Mens Temporum . UK

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Dancing Perfectly in Time

On the 28th September 2017 my wife and I went to see the fabulous modern stage revival of the musical 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane and this gave me an interest in finding the original musical films from the 1930s made by Busby Berkeley. It was not until 28th November 2022 that I eventually sought out a set of DVDs of the collection for sale on eBay at a good price and bought them but they didn’t arrive for some time. The sender sent me evidence that he had posted them but there were two problems, firstly that the post office at his end had copied my postcode into their system incorrectly and secondly that the Royal Mail workers were staging strikes, so there was no saying where the parcel had gone, if anywhere, or when it would be delivered although the tracking system stated that it hadn’t been delivered anywhere yet. With the strikes causing delays to much of the pre-Christmas post I kept telling the sender to hold off sending me a refund or claiming for a lost parcel with Royal Mail as I was sure that it would arrive eventually, estimating that that would most likely be towards the middle of January.

Eventually, my confidence waning, on Thursday the 5th January I told him to put in a lost parcel claim at the end of the following week, so on Friday the 13th January, if it hadn't turned up by then, but on Tuesday 10th the postman gave me the by then extremely battered package solely held together by elastic bands. The boxed set of DVDs inside was undamaged though. It had been delayed six weeks but I had nevertheless anticipated when it would arrive to within a couple of days as I had decided that my intuition would have let me down if it didn't arrive on the Wednesday at the latest. My lack of confidence had only resulted in me widening my estimate to just over a week, but in fact seven days when there would be post delivered as Sunday was excluded, and the parcel had arrived precisely halfway through that period, so I had actually allowed a margin of three days either side of the actual date without knowing it. That may well be seen as just a good guess and this incident could easily be disregarded had I not had such a good feeling about the missing parcel up until those last few days and had there not been a subsequent incident.

A week or so after the parcel was delivered we actually watched the original 1933 version of 42nd Street on one of the DVDs. I had recently bought a new satellite recorder to add to our growing collection of video recorders, all of which still had outstanding TV programmes on them waiting to be watched, so we started to watch those on the oldest machine to clear them out. Among them were some remaining unwatched episodes of the long running TV series Warehouse 13 that we had watched from time to time over the years. In the weeks following we eventually watched almost all of these until there were three apparently left, but I had actually marked up the last two wrongly and they were other programmes, so we were watching the very final episode of the series when we saw in it endless lines of chorus girls tap dancing to the title song from 42nd Street in routines similar to those in the original Busby Berkeley film that we had watched just a few weeks earlier. We discovered that these scenes, where the warehouse becomes filled with the mystical girls dancing in perfect time and anyone near them is also entranced into dancing as well, were the very last filmed as a memorable finale before the whole series was wrapped up. Some aspects of the scenes were actually based on the 1933 film rather than the much later Broadway stage show as well.

It wasn’t until I checked all the dates involved that I realised just how peculiar the coincidences were. The video recorder showed that I had recorded that last episode on the 27th October 2017, about a month after we had seen the stage show at the theatre in London. There was no specific reason for such a coincidence as the first broadcast of the TV series had ended years before that. When I checked the dates of the more recent events I realised that we had watched that last episode on the 8th February 2023, also about a month after the collection of Berkeley’s 1930s films had eventually been delivered to us many weeks late. When I calculated the exact number of days "about a month" actually was in each case I discovered that it was thirty days in one case and twenty-nine in the other. I was dismayed at this as I couldn't believe that the phenomenon would result in such a close coincidence without getting it exactly right, the precise manipulation of dates being characteristic of it. Then I realised that I had got my arithmetic wrong as I had overlooked the fact that September is one day shorter than January, so the period was actually twenty-nine days in both cases. My dismay immediately turned to elation as I told my wife about this amazing coincidence. My faith in the phenomenon had been vindicated after all.

I find it astonishing that having left the programmes unwatched for over five years without knowing their contents these precisely matching coincidences should have occurred. There are just too many contributing variables and unknowns involved to make any sense of them at all. It is almost inconceivable that I could have contrived that final coincidence even unconsciously. Neither my wife nor I could recall even which year we saw 42nd Street at the theatre so she looked up the date in her diaries after we watched that television programme. When the video recorder was recording them years ago it overran by several days and I evidently had to stop the recordings manually when I realised that the broadcasts had ended, so I didn't know which actually was the last recording of Warehouse 13 and even then the broadcasts could have stopped at the end of a season rather than the end of the entire series. Anyway, we didn't know that the very last episode included that reference to 42nd Street until we watched it either. We were clearly not avid fans of the series but just watched odd episodes of it occasionally over the years after recording it so there was no reason for us to have known anything about that last episode. If this is actually an example of PMIR in action then it is truly astonishing in its potential. It is even possible that my rapid change of mood from dismay to elation itself triggered the phenomenon, but that is just speculation.


While writing this article I didn't actually calculate exactly how many days lay between the two dates in 2017 and the corresponding two in 2023 all mentioned above but just estimated that period. In fact the exact figure was 1930 days. If I were looking for more coincidences then I would mention that the film Whoopee!, released in October 1930, was the first Hollywood production on which Busby Berkeley was the dance director although he had previously worked on Broadway musicals in the 1920s. That film already contained the characteristic techniques which would be his trademark in his more celebrated films in later years. However, I have added this small coincidence just as an opportunity to pay tribute to the man himself, a master of the exact timing of interconnected events if ever there was one.

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