Tim Walker’s Small World

No. You’re wrong.

By no means should it ever be considered a small world. How could it be? It’s over 14,000 kilometres through – how could anybody be so simple as to maintain that it’s a small world? – that’s over 44,000 kilometres around, without taking into account undulations.

Fact. Whichever way the phrase is turned, there is utterly no merit in that hackneyed idiom used by the mindless maudlin while gushing over news that a close relative crossed paths with an old school friend then had lunch at his cousin’s restaurant who just happens to be your niece’s husband, or similarly unlikely occurrence…

You see, as much as some of us like to claim otherwise, coincidence is a legitimate phenomenon. Further to that, a fair bit of what takes place that we like to refer to as ‘coincidence’ is less the coinciding of incidences and in fact is rather more akin to ‘unexpected’ with a flavouring of ‘unusual’; perhaps ‘ironic’ with a smattering of ‘premeditated’, or just plain ‘nonsensical’ with a whole lot of ‘silly’. It is this misuse of our beloved ‘coincidence’ which is likely the leading cause of our unwillingness to regard it as a genuine thing.

Regarding small worlds, in New Zealand at least, a better phrase to describe somebody’s encountering someone who has already met that somebody and has always been good friends with their mother’s daughter who is married to their uncle is, ‘it’s a small country’, because of population, this much is fact.

The other day in an attempt to stymie what I recognised as the inexorable onset of mental fatigue, I rose from my computer and, for the first time this year having thrown down a number of bets on the greyhounds to run in my absence, made my brisk way to the garage to collect my post. En route I passed a residence where, as usual, the woman of the house was outside busying herself with something which, as usual, I was unable to identify at a glance; as usual her two dogs bounded towards me as I passed; as usual I acknowledged the woman with a friendly wave and “Mornin’”; as usual I turned leftward and afforded her dogs a similar greeting.

Unusually however, her one brown and one golden Labrador appeared to have since become one brown Labrador, and one…

I halted, and at the same time heard the woman attempting to extend my perfunctory greeting with further small-talk, eliciting a look of glee at someone actually stopping to discuss the recent changeable weather patterns.

“…how long have you had the greyhound?” I inquired, hoping that I had placed sufficient emphasis on ‘the’ to illustrate that it was greyhound racing, not the emaciated creatures themselves that interested me.

“Oh, yes,” said the woman, “we’re looking after him for a friend who trains them – he’s blind in one eye.”

Assuming the vision impairment related to the dog and not the trainer I added: “Right, yeah, I’m an avid fan of the greyhounds – what’s this trainer’s name, per chance?”

“Oh, ah … McInerney, my dau…”

John McInerney,” I concluded. “The pinnacle of greyhound racing in Canterbury.”

“Oh, you know him then..?”

“I know his dogs.”

“Oh yes, well did you know my daughter’s marrying his son?”

“Oh really?” I said, really not caring at all. “How about that?” I said, wrestling with the urge to drop a classic, ‘Wow, small world’. “You have a nice day then,” I said finally, resuming my stride.

The next ten minutes of that stroll was spent going over in my head – thought/mumbling about – what an amazing sequence had just taken place: for the first time in months placing a few electronic bets on McInerney’s dogs then heading out for a walk only to meet one of McInerney’s dogs and meeting also the mother of the girl who is soon to become John McInerney’s daughter-in-law.

Mind you, that doesn’t actually make the world any smaller than it was yesterday and once those initial ten minutes of consideration had passed, I realised that it was scarcely even a coincidence: perhaps my inexplicable desire to rekindle an old vice was, but anybody involved in the gambling fraternity would be familiar with the name ‘John McInerney’. Moreover Canterbury is a relatively small place; many people know many people. The odds, therefore, for one Cantabrian to know a family member of the fiance of another Cantabrian, are not huge. Then there’s the fact that this woman possibly has multiple daughters just as McInerney likely has numerous sons, meaning the network of possibility becomes greater still.

That right there divides the odds again until the situation becomes that it’s more unusual to not know someone in the family of the person who your acquaintance is engaged to wed.

Not a small world; not even truly a coincidence. Just basic arithmetic.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Whirl Des Nought-Small

Photography by Du Domass


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