In the Observer on Xmas Eve 1989, was an article asking for readers to submit remarkable coincidences to Brian Inglis, the journalist, author and broadcaster. He was researching for a book on the subject. At the end of January my new editor at Pan Books mentioned it to me, and suggested I contact him. Pan had published Brian Inglis in the past, so if I were to send a letter through her, she would send it on.
Having committed my rather lengthy string of coincidences to paper, I posted it, via Pan’s office, on 20th January 1990. But on that very day Brian Inglis wrote to me in response to a missive from another reader, who had enclosed a newspaper cutting which referred to me and my odd experiences. I received his missive – not via Pan, but Chatto & Windus – three days later.
Brian Inglis explained that he was collecting coincidences for the Koestler Foundation, and wondered if I would share mine with him?
Unable to wipe the smile from my face, I began my reply at once: ‘Dear Mr Inglis, Thank you for your note, which arrived today – it seems we now have another ‘coincidence’ to add to the list…’
The tale gets stranger. I had been a fan of Brian Inglis from the 1960s, when I used to watch his television programme, All Our Yesterdays, based on news items from the same week 25 years before. Brian was both the writer and presenter, and the film clips were enhanced by his cool assessment of political situations, with background details of royal crises and wartime agendas which were only then coming to light. That weekly half hour going out at 7:00 pm had millions of viewers, and in our family it was unmissable. History from my teenage viewpoint, but part of my parents’ lives. The programme was enlivened by sharp insights, dry humour and a terrific sense of irony. Dad loved it for the presenter’s intelligence and wit as much as that trip down memory lane.
As part of my research I had read Brian Inglis’s potted history, The Story of Ireland. Without downplaying the facts, it gave a more balanced view of Ireland’s problems under English rule. I found it a valuable reference, and was intrigued to discover that the author was Irish born, a former journalist with The Irish Times, and from similar stock to my fictional Robert Duncannon.
Appreciating his style, I went on to read The Unknown Guest. Caught by the subtitle, The Mystery of Intuition, I hoped it might throw light on my own odd experiences. Published originally by Chatto in 1988, this book was dedicated to the author Rosamond Lehmann.
Under Acknowledgements to the above book, Brian Inglis had written:
‘In the spring of 1985, following a suggestion made to us by Rosamond Lehmann, Ruth West… and I began to collect case histories of episodes which – as we put it – ‘to those who have known them, appear to transcend everyday realities.’ We were not concerned with psychic phenomena as such… but with those ‘which suggest design: as if some prompter in the wings is operating through our subconscious minds.’…. As we pointed out, the venture is no more than a pilot study, designed less to answer baffling questions than to show the need to ask them.’
Well, yes, I could go along with that. As someone to whom such things had happened, I found the book excellent with its concise explorations of philosophical theories. Brian Inglis wrote that Frederic Myers, a precursor of Freud, had suggested the subliminal mind had ‘access to information beyond the normal range of the senses….Often, though, it has a struggle to get through to consciousness. It resorts to what we think of as intuition… and it is this device that leaves the impression of a prompter, the Unknown Guest, at work in our lives…’
In my life, the coincidences connected with the two Elliott books had been going on for several years, and they were still unfolding. From the day I’d found that WW1 diary as a girl, and especially since that momentous meeting with Lena at Otley Museum, these things had been mounting up. While researching in earnest I’d learned to ‘go with the flow’ – in other words, to trust the impulses which seemed to spring from an unseen source. Where they led, I followed, and intriguing results blossomed. Apart from my impulse to write to author Rosie Thomas, most of these prompts were minor events. Not enormous in themselves, but like tributary streams they added to the flow, all going in one direction, and everything connected to my writing.
In my reply to Brian Inglis, I mentioned my first trip to Ypres, and the moment of inspiration which had given me the format of the book. I also gave a short resume of an odd experience which had occurred when I visited the former WW1 hospital at Wandsworth, where my great-uncle had spent several months recuperating from serious illness. Intrigued by that, Brian Inglis invited my friend Lena and me to lunch.
Looking up the address in my London street guide, I saw Brian’s home in Hampstead was close to leafy Maresfield Gardens, where in my Aer Lingus days I’d shared a flat.
Walking there from Finchley Road station a couple of weeks later, was a trip down memory lane for me; but in a strange way, so was meeting Brian Inglis. He seemed so familiar from the TV series, it was like meeting an old acquaintance. With no ice to break, Lena and I spent a delightful couple of hours with a most hospitable man in his sunny garden, lunching on French bread, saucissons and melting cheeses, and drinking a delicious white wine.
I kept thinking of my Dad and the pleasure we’d shared while watching All Our Yesterdays: it was almost as though he were present too. Certainly, he would have loved to meet our host, and to engage him in conversation. And, Dad being Dad, I imagine he would have asked rather more penetrating questions than I did.
At the time, Brian Inglis was still collating the mass of information on coincidence which had come in from both the Observer article and the Koestler Foundation. While Lena and I were perhaps hoping for some private agreement that there are more things in heaven and earth than man can explain, our host remained charmingly noncommittal. He explained that his initial aim was to present the evidence – anecdotal though it was – in book form, and to see what common threads emerged.
I didn’t know it then, and Mr Inglis didn’t say, but my experience at Wandsworth had much in common with one described by his friend, Rosamond Lehmann, in her autobiography, The Swan in the Evening.
As I was to discover later, the author Rosamond Lehmann was also a close friend of Carmen Callil – which made for another spine-tingling connection, this time on a visit to Australia.
Meanwhile, impatient though we were to read Brian Inglis’s conclusions, Lena and I had another year to wait before the publication of his book, Coincidence.
The Unknown Guest – The Mystery of Intuition by Brian Inglis http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guest-Brian-Inglis/dp/0701129093/ref=sr_1_17?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411732638&sr=1-17&keywords=brian+inglis
Permission to quote from Brian Inglis’s work was given by his estate on the proviso that a link was given to http://whitecrowbooks.com