Beyond belief: My close encounter of the weird kind

18 Dec

The real world really can be stranger than fiction. My reunion in a remote Costa Blanca bar with a dark stranger from my youth takes some believing.
I was driving my visitor John home from a mini shopping trip in Ciudad Quesada last summer when – not for the first time – he decided he fancied a beer. Hardly surprising on a hot summer’s afternoon in the tranquility of Doña Pepa. 

ALL MUSCLE: Doug in his bodybuilding days

‘’That place looks friendly enough,’’ said my former Sunday People colleague as our eyes fell on half a dozen people chatting happily over a drink in the sunshine.
We were in a sleepy sidestreet, not exactly a hotbed of tourist activity. And certainly not the sort of place to revive distant memories of my teenage years in South Wales.
The sunshine six, four women and two men, were clearly enjoying themselves. And my ears pricked up when one of the women suddenly giggled:
‘‘You Welsh – you’re all the same!’’
Nosey dragon that I am, I got up and sidled over. ‘’So who’s Welsh here, then?’’ I grinned, summoning up my best valleys accent.
I actually left Wales when I was 20, but my celtic patriotism remains a strong as ever –no doubt a reaction to being overrun by Mancunians since moving north in the ’70s.
It’s a bit different out here in Spain, of course, where there seem to be more Taffs than smoke-sodden bars.
‘’I’m Welsh and proud of it,’’ piped up a curly-haired mixed-race guy about my own age. ‘’Where are you from then?’’
‘’Well,’’ I mused, trying to condense my complicated  roots into a single sentence. ‘I lived in Barry, Cardiff and Caerphilly as a child but I started my working life in Pontypridd.’’
‘’Hey, I’m from near Ponty myself,’’ said the dark stranger. ‘’Who did you know there, then?’’
‘’Well, I knew Tom Jones – or Tommy Woodward as he was then,’’ I grinned. ”In fact, I gave him his first-ever newspaper write-ups.”

THE FULL PONTY: Donna and Doug's mentor Ray Thomas interviews Tom Jones in Pontypridd in the mid 1960s

‘’We all knew him,’’ quipped my new soulmate, to laughter from all corners. ‘’Who else did you know?’’
My mind immediately conjured up memories of the larger-than-life journalist who was my boss and mentor at the Pontypridd Observer. As a school leaver approaching my 17th birthday, he and his wife took me in as a lodger – and over my three years as a trainee reporter they effectively became my surrogate mum and dad.
‘’Well, my landlord was a guy called Ray Thomas, who was chief reporter of the local newspaper…’’ I ventured, expecting a blank reaction.
STRANGERS IN PARADISE: Doug, wife Kath and Donna celebrate their new friendship

Instead, my new acquaintance all but turned white with shock. I could see the name had a special significance to him, too.

In a flash, everything came together in my head and I realised in amazement just who this guy was.
A cold chill went down my spine. As forgotten images of a dusky teenager flashed before my eyes, I blurted out: ”My God, you’re not Doug are you?”
He nodded slowly – and the six other people realised this was a special moment for the both of us. ”We all came out in goose pimples,” one of those who witnessed the liaison told me later.
The two youngsters Ray and his wife Margaret had mentored in those dim and distant times had been brought face to face in the most unlikely circumstances. And Doug realised who I was at virtually the same moment.
I had heard so much about him during my time in Pontypridd. He had moved to Stoke-on-Trent with his family when he was eight, but the Thomases never stopped talking about him. You’d have thought he was their own son and they perpetually chatted about wanting him and me to meet because we had so much in common.
It never happened – but I did see many photos of him, most of them taken on his occasional visits back to Pontypridd when I never seemed to be around.
And he confided: ‘‘They were special people in my life and I was so jealous of you because you were living with them and I wasn’t.’’
Doug had been born to a young local woman in the nearby village of Abercynon, Ray’s birthplace, near the end of World War Two. His father was a black American GI who promptly disappeared back to the States and Doug was brought up in his mother’s all-white family, the only mixed-race child for miles around.
His childhood had naturally been difficult and he got into so many scrapes that it was almost inevitable that he would later become a professional boxer and champion body-builder.
Because of his unusual background, and his bond with Ray and Margaret, Doug’s name had remained vivid in my mind for well over four decades. But the chance of us ever meeting was remote in the extreme – even in the more likely surroundings of Pontypridd or Stoke.
As you might guess, Doug and his wife Kath, who also knew of me from her husband’s dim and distant past, are now among my best friends.
Indeed, Doug regularly jokes to me: ‘‘This is a friendship that is NEVER going to end.’’
He and Kath have been holidaying in the southern Costa Blanca for many years and cynics might say our meeting was pure coincidence. But although I am not a religious person, I am convinced the meeting was orchestrated from above.
You see, Margaret passed away just months before I finally met Doug. And I truly believe that she and arch-joker Ray – who died in the ’70s – set it all up from their new celestial home.
There is nothing they would have wanted more than for Doug and me to meet and now their wish has finally been granted.
Was our freak encounter merely a bizarre coincidence? Or did Ray and Margaret set it up from the grave? That’s for you to decide.
Article first published in Female Focus magazine, May 2010
You can read more of Donna’s tales and grumps at and

One Response to “Beyond belief: My close encounter of the weird kind”

  1. bethanage December 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    Hi Donna,

    This is a beautiful story and I think it illustrates the point perfectly that some things are just meant to happen. I’m a firm believer in fate and synchronicity and it’s lovely to hear that you are now such good friends. I agree with you that celestial forces were definitely at work here!

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