Iam a great one for omens. So the arrival in my inbox of two emails, completely unconnected, from two different people called Dirk had to be interpreted as a sign. The chances of two people in Britain being called Dirk outside the pages of comedy science fiction are pretty slim. The chances of them both emailing me within minutes of each other are remote to the point of being science fictional.
Now, here’s what is even weirder. Both Dirks sent their emails twice. So my inbox had four Dirks lined up one after the other between the hours of 4.38 and 5.08 p.m. The usual nonstop flow of spam halted mysteriously between those times, so that no one else interrupted the flow of Dirks.
The first Dirk was Dirk Ingram. He was from a company called BandA Marketing and was trying to sell me a timeshare in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. The Mfuti Leisure Club promised that I would find myself in the wilderness. Not ‘find myself’ as in just arrive there. ‘Find’ as in spiritually discover myself. I should not miss this one-off opportunity to secure my own piece of heaven, Dirk One said. For just 95,000 South African rand I would end up happier, healthier, more balanced, harmonised and restored.
It is not impossible that the second Dirk was from the pages of a Douglas Adams novel for he was called Dirk Vennix. He claimed to be working for the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, as good a cover as any for an intergalactic detective agency. Think about it. If you were going to carry out holistic time-travelling investigations wouldn’t you pretend to be from a tobacco lobbying group?
His emails included a long, innocuous press release responding to the government’s proposals to restrict cigarette sales. But what did he really mean? And what was the connection, clairvoyantly speaking, between tobacco promotion and South African timeshare hunting lodges?
I tried rearranging the letters of the two names. Do not laugh. I receive mail every week from people rearranging the letters of headlines of stories I have written into warnings, usually about the dangers of the EU. Someone once helpfully rearranged my name into a line from the Bible. It wasn’t a very nice one. I am only an amateur and so didn’t get much further than ‘drive kin nx’ and ‘na grim kid’ from the two names separately. Put together they yielded some nonsense about ‘mixing dark drink genie’ or ‘vixen drag kind mink’. Nowhere could I find a warning. There didn’t seem to be any exciting imperative words to be had. Suddenly I felt a huge surge of admiration for Dan Brown. This sort of daftness is not as easy as it looks.
If this were Brown, he would have jumbled up the names and found the plot of an entire novel by now. He would have wrought some cosmic significance out of the timings of the emails, possibly by running the numbers together — 438508 being the pin number of a bank vault containing a sacred relic — or by adding 438 and 508 together and finding the combination to the door of a secret vault in the Vatican. I tried all this and got nowhere. Not even the outline of an airport fiction bestseller. And so the search went on.
For the next few days it did not help matters that every time I looked at the clock it was 11.11. This has happened to me before. I was walking around Regent’s Park in the twilight with my Venezuelan friend Alessandro. The atmosphere was deeply eerie and when we finally got back in the car and switched on the engine the car clock was showing 11.11.
‘That is very special,’ said Alessandro. ‘Eleven is a sacred number.’ Then we looked up at the moon and saw quite clearly a benevolent, smiling face.
But enough of this whimsy. I have been doing some proper research and have discovered that psychologists have given what I am suffering from a name. It is called ‘apophenia’, or applying meaning to randomly reoccurring data, where none really exists. Apophenia feeds on itself, which is why duplicated Dirks and smiling moons are so exciting. Simply put, the more conscious we are of something, the more we’ll notice it.
I must therefore humbly accept my current fate of being unable to escape the number 11. It pops up constantly, taunting me with my own irrational belief that it is something more than a coincidence (an 11-letter word), something which might carry life-altering significance. At first it sent a shiver up my spine. Now I just shrug and think ‘Where’s the multimillion dollar book deal in that?’
PS: Anagrams on a postcard please. With apologies to the real Dirks.
Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.