Chance Meetings

In 1969 I went on holiday with my mum and dad: just the three of us. We’d gone about as far south as it’s possible to get in the UK without running out of land. Dad and I were partial to banana sandwiches (if you’ve never tried it you really must give it a shot) which my mum would always have packed in her bag. We’d decided to stop for lunch at the top of one of the many coastal zigzag walkways that characterise many Dorset resorts. Flasks of tea, bottles of orange juice, sandwiches and copious amounts of fruit, all would emerge from my mum’s seemingly bottomless bag. As we began making short shrift of our lunch I heard my mum mutter something almost under her breath. “I don’t believe it”. Dad and I immediately followed her gaze down the slope of the zigzag. To our mutual amazement we saw two people walking uphill towards us with a smile of recognition on their faces. We’d come all that way to escape from the well synchronised often mundane life of routine that invariably optimises the life we all have at home, hence the holiday, only to be faced with two of our neighbours from Thoroughsale Road in Corby. Don’t get me wrong, these were two of the loveliest folk one could wish to have living as a neighbour, however, one has to wonder at the chances of ‘bumping’ into people so familiar. Then, in the late 90’s, I found myself on a business trip in the midst of a very cold JanuaryNovember in Prague.  These were the days when very few western Europeans had ever ventured that far east, especially in winter.  On Sunday the 5th I had been invited by an agency director, Ivana,  to go for a walk around the city with her beautiful Dalmatian dog. Anyway, to cut a very long story short, we were walking across the Charles Bridge towards the castle when we were confronted by a bank of photographers facing our way taking pictures of some guy all dressed in black with his back to us. I decided to stop and watch, out of curiosity.  So I sat on the bridge wall, legs dangling. When one of the photographers shouted something like ‘Take five!’ I seized my opportunity.   I shouted across ‘Who are you?’   ‘Gerry Rafferty. Who are you?’ ‘  Richard Oliff’.   He then came and sat with me on the wall next to some gothic statue or two. I told him I hadn’t recognized him without his beard. We talked for a while about life the universe and everything. About Billy Connolly and my home town of Corby.  Then one of the photographers called us both over. He wanted pictures of Gerry with the Dalmatian. He thought that the combination of the bleak day, the gothic bridge, and the whole environment might lend itself to some beautiful black and white photography.  As a consequence, somewhere in the world there are pictures of Gerry on that bridge with a Dalmatian.

Richard Oliff & Gerry Rafferty in Prague

After all that we had a couple of pictures taken together, he signed a scrap of paper that I had in my pocket, we shook hands and parted company.On another occasion in 2003 I found myself  once again Prague on a short winter long break, if that makes sense, as it’s a city that holds many special memories of my time working there in the 90’s.  At the base of the hill that leads to the castle there’s a lovely little café-bar which serve a fine warm Brandy Alexander (Cognac with milk or cream). As I sipped and people-watched from my window vantage I almost choked as I thought I recognised someone who had just walked past the window in the fleeting of moments. I ran outside and shouted after the person without a thought to the monumental embarrassment that may ensue in the event of error. He turned and looked at me with equal disbelief. Here was a man that I’d worked with on a daily basis at BBC Radio Northampton. We spent half an hour chatting in the warmth of the café then went our separate ways. Then, last year, I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the annual Brit Awards which were broadcast live on ITV. Robbie Williams celebrated his 16th Brit Award by treating the ‘gong’ with great respect. He and his band then marked his Outstanding Contribution to Music award with a live medley of his hits which continued even after the live broadcast was over. His lead guitarist that night, and permanent member of Robbie Williams’ band, was the distinctly white haired Neil Taylor.

Last week Neil was a guest on my show. Another chance meeting never thought possible

Richard Oliff with Neil Taylor and Sachi Copley. Friday 23rd September 2011. 1500-1600

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