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Coincidence and synchronicity
Was Rosie Garland really being stalked by foxes because she'd just finished writing a book called Vixen- or was something else going on?
That’s when it started. Since then I’ve noticed foxes wherever I go – appearing in cathedrals, airports, pubs and museums; on ink cartridges, matchboxes and dashing across supermarket carparks.
I have no idea what’s happening, if indeed anything is. I am not superstitious. My grandmother was so bitten by its bug she could barely walk up a flight of stairs without hanging on to a rabbit’s foot, which put me off at an early age.
But there is so much foxiness going on. Logically or not, it feels like more than coincidence. As Auric Goldfinger remarked to James Bond, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action”.
Maybe coincidence is different to superstition. After all, Albert Einstein said “coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous” (The World As I See It) and he knew a thing or two about how the universe works. Conversely, Vladimir Nabokov remarked how “a certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish - but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence” (Laughter in the Dark).
I noticed the first outside the post office (sending a copy of my first novel The Palace of Curiosities to the USA). Browsing a craft stall, I was presented with a woodcut of a fox on a village green. How pretty, I thought, buying a set of vulpine greetings cards. What a coincidence when I’ve just finished a book called Vixen.
It escalated. After performing in York with my band The March Violets, I took a detour to visit Beverley Minster. On the north wall was a medieval carving of a fox disguised as a pilgrim. Standing on its hind legs, flashing its fangs in a broad smile and brandishing a hefty staff (for self-defence of course).
I needn’t have gone as far afield. Manchester Cathedral boasts two wonderful fifteenth-century carvings of foxes: one teaching its cubs to read and the other poring over a book. After 28 years of living in this fair city I didn’t know they existed (call myself a medievalist? I should hang my head in shame).
Are sly foxes really dogging my footsteps? Is it all a load of old cobblers or is it connected in some way to the imminent publication of my novel?
It’s not just up north. A Hampshire pub surprised me with a Victorian etching of foxes dressed in pink hunting jackets, seated at a table groaning with roast pheasant and grinning slyly as they toast each other, joking about huntsmen tumbling into ditches.
It occurs to me that I’m not tripping over "straight" representations. All my sightings (and these are a tiny selection) are of trickster foxes, camouflaged and hoodwinking foolish humans. None of them are what they ought to be. Which, ‘coincidentally’, are some of the themes of Vixen.
Are sly foxes really dogging my footsteps? Is it all a load of old cobblers or is it connected in some way to the imminent publication of my novel? Carl Gustav Jung would have said yes. In the 1920s he coined the word synchronicity to describe what he called “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.” To put it in (slightly) simpler words: synchronicity is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be causally related.
Hmm. Perhaps I should call my next novel Finding Viking Treasure in the Garden. Sadly, I don’t think it works that way.
They aren’t done with me yet. A couple of weeks ago I landed in Seattle and headed for the information stand to grab a city map. Amongst the brochures was a museum guide with a cover image of Jenny Andersen’s enchanting "Fox Spirit Travelling with the Human Soul". So - if I am being followed by foxes, they are the most benign of guardians. Even if I don’t believe in coincidence, maybe it believes in me. I have decided to enjoy their benevolent appearances.
As for synchronicity, I’ll leave the last words to The Red Queen; my favourite character in that under-rated book on quantum physics, Alice Through The Looking Glass.
"I don’t understand you," said Alice. "It’s dreadfully confusing!"
"That’s the effect of living backwards," the Queen said kindly: "it always makes one a little giddy at first -"
"Living backwards!" Alice repeated in great astonishment. "I never heard of such a thing!"
"— but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways."
"I’m sure MINE only works one way," Alice remarked. "I can’t remember things before they happen."
"It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards," the Queen remarked.
Rosie Garland, for Waterstones.com/blog