Stranger than fiction

Good fortune can come about in the most unexpected ways: coincidence and synchronicity that seem too remarkable to be due to chance, “lucky mistakes” that seem devastating at first but work out for the best. Evidence for a higher intelligence orchestrating our lives, or just random quirks of fate? These examples from my own experience range from the trivial to the life-changing.

The car ferry

Last week we visited the Bay of Islands, some hours’ drive north of our home in Auckland, and took the car ferry between Russell and Opua. I was parked at the front of the side row. Although I thought I had followed the attendant’s guidance, she warned me I was too close to a metal bar on the boat and would probably scrape against it on the way out, because with other cars packed so close I would not be able to reverse. I felt increasingly upset and anxious as the voyage progressed. But then, at the​ end of the crossing, the car next to mine failed to start. The vehicles behind had to reverse to get round it, giving me room to get clear of the obstruction. Meanwhile, shore staff had come on board with jump leads and restarted the stalled car.

The Italian jug

A few years ago, when I was preparing to publish my first novel Carmen’s Roses, I came home to find an unfamiliar jug being washed in the kitchen sink. My husband had picked it up from the pile of rubbish awaiting the annual “inorganic collection” from the pavement of our street. It was white, decorated with swirls of blue and orange, and had Made in Italy written on the bottom. I was delighted and amazed, because a similar jug plays a key part in the plot of my novel, and unknown to my husband I had been searching for a relevant image for the cover. A photo of the jug now features in both the two versions of the cover, on Amazon and Smashwords.

Long-lost family

My last example is more significant. Last year, after my mother died, I felt free to seek information about the father I never knew. A friend with an interest in genealogy posted an online inquiry on my behalf. The synchronicity was that a member of my father’s “other” family was searching the same website at the same time. The lucky mistake was that my friend had got my mother’s name wrong and, for reasons too complicated to explain here, it was only because of this that the connection was made. Though my father himself is long dead, I have since found out about his life, and had successful meetings with my “new” relatives in the UK.

 

 

 

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Blondstar: Thinking inside the box

My beautiful new yellow Honda Jazz RS has various high-tech features that were not present on my previous 10-year-old model. These include “keyless entry with remote central locking and immobiliser” which, despite studying the manual, I have found hard to understand. Judging by the posts on the internet forums for Jazz owners I am not alone in this. I read one story about a person being locked out of their car after leaving the keys inside.

After returning from a drive one night, my husband and I had only just got out of the parked car when I decided to go back and move it forward, to make more room for a neighbour’s vehicle. Leaving my husband to wait on the pavement holding my handbag, which contained the key, I popped back in and repositioned the car slightly. I switched off the engine and opened the door, but heard a series of alarming bleeps. I concluded that I should not have been driving without having the key with me. I retrieved it from my handbag and attempted to lock the car but this did not work. Then I tried various things which made the situation worse: the side lights and all internal lights came on and I could not switch them off, nor could I start the engine, and the bleeping continued whenever I opened the door. It was getting late and I dared not leave the vehicle unlocked overnight with its battery running down. I rang the AA.

The AA officer arrived by midnight, having had a long journey from another part of Auckland, and informed me that I had left the vehicle in Drive instead of Park. He was admirably kind and polite, but I was mortified and felt like an elderly version of Blondstar. Because of my fixed assumption that the problem involved the “keyless entry with remote central locking and immobiliser”, I had never thought to check for other obvious explanations.

How many mistakes, misunderstandings and lost opportunities result from being stuck in a certain mindset and failing to consider the alternatives? For example I have known several people whose serious medical conditions – for example brain tumour, Parkinson’s disease, hypothyroidism – remained undiagnosed until a late stage, because their symptoms were assumed to be due to a recurrence of the depression from which they had suffered in the past. Conclusions based on past experience, preconceived beliefs or assumptions are often correct but sometimes not, so it is a good idea to think “laterally” or “outside the box”.

Incidentally my Jazz was back in good form the day after its traumas.

car

Tarot

Many years ago a friend introduced me to the fascinating and mysterious world of the Tarot, a set of 78 cards that has been used since ancient times for divination and as an aid to psycho-spiritual development and intuition. Its origin is unknown; the complex images could be seen to derive from the myths, legends and belief systems of many civilisations including those of Egypt, India and China, and it has been known in Europe since at least the 14th century. There are numerous different decks available, featuring artwork in styles ranging from the traditional to the quirky.

I studied the Tarot myself for a while and did occasional readings for friends, but was perhaps deterred from continuing when I realised what powerful effects the symbols could have. With their universal relevance they almost always seem to relate to the life situation of the “querent”. One woman told me afterwards that her chosen cards had been instrumental in her decision to divorce her husband; fortunately this turned out a good decision. One man took his spread to be predictive of his own death, despite my efforts to interpret it more constructively, and he did die suddenly not long afterwards. It is indeed hard not to be shocked and distressed by some of the cards, such as Death, The Hanged Man and The Devil, even though they are not intended to be taken literally; instead, they symbolise in different ways a common Tarot theme, that of letting go of the old to make way for the new. Other cards, such as The Star and The Sun, show much more beautiful and positive images. Whether or not the Tarot has any occult significance, as opposed to being a psychological tool, I think it should be regarded with respect and not used frivolously.

The insightful reading I had yesterday from Samantha Jung-Fielding stimulated much reflection and promise for the future. To summarise just a few of the cards that particularly resonated with me: Ace of Swords: change beginning on the mental level with new attitudes and ideas. The Empress: creativity and abundance, happy relationships. Nine of Swords: fear and despair, but the threats are in imagination rather than reality. The Fool: appearing as the final card in my spread, this represents the start of a new adventure! My complete Celtic Cross spread is pictured below.

Celtic cross

 

Tit Willow

Last night we attended a vibrant performance of The Mikado at the Torbay Theatre on Auckland’s North Shore. The Mikado is among the most popular of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operas, and I’d certainly seen it a couple of times before, though that was a long time ago and I couldn’t recall details of the plot. So I didn’t understand why I seemed to know all the songs by heart. They were familiar almost note-for-note and word-for-word.

Afterwards, I remembered once being told that the first thing I ever said was “Tit Willow”. This sounded rather unlikely and I supposed it was some obscure family joke. But when I asked my mother this morning she said “Yes, that’s true – your Uncle Geoffrey taught you to say it.” (Uncle Geoffrey being the WW2 Spitfire pilot who wrote Geoffrey Guy’s War). She explained that when I was a baby her own mother, my grandmother, had bought a record of The Mikado which I liked very much. Apparently, as soon as I was carried downstairs in the mornings, I would wave at the gramophone demanding that it be played over and over for as long as the adults could bear to listen.

I don’t recall any of this, but it seems to prove that early childhood memories are indeed retained in our subconscious minds, and can surface many years later in the right setting.

For a Youtube video of the song, please paste this link into your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoAmmiTzliI

 

Life imitating art

Not long after publishing a series of novels with a medical theme, and my previous blog post about the portrayal of illness in fiction, I was overtaken by some real medical dramas. Both my husband and my mother required emergency hospital admissions followed by major surgery, and I developed some health problems of my own. All this reminds me of the saying about “life imitating art”. This is attributed to Oscar Wilde, although I don’t think he meant it in quite the literal way I am using it here.

The similarity between the content of my own writings and the events in my family was too general to be truly remarkable. All the same it was perhaps an illustration of the Law of Attraction: the idea that continued mental focus on a topic, in this case sickness, will result in its practical manifestation.

There have been other much more striking instances of fiction seeming to predict future events. One example is the novella called “The Wreck of the Titan” which foretold the sinking of the Titanic in considerable detail. Some readers dismiss this as coincidence, others believe in a metaphysical explanation.

There is also a saying about “art imitating life”, which means that creative work can be inspired by true events. Certainly, most writers do base their stories to some extent on personal experience. But whether the traumas of recent weeks will provide material for my own fiction in future is too soon to say. Some aspects  – for example the responsibility of having to make life-or-death decisions on a relative’s behalf, the complexities of the mind-body connection, the pitfalls which can delay the diagnosis of a serious disease, the search for meaning in illness – could certainly be woven into an interesting plot, though it would require a more skilled writer than me to do them justice. But dealing with long-term illness in the family also involves a lot of sadness, worry, waiting, tedium and hard work – which hardly make for interesting or uplifting reading. I shall try to find more cheerful subject-matter for my next book.

Do cats go to heaven?

The Rainbow Bridge is the name of an anonymous poem, probably written in the 1980s but based on a much older myth. It describes a beautiful meadow for pets whose earthly life is over, where they play happily until their owners come to join them and they cross the bridge into heaven together. I don’t think I had read this poem when I had a dream about one of my other cats, Floella, a few years ago. In my dream she was flying over a deep valley before coming to rest in a beautiful meadow full of flowers, sitting upright and looking content. Remembering this was a great comfort when she died a few months later.

The following story was told to me by a trusted friend, so I can vouch that it is genuine. Here is a shortened version of the letter she sent me:

My cat was snow white, aristocratic, a prince among cats, fairly haughty. You had to deserve his respect and he was never cuddly. I loved his independence and obvious self-esteem. The only time he jumped into my lap and put his paws on my shoulders was when I was sitting in my kitchen, being deeply unhappy and at a loss what to do. He sensed it. At other times he didn’t allow anybody to pick him up.

Unfortunately he suffered from a genetic weakness which snow white cats sometimes have – he developed a terrible eczema all over his back. Our local vet was a saintly animal lover who did all he could to help, but nothing worked and my cat obviously suffered. Eventually it got so bad that the vet suggested euthanasia. I felt terrible, having to play God, but eventually, with enormous heartache, I agreed.

I then cried for a week. A friend suggested that I visit a deeply spiritual clairvoyant, to find some solace. So I went to see this lady and as I entered her beautiful drawing room, she said “Hello – that’s a beautiful white cat that came in with you!”

 So I cried some more. Yet at the same time I also felt comforted.

Companion animals sometimes feature in the personal accounts from survivors of near death experiences which can be found on the internet.

I continually picture Felix still around: patrolling the garden, sunning himself on the grass, curled up on a chair, purring when I pick him up. I think these images are wishful products of my own mind rather than of spiritual origin, but who can tell the difference? I do believe in metaphysical forces, and perhaps it is not a coincidence that, of the several hundred songs in my iTunes library, the first two which came up on the Shuffle function while I was thinking about Felix were Don’t Fear the Reaper and Time to Say Goodbye.