What If?

Many people say one should never ponder over what might or might not have happened. All that matters is what did happen, or what is happening now. I find it impossible not consider what might have happened if I had at various points along the way chosen another road. I have my regrets, some of which I cannot write about here, and I have had my compensations, which could not have happened if I had taken a different route.

If relationships had gone otherwise – Kay, Panny, Claire

One of the most crucial decisions we make in life is who to share our lives with. There were at least three women in my life that I might have stayed with, and the two women I married I might easily not have done.

Shortly after meeting Kay in 1973 I was quite sure she was the woman I would marry. Had I not been so confused and had I paid more attention to her needs that is what would have happened. All sorts of further sub ‘what ifs?’ come into consideration here. For example, what if I hadn’t believed my Egyptian friends when they told me that the flight on which Kay was arriving in Cairo had been delayed. Then she wouldn’t have suffered acute anxiety at finding herself alone in a very alien country late at night, with no means of contacting me. And what we hadn’t taken the metro to Old Cairo, but had used a taxi instead. Then I wouldn’t have been pick-pocketed and our holiday wouldn’t have been the disaster it became. After we split up in 1974 I was working at Heathrow the day Kay flew out to her teaching job in Hong Kong, and was able to see her onto the plane. In Hong Kong she met a German Canadian, moved with him to Canada, had a very adventurous time in the wilds of Canada, and then bore a daughter. I met them in Toronto in the early 80s when I was at a TEFL conference there, and it was as if we’d never been apart. And then just after I had separated from Angie and she was again single we met briefly when she was visiting her aged mother in Worthing, and then corresponded briefly. But she backed off; what if she hadn’t. Shortly after that, and unknown to me, she began her long battle against lung cancer, from which she died in 2010.

Had things gone differently, I can be reasonably sure we would have travelled adventurously together and then had children. It’s likely we would have ended up living in the Middle East. I think it’s also probable we would have rediscovered and explored together the spiritual dimension of life – our short correspondence in the mid-nineties suggested this. And most probably I would have had to cope with her early death.

On the other hand I would have missed the great adventure of being married to Angie and having children with her. I wouldn’t have become reasonably fluent in German, I wouldn’t have learnt all that I did from her parents about the war from the German side, and almost certainly I wouldn’t have done the MA in the Psychology of Therapy and Counselling or written the dissertation on the influence of Goethe on Freud, or gone on to do my doctoral research on the early history of psychoanalysis. All of these arose out of my marriage to Angie, and in the case of my doctorate, brought it to an end. I suspect that had I married Kay I would have avoided this heartache, for although we would have had our bumps along the way, I suspect we would have stayed together.

And of course, all that has happened since I left Angie would not have happened either, or at least would have happened quite differently, and I would not have discovered the happiness I now have with Christine.

On the contrary, I was convinced that it couldn’t work from the moment Panny, a Thai fellow student at the Sorbonne, made her feelings for me known. But I was wrong; I can now see that it could have done. I suspect that the cultural difference between us would have been no greater than that between Angie and me. She had lived in America, and was very Americanised. My opposition to carrying our relationship further was based on our intellectual incompatibility, but seen from a distance that seems a much less important than it did then.

If Panny and I had married (and we would have had to have done that) Bangkok would have become a second home, I would no doubt have benefited from Panny’s family being comfortably off, we would nevertheless have argued a lot, and we might well eventually have gone our different ways. In the meantime I think it’s quite likely we would have lived in Thailand, the Middle East and the US. I would have become such a different person as a result of all this, that I find it very difficult to imagine where I would be now.

Claire, whom I met in Paris while I was still with Panny, seemed just right for me. But I couldn’t abandon Panny, and so our relationship was doomed from the start. ‘What if’ it hadn’t been like that? Well, I can see that it might have worked. It certainly wouldn’t have been plain sailing, and I fear it would have ended in separation, but it would also have been extremely intense. Paris would have become even more or a home than it did become in those days. While walking down a hill to the Danube near Linz I considered abandoning my walk to the Middle East and returning to Paris to be with Claire. I doubt if it would have worked at that stage, and that’s probably what I decided at the time. I think it was Claire who recommended Les carnets du major Thompson by Pierre Daninos, and I think some aspects of the relationship between Thompson and his French wife would have been reflected (and were for a short period) reflected in ours. I felt like an emotional bull in a china shop compared with Claire’s fine feeling, hence my doubt about whether we could have sustained a durable relationship.

I visited Claire some ten years later, and we still got on very well. She had by then been involved in a serious car accident, and was, I guess, permanently traumatised by this.

If we had been taught the right syllabus at Birmingham College of Commerce

I only discovered during the celebrations of my sixtieth birthday that the reason so many of us studying sociology in my year at Birmingham College of Commerce only gained third class degrees. Our lecturers were following the wrong syllabus for the Part I exams. If you did badly in these, you were unlikely to get more than a third.

I learned this from Roger Stephens, a fellow student, who came on the walk we did from Brighton to Lewes the day after my birthday. He also told me that our course tutor had in fact admitted to this mistake at the reunion I organised in 1993, but it seems I was too busy to take it in. So for most of my working life I harboured an inferiority complex about class of degree, only to discover that it very possibly was not my fault!

Had this not happened, I might have gained a Lower Second, probably not higher, but this could have encouraged me enough to apply for a post-graduate course (as indeed some did even with their thirds), and I think it not improbable this would have led eventually to my becoming an academic. That would have been the natural conclusion of my self-view in those days. I’m not at all sure, however, that it would have brought me the happiness I sought.

If I had pursued an academic career

I tried unsuccessfuly to re-enter the academic world in the early 70s (see Philosophy). After a year or so in Saudi Arabia I re-tasted the academic sweetie when I studied for a certificate (later renamed diploma) in TEFL under the guidance of some British Council sponsored lecturers at the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. Through this I became fascinated by linguistics – much more so that I did with the theory of teaching English, it has to be said. And then after Saudi I did my MA and DPhil, after which I envisaged myself at least becoming a lecturer.

Two circumstances mitigated against this. The first was the reduction in opportunities in the academic world at that time due to funding cuts. The Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Kent closed down just after I was awarded my doctorate, and the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sussex suffered a cut of around a quarter in its funding. The other circumstance which made the pursuit of an academic career difficult was my need to continue living in Brighton.

While I was in France in 2000 researching Wilhelm Stekel’s son, I received the news that my father was gravely ill, and hurried home to see him before he died. Thereafter I became largely responsible for moving my mother to sheltered accommodation in Brighton and attending to her needs here. This made moving away from Brighton impossible; but even if this hadn’t been the case, I would have been reluctant to move far away from my children. My mother died in 2006, but by then I was looking forward to retirement.

If Hillbrow hadn’t folded

If I had given up vegetarianism

If I had two more years stayed at Shrewsbury

If I had proved that Freud & Stekel met 10 years earlier

If a higher offer hadn’t been made for 8 Clifton Hill in 1996

If I had become proficient in Arabic


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