Serendipity ain't what it used to be

'If we all kept in a dry place and away from children, how much happier we would all be'
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The Independent Online

On sunday night I was swapping from TV channel to TV channel, trying to find something bad enough to make me switch off, when it dawned on me that on one BBC channel, BBC 1, they had Elton John sitting at the piano playing and singing, and on BBC 2 they had Alan Bennett doing a monologue to camera. Both were very much as expected. Alan Bennett was delving back into his Yorkshire youth for far-off memories of household objects made of cretonne and majolica. Elton John was twisting his expression as if he were in great emotion over the song he was singing, whereas if he could hear the words as indistinctly as I could, he wouldn't have known what he was singing about...

On sunday night I was swapping from TV channel to TV channel, trying to find something bad enough to make me switch off, when it dawned on me that on one BBC channel, BBC 1, they had Elton John sitting at the piano playing and singing, and on BBC 2 they had Alan Bennett doing a monologue to camera. Both were very much as expected. Alan Bennett was delving back into his Yorkshire youth for far-off memories of household objects made of cretonne and majolica. Elton John was twisting his expression as if he were in great emotion over the song he was singing, whereas if he could hear the words as indistinctly as I could, he wouldn't have known what he was singing about...

But the funny thing was that when I came back from the wilds of Channel 3 and 4, and lit on Alan Bennett's face again, my first reaction was: "Why is Alan Bennett playing the piano?" and then I realised it wasn't Bennett but Elton John, and for the first time in my life I realised that Elton John and Alan Bennett are very alike. Both slightly owlish, with round faces and big glasses, and both with short cut hair, plainly styled and slightly off-orange. It had never occurred to me before to even compare them, because they inhabit such different worlds, but once compared, never unscrambled.

It's the sort of thing you'll never notice unless you have Elton John and Alan Bennett on adjacent channels, but now I have that knowledge, and I would like to pass it on for someone else to have, so that I can get rid of it. Private Eye sometimes prints letters from people who have noticed an unexpected likeness between two celebrities, and if I had the energy I would hunt round for two similar-looking pictures of John and Bennett, but of course I won't ever make the effort.

I know this for a fact, because for years I have been meaning to send Private Eye a photocopy of the front of a book of piano music I have had for forty years, called Play Jazz Piano like Andre Previn. There is a photo of Mr Previn on the front, very young and very angelic looking, and also - this is is the crunch - looking unnervingly like the mid-period Princess Diana. I am sure that nobody had ever written to Private Eye pointing this out, and it is probably too late now - indeed, I may be one of the few people alive who, when they heard of Diana's death, thought, among other things: "Damn! There goes my Andre Previn letter to Private Eye!"

This spotting of odd connections used to be called "serendipity", which was a much-loved vogue word in the 1960s and for that reason has probably been put out for the dustmen to collect along with other such 1960s words such as "psychedelic", and "kinetic", and "far out". But serendipitous things do still happen. I have started a small collection, for instance, of instructions on signs and the side of packets that are meant to be restricted to the context but which are wonderful rules for life. The sign you see in New York, for instance, "Walk Don't Run", strikes me as a motto for all time, as does the legend you sometimes see on Bryant and May matches, "Keep in a dry place and away from children." If we all kept in a dry place and away from children, and didn't run but walked, how much happier we would all be.

A new one swam into my ken only this week. I saw it on the front of my son's Simpsons magazine. It was a little strapline which simply said: "If your tattoos are missing, please let your newsagent know." I think it was actually referring to some give-away tattoo transfers in the magazine, but as a motto for life I found it was rather poetic, with lovely surreal overtones.

The same applies to things you sometimes overhear. I was at my friend John Potter's fireworks party on Saturday, and although I didn't overhear anything good that night, I was suddenly reminded that a year before, at his previous party, I had overheard a woman say to a friend, "A lot of women are very attracted to my husband, but of course they don't know him as well as I do..."

A reader writes: Dear Mr Kington, Is this getting anywhere particular?

Miles Kington writes: Nowhere particular, no.

A reader writes: Then I think I'll be off and do the crossword now.

Miles Kington writes: Fine. I'll see you tomorrow.

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