Let me tell you about the time my husband came in collision with a large catering box of coleslaw.
He has a long history of commuting to, travelling around, and generally milling about, the great city of London.
One day, as he travelled from a Very Important Meeting to meet a friend, he cast around for the correct train, and having found just the right one, he found a comfortable seat by the window. Not always the easiest thing to find in this most oversubscribed of cities.
The platform outside was swarming, and others found their way onto the train, one by one, to sit down.
There is always an air of palpable relief in a train sitting in London Bridge, or Waterloo. All these people who, minutes ago, were sprinting and dodging, brandishing suitcases and briefcases and cameras and any amount of paraphernalia, have crossed the finishing line.
Now, they have fought the good fight. They have run the race to the finish.Their precious cargo is stashed safely in the overhead compartment, and they are sitting, calming their agitated breathing, awaiting the distant, welcome squeak of the buffet trolley’s wheels.
Back on the platform: minutes ticked by, and soon the pace of events quickened. The officious uniformed rail staff became more so. The man with the whistle walked up and down importantly, glancing theatrically at his watch. Clearly something was about to happen.
The train would begin, soon, to heave its huge bulk away from the platform, straining to gain momentum so it might deliver its occupants from the stasis of a train journey, to their final destination.
Sure enough, with a silence I always find miraculous, the movement began. The train started to pull away.
And at that moment a lot of things happened, if not instantaneously, then very fast indeed.
A small group of unruly young men- shall we call them Yobs, yes, do lets- exploded from the underground tunnel, up the steps, and onto the platform. One held the largest pack of cheap vinegary catering coleslaw one could imagine.
My husband’s carriage drew level with the naughty youths.
By pure chance, he was travelling in one of the old-style British Rail slam-door carriages, which had windows one could open. They were small, though: and situated along the top of the window, horizontal and high.
In a split second, in the blink of an eye, the most wayward of the young men had flung the box of coleslaw in the direction of the train.
The box of coleslaw sailed, stately, through the window and landed right on my husband. He was covered, head to toe in coleslaw.
What are the chances of that happening?
The word ‘random’ has more shades of meaning than most in the English language. In mathematics it relates to probability. In my life, it refers to things happening with no specific pattern, purpose, or objective.
This morning, I went outside into my blousy, plant-packed garden to hang out a load of washing. With any luck, it would dry before those lowering clouds did their worst.
One look at the washing line, and there was a random event waiting for me: a small stuffed beanbag frog, pegged carefully on the line. I had never seen it before in my life. And no-one in my family admitted to having put it there.
There have since been interrogations within the family and further afield, but no-one can tell me the identity of the Mystery Frog, or indeed why, of all the washing lines in all the blousy back gardens in all the world, it was pegged up in mine.
Of course it isn’t strictly: but it’s a delightful, unexpected event. It surprises us in the same way a magic trick could when we were small. What are the chances?
Random is not always, however, the stuff of whimsy. Chance is often cruel, and can alter our lives with terrible consequences and even end them. Today I’m not reasoning why.
There’s a country half way across the world, racked with chance floods. Looking at those families on my television screen, they are just like mine. The same 10-year-old willowy daughters, the same seven-year-old fledgeling sons. Fate, which has dealt them an insufferable blow, seems utterly merciless.
We do what we can, which is precious little, to help those that random events have vanquished. We rail at the sky and demand to know why. And the sky stares back at us, eternally blue.
There’s a natural filter at work in our atmosphere, because of the gas molecules which live there. They reflect white light around, from molecule to molecule, a game of Catch at the speed of light.
But they absorb and reflect blues so much better than reds and oranges. The light we see as blue is the colour they bandy about.
What are the chances of that? A natural filter which renders our skies – at their best- an azure, heart soaring blue?
It’s chance. That’s what our scientists will tell us. Our random world is both wonderful and terrible, a broiling sphere of contradictions. A terrible beauty indeed.