Making One’s Own Luck

In which The Author wonders about the Cosmic Order

If you’ve read the previous entry On the Up, you’ll already know that I’ve won tickets to see Roger Waters performing The Wall at Wembley on Saturday. If you haven’t read it, I’ve won tickets to see Roger Waters performing The Wall at Wembley on Saturday. (I’ve said it twice because I still can’t believe it myself.)
I know it was a prize draw, and that in theory my name had exactly the same probability as anyone else’s of emerging from the metaphorical hat. However, when I consider the events of the past week or so, I’m wondering if there’s some truth in the old saying that you make your own luck. Let me explain …
I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan since I was in school, but have never had the good fortune to see them live. Lots of my friends have seen them (some lucky people like Chris T. have seen them more than once). For my part, the nearest I’ve got is watching their live DVD Pulse a good number of times. The only time I’ve ever bought a record or CD on the day of its release was on 28 March 1994. It was their final LP, The Division Bell.
However, I was responsible for skewing the results of the Battle of the Bands in the Black Lion on 2 July 2005, the night of the Live 8 concert.
It was an event which seemed tragically like déjà vu for those of us who remembered Live Aid. Before I’d left Cardiff that evening, I’d watched part of the BBC coverage in the Queen’s Vaults. At one point I texted The Piss-Artist Formerly Known As My Brother. I said something like, ‘I didn’t think I’d live to see this sort of thing become necessary again.’
When I got to the Black Lion, Battle Royale was well under way. In between sets in the pub, Rob C. (see Death of a Clown) and Andrew C. patched the live TV feed through to the big screen so that we could watch the proceedings at Wembley. After a bunch of third-rate groups like Razorlight, who were massive at the time but who now (thank Goddess) seem to have vanished without trace, the moment I’d been anticipating for over twenty years finally happened: Pink Floyd came on. I remember saying to one of the lads standing nearby, ‘I’ve waited my whole adult life to see this.’
It was a hugely emotional moment for fans the world over. David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason were sharing a stage for the first time in over two decades. Bob Geldof had somehow persuaded Messrs Gilmour and Waters had temporarily put their differences aside for a one-off performance. In fairness to him, the guy deserves the fucking Nobel Peace Prize just for managing that!
They had only just got going when Bronwen’s band Freaky Fortnight decided it was time to start their set. The older people in the crowd howled them down, and they abandoned their instruments to join us in watching this historic reunion. I remarked slyly to Bronwen, ‘I’ve waited twenty years for this – it won’t hurt you to wait twenty minutes.’
Pink Floyd’s performance was brief, powerful, and sublime. There were tears in my eyes at the end of their set, when the four band members stood together, their arms across each others’ shoulders, after a heartbreaking performance of Comfortably Numb. I heard one young lad tell his girlfriend, ‘My dad was right; they’re not bad, are they?’ It made me feel rather pleased, I must say. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as turning someone onto something you love, but which they’ve never experienced before. It’s especially great when that ‘something’ is not harmful, like drugs, but positive, uplifting and immensely rewarding, like a classic film, a great book, or timeless music
When Craig came along with the bucket to collect the voting slips, I threw a handful in. So did some of my friends. We’d all written Pink Floyd on them. Craig tallied the results and announced them at the end of the night, adding, ‘A lot of people seem to have voted for Pink Floyd.’
I shouted, ‘They were the best band tonight, mate!’ Everyone laughed. but they knew I had a valid point.
When Rick Wright passed away, just under five years ago, it marked the end of a musical era, much as John Lennon’s death had when I was fourteen. It meant that I’d never get to see the band I’d loved for thirty years.
Now I’ve explained this, it won’t surprise you to learn that when the National Express newsletter pinged into my inbox, offering the chance to win tickets to Mr Waters’ show, my entry was in like a shot. It would be the nearest possible alternative to seeing Pink Floyd themselves. How could I pass up an opportunity like that?
I mentioned Battle Royale last week, when I wrote about my friend Rob C. in Death of a Clown. I told how we’d first met at a karaoke night in the same pub, when Rob decided to show me exactly how to sing National Express by the Divine Comedy. Please bear that fact in mind as you read on …
On Sunday, Andy Tillison posted a long status on Facebook. Andy and I met over twenty years ago, when he was the main songwriter, singer and keyboard player with the Yorkshire-based band Gold, Frankincense and Disk Drive (see Our Friends in the North.) Andy’s now one of the presiding spirits behind the Tangent, a mighty pan-European Progressive Rock band. He still lives in Yorkshire, but he’d been down to ‘that London’ for the Prog Awards ceremony in Kew. On his return to the safety of his cottage in the Dales, he wrote about his adventures in the Big Smoke. Andy’s piece was at once a passionate defence of an often-maligned musical genre, and a humorous and humble account of finding oneself surrounded by one’s heroes. Here’s a brief extract:
Looking around at the famous faces was worrying. I kind of realised that some hanger-on-to-1979-NME “everything must die so that punk may live” journalist could probably have wiped the genre from the face of the earth with a dodgy batch of Salmon Mousse. Rick Wakeman [Yes] was right behind me, Ian Anderson [Jethro Tull], Dave Brock [Hawkwind], Steve Hillage [Gong], Steve Hackett [Genesis], Robert John Godfrey [The Enid] – Jeez!!! – if anyone had told me when I was at school that I’d be at this thing I’d have not believed them.
I showed Andy’s status to Martyn E. on Sunday, and to Martin H. yesterday, before sharing it on my own Facebook. I said that I was an old hippy and wasn’t ashamed to admit it. Last night, in the pub, I was talking to Lauren B. about music. I told her that I’ve always been a frustrated keyboard player. To illustrate the sort of music I wanted to play when I was seventeen (and all my mates were into either heavy rock or proto-Goth post-punk), I decided to spend a quid on some songs, if only to break up the usual routine.
I selected ‘Burn’ by Deep Purple, ‘Lucky Man’ by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and finally ‘Any Colour You Like’ by Pink Floyd. Lauren was absolutely blown away by the magical organ-bass-guitar-drums instrumental, which was my dream piece when I first heard the LP at the age of fifteen.

I referred to setting up some sort of Morphic Field in the previous entry. It was a jokey reference to Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of Morphic Resonance when I wrote it some twelve hours ago. However, now that I’ve thought about it a lot, maybe there was more to it than just a throwaway remark. I want to run some individual facts past you. It’s not an exhaustive list, but a set of edited highlights. Have a look at them as they unfold (in no particular order.) Bear with me for a few minutes. Then let’s start putting the pieces together and see whether a picture emerges:
  • The competition was run by National Express.
  • The song which Rob and I had a karaoke sing-off over was called ‘National Express.’
  • This happened at our first meeting, at the Black Lion, which also hosted Battle Royale.
  • Rob was partly responsible for making the videos which entertained us in between sets at the qualifying heats.
  • The final of Battle Royale took place on the exact day of Live 8, when Pink Floyd stole the show.
  • Bronwen and the rest of Freaky Fortnight laid down their instruments so that we could watch Pink Floyd’s last ever performance with the great line-up.
  • Bronwen’s current musical project uses the name Little Eris.
  • Eris is the Goddess of Chaos, to whom I’ve referred frequently in this blog and elsewhere.
  • The tattoo of the Goddess on my right shoulder (see Shot Down in the Night) was taken from the cover of Undoing Yourself with Energized Meditation by Christopher Hyatt, PhD, who shared a publisher with Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson.
  • A portion of the same picture forms the header to this very blog. I like to think of it as a representation of Eris herself. Maybe the artist, Denise Cuttitta, intended it as such. Maybe not. Perhaps I should try and email her and ask her …
  • The Cult of Eris plays a major part in the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.
  • Robert Anton Wilson’s books played a vital role in opening my mind to the possibilities offered outside conventional scientific approaches.
  • My inability to type the title of Dr Wilson’s book Cosmic Trigger gave rise to the name which I use in this very blog, my email addresses, internet forums, and (very occasionally) chat rooms.
  • Robert Anton Wilson’s own writings inspired Vicki F. and I to write Quantum Silliness, as well as being a major influence on parts of Dodge This.
  • I sang ‘National Express’ on Thursday’s karaoke night, as my own way of saying goodbye to Rob on the day of his funeral.
  • Yesterday I confessed to being an old hippy, who therefore (almost by definition) would give his right arm to see Mr Waters perform live.
  • Andy Tillison’s long piece about Prog Rock forced this confession from me.
  • I’ve literally just remembered that it was Andy himself who turned me onto Douglas R. Hofstadter. He recommended that I should read Metamagical Themas, which then led me to Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and my first encounter with Zen Buddhism, amongst other key ideas which have influenced my thinking over the years.
  • In The Expert System, I said that if I ever applied for Mastermind, one of my specialist subjects would be Pink Floyd.
  • Last week, I asked Rhian if she’d help me to mug up on Doctor Who since 2005 – my other chosen specialist subject – as I’ve decided to apply for Mastermind after all. If I’m accepted, I’ll need a second specialist area as well. Guess what it would be …
  • We were listening to Pink Floyd on the jukebox last night.
  • I was telling Lauren about Dodge This last night.
  • Rhian and I were talking about going to see a show in London last night.
  • I’ve just checked out a notification on Facebook. Three or four status updates down, the official Pink Floyd fan page has just posted the cover to the LP Wish You Were Here.
  • On Saturday, I will be there.
I’m going to ride my own train of thought for the rest of this entry. Why not come with me? The buffet car’s open, serving hot and cold drinks and a wide selection of food for thought. Jump aboard and enjoy the trip…
There’s a New Age idea called Cosmic Ordering which has been doing the rounds for quite a few years now. It’s been espoused by a number of famous people, most notably in the UK by the TV presenter Noel Edmonds. I don’t know that much about it, but it seems to be an extension of the old creative visualisation idea. (This can be summed up by Psychic TV’s refrain from Guiltless: ‘See it, and go for it!’)
Its proponents believe that if you want something, you just need to focus your thoughts on your target and you’ll achieve it. It’s basically the same message that the Temple Ov Psychick Youth was transmitting thirty-odd years ago. (See Zigzagging Down Memory Lane.) Sceptics might say that it’s a fancy new name for wishing on a star. Either way, I’ve been thinking about it a lot today. As Kurt Vonnegut Jr would have said, Listen:
In late spring this year, I spotted a new face among the Aberdare daytime crowd. He was tall, quite well-built, several years younger than me, wearing jeans and an army surplus jacket, with a backpack on the ground at his feet, and a hand full of pamphlets. He also had a very distinctive hairstyle. I’d seen people like him in Cardiff on several occasions, but they were usually dressed a bit less conservatively. They were members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), better known as the Hare Krishna movement.
[A digression: A group of ISKCON members used to come through the centre of Cardiff every so often, clad in their saffron robes, chanting and tinkling their little finger cymbals. (That was how I recognized the hairstyle.) One day, Laurie and I had had a particularly bad morning in work. We’d been for a pint, and we were standing in the fire corridor of the old Dillons shop eating our lunch. Laurie was having a sneaky cigarette, leaning out of the window overlooking the busy shopping street below, and we were comparing notes on the general idiocy of customers so far that day. In the distance we could hear the rhythmic chanting of ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Krishna Krishna,’ growing louder as the devotees approached our block behind the old St David’s Centre.
As they passed beneath our vantage point, Laurie looked at me and said, ‘Right, tell Keith I’m not coming back, I’m going to join the Hare Krishnas.’
I said, ‘Hang on a minute, mate, I’ll have a piss and come with you!’]
I’ve been interested in Eastern philosophies for a very long time, but I can’t remember exactly how I first started reading about them. My interest was certainly energised by Douglas R. Hofstadter’s discussion of Zen Buddhism in Gödel, Escher, Bach, but the spark was there a long time before that. Although I’ve done a bit of reading around the subject, I’ve never gone into it in any depth.
However, I’d been dipping in and out of a book by the Indian-American doctor Deepak Chopra called Synchro Destiny. Dr Chopra comes from a medical family (his father was a renowned cardiologist) and his writings are a brilliant (if controversial) synthesis of Western and Eastern traditions: a blend of modern medicine, alternative therapies, and cutting-edge physics. I bought his book before I finished work, when the first wave of significant coincidences in my life was reaching a peak. I saw it arrive in stock and thought that any new theory of meaningful coincidences must be worth investigating.
The ISCKON chap and I made eye contact as I approached him, and we smiled at each other. Most people in town were walking straight past him, but I stopped and said ‘hello.’ I know this will sound a bit crazy, but something told me that I needed to talk to him.
Anyway, the Man from ISKCON (there’s a TV series just waiting to be made!) wasn’t at all preachy or zealous. His name was Steve, too, which augured well for the rest of the conversation. We started off by chatting about the Beatles, and especially George Harrison, whose involvement with Eastern religion was another early seed for my own interest in the subject. I told him about the train of unfortunate events which had led me to my current situation (see Everything Changes), and he was very sympathetic. That was why I was walking around Aberdare on a Friday lunchtime, after all, instead of finishing my coursework and revising for my final exams. Steve was distributing copies of Chant and be Happy, an introductory guide to meditation, which includes interviews with George Harrison and John Lennon, in exchange for a donation. It was a done deal.
I gave him a two pound coin for the book, which was all the change I had on on me, and we started chatting about life in general. He was based in Swansea, and gave me a card for a new cafe which had opened in the city centre. I explained about the lack of public transport, and he agreed that it wasn’t a great situation. However, ISKCON have another cafe in Cardiff, not far from the Rhymney Brewery pub which Rhian, Rowland and I had visited in Death Warrants. I said I’d try and call in next time I was in town. (Needless to say, I haven’t been there yet. Martin H. and I were going to visit it a couple of weeks ago, but he had a stomach bug on the day and we’ve postponed the idea for a while.)
I’ve told you previously (in Meet the Parents) about the bizarre career path of my old friend Ian W., who now teaches Buddhist meditation in Cheshire. His life was on a very low ebb when he was in his late teens and early twenties, and he managed to pull himself up and out of the trough he’d found himself in. After seeing how Ian was able to transform his life, it made me a lot more receptive to spiritual ideas. Chatting to Steve reminded me of a brief chat I’d had with Ian on one of his flying visits to Cardiff a number of years ago. Without any undue pressure, Steve managed to give me quite a bit of food for thought. I was glad that we’d met, and again I had a gut feeling that our ‘chance encounter’ was anything but chance.
We parted company after ten minutes or so, and I had an idea. A couple of doors from the Prince there’s an independent bakery, which sells wholewheat vegetable pasties. I knew that in India it’s considered a gracious gesture and brings you good karma if you offer food to holy men. The shop had two veg pasties left, so I bought them both. I kept one for myself and walked back to Steve, who was trying vainly to attract anyone else to talk to. I gave him the other pasty as a snack to munch on the train home, wished him well, and we parted company again.
I went for a walk around town, keeping an eye out for Martin, who’d said he was making his way up. I spotted him about ten minutes later, deep in conversation with Steve. Steve had told him about our chat, and remarked on the fact that I’d bought him some lunch. Martin had said, ‘That must be my mate Steve – it’s the sort of thing he’d do.’
The three of us chatted for ages, and Steve produced another book from his bag. It was a lovely hardback edition of the Bhagavad Gita, with parallel Sanskrit and English text and a commentary. He asked me if there was any chance that I could get it onto the shelves at Aberdare Library; Martin had told him that there was a serious lack of material relating to any faith other than Christianity. He’d said that I was ‘well in’ with the Library gang, and I promised I’d ask Steven and Judith if they could give it a home. We said our farewells again, and headed to the Prince for a chat. Martin told me afterwards that he’d also felt oddly ‘drawn’ to talk to the distinctive visitor. He’s a good bit older than me, and was a teenager during the Flower Power era. I suppose he felt more comfortable than most people to talk hippy mysticism on the main street in Aberdare.
I was as good as my word when it came to offering the book to Steven and Judith. I haven’t checked the shelves, but I’d be surprised if it’s there. In retrospect, I wish I’d offered it to Paul in Hirwaun Library, who’s got an enquiring mind and a ‘can-do’ attitude to stock acquisition, or even added it to my own collection (although I would have felt uncomfortable about doing that).
Anyway, both Chant and be Happy and Synchro Destiny have been living on my little coffee table, and I’ve been dipping into them both a lot recently. I’ve found Dr Chopra’s book a bit difficult to follow in places, but it’s made a change from wading through pages and pages of statistics about Bizarreness in dreams, which is a major part of Josie’s thesis. (It’s rated on a scale from 0 to 7, apparently. Some nights I can manage at least an 8.)
I haven’t started chanting yet – Valleys houses have thin walls, remember, and I don’t know what the volatile couple next door would make of it. However, the insights offered by George Harrison and John Lennon are fascinating. I can easily see why people who had everything in their lives could get tired of materialistic pursuits, and turn their attention to spiritual matters, especially at the height of the anti-Vietnam War campaign and the start of the Flower Power movement. There’s more to life than money, big houses and fast cars.
Martin’s been noticing a lot of coincidences and/or synchronicities as well recently, as though we’re approaching another peak. I’m toying with the idea of starting an open blog where people can log their own observations, rather like Josie’s Dream Diary project which formed the basis of her PhD work. If we were to compare the frequency of coincidences with external factors (phases of the moon, say, or sunspot activity, or even major sociopolitical upheavals like the Arab Spring), would we find any correlations over time? It’s definitely worth thinking about …
Out of the blue, while we were talking about psychology last night and spirituality, Janis brought up Dr Chopra’s name. She’s never mentioned him before. Was that happenstance somehow part of a Morphic Field, which managed to trigger a massive shift in the Cosmic Order, which then resulted in my phone call from Sophie at National Express this morning?
I’ve scratched the surface of this subject before, most notably in Mere Coincidence (a phrase I borrowed from Robert Anton Wilson. It’s how orthodox scientists explain away unexpected results that don’t fit neatly with their theories.) Am I experiencing (again) what the protagonists in Ian Watson’s novel Miracle Visitors call ‘The Phenomenon’? Does my own awareness of it directly link me in to some higher power/deep structure of the Universe/God/whatever? Personally, having pondered this all night, I don’t what to think any more.
Have a look at my list of bullet points again. It’s not just a chain of events – it’s a web of events, interconnected across Space and Time: listening to the Beatles and Pink Floyd as a schoolboy; meeting Andy Tillison through my connections in the Valleys Anarcho-Punk scene; encountering Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist concepts in books about popular science; reading books which looped me back to Science Fiction concepts from my teenage years; the whole sub-web of Robert Anton Wilson-related developments; meeting Rob at a karaoke night; forcing everyone to watch Pink Floyd during the Battle Royale final; meeting my namesake from ISKCON in Aberdare; writing The Expert System, in which I mentioned my potential Mastermind subject; receiving the email from National Express; Rob C.’s sudden death, which led me to write Death of a Clown and sing National Express on the day of his funeral; Andy’s weekend account of rubbing shoulders with his own musical heroes; playing with the jukebox in the pub last night; this morning’s phone call …
It’s all too massive to contemplate. There simply doesn’t appear to be a logical explanation for all of these seemingly unrelated things to have led to this point.
I know the little space at the bottom of my blog invites you to leave comments, but this time I really would welcome your feedback. Please, tell me whether you agree with my analysis of the situation, or if you think I’m assigning significance to insignificant unrelated events. If you’re on my Facebook friends list, please don’t just put a comment on the link there. I’d like your opinions to stay forever visible as a companion to this particular entry. As I’ve said at several points throughout this blog, I no longer discount anything. I’ve experienced way too many coincidences (synchronicities?) over the past twenty-odd years to dismiss them out of hand. After reading this, I wonder if you’ll agree with me.