The Coincidences of Life

How does it happen that every once in a while the universe conspires to bring together unconnected things that change lives?

Landscapers call the phenomenon “serendipitous planting” so I believe. It happens when nature chooses to plant seeds herself, with wonderful help from birds, worms and garden creatures like squirrels.

When left to its own devices, my own garden springs weeds and brambles, but every once in a while a fabulous coincidence occurs that brings together the best colours, shapes, smells and textures to create a gem of a corner in an otherwise ordinary plot.

I wander, I ponder and I romaticise about coincidence but it’s true that sometimes, just occasionally, amazing things occur that cause wonder to the ordinary man.

This results in unbelievable stories that nobody wants to believe. It happened to me just this week and I write this to record a coincidence so amazing that I’m not sure I believe it myself. It changed my life and my family will never be the same again.

And so I begin the tale that you the reader will find hard to comprehend, yet I promise it’s true.

As I long for my homeland I love to browse amongst the old bookshops that can be found in abundance in rural Sussex.  Sometimes I find something worth a second look or buy a book to add to my collection. So one Saturday afternoon I set off on one such journey with nothing particularly in mind but to spend pleasant time sitting in some dark and dingy corner of an ancient bookstore.

Somehow I found myself in Petworth, a charming small town with narrow streets and many antique shops, hiding itself amongst the South Downs and blessed with a wonderful stately home.  Ancient furniture rules in the area and bookshops are less plentiful, yet I found somewhere to pass a pleasant hour and an interesting tome caught my eye.

I was engrossed in reading about the area where I was born, when I spotted a photo.  Old and indistinct but I could swear I recognised the setting and not only that but my cousin was standing in the street!  Surely not – what were the chances?  Surely that would be a huge  coincidence.

The book must be bought and treasured. I’d pore over the photos with my brother to confirm the identity of my cousin. Of course we hadn’t seen each other for many years – nearly forty if my memory served. I wondered briefly what he was doing now.  What adventures had befallen him over the intervening years?  Where did he live and did he have a family?

I browsed through a few more volumes, though nothing else caught my eye. So with much excitement I took the valuable (to me) book to the cash desk to be paid for and carefully wrapped for future scrutiny.

The middle-aged gentleman who ran the shop was most enthusiastic and interested in my story when I explained my origins.  By another coincidence, he was from my country and understood my longing for that far and distant land.  He didn’t appear to be in a hurry so we chatted more until we learned we were from not only the same nation but actually the same town!  It was a day for coincidences and no mistake!

Well you’ve probably already guessed the conclusion of my strange story.  As we explored our pasts, we eventually asked each other’s names and were truly astonished to learn that we had more in common.  This friendly man was in fact the very long-lost cousin who was pictured in the book I was purchasing from his own store. Had he realised his photo was featured, I’m sure he would have kept the tome and we might never have discovered our mutual past.

We’ve kept in touch, introduced our families and found we had a lot in common. But how can it happen that two people who were once connected on the other side of the world can come together in such strange circumstances in a small bookshop in a small Sussex town?

Truly extraordinary

 

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Another Year Passed

And so time marches on to its own pace, never varying yet seeming to stretch or contract according to our own circumstances.

Now, as we move into the second quarter of 2018, I look forward to my new life of being a tree surgeon. Here’s the website http://www.solihulltreesurgeons.co.uk  Who would have thought this turn would evolve in my life of many turns?  Who would have guessed that a casual conversation in January would have resulted in this new project, this new life for my family and me.

The opportunity arose in that most prosaic of locations, in a typical and traditional English public house. As we lunched on a delicious yet modest concotion, we happened to meet an older gentleman who was happy to engage in conversation. It turned out to be a fortuitous meeting as we pursued our interests and chatted at some length way past the end of our meal.

What transpired has the potential to turn our fortunes around and did I mention that we now reside in that wonderful suburb of Birmingham that is Solihull?  How that came about is a story in itself, but suffice to say that we love our lives in this leafy surburbia and ironically that leafiness has lead to this project.

It’s true there are many beautiful trees in this part of the country and that leads to the requirement of many tree surgeons to look after them. My sadness is that so many of these wonderful ancient plants are butchered for expedience or hacked about by amateurs or worse still those who profess to be professionals.

But this man we met in the English pub, this ageing gentleman, was one of the old school who care about the countryside and have a great respect for the environment. He struck us as a person with integrity yet at some unease as he pondered how to move to the next phase of his life. At the age of 60 he was realising that his body could not stand up to the rigours of life as a tree surgeon and running a fair size business. So he had begun on a mission to find a way to keep going yet take a back step for the time being.

What a wonderful opportunity this would open for someone like myself who had always had a passion for nature and in particular for trees! We chatted, we engaged, we drank together and we became friends. We met again and again before a plan started to develop between us, between friends who had a lot in common.

And so we came to some decisions, which are to reach fruition, at least in a trial fashion, this spring, in fact very soon. Which is where I come back to the start of this story – to the beginning of my new venture.

During my life so far I have had some experience of tree work, though not through qualifications but through trial and error and working in different environments. Now I can work alongside my new friend as his assistant, whilst I gain qualifications and learn the trade to enable me to take over when he decides to retire in a few years.

It’s a wonderful chance to change direction once again and so the story continues.

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From Fact to Fiction

It’s one thing to write a blog about my beginnings and our life but quite another to write a book of fiction. One based on our kind, one tinged with the background of violence yet showing the human side of our existence. For there is a lot of kindness and compassion in the way we live that might not be apparent to the casual observer.

With the practice of the blog behind me, it seemed worthwhile to attempt a novel. Not something that will ever compete with Dickens or stand out as a literary achievement, I’m sure, but nonetheless something worth reading. For who knows about growing up in our regions better than one who has done it, lived it and survived to tell the tale?

And unlikely though it might seem, just maybe it could bring a little extra money into our lives. With 4 children we could certainly use more income. The only alternative in these parts involves drugs. That’s something that might have been an option years ago before we had kids, but age and offspring have brought some sense of responsibility so the pen it is.

Our story, looking back over our youth and the places we knew, needs to be told, but truth is not always the best way. Wrapping it into a story, making it interesting and something the kids want to read may just preserve some of the memories without tainting our own reputations still further. For all our sins and ways, most of us try to do better as we grow older and take on responsibilities so I confide only in my blog and the book will sound like a work of fiction.

It’s not for my sake but for the next generation, who are doing better at school and could make something for themselves away from the poverty we know so well. Who wouldn’t want to provide better and see them move to a different world where it pays to dream?

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From Old to New

It’s strange to look back on my life in those times. It still haunts me, the violence, the gangs and the very way of life. And even stranger to realise how my brother and I turned out to be so completely different. In many ways I continued on the same path, whilst my twin changed his life so radically that he became a builder in Worthing. Didn’t turn out to be a millionaire or the top of the pile, but he lives the kind of respectable existence that has always been alien to me. I even paid for him to visit and stay for weeks so he could build an extension on my house and we could catch up on old times and reacquaint ourselves.

Not that I’ve moved that far away, either in distance or in lifestyle. Although my family is away from the worst of my upbringing, you can still feel the latent undertone of violence in the air around here. Whereas my twin shunned that life for one of a more genteel variety. He married a girl from outside our world, one who had a middle-class upbringing, attended a private school and has an elegance about her. Whilst I married Marietta, a local girl from our school, a childhood sweetheart if you will. Clever, brave, loyal and beautiful, but she could never be described as elegant.  My brother has a perfect family, one girl, one boy, beautifully mannered and high achievers at school. Marietta gave birth to five children, one of whom died shortly after birth due to the poor care given to our type. But we have 3 sons and a wayward daughter who love their parents and know from whence they come.

I couldn’t be happier, despite our lack of luxuries and treats that my brother’s family takes for granted. Our pleasures are simpler out of necessity but we have fun and lots of good friends who make living in this area so worthwhile. Our favourite entertainment is an outdoor party, roasting a pig over a pit, singing and dancing with more than a little beer in our bellies. We’re not the sort to drink wine, nor could we afford it, but we’re very happy with our lot and despite the reputation of our town, there’s nowhere we’d rather live.

Now I think perhaps I might move to a new chapter in my life

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Less than Lethal

As we walked our way down the path thoughts were running through my head abut how we were going to handle the situation as planned. Who was going to attack who, and how far we were going to go. When we reached the halfway mark on the path, we reeled around on our feet and squared off against the two. The need to stay tough and intimidating in this situation is important, for them, because now they were outnumbered by a group they thought were afraid of them. The tried to keep the mean mug on their face, but the smallest edges of surprise gave away how they thought this walk was going to go down.

We charged before they had the chance to react with enough clear thought. They obviously hadn’t planned out this walk the way that we did. Within the first few strikes, they were curled up in balls on the ground. As the three of us attacked head, body and back to head. The one violent vote stretched out the arm of the shooter, and nodded to me. This was where I should have brought my foot down on it, but I hesitated. To my surprise the non violent vote was the one to do the action without thinking twice. The sound that resulted let us know that it worked on the first try.

I kneeled down between the two of them, and told them that we had the opportunity to get revenge, we could have killed them if we wanted to, stamped them out in some random back alley, and that would be the end of their street, but we weren’t going to. One life was lost, and that was already too much. We gathered up our bags and sweaters, and walked home, leaving the two on the ground in crumped heaps to tend to their wounds. We felt big, we felt like we sent a message, and mostly I felt relieved that it didn’t have to go any further than that, cause when it came right down to it, I don’t know if I had it in me to take a life, especially if mine wasn’t in any form of real danger in that moment.

The movie ending of this story would play out a lot different, things would escalate, or I would wind up in jail, or my friends would die due to gang violence and not giving up the lifestyle, but that’s not how it played out. We finished our school years with much the same issues as it went previously, minus the one shooting of course, and then I enrolled in community college. My other two friends moved out of the city when they could. I still visit my parents, on the same street, and I see the spot where I lost a comrade growing up, but I feel no attachment. I feel pity for the three kids I see standing on the corner, knowing exactly what’s going through their minds.

But now we’re adults and my story continues

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The Fatal

childAllow me to take you back in time a little bit, to a young kid wandering the streets of a neighborhood that you’d probably roll up your windows and lock your doors as you drove through. This was the area I called home, and though there’s not that many good memories of that place, it’s where I came up, where I learned the lessons that shaped me today, and where I made most of the worst decisions in my life. You see, in this area, we didn’t spend our time thinking of where we were going to go to college, or what we were going to do as careers, it was a constant thought of how we were going to get through the day, and how we were going to take care of ourselves in the moment.

School was a place for everyone to gather, group up and try to intimidate the other groups who were doing the same to us. What block you lived on typically represented how many people were in your crew, and those on a block with more people their relative age had the fortune of having bigger crews. There was a spot two streets over from mine where there was seven kids  on the strip, my street had four. So you either grouped with another street of kids, or you stuck to low numbers and tried to be harder than everyone else.

Fights on the school yard weren’t over trivial things like someone said something, it was usually retaliatory for someone in your group getting jumped by another group. We didn’t just circle each other taunting and then throwing a punch or two, let’s just say that the ambulances knew pretty direct routed to our school yard. Across the halls you would see group after group with little mingling in between, and you formed a close bond with those within your group, even if you didn’t like them that much. They were part of the set you represented, and therefore were people you needed to worry about, if you wanted them to return the favor.

            Being stuck on a street with a bunch of scrawny and timid kids was usually the worst situation to be in, the others wouldn’t represent you, they would hide out in the gym or cafeteria at all times, and try to stay out of everyone’s way. These stragglers of people left on their own would usually jump to joining a bigger street, yet this wasn’t always met warmly. Some kids needed to be jumped into their groups, others had to jump someone else to gain cred. The teachers and other members of the school knew about all this of course, but they also knew that trying to get into the middle of it would just turn everyone’s negative attention towards them, and that was something above their pay grade, can’t say I blame them, I would have given up on us to. Just try to educate, and then get the hell out when the bell rang.