What is chance, fate? How everything that we and others do influences our lives.
At some stage I’m thinking of writing a novel (perhaps with the title “God’s Computer” or similar) based on the role played by “chance” in life. Each life, it seems to me, depends on so many events over which we have no control that it would need a huge computer to sort them out. How one’s parents met, where they decided to live, what house they bought and hence who one’s neighbours were, what schools one attended, who one’s friends were: a slight change in any of these and one’s entire life could have been different.
A favourite story of mine illustrates this. At school in England, I had always loved languages and got a scholarship to Cambridge University in French and German. But in those years one was faced with doing two years of National (military) Service. With my place at Cambridge assured, I had the choice of doing this first or deferring it until after university. The conventional wisdom was that it was better to get it out of the way so one could enjoy university more afterwards—and that’s what I decided, giving the matter no serious thought at all.
Now I happened to have a distant cousin who was a warrant officer in charge of trade selection in the Royal Air Force. Knowing my love of languages, he guaranteed that I would get onto the forces’ Russian course if I chose the RAF (otherwise I would probably have gone into the army). So I learned Russian in the RAF, getting onto the advanced course to be trained as an interpreter: after the war, it was decided that there should be a reserve of people who spoke Russian in case of necessity. The advanced course also took place at Cambridge, where we had the happy rank of Officer Cadet/Acting Sergeant (all of the privileges but none of the duties of officers!), wore civvies, and had a minimum of military chores—but we had to work seriously, with the threat of being “returned to unit” if we failed one of the weekly exams.
At the end of this, I then went up to Cambridge as a student and, after almost two years of intensive Russian, I naturally took Russian as well as French and German.
Then another “chance” event took place. After graduating, I got a job that I decided wasn’t for me, and so found myself out of work—it was then that I saw an advertisement for a teacher of English in Sardinia, in what turned out to be a pretty dreadful Berlitz school, providing the basis for Sardinian Silver. The following year I was teaching English again in a better school in Reggio Calabria, in the toe of Italy. But there I found I was forgetting my Russian, so I wrote to my former professor of Russian, who suggested I apply for a position teaching it at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I didn’t get the job—the Dean explained it had just been offered to someone else—and I forgot the very name of Kingston, Ontario.
Instead, I got onto the Anglo-Soviet Exchange. While I was in Leningrad, I received another letter from Queen’s, from a friend of mine who, with myself, had learnt Russian in the RAF, and who, unbeknownst to me, had got the position I’d applied for. At Queen’s someone else was needed, and the Dean had shown him my original letter, saying “Here’s someone from Cambridge: perhaps you know him?”
So I went to Canada, for only a couple of years, as I thought.
Now the point of this is that had I decided to defer my National Service until after university, I wouldn’t have done it at all, since National Service came to an end in Britain in 1960. I wouldn’t have learnt Russian (which I then taught for 35 years), wouldn’t have gone to Canada—and wouldn’t have gone there anyway without my friend who’d got the job I’d also applied for. I wouldn’t have met my wife, and my two children wouldn’t even exist. And how my wife came to meet me is another story altogether.
All because I made a decision with no thought at all to do National Service before university, not to mention the other things and people involved! Chance? Or is it some kind of fate?
A. Colin Wright's novel Sardinian Silver can be ordered from any bookstore, from www.amazon.com and other amazon sites, from www.barnesandnoble.com, and from www.iUniverse.com.