The Cosmic Joker
by Michael J. Hallowell

My mother recently bought a birthday card for my brother, who happens to be called Graham. She took the card home, found a ballpoint pen and then opened the card so that she could write the greeting.

Admittedly, the story so far does not present any of the trappings of an edge-of-the-seat thriller novel, but please be patient. Things are about to get better.

To my mother’s dismay, she found that the card had already been signed by someone else. In blue ink, just underneath the verse, were the words, ‘To Graham, with lots of love from Mam and Dad. Happy Birthday.’

Several thoughts went through my mother’s mind. Someone was playing a practical joke on her. She even wondered if she was hallucinating. Absolutely mystified, she returned the card to the Walmart ASDA store from whence it came, and was given a replacement.

Of course, there are several rational solutions to this mystery. Perhaps someone had purchased the card for their son’s birthday, only to find that their spouse had bought an identical one by coincidence. The purchaser may have then taken the card back to the store for a refund, forgetting that he or she had already written the card out.

The strangest thing, of course is that the intended recipient of the card bore the same name as my brother. Statistically, I suppose, something like this has to happen every once in a while. Nevertheless, bizarre coincidences like this always leave a nagging doubt behind that something more than sheer chance is at work. That which is highly unlikely but statistically possible may be swallowed, but always leaves a strange after-taste; a feeling that “something odd” has still happened. Our brain screams “This happened purely because of chance – nothing more than an amazing coincidence!” whilst, simultaneously, a still, small voice whispers in our ear, “No it didn’t happen by chance at all. This happened for a reason...”

It is fashionable for investigators nowadays to talk of “synchronicity”. Indeed, I have written about this intriguing subject myself on numerous occasions. The problem with this term is that it sounds rather clinical. The aura of magic – the delicious sense of strangeness – which accompanies bizarre coincidences gets lost in the translation.


This dilemma was not lost on the ancients. They were as aware of statistics and probabilities as we are today, and yet they too recognised that there was something more to the picture than mathematics.

Some researchers have long agreed with the ancients that it sometimes seems as if a Cosmic Joker is at work; as if an unseen hand is guiding events and circumstances so that a rhythm or meaning becomes apparent.

Whatever we think of the “Cosmic Joker” idea, the truth is that some very strange coincidences do take place. Let me tell you about one which happened to me just two weeks ago.


Back in August I attended the legendary Weird Weekend convention in Devon – an annual pilgrimage for those who love to wallow in the mystic waters of Forteana. Whilst there, I met a fellow researcher and author called Gordon Rutter. Three weeks ago, Gordon e-mailed me and said he was popping up to the north east for a visit, and wondered if we could meet up. I was delighted, and e-mailed him back immediately to say I'd be pleased to. We agreed to meet at 2pm under the clock by the tobacco kiosk at Newcastle upon Tyne Central Train Station. I got there a little early, so I had a coffee and then, at 1.55 precisely, made my way to our meeting place.

Shortly afterwards, Gordon came bowling over to me with a smile and an outstretched hand. I didn't recognise him, but I'd only met him the once and I've never been very good at remembering faces.


“Yes, hello! How are you keeping?”

“Oh, I'm fine, thanks!”

We chatted briefly.

Before meeting, I'd offered to take Gordon to one or more of the haunted inns and bars in Newcastle – there are plenty to choose from. However, when I first arrived in Newcastle I realised there was some sort of event on. Every pub I reconnoitred was packed to the gunnels with revellers. I suggested to Gordon that we retired to the Heroes bar inside the station itself, as it seemed a little quieter.

“Have we got the time?” he queried.

This puzzled me. He'd come up so that we could go for a beer somewhere and talk, so why was he already concerned about the time?

“Of course – you've only just got here!” I retorted.

We entered Heroes and approached the bar. I asked Gordon what he'd like to drink, and he said he'd love a Diet Coke. I ordered two. Then we chatted; who was going to win the US presidential election, the economic meltdown...you name it. We put the world right.

I asked him how long it had taken him to get to Newcastle, and he told me 8 hours.

“Eight hours? I'm amazed. I didn't think it would have taken you that long!”

Gordon talked about his family, and I talked about mine. We then got chatting about UFOs – a subject that I thought would have interested him. He seemed remarkably coy about voicing opinions on the matter, but I gave it no heed.

After a while, Gordon looked at me.

“Norman, I need to ask you something”.

“Norman? My name's Mike. You are Gordon, aren't you?”

“Uh, yes, but you're not Norman?”


“You aren't here to pick me up and take me to the rugby club?”


Then the truth dawned upon us. Two sets of people had arranged to meet at the same place at the same time. He wanted to meet someone called Norman, and I wanted to meet someone called Gordon. He was called Gordon, and thus was set in motion a bizarre chain of events that led to two complete strangers propping up the bar together and putting the world to rights. We laughed, left the bar and made our way back to the clock. I found Gordon – my Gordon – and the other Gordon found his Norman. We all lived happily ever after, and Gordon Rutter and I returned to Heroes to purchase a beer from a rather confused looking barman.

Of course, the confusion was simply a coincidence, and yet there was something rather eerie about it. How on earth could two strangers chat for so long without realising that they were supposed to be talking to someone else?

Make of it what you will, but I'll never forget that bizarre encounter. Was the Cosmic Joker at work? Fifty dollars to one he had a hand in there somewhere....

©Mike Hallowell, 2008

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