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Coincidences

Take a door, any door, but one with a slot through which letters can be posted. It is placed facing the street on which we live. Nothing remarkable in this but how many of us, I wonder, can describe the front door behind which we live. Even if we can do this, I venture to suggest that few would know anything at all about the letterboxes through which our letters pass and fewer still would know the colour of the thing.

But there is a person who does.

How we discovered the identity of this person is down to something of a coincidence, two totally disconnected things which happened to coincide exactly in time and space. The first of these was a passport, mine in fact, which ran out and needed to be replaced. The second was the weather which dictated the timing of the arrival of our builders, Geoff and Andrew, to carry out a modification to our house. On this occasion they were removing our tired and inelegant front door and replacing it with something shiny and new. And naturally the new door came complete with a letterbox.

So there they were, half-way through the job, the wind whistling through the previously door-filled opening and our two lads just sizing up the new one, still in its shrink-wrapped, just out of the factory state, when what should come up the front path but my new passport, clutched firmly in the hands of the postman. Now when delivering registered mail, there needs to be a record of when and to whom it was delivered. This all makes perfect sense. But what I hadn’t previously realised was that a postman also has to make a note of the colour of the letterbox through which he posts such items, this presumably to enable him to deal with later challenges as to his integrity and honesty. The problem being presented to this postman, therefore, was something he had never before encountered, viz, a house with no door physically attached to the house but a choice of two potential doors nearby, the letterbox on one being hidden from view behind bright blue plastic and the other lying prone in the front garden so that its letterbox led only to the front lawn.

To give him his full due, he wasted not a moment in deciding that the correct letterbox was the shrink-wrapped one (somehow it did not seem right to slip his precious mail down through the old one onto the grass beneath) but he then had to explain that he could not deliver the mail until he could see for himself the colour of the thing. My passport would still be undelivered had we not dutifully unwrapped the new door so that he could feast his eyes on our letterbox and record its colour.

Both door and letterbox, which incidentally are both white, are now safely fitted and not a moment too soon as the weather catapults us suddenly from autumn to winter.

Standard fare for the start of a cold spell these days are sceptical comments in the press about global warming, or the lack of it and I recall recently reading that the rate of warming has been slowing – positive news for a change, or so it would seem. Temperature measurements on which these conclusions are based have in the past come from ships making passages around the world, some poor crew member having to hold a thermometer out over the sea each day and then transmit the reading by radio so it can be recorded. The modern way of doing things is to remove the human element – the same data is now largely collected by a network of automated buoys which regularly transmit temperature data from fixed locations around the world’s oceans.

It seems to me that the chances of a single temperature reading coming from one of the few remaining ships doing this at precisely the same time and in precisely the same place as an automated buoy must be staggeringly remote, but it seems that this is indeed what did occur. The ship must have barely missed the buoy. The likelihood of anyone then noticing that the positions and times were identical and bothering to compare the two readings taken must be even more remote. But nevertheless this is what happened and it was noticed that the two readings were slightly different. So it is that we have the discovery that temperature readings from the buoys are consistently slightly lower than those taken from ships, which led to the discovery that the global temperature model on which the climate scientists are basing their predictions is wrong. The rate of global warming has not been slowing at all, it seems.

Somehow I am heartened by the thought that coincidence can step in to lend a hand when things are in danger of going awry. If only we could rely on it.

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