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16 October 2014
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This "digital " age

A mistaken digit on fax machine leads to a trans -atlantic reunion 50 years on.

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NOEL BRIEN (in Canada) emailed YPAM with the following story proving that fact can be stranger than fiction !!

Following evacuation to the country during The Blitz, our family returned to Belfast but, since another addition was on the way, instead of returning to our small Strandburn Drive house, we relocated to Cardigan Drive, in consequence of which my two older sisters and I attended Belfast Model Elementary School on Cliftonville Road.

Among the neigbourhood boys I became good friends with over the years was Chris MacAree who lived on nearby Kingsmere Avenue, he later attended St Malachy's while I went on to "Inst". During that time he developed a spine problem which required him to lie in a body cast for many months, and after school I would often go to see him in the City Hospital, marvelling at how patiently he bore this trial, and at his resulting decision to become a doctor. He had had an older sister marry a Canadian airman from Oshawa, to where his older brother later emigrated, and following my own 1954 departure for Canada we lost touch.

Decades later when people would refer to "the troubles" and I would cite how "the divide" simply didn't exist for many people including Chris and me, I would often wonder whether he had survived to fulfil his medical career ambition, and what had become of him.  Strangely, he and others from those years have been in my mind recently much more than usual.

Last Thursday evening our fax number rang, but when I looked no paper message had emerged from the fax machine, its dial simply showing "communication error".  When this happens I usually look next at my phone's Caller ID display, but the number it showed was not familiar, so in trying to be helpful I dialled it anyway.  A male English-accented voice answered and I told him my fax had rung but since no message had arrived, I thought he would want to know. 

fax machine

It quickly became clear that instead of dialling a friend's phone number at 3527, his finger had slipped on to the 4 by mistake - a truly "digital" error! 

We might easily have just left it at that but, as I often do, I remarked on his accent, enquiring from which part of England he came, to which he answered "Ipswich, but that was a very long time ago, 1953 in fact", so I responded that I had emigrated from Belfast just a year later. 

"Oh" he said, "I have a very good friend, a doctor, who came from Belfast not long after that" mentioning the Montreal hospital in which he had first worked, and went on to tell me that his friend had subsequently become a professor of psychiatry in the USA. "May I ask your friend's name?" .... "Yes, Chris MacAree" he replied.

I was almost dumbstruck with astonishment at this amazing coincidence, which the caller chose to describe as 'the finger of fate'!  He kindly provided Chris's phone number and encouragement to use it, so I need hardly add that I phoned early the next morning, both of us being delighted at renewing a contact lost fifty years ago!

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