It is only a while ago that my chance meeting with Pope Francis caused me to write of the role that coincidence has played in my extraordinarily rich and eventful life, and already the death of Ronnie Biggs, on the very day he was due to arrive as my house guest, has furnished another example. Virtually none of the Western languages- English included- has a word meaning a coincidence of coincidences, while almost all Eastern languages do; doubtless that reflects a fundamental difference in prevailing philosophical outlook between the two hemispheres.
Ronnie I first met in 1970 when he consulted my opinion on a superficial dermal degradation that had arisen from a cosmetic surgical procedure he had endured some years earlier to affect a change to his appearance with a view to reducing the risk of recognition and capture. The consultation was a casual one at my apartments in Rio, and coincided with a regular weekly poker school which I held with some old German acquaintances. Ronnie fancied himself as a player, and inevitably he became part of the little group that met every Thursday for a high-stakes gamble. I gained the impression that he enjoyed the rush of adrenaline afforded by the games, which had been progressively more absent from the rest of his life as the risk of arrest had become more remote. For my part the sessions were a pleasant, light distraction from my intellectual labours.
In spite of his colossal gains from the train robbery, and the money his notoriety earned him through the rest of his life, Ronnie died penniless. I suspect that to be in part the result of a run of bad luck in his poker games with me, a run that went on for some time. About 43 years, I recall.
The popular press has today picked up on the coincidence between the timing of poor Ronnie's demise and his intended visit to my Mayfair home, where we had planned to be installed comfortably for the premier of the widely-heralded BBC dramatization of the Great Train Robbery. Some have suggested that the excitement of the impending spectacular might have been too much for Ronnie's enfeebled spirit. I can appreciate the rationale for such views; after all, it is not every day that a person has the opportunity to be my guest for an evening's TV.