On the suicide bridge,
truth turns out to be less believable than fiction

True story. A broken-hearted young man decided to throw himself off a bridge in Russia. He climbed up a tall one and spotted a broken-hearted young woman who had decided to do the same thing at the same time. They climbed down together. Now Andriej Ivanov, 26, is due to marry Maria Petrova, 21.

I read this touching report in the newspaper the other day with amazement. And not just because it’s a true story. But because it’s the plot of a novel I just read. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby is about individuals who meet at a bridge and stop each other committing suicide.

The topic fascinated me because I once lived in London next to Archway Bridge, infamous as a location for suicides, although the London tourism authorities inexplicably failed to exploit that fact. ("The most sought-after location for discerning consumers to spend their last moments.") Actually, it was a horrible place, and throwing yourself off the bridge was pretty much the most cheerful thing you could do on a Saturday night.

Mulling this over, I found myself baffled by one thing. The made-up version is infinitely more believable than the real life one. In the novel, the main characters don’t fall in love, but simply make a pact to postpone their suicide. It rings true. Yet in the real life equivalent, Andriej grabbed Maria seconds before she jumped. "She fell into my arms sobbing," he told reporters. After talking all night, they set a wedding date so they can live happily ever after. How cute!

The only possible conclusion is that Nick Hornby is a WAY more accomplished story-writer than Fate, who is, to be honest, a totally crap story-teller given to feeble melodrama, bad dialogue and frankly unbelievable coincidences.

I asked regular contributors to this column to send me other tales of inexplicable coincidences. A reader named Mo sent this one. In the middle of March, 1951, unrelated publishers in Europe and in North America launched a new cartoon character. Both were naughty boys called Dennis the Menace with shaggy hair, wearing red and black striped t-shirts. Mo offered an explanation: "When The Universe is ready to introduce major works of art to the world, it does so."

If this is true, couldn’t The Universe have given us two Mozarts, instead of duplicating its efforts on feeble cartoon characters? Would someone kindly have a word with The Universe, tell it that it badly needs to raise its game?

Also intriguing was a note from a reader who pointed me to a fascinating little 1953 book called A Mathematician’s Miscellany by John Littlewood. The writer calculated that an alert human notices 1,008,000 facts in 35 days. This means that coincidences with a one-in-a-million chance of happening SHOULD happen to each of us every five weeks.

I was a bit skeptical about this. Until, checking the facts for this column, I looked up Wikipedia, which confirmed most of the stuff above. On its page about author Nick Hornby, I read that the writer had based his novel about a suicide bridge on a real location: a place in a grubby little part of London called the Archway Bridge. Hey! That’s MY bridge. Now THAT is an amazing coincidence.

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