Synchronicity: The Twilight Zone…

I always make sure I have a book with me to read on my journeys in and around London.

Now, here’s a t’ing, last week I picked up a pocket companion hardback _The Riddle of the Sands, A Record of Secret Service Recently Achieved_ by Erskine Childers (1903) at the British Library shop (publisher, Collector’s Library) at “£2 off” its £7.99 price.  I picked it because it concentrates on the waters of the baltic and the north German and Danish sounds, and being pre-WWI, with maps, I was interested to see how Germany was perceived BEFORE the conflicts.  I liked the red clothbound cover, gold-leaf pages and red ribbon page marker, and to my delight, I thoroughly enjoyed the opening chapters, written in an old-fashioned story-telling style.

On my way home from enjoying a coffee with an old friend this evening, I had just got to the bit where the narrator – a larger than life “pompous ass” character – gets off the boat with his old public school chum whom he rather looks down on, at Dybbol near Sonderburg in Denmark, to look at some “Gothic memorial in grey stone, inscribed with bas-reliefs of battle scenes, showing Prussians forcing a landing in boats and Danes resisting with savage tenacity.”(p 65)

It is in “the honoured memory of those who died heroically at the invasion and storming of Alsen”.

The narrator’s chum, Davies’ eyes fill with tears at this point.  “What does ‘heldenmuethig‘ mean?” – “Heroically” (the narrator is fluent in German and works in Whitehall, but has gone off on a jolly trip on the invite of his hitherto minor chum).

Anyway, I was so engrossed by this, I almost completely missed my stop at Camden Town.  I resumed the novel on the next bus, a 214, as it happens, going to Kentish Town.

A middle-aged chap and a blond woman – who at first I thought was someone I used to know who had once studied Philosophy at North London Poly (as it was then known), but it wasn’t her, although she still looked very familiar, boarded and sat opposite me.  I vaguely noticed via my peripheral vision, him rubbing her leg and their exchanging urgent words between them.  The chap leaned towards me and said, “What is that you are reading?”

I was surprised because no-one has ever asked me that before, so I showed him the spine.  He nodded his head enthuiastically and said, “He was shot.  He was executed by the British.”

As it was such a fine piece of writing (very amusing) I was appalled by the news and stared at him.

“Why, is that because he was with the Germans…?”

It was the chap’s turn to stare.

“No, he was Irish and he was shot by the British”.

“But he is such a good writer, I’ve really been enjoying this.  It’s like an Enid Byton adventure story for adults”.

The man’s wife (I presume) nodded eagerly, she was familiar with Erskine Childers, too.

“I must look him up on Google,” I said.

I haven’t yet, but as I got off the bus and walked down the road, I thought it all rather spooky that the passage in the book about “Heldenmuethig gefallenen” should synchronize with a complete stranger informing me the author had met a similar fate.

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