. He was now building a collection of old photos and information about the Bushey area. His reason for getting in touch was to ask if I happened to have any old photos.
In a closing sentence he told me the name of their road and the number of the house. I was startled to realise that he now lived only a few houses away from my own boyhood home, in the same road. He added that his house was built in about 1938. That was the time I was there myself, now 13. I sat gazing at his email like a zombie. From the number of his house I knew exactly where it was and that it was being built at the time my father’s bicycle crash when his brakes failed as he shot down our road, going faster and faster, unable to stop. Across the road ahead of him was a five-barred gate, marking the end of the cul-de-sac road. He had spotted a heap of builders’ sand just ahead of the barrier, on the left, and headed for that. He hit it, flew over his handlebars and somersaulted, head first, into the sand. It had probably saved him from serious injury, possibly death.
I remember hearing someone banging the front-door knocker. I jumped up and opened it. There stood Dad. He was covered in wet sand and holding on to his twisted bike.
‘Huh! Brakes failed’, he said.
I checked the position of the house on Google StreetView. It was on the left-hand side of the road and exactly where the five-barred gate had stood and, by 1938, had been moved away. I found myself in a daze as I realised I was writing to the man who had bought the house that was being built at the time my Dad crashed – crashed into the heap of sand being used. Looking at it in another way: of all the people who might have read the same website item about me, the one person who wrote to me did so from that house.
Coincidences come and go and most of them are forgotten after a day or two. This one, if coincidence it actually is, will stay with me for some time.