I wonder if you know…

I do not know how many millions of people live in Calcutta, but I know it is well in excess of 14 million.

One day, a friend, M, met us in London. He told us that a mutual friend, D, was married to a woman born in Calcutta. As my wife went to school in that city, M said to her: ” You might know D’s wife.”

My wife replied: “Do you realise how many people live in Calcutta, M?”

Then after a moment, she asked; “What is her name?”

M mentioned a name. Hearing this, my wife answered: “She was a year junior to me at school.”

I thought it was amazing how small the world can seem even when a city as huge as Calcutta is being discussed.

Strange coincidence

white and blue floral table lamp

 

My mother’s birthday was the 15th of October. My good friend, the late Michael Jacobs, a fine author, was also born on that day, but many years later. Michael’s mother, the late Maria-Grazia, was born on the 8th of May. I was born on the same day, but many years later.

The chance of two people sharing the same birthday is quite small. It is 1 in 365 or 0.0028. Things get more interesting when one considers a group of people. In a room of 23 people, the chances that two people share a birthday is 0.5 or 50%, and when there are 75 people the probability increases to 0.99 or 99% (see: https://betterexplained.com/articles/understanding-the-birthday-paradox/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_problem).  

I have no idea how to calculate the probability that my mother and my good friend share the same birthday AS WELL AS his mother and me sharing the same birthday. It is too long since I studied statistics and probability at school!Even then, I doubt I could have worked it out.

 

 

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Catching up with the past: Chicago

chicago theatre

 

During the last three months of 1963, while my father was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, I attended the university’s high school, the Lab School. While we were in Chicago, President John F Kennedy was assassinated.

I was put in the PreFreshman class with pupils who were one or two years older than me. Everyone was very kind and friendly towards me, and a bit curious about having a boy from England amongst them.

I remember being asked about some green plant that the British loved to eat. I had no idea what the questioner was talking about until I realised that he was referring to watercress. Another of my fellow students was surprised that the word ‘bloody’ was a swear word in British English.

I left the Lab School in December 1963 and, sadly, lost all contact with my lovely new school friends. In 1963, there was no Internet and international telephone calls were quite expensive. Hence, keeping up with people living far away was much more difficult than it is today.

Fifty six years later, in 2019, I made contact (via social media) with Steve, who remembered me from my brief stay at the Lab School. He remembered that I had introduced him to the hobby of train spotting. I do not recall that, but many years have passed since then.

A few days ago, Steve came to have dinner with us. I am not certain that either of us recognised each other after over half a century of separation, but that did not matter as Steve turned out to be a very congenial guest and we engaged in interesting conversations. We reminisced briefly about Chicago, but spent most of the evening discussing other topics.

Although, as already mentioned, I did not recognise Steve and barely recollected him, I felt a wave of pleasure catching up with the ever so distant past.

 

 

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It pays to be honest

Mug shot_640

 

A long time ago, a friend asked me to read a short story that he had written. He was hoping to submit it as an entry to a short story competition. I agreed to read it for him.

Fortunately, it was short enough for me to read it fairly quickly. Unfortunately, I did not feel that its quality was up to much.

When I saw my friend a few days later, he was eager to know what I had thought of his story. I was not sure what to say. I wondered whether I should be polite, and say that I quite liked it, and would wish him luck. Or, should I risk hurting his feelings by being frank about my opinion of his work? I made up my mind to do the latter. Trying to be as tactful as possible, I told him that I thought his story was not bad, but that there was not much chance of his story winning the competition.

My friend was surprisingly pleased by my opinion. He said:

Thank you, Adam. Thank you very much. You are the first of my friends to say what you really think about my story. All of the others have tried to be polite and say they like it.”

I was relieved by his reaction to my honest but adverse comment. It paid to have been honest. It usually does!