Being somewhat of a globetrotter I've had more than my fair share of these experiences, which I'm going to share with you in this account. I've probably forgotten as many as I'm going to write down, but the most outlandish ones are about to be recorded in this story, for time immemorial.
I'll start this account with my first recorded memory of a "small world experience" way back in 1977. A year clearly defined by the Queen's silver jubilee, and associated street parties that took place in most streets up and down the country. My family had not long moved to the lovely little village of Helmshore, where I'd started Broadway County Primary school the previous year. Every weekend my sister and I would go to my grandma's house in Burnley for 2 nights, so that my mum and dad could have some "alone time". One particular Saturday afternoon we were taken to Towneley Park, where lo and behold I bumped into my class mate Steven Bentley, who was cycling around on his Raleigh Commando bike. Now from an adult view point and in this connected world, this seems like a minor thing, but to an 8 year old kid back in 1977, this literally blew my mind. There I was in a park a full 10 miles from home, and there was my classmate Steven Bentley showcasing his new bicycle whilst I was there to show off my own new pride and joy - a maroon Raleigh Tomahawk, complete with a shiny blue horn (beep beep).
I've started off small so lets up the stakes. The next "SWE" I'm going to tell you about happened some 11 years later in 1988. I'd not long got back from a lads holiday to Callela, Spain, where I'd met legions upon legions of people. Amongst these people were a group of lads from Liverpool, who if the truth be known were a bunch of tossers. Anyway I digress! A few months after the trip had ended my mate Dave Grime and I decided to head to London in my Ford Escort Mk11, whose big end had gone (the cars not Daves). On the way down the car was going so slow that I started to fall asleep at the wheel. The small amount of pragmatism that we had between us led us to a pit stop at Watford Gap services, where we decided to park up and sleep for the night (it was OK to do so back in those days). The next morning Dave and I were rudely awoken by a group of lads banging on the car windows whilst giving us the wanker sign. A situation that was very scary until I realised that the offenders were the same lads from Liverpool that I'd met in Callela a few months previous. They hadn't even realised that it was me until I woke up startled and looked straight at them. What were the odds of that? The lads by the way were off to see Liverpool play one of the London football teams.
Right, so things are starting to get a little bit weird, lets hit you with another one from later in the same year. Since my little trip to Spain I'd decided that a "normal" life in a dead end job was not for me, and after hearing about my mate Jim Corrigan's brother's adventures on a kibbutz in Israel, I decided that this sounded like the life I wished for. Having just come out of a 3 year, awful first love, with a highly jealous girlfriend, I'd lost touch with all my friends. Something prompted me to ring my mate Luke, out of the blue, to inform him of my plans. You'll never believe this but he was about to ring me because he'd come to the exact same decision to go on a kibbutz. The deal was sealed, we went to a meeting, bought our tickets, and were on our way - the beginning of my wanderlust.
I'd been working in a circuit board manufacturing company before I headed to the kibbutz, and I'd started working there on Bonfire Night 1986 (November 5th) - the same date as my now longstanding friend Ian. Ian also decided that travelling was a life he desired, and was eager to come to Israel with me and Luke. However, as we had already been given our start date, we were reluctant to wait around. We left without him and were placed on Kvustat Schiller, one of around 500 kibbutzim, spread around the country. By February 1989, Luke and I had been on the kibbutz for a month, and our daily routine of early rise, pick 10 (massive) crates of oranges, finish work at lunch, before heading into the nearby town of Rehovot, had become firmly established. One afternoon we got back from Rehovot to be informed by our kibbutz volunteer mates that somebody from the neighbouring kibbutz had been looking for me. Having my suspicions that this could be Ian I crossed the orange fields, wandered through the banana plantations, passed Shiltex (the kibbutz factory), until I eventually arrived at Givat Brenner. And there he was my mate Ian, who had randomly been placed on the next kibbutz to my own. It's all getting a bit Twilight Zone around here! How can this get any spookier?
Well I'll tell you! After returning from the kibbutz with a few months in Egypt and Italy/Sicily thrown in for good measure, I found myself working in another circuit board company, this time on the outskirts of Manchester. This was a good time to be in Manchester, with the Madchester scene (Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, Hacienda nightclub etc), going off in a a big way. I worked at Manchester Circuits for 3 years, and they were 3 of the best working years of my life. But it was time to move on, my itchy feet once again got the better of me. I'd met somebody at Cairo train station who had just done a season at an American children's summer camp. The conversation had struck a chord with me, and 3 years later I was on my way again, to experience this for myself. Once again Ian (who had incidentally also been working with me at Manchester Circuits) decided that he wanted in on the Camp America action. And once again it was not possible that we could get placed on the same camp.
On June 9th 1992 I headed to Crane Lake Camp, on the state line border of Massachusetts and New York State, where I took up my role as kitchen assistant, along with 13 other mainly British people. The nearest big town being Pittsfield, which was home to the Berkshire Mall. I can't imagine it now, but to my 22 yr old self a trip to Berkshire Mall was an exciting prospect. However, I'd been on the camp for 3 weeks before this became a reality. As a group of my camp mates and I were wandering around the mall for the first time, taking in all the new fast food joints such as Wendys, Arbys and Taco Bell, who should we bump into but my mate Ian. He'd only randomly been placed on Camp Winadoo, one of the neighbouring camps. Now take a minute to think about this! America is huge, and there are literally thousands of camps, spread across every state. We'll come back to Crane Lake Camp for the next "SWE".
The chef on our camp was a despicable human being by the name of Al. Al spent the entire summer intimidating the male kitchen hands, whilst trying to sleep with the female kitchen hands. He preyed on the fact that we only got our flight tickets bought for us if we completed the whole summer. As he regaled us with tales of how he'd slept with many of the kitchen hands from previous years. He even bragged to us that one year the entire kitchen staff had been fired. None of us really believed him, instead electing to tolerate his bullshit for the sake of an easy life.
When I left Crane Camp in late August of 1992, I travelled around the States for a few months by train (Amtrak). This was followed by a month in Fiji and New Zealand, and 3 months of living in Sydney, Australia. After a terrible bout of irritable bowel syndrome, and a week of hospitalisation on nil by mouth, I decided that I'd had enough of Sydney, and headed west for the grape picking season in Mildura. Before the season started I stayed a few days in Canberra for a bit of rest and recuperation before the hard labour began. And it was here that I met a nice bunch of English fellows who were also on a world trip. But what happened to the SWE story I hear you cry? Well, get on this! I'd been hanging out with the guys for a few days before realising that one of them had spent the summer of 1991 also working on a summer camp. The conversation went something like this.
Me: Nice one! So did I, where were you?
Lad: I was in Massachusetts.
Me: Me too, where about's in Massachusetts?
Lad: It was called Crane Lake Camp.
Now hold on a minute, let's rewind. Remember that there are 50 states in America, and a I said earlier there are literally thousands, upon thousands of camps littered across every state. The chances of this happening are microscopically slim. As it turned out the lad (whose name I have long forgotten) was also (spookily) working in the kitchen, and was one of the kitchen staff that had been fired by Al. It wasn't a lie after all. But hold on! If you think that this in itself is a crazy coincidence just wait till you hear the next part.
Whilst I was working at Crane Lake Camp I was sharing a room with 2 other kitchen staff, Hugh and Daniel. Our room was right above the kitchen and was tiny, just about big enough to fit a bunk bed and one single bed. We flipped a coin to see who got the best/worst bed, and I ended up with the top bunk (which I fell out of on 3 occasions), with my face literally pushed up against the ceiling. Inches from my face was some graffiti of a huge face labelled Harry the Hood. Harry the Hood being the a cartoon character that was emblazoned on milk cartons. I spent the entire summer of 1992 eyeballing Harry the Hood. But what's this got to do with anything? I'll tell you! In fact I'll do this in the form of a conversation.
Me: Which room did you sleep in?
Lad: Do you know where the top of the stairs came up from the small dining hall, next to the kitchen?
Me: The far stairs or the near stairs?
Lad: Near stairs. If you went up those stairs and turned left, walked down the corridor and turned left again, I was in the small room on the left.
It took me a minute to follow his directions, but upon doing so, I realised that he must have been in the same room as me.
Me: No way! That's the room I was in! And which bed were you in? (in my head, I'm saying please be the top bunk, please be the top bunk).
Lad: The top bunk.
Me: You've got to be kidding, that's the same one that I slept in.
And then both at the same time we shouted out "Harry the Hood", before grabbing each other, and dancing around the hostel common room like a pair of loons. The chances of that happening have got to be so incredibly slim, that a higher force has to have been at work. But once again, if you think that that's bizarre just wait till you hear my next SME.
After the grape picking season I spent a month in Adelaide partying at the Adelaide City Backpackers, where one night on a journey to the cinema to watch the plane crash movie Alive, a large bunch of people bumped into each other at a crossroads. Bizarrely, everybody seemed to know each other from different places - but this is not as strange as you may think on the backpacker circuit. It was at this crossroads gathering that I was introduced to my now good mates Andy and Danielle, who I was to spend lots more time with years later when I move to The Netherlands. I was also introduced to a Dutch guy by the name of Sander. Take a note of that name he's going to crop up again 8 years later.
From Adelaide a group of us headed off up the red centre of Australia utilising our bus passes on the way. It was on one of these bus journeys that I got talking to an English girl that had also travelled around the States the previous year. This next story is going to blow your mind.
During our conversation the girl and I talked about our experience Amtrakking around the States, and we eventually fell upon the subject of an Amtrak bus that you could take for free from Seattle to the Canadian city of Vancouver. Ian and I had taken this bus during our trip, and found ourselves to be the only passengers. Our bus driver, a man by the name of Jerry, had convinced us to get off the bus for an hour in the city of Bellingham, where he was knocking off a married lady. According to Jerry he had a log cabin in the woods, which he used to take women back to for a bit of carnal pleasure. Before going off for his surreptitious meeting Jerry took Ian and I into the bar, and introduced us to the barman, "you don't mind looking after these 2 British guys do you?", he asked him. "Of course not", came his reply. And with that Jerry took off to meet his chick. The barman meanwhile went above and beyond the task of looking after us, and introduced us to practically everyone in the bar - who were all heading to a house party. By the time Jerry came back an hour later, Ian and I were having the time of our lives. To cut a long story short, Ian and I ended up going to a house party, whilst Jerry took his woman off to his log cabin. The next day he arranged for his bus driver mate Sanjay to pick us up on the next Amtrak bus that blasted through Bellingham. An adventure in itself one might say, but it's the next part that makes this story all that more bizarre.
So, I was telling the English girl the story about our night in Bellingham, when all of a sudden she went quiet, and a little awkward looking. Something inside me told me that she'd also been a victim of Jerry's philandering. Not being one to hold back I came right out and asked her "you didn't get banged by Jerry did you?", and of course she did. The girl had found herself in the same situation as Ian and I, but instead of meeting up with his married woman, he'd taken the girl back to his log cabin. Could my SWE's get any weirder? Well yes they could!
Later on that year in the November of 1993, Ian and I found ourselves travelling through Indonesia. Starting off in Bali, we travelled through Java and into Sumatra. It was here in a place called Bukit Lawang that my next SWE experience was to take place. After a fun packed day rubber tubing down the Bohorok river, our group of travellers were more than a little tired. The others went off to bed for an early night, whilst I decided to go for a drink in a real cool jungle hut bar. The bar was practically empty apart from a few youngish Sumatran lads and one bespectacled English fella. I approached the English chap, and as per usual when you're travelling our conversation revolved around travelling. The English bloke had been travelling around South America for 6 months, but had returned home for a friends wedding in London, before heading off to travel around Asia for 6 months. By the time he reached Bukit Lawang he was a month into his Asian odyssey. During the flow of conversation I asked him what he did in England, and he told me that he'd just finished studying at Cambridge University. "What were you studying?", I asked him. To which he replied "electrical engineering". "Oh, my best mate's bird was studying electrical engineering at Cambridge", I informed him. "Her name is Sarah, Sarah..... Sarah" (shit I'd forgotten her surname). "Sarah Neale", came his reply. And by Jesus, he was not only friends with Sarah Neale, but he had also been out 5 weeks earlier in London, not only with Sarah, but with my best mate Dangerous Dave. I'd not seen Dave since I left for America 18 months earlier. The odds of bumping into somebody that even knew Dave were slim enough, never mind somebody that had been out with him in a bar in London 5 weeks earlier, and was now the only other white guy in jungle hut in Sumatra.